Its a jungle out there...
Trip Start Nov 13, 2006
55Trip End May 13, 2007
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We boarded the freezing cold air conditioned bus for the 3 hour drive to the jetty. There was little of interest to see out of the window, with more palm plantations and run down villages forming the majority of the views. Arriving at the tiny settlement of Kuala Tembling, our first stop was the park office where we purchased our park permits, camera permits and boat tickets, gently refusing to sign up for some of the super-scheduled tourist 3 day packages offered to us. We then had a two hour wait for the boat in front of us and so sat down at the nearby food stall for some lunch. Eventually it was nearly time to get on the boat, we ambled down to the rickety wooden jetty to see our craft which would carry us on the 2 and a half hour journey into the heart of the park. The wooden sampan boats carried about 15 people, 2 abreast in tiny wooden compartments covered with token cushioning. They where long and narrow and sat low in the water with a small motor on the back and luckily for us a tin roof to shade us from the sun. We preempted the departure of our boat and had our bags lowered down to the jetty in a metal cart 30 minutes too early. However this did give us a chance to take some pictures of the river and to watch some other boats departing, thus getting an idea of where the best seats were. The river itself was wide and murky brown and was deserted apart from the odd smaller sampan of a local fisherman or guide chugging down the Tembling river in the direction of the park. Finally it was time to board, our bags where precariously balanced, along with everyone else's, on the front part of the boat and we grabbed a seat for two in the centre. The boat was full and as we pulled out from the jetty, the driver expertly steering the craft from the back, I wondered if we would make it to our destination dry and with all the bags still on the boat. nervously i leaned out every 2 minutes for the first 10 minutes or so to check that my bag was still on the boat, before deciding that they probably weren't going anywhere. Sitting back to relax, knees drawn up to our chests we started to enjoy the cruise, the wind rushing past our heads as we proceeded quite speedily down the fast flowing brown waterway. Suddenly there was a splashing sound from the back of the boat, turning around, I saw that the unlucky couple in the seats furthest back had been given the task of bailing out using a small plastic container. We were very glad we hadn't choose those seats as we had no water in our section at present.
An hour into the journey and we were still enjoying ourselves, we were now in the park itself and only the dull ache from our crammed in legs disturbed the peace as struggled to change our seating position. The banks of the river where shrouded in dense forest and we saw only a few local people out fishing and the occasional tin shack. Further down the river we came across a herd of water buffalo, splashing around at the edge of the river. Our helpful driver stopped so that we could take photos, but the appearance of 15 camera wielding tourists soon scared the beasts away. Finally we arrived at the park headquarters based around the tiny village of Kuala Tahan, were we moored at one of several floating restaurants along the shore of the river. We scrambled out of the boats, fighting our numb limbs and retrieved our bags from their precarious positions. Laden down we navigated the narrow gangway leading to the shore and climbed the steep hill to the village. After wandering around for a while we found some accommodation at the Teresec View motel, one of the more upmarket lodgings in the village were due to a special rate we got a lovely room with balcony for 40 ringgit. It was already mid afternoon, the journey having taken 9 hours from KL, so we relaxed for the rest of the evening, visiting one of the floating restaurants for some food.
The next day we set off to explore the jungle on one of the well marked paths. The Taman Negara jungle is reputed to be the oldest rainforest in the world, beating the Congo and Amazon forests by several million years and covers an area of several thousand square kilometers. It is possible to trek for several days deep into the jungle in order to have a chance of spotting wild tigers and elephants, but we contented ourselves with a day hike covering around 8-10 kilometers of steep terrain. The first task of the morning was to cross to river to the park itself. This was swiftly accomplished by taking a motorboat from one of the floating restaurants for the sum of 1 ringgit which deposited us at the jetty on the other side of the river. We climbed the steps and arrived at the park headquarters and also the site of the Muitara Taman Negara Resort, an overpriced and exclusive 5 star place with little wooden chalets for 10 times the cost of our motel room per night. We walked through the resort until we reached the start of the trails and entered the jungle. It was cool and dark, the shade of the trees a welcome relief from the blazing sun and clear skies overhead. The trail was deserted and as we picked our way along the tree root strewn path, the calls of bids, cicadas, monkeys and other creatures could be heard from the high tree canopy some 20 metres above our heads. Being a lowland jungle the plant life had grown to massive proportions, trees of several metres circumference and strewn with thick sinewy vines grew near the path, their giant root structures creating ideal steps up the side of the steep jungle paths. After a couple of kilometers, stopping every few minutes in an attempt to spot some of the creatures making the cacophony of sound, we arrived at the first point of interest, the canopy walkway. Here a giant rope bridge, billed as the worlds longest, had been strung up to 40 metres up in the tree canopy forming a path of around a kilometer in