Monday, May 23, 2011

Taman Negara Rainforest - Malaysia

The bus to take us out of Cherating never arrived (it seemed the more ‘advanced’ a country was the less reliable the public transport, Singapore excluded) so we ended up sharing a taxi with a Dutch couple which cost only slightly more than the bus would have done.  From the bus station we got our tickets to Jerantut where we stocked up on a few beers and some other essentials for our rainforest escapades.  We opted then to take the pricier but more scenic boat journey up the river to reach our destination just outside of the National Park.  

No sooner had we arrived did the rain come down in droves, giving us a good soaking before we reached a guest house called Park Lodge.  The lovely proprietor gave us some tea and some well needed recovery time before checking us in to our room.  She also cooked us up a simple but delicious dish of chicken and ginger with rice before going to bed which meant we didn’t have to venture back into the rain.  We had a good night’s sleep and went across the lake to the national park office to find out about the different hides we could trek to in the rainforest.  We also stocked up on plenty of water and food and found out where to rent sleeping bags and roll mats.  We decided to stay in a hide called Bumbum Kumbung, eighteen kilometres or approximately eight hours walk away but supposedly with a better chance of seeing wildlife.  More exciting kinds of animals on offer were tigers, tapirs and even elephants.  
Our boat journey up the river

A shot from the National Park entrance
Our guest house beer cooler

We set off early the next day and picked up the gear we needed to borrow before getting the boat across to the national park.  We were carrying a rucksack and a small backpack with six two litre bottles of water plus gear and our clothes making it quite a heavy load.  The first kilometre was easy, with many walkers making their way over decking towards the ‘canopy walkway’ where people could walk from tree to tree on wooden bridges.  As soon as we passed this attraction we didn’t see one other person for the entire nine hours it took us to reach our destination.  As I imagine being the case in any rainforest, the problems are not so much the distance but the terrain along with the humidity. 

Not so much a problem but certainly disgusting annoyances were the LEECHES!  We were forever finding the buggers climbing up our boots and chewing their way through our socks leaving blotches of blood in their wake.  We initially tried getting them off with a lighter but it was difficult to get the angle and often ended up burning ourselves with the leech seeming incredibly resistant to the heat.  This slowed us down until we found out that the mosquito repellent we brought worked much better.  A good squirt would cause it to let go giving you an opportunity to swipe it off leaving a trail of blood dripping down your leg.  Unfortunately if you took too long then other leeches would have already found their way onto your shoes and be making their way towards your juicy legs so we often had to take care of these which all took time.  We were forever going up and down incredibly steep banks of slippery rock using just a rope, all the while sweating from the heat.  We followed our route from pieces of yellow metal that had been nailed to the occasional tree.  The first three and a half hours weren’t so bad although we were both pretty hot and tired by the time we stopped for lunch and had already gone through nearly half of our water, we had packed tins of tuna and bread to make sandwiches and it was a great moral boost!

Posing by a tree at the start of the trek

The first of many leech bites encountered
Kate kissing the insect repellent when stopping for lunch

Crossing the ropey rope bridge

An empty village on the route

After lunch our progress slowed a bit, taking it in turns to carry the heavier bag every hour or so which really took its toll when climbing up near vertical banks all the while being careful where hands were being placed.  We were both enjoying the challenge, but it was hard to determine our progress as there were no milestones or signs other than the odd indication that we were going the correct way.  Things started to get a little bit worrying when the sun started to go down and we still hadn’t come to the fork in the road which meant we were close.  We finally made the fork and believed we had enough time to reach our hide before dark having been told it was an hour away from this point.  What we didn’t bank on was the rain coming down heavily (the only way in Malaysia) soon after which made the whole thing a nightmare.  Progress practically slowed to a crawl at times because climbing down banks even with the assistance of ropes became close to treacherous, it was so slippery that it was best to attempt a controlled skid down slopes rather than walking and we both inevitably went down on our bums at times and were incredibly lucky not to land on anything sharp or dangerous. 

We often thought we were closer than we were, especially when we came across a tribal village and a bridge which we believed indicated that we were in a good spot.  We had intelligently brought our torches along, but could only get to one head-torch (the style of a miner’s head light) at this time and didn’t want to risk soaking everything by taking the rain covers off the bags and digging around for the other hand torch.  Both hands would have been required anyway.  We knew that we must have been relatively close when the sun went down completely, but the last stretch seemed to last forever.  We had to work together and we both stayed calm and positive using the one torch to guide our way through the jungle.  The spiders came out at night although I don't think they were dangerous and they had a silvery reflective part on their backs which let you know they were there.  Along with the masses of spiders we also caught the odd reflection of a pair of eyes staring in the jungle night.  We took quick opportunities to wash the caked mud off our shoes whenever we crossed a stream only to head straight into a muddy bog again.  The rain had really brought out the leeches.  When looking down to find footing it was hard to ignore the shiny and slimy masses that were congregated on my ankle, fat with my blood but we didn’t care about them at this point our only concern was reaching the hide in one piece.  I was so proud of Kate for not complaining once and was even a little surprised at myself for staying positive but the alternative wasn’t possible.  There simply wasn’t any other choice but to keep going.

