It’s an incredible feeling walking into one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. The size, the sounds, the history, the literal buzzing with the life contained within it are all energizing, giving you a nature high.
Taman Negara, near the heart of peninsular Malaysia, is one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world (or the oldest, depending on what guide book you’re reading). Massive trees and ferns bigger than you provide that stunning backdrop to a symphony of insect, bird, and mammal calls. There are many trails for any level of fitness or hiking enthusiasm as well as (apparently) the world’s longest canopy walk. To each it one must get to Kuala Tahan (by car, bus, or a mix of bus and water), cross a small river, and climb up a set of steps. After a short check-in process (there’s an entrance fee of MR5 – that’s under CAD$2, paid only once and covers the whole duration of your trip, plus a camera fee of MR15) follow the boardwalk into the jungle. It was like walking into Jurassic Park!
The soundtrack is a beautiful symphony of sounds – some familiar like secada, others foreign and I have no idea what bird, insect, or animal they were. The sounds blur together into a cocophany of noise. But when you stand still and soak it in, you can differentiate sounds and realize just how many there are – it’s pretty special.
The first thing I wanted to do was the canopy walk. While I was certainly wobbly, it never felt unsafe, and the view from above was totally worth it. (It reminded me of the Ewoks!)
Taman Negara has a vairety of interweaving trails you can conquer on your own. I chose the longest loop…turns out not many others do. After climbing an exhausting amount of stairs you reach the tip (the halfway point of this loop), here there is a beautiful view, and here is the point where most people turn back around and retrace their steps down. But there is another, less travelled, less maintained, less sturdy route. This is the one I took. It felt like the heart of the jungle. Steep declines (but luckily ropes in many places to assist) and path blocked by fallen trees (clearly rangers hadn’t come by to clear this path since the massive monsoons – but let’s say that added to the adventure). Throughout the three hours it took to complete this backhalf I crossed paths with only one other couple.
You’ll be salespitched and told you should buy a trip to do the canopy walk (so not necessary) and trails (only necessary if you want to go deeper into the parts of the woods that aren’t safe without a trained guide…which could be cool). The one activity I did buy into was a night safari. Riding atop a jeep beside the ranger’s 8-year-old son carrying a spotlight torch, we traveled along the road and into palm plantations in search of wildlife. Animal sightings are never guaranteed, but we were lucky and saw a few including a tapir, one of the oddest animals I’d ever seen (looked like a mix between an anteater, a mini elephant, and a panda). A cool aspect I’d recommend. Others that I didn’t try include night walks, rafting, and trips to a tribal village.
Outside of the rainforest itself is the village of Kuala Tahan. There is only one lodge on the jungle side of the river and camping available if you want to stay in the actual park. Otherwise there are many hostels, hotels, and guesthouses in town. I stayed at the Yellow Guesthouse (MR100/night) and found it lovely (though you’re there to be in nature so little time is spent in accommodations). There was a corner spot mainly frequented by locals where I got roti canai for breakfast every morning, but all other meals were enjoyed on one of the floating restaurants on the river that seperates the town from the rainforest. Very tasty satay was consumed after long days of hiking!