total and allowing those with a good head for heights to get an up close view of the wildlife. Paul was keen to give it a go, I was not so sure, actually the idea of being 40 metres up on a swinging bridge little more than 40cms wide scared the hell out of me. Luckily it was closed for the afternoon and so I was spared. We continued along the path now climbing steeply up to the summit of Bukit Teresek from where we would have a magnificent view over the whole of the park. The path became more difficult and we used the ropes provided to haul ourselves up the steep banks, clambering over fallen trees and tree roots, pushing our way through the ferns and trying to avoid all the insects, ants and leeches. We had been forewarned of the leech problem in the jungle and so I had taken the precaution of wearing my tight fitting flight socks in the hope that it would prevent them from latching on to my feet and legs. After climbing for a hour or more we were exhausted even in the relative 25 degree cool of the jungle. Eventually we reached the first lookout near Bukit Teresek, from here an open clearing allowed us to see the miles and miles of uninterrupted jungle stretching out over the undulating hills. There was no sign of habitation, we couldn't even see the village of Kuala Tahan or the river any more. The air was totally peaceful apart for the every present whoops of monkeys and whirrs of cicadas. We we unsure if we had reached the top of the hill and so continued on for 10 minutes more until we came across the Bukit Teresek lookout proper. For here an even better view presented itself, allowing us to catch a glimpse of Gunung Tahan the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia. We decided to continue on the circular route back to the park headquarters rather than returning on the more used trail back the way we had come. The descent from the top of the hill was steep and aided by the ropes provided we inched our way down the slope taking care not to trip over any of the jungle fauna which filled the path. By the time we had reached the bottom an hour or so later we had grown accustomed to looking where to put our feet with every step and jumping from roots and swinging on vines to help our descent. Near the base of the hill I had taken the lead when suddenly I saw a long thin green and purple snake blocking the path only a metre or so from my feet, the momentum of walking meant I almost stepped on its head as I jumped and shrieked, shocked at having come across it so suddenly. The snake alarmed by my sudden appearance, gave me one quick look before darting off into the dense bushes at the side of the trail. Paul laughed as he described how high I had jumped when I came across it. At least it amused him! Our next task was to cross a rope bridge joining two steep cliffs about 10 metres up. I was particularly nervous as I edged out onto the swinging walkway, talking tiny steps and trying not to look down. Paul on the other hand bounded across and was even happy to pose for photos in the centre. Continuing on we semi abseiled down a particularly steep face and followed the trail which lead us along the river bank. Soon we came across a beautiful section of river where a lake had formed with the water reflecting the trees of the forest and tinged orange and red near the banks. It was a great spot and we saw some other people swimming who had obviously stumbled across it too. We stayed a while on the shore taking care to avoid the leeches before continuing on. We were now nearly back where we had started and about time too as we were exhausted. Finally we came across the park headquarters building again, here a troop of monkeys had gathered in a nearby tree trying without much luck to get some food from the local houses. We took the boat back across the river to the hotel where I pushed off my shoes my feet aching. Unfortunately my anti leech plan had not been successful and one of the little buggers had managed to worm its way down into my shoe and attached itself to my foot through the sock. Paul pulled it off and the wound continued to bleed copiously for the next 30 minutes, it didn't hurt however, so no harm was done. That evening we walked across the cobbled beach to another of the floating restaurants for some food, this time Family Restaurant. They were serving the local speciality Kerabau, so we tried the beef version together with a very spicy tom yam chicken soup. It was really good, a salad made of onion, cucumber, meat, lemongrass and many other unknown vegetables. We washed it down with 100 plus drink and fruit juice, unfortunately they don't serve much beer in this part of the world.
The following day was meant to be the last in Taman Negara. Paul got up early and retraced our steps to the Canopy Walkway which was now open. I declined to come along, after my experience with the rope bridge at 10m up I wasn't keen to try it at 4 times the height. When Paul returned he said it had been good, but that he was a little bit scared as the bridge swung much more that the one we had tried the previous day. I was glad I hadn't even attempted it. We spent the rest of the day relaxing before going to book our bus tickets out of the park for the following day and also to see about some river rapid shooting that afternoon. When we arrived at the travel kiosk, we had the unexpected news that we wouldn't be able to reach our next destination Cameron Highlands the following day as the road was closed due to the Tour de Langkawi cycling race. This was a bit of a blow, we hadn't planned to stay another night and with no cash machines within a 2 hour drive we were running short of funds. In the end we decided to not do the river rapids to save cash and to head to the nearest town Jerentut on the public bus the next day. We spent another evening relaxing at Family restaurant and watching the football, all the locals supported Liverpool so Paul was most upset and eating some more of the great Malay food.