A spider from earlier in the day

When we finally saw a signpost for the hide, 300 meters away our spirits lifted.  An immense sense of achievement and relief washed over us when we heard the voices and the candle light from a guide and two French girls who also happened to be staying there that night.  They had gone an alternate and less hazardous route from a closer location and were finishing their dinner when we arrived.  The hide was much more impressive than I thought it would be.  It was a large concrete structure and had an outdoor shower downstairs and a bug infested upstairs shower.  They had amazingly only managed to see one leech on their ventures and were as horrified as we were numbed by the sight of the gang of bloody leeches attached to us.  We finally managed to get them all off, but not before a couple crawled back and reattached themselves again whilst we weren’t looking.  I think we counted about twenty five leech bites each and one had somehow managed to make its way up to my belly.  Now off the areas we had been bitten wouldn’t stop bleeding as leeches have something in their bite which stops the blood clotting.  We didn’t care by this point and stripped down to our skivvies in front of our new friends to make sure we were clear of them all. 

We took our stuff up the concrete stairs where we found wooden bunk beds and a hut with viewing windows which you couldn’t close.  The others offered us the rest of their food which we gladly accepted (a hot meal over a cold one any day!) and opened the small bottle of whiskey which was long overdue.  The French girls’ guide also had his own identical bottle and we had a nice meal on the rainforest floor under the hide by candlelight in our undies.  When upstairs, we showered and tried to stop the rest of the bites from bleeding.  We put on the disinfectant we had brought and plastered ourselves up after our showers.  The next task was to hang up our food to stop rats chewing through our bag and there was already a pulley system for a rope attached to the ceiling.  There were already rats taking their chances at going through any food we had put down and weren’t paying attention to.   We put the food into plastic bags and hoisted them up in the centre of the room.  It took about five minutes until a rat realised and managed to climb across the rafters in the room, down the rope and onto the bag.  Instead we took the food outside and suspended it from a rope under the hide, at least it would draw the animals away from where we were and there wasn’t anything they could easily climb up.  Needless to say after our day there wasn’t much appeal to stay up and do animal watching and a wooden bed and roll mat had never felt so good.
The concrete hide where we stayed

Inside the hide

Kate animal watching

The next day we decided to do an hour and a half walk to the jetty to try to hail down a boat.  Before this we decided to take our time in the hide and try to do some animal spotting.  We said our goodbyes to the Malaysian guide and the French girls, sat by the windows and waited.  The only animals we happened upon we brave squirrels.  First there was just the one which landed on the corrugated iron roof with a big clatter and then made its way through the rafters of the hide in search of food.  I then remembered the bag of peanuts that we had and considering I had seen a rat with its face in them the previous night I didn’t really fancy it and decided to do a bit of feeding.  We put the peanuts around the hide windows and soon had much more squirrel company.  One by one they crashed onto the roof and made their way down until eventually there was one in each window nibbling away.  They weren’t very timid and had probably received this treatment before as they were practically coming up to us for the food.  When it became apparent that we wouldn’t be spotting any tigers we set off again, this time for the jetty.  Whilst we didn’t see any tapirs we saw their tracks along the route we walked. 

It was by the jetty that we met a group of conservation workers and didn’t stop chatting. We waited with them, talking about our trek (still with leeches trying to attack us and even a large millipede making an appearance) as we waited for a boat which never arrived.  We also talked about their work.  They frequently come in to the Taman Negara from their office in Kuala Lumpur to do hands-on conservation work, one of them specialising in tigers and others documenting animal tracks and setting up camera traps.  We thought they too were waiting for a boat but it turned out that they were just trying to help us flag one down and keeping us company as they wouldn’t be leaving the park until the next day which was extremely touching.  We also established that we wanted to go to KL on the same day and they offered to give us a lift in their company car.  We needed to head back to KL to catch our flight back to Bangkok as we were flying on to New Zealand from there.  Of course we accepted so we arranged a meeting time and place with the intention of helping out with petrol money.  As no boats came they arranged for a company boat to take us out of the park for the same price as a normal taxi boat.  It was a great feeling to be back amongst civilisation having eaten a nice evening meal (including the biggest milkshake ever) where we bumped into Joe from Melaka and Singapore.  It was especially good when we were back in the comfort of our guest house!

The not so rare jungle squirrel
The friendly millipede
Having a dip and washing the trainers at the same time

The boat journey back to civilisation

Me weighing down the boat's nose on the journey back
Enjoying the largest milkshake in the world with Joe in the background
The following day we had a relaxing morning, said our goodbyes to the lovely lady at the guest house and made our way out to breakfast.  We were a couple of hours early when we reached the meeting point so we got ready to have a read but fortunately our new friends were early too so we chucked our bags into the back of the 4X4 and set off ahead of schedule.   The journey took about three hours in the car in total; we stopped for some roast chestnuts on the way which was a nice touch.  We had some great conversations and these guys represented the amazing Muslim hospitality we had previously enjoyed in Melaka including not taking a penny when offered.  Now back in KL we made our way to the Monkey Inn, things are so much better when you are familiar with a place and know where you are going!  We dumped our stuff, bought a couple of pairs of fake Ray Ban sunglasses from the night market, stopped for a beer in a Reggae bar then parked ourselves on the pavement for some street food.  To end the night we watched ‘The Tourist’ (pirate copy) in the backpackers communal room and went to bed ready for our flight to Thailand the next day.

On the way to KL

Our picture with the gang before getting on the train to Chinatown
A street market on the day of our departure from KL


  1. hai paul, kate....

    what are you doing know?
    still travelling?
    you have a good memory in Taman Negara especially leech and one more think... your blog is
    lol because you gave me this link through my email. Luckily, my gf told me to replace the .org with .com and i found out your blog.


    1. Hi Fauzul, a little late to reply... We are living in China now! Thank you so much for you and your friends kindness. We'll never forget it!

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  3. Enjoying your blog, thanks Paul. I've just come back from Taman Negara myself and really loved it. I sat in the hide deep in the rainforest and filmed daybreak. It was a very beautiful hearing all the creature waking up. It was altogether a wonderful experience.Taman Negara At Daybreak

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