Taman Negara

Trip Start Dec 25, 2008
Trip End Mar 28, 2009

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Flag of Malaysia  , Pahang,
Friday, February 13, 2009

I made my second foray into the rainforest (a much drier one), heading into Taman Negara (which literally means "National Park") - a 4,343 sq km park, crossing three different Malaysian states and first created in 1925. The park contains some of the oldest rainforest in the world (evolving over 130 million years) and is the largest undivided tract of rainforest on the Peninsula.

After getting picked up in the bus from my hotel, we made the journey to Tembeling Jetty, which took about 3 hours. From there we reached the entrance to the park following a 2 1/2 hour boat ride up the Tembeling River. The scenery was amazing, but unfortunately the ride seemed to last forever since the boat (something like a dugout canoe) wasn't very comfortable, and I got stuck next to a Slovenian guy who wouldn't stop talking the entire time (I missed seeing a anteater on the side of the river thanks to him).

We were all staying in Kuala Tahan, where the park headquarters is located, in addition to a small village on the opposite side of the river. Numerous tiny boats shuttled you back and forth across the river on demand, which I had to take frequently since I was staying on the opposite side of the river from everyone else and my meals at the floating restaurants. However, just a few other people were doing the trip I was on, including Sten and Marie from Sweden - a really nice couple with whom I ended up spending most of my time.

Though not as "raw" as the rainforest experience in Borneo, Taman Negara was an incredibly beautiful place, with towering trees and lots of wildlife (you needed to trek into the forest for at least a few days of camping if you really wanted to have a true wilderness experience, since you were otherwise not too far away from park HQ). During various activities (night walk, jungle trek up to Bukit Teresek (a 342-meter hill), canopy walk, and night ride) we saw a number of different things - a giant stick insect and other cool bugs, macaques, leopard cats, wild boar, the slow loris (similar in pace to the sloth), samba deer, a monitor lizard and various birds - no tigers or elephants, of course, though they are in the park. Funny that we saw a lot of wildlife on the "night ride", which strangely enough did not take place in the rainforest (not permitted), but rather in an adjacent palm-oil plantation. It was pretty eerie riding through the rows and rows of giant palm trees in the back of a 4 x 4 in the middle of the night - apparently lots of animals leave the park at night to feed in the plantation.

The canopy walkway provided a great view of the rainforest (as soon as you got used to the height and movement). As I made my way across the 30m high stretch of long, swaying bridge, which took about 30 min. to cross - I tried to keep my fear of heights under control by walking at a steady, deliberate pace. Due to the nature of the walkway's construction, you can only have a few people cross a stretch at any one time - at least 5 m (or sometimes 10 m) apart. Unfortunately, you couldn't take any pictures from the walkway, itself (only on the platforms in between stretches), since you really had to hold onto each side of it as you crossed (and swayed).

While in the park, we also visited an Orang Asli (Malay for "original people") Batek village. Though I felt intrusive and voyeuristic visiting, since you're basically standing there with a group, looking at the villagers and their homes, the experience was pretty interesting. The Batek are nomadic hunters and gatherers, who have susbisted for centuries off the jungle in and around Taman Negara - they typically move every few months depending on the location's ability to sustain them. They are the only people who are thus allowed to hunt and live off of the park. However, they are only permitted to hunt what they can kill with use of their traditional blow darts, dipped in the poisonous sap of the Ipoh tree. We walked around the village for just a bit after one of the village men showed us how to shoot a blow dart - getting much of our information about the Batek from a Malay guide who was studying hard about their culture, since he was planning to soon marry one of the Batek girls from another group. He also needed to practice his blow dart shooting accuracy, since a man cannot get married in the village unless he first proves to be proficient at this skill.

Although commercial logging has apparently slowed down in the Peninsula over the last several years due to the National Forest Policy (apparently reduced deforestation by 1/3), we were reminded of its continued existence as we passed truck after truck of recently cut trees on our way back to KL. All in all, the trip to Taman Negara was a really fun experience - and I was happy to be able to spend more time in the rainforest. I was also pleasantly surprised that the leeches were kept at bay due to the dry weather - so I packed up my leech socks for good (but kept them for a future return trip to Borneo :)).
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