Huffing and puffing through the oldest rainforest

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Where I stayed
Sri Emas

Flag of Malaysia  ,
Thursday, August 18, 2005

After a couple of nights and a rather pricey camera shopping trip in slique Singapore, it was time to head for cheaper, more rustic ground. We boarded a mail train (i.e. very slow, all-stops) bound northwards into Malaysia at Singapore's Malay Railway Station at 10.30am on Saturday 13 August. Our chosen destination, Jerantut, is the gateway to the national park of Taman Negara, apparently the most ancient stretch of rainforest on the planet.

After a long, bumpy train ride we arrived in dusty Jeruntut at sunset, and checked into the Hotel Sri Emas, which offers information and tour booking services for Taman Negara. We sat through a 'briefing', which basically involved the hotel owner/tour operator trying to sell us his trekking tours and activities, but in the nicest possible, soft-sell way. Early the next morning, on Sunday, we took the hotel bus to Kuala Tembeling jetty, and from there journeyed up the Tembeling river in a small wooden boat, hitting a few unexpected rapids along the way!

Three hours later, at midday, we arrived at Kuala Tahan, the small village opposite the Taman Negara Park headquarters. We were keen to try and arrange an overnight stay in one of the park's hides for the next evening; so, after finding accomodation at a quiet little establishment called Durian Chalet, we took the ferry across the river to park headquarters. We had been warned that the hides are often fully booked, so were delighted to hear that Bumbun Kumbang, the most popular hide, was still free for the next evening. The plan was to do a two day circular walk with the hide as overnighting point - about 17km to the hide and 10km back.

We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and taking a leisurely walk down one of the forest trails - in the late afternoon we spotted a family of wild pigs and a pair of pheasant-type birds called crested firebacks. Above us, ancient, majestic trees with massive butress roots soared skywards, while at ground-level we marvelled at small palms, glossy-leaved wild gingers and a spectacular fern that shimmered a deep shade of blue.

That evening we did some grocery shopping in the tiny village mini-mart in preparation for our two-day expedition - canned sardines, tuna, bread rolls, biscuits and bananas... not that exciting, but that's all they had! Two guys we met on the boat, a Dutch chap called Marijn and an Englishman called Stuart, had decided to join us, so we'd be a company of four. We all packed our day packs and arranged to leave our large bags at our accomodation.

And so we set off at 9-ish on Monday morning. The walk promised to be pretty straight-forward, as the path was relatively flat and well-trodden. For the first five kilometres or so we stomped happily along, enjoying the unblemished beauty of the primary forest. We decided to take a 3.5km detour to the cascade pools at Lata Berkoh for a lunch stop ... and here things got a little more complicated. The path to Lata Berkoh was a real up-hill-down-dale affair, and we started to take strain in the humid midday heat - we had underestimated its draining effect. By the time we reached the cool cascade pools we really needed a rest!

However, we still had quite a way to go, so by 2.30pm we dragged ourselves away from the river and back onto the path. By now my feet were killing me - I was walking in my sandals and had to put on some socks... very German-looking, much to the boys' embarrasment! The remainder of the path to the Kumbang hide, another 5km or so, seemed to go on forever. We finally arrived at the hide at about 6.30pm, exhausted but nevertheless having enjoyed our tough day's walking in the vast green of the untouched rainforest.

The idea, when staying over at a hide overlooking a salt lick, is to stay up all night (or arrange a watch rota) to look out for wildlife coming to the lick - tapir, cloudy leopard, civet cat, deer, wild cattle and the like. However, the four of us were soooo knackered that we were all fast asleep by 11pm... not much good! The next morning we woke up refreshed and ready to tackle the 10km return route.

Stuart, our English companion, raced ahead while Rich, Marijn and I took it easy and walked at a leisurely pace. And good thing we did, because the path ran alongside the Kuala Tembeling river, so there were plenty of ups and downs through the gulleys of its tributaries. Arrgghh, our legs nad lungs burned as we scrambled up yet another rise! We rewarded ourselves with a long swimming and lunch break by the riverside and arrived back at the headquarters at about 5pm. Phew, what a walk! This sort of distance wouldn't normally be a problem for the two of us, but we had totally underestimated the effect of the humid jungle heat.

I marched the reluctant boys to the nearby swimming hole for a dip, during which it started to pour with rain. That night, back in our little bamboo hut at Durian Chalet, we slept like logs despite the rustling, squeaking activity of mice in the roof above us!

On Wednesday, we decided to take things easy. We visited the canopy walkway, Taman Negara's showcase attraction. This simply constructed suspension bridge, slung from tree to tree about 25 metres above the ground, is about half a kilometre long. It allows one to explore the upper canopy level, inhabited by birds and insects. We wobbled slowly along the walkway (luckily there were very few other people) and took in the grand scale of the trees around us. From there, we headed up the hill, Bukit Teresik, for some excellent views across the endless sea of green, and rounded off our relatively relaxed day with a swim.

That evening, at about 10pm, we boarded a small wooden boat for a night river safari, our final chance to spot some of Taman Negara's elusive wildlife. What a magical sensation being on the river at night! The boatman cut the engine and we drifted downstream while our guide scanned the riverside vegetation with his torch light. We spotted a giant red flying squirrel (sedentary, though) and a slow loris (a sort of bush baby without a tail - very cute). At one point the guide made us scramble out the boats and up a sandbank... he'd seen a small animal, which he thought was a baby slow loris, on the sand. Not surprisingly, the creature had fled ahead of the 10 pairs of feet running its way! We returned to our chalet at about 1am. Though we didn't see that much, we simply loved the ride.
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