Taman Negara – Rainforest Canopy Walks, Floating Restaurants and Leeches…So Many Leeches
Having our previous two hiking attempts foiled – the first in Nepal and the second in Yogyakarta after the trail we were supposed to take up a volcano was closed because a local fell in (yes, fell into the volcano) – we were determined to get back into the wilderness.
In KL we had done some reading on that country’s crown jewel of National Parks – Taman Negara – and decided that’s where we’d end the hiking cold streak.
What at first appeared to be a logistically tough commute from KL (based on the few internet resources we found) turned out to be a relatively painless 5-6 hour hop to the park.
All the accommodation for the park is in a town called Kuala Tahan and we had heard about a great little guesthouse and managed to secure one of its three rooms. Owned by a wonderful woman named Delimah and her family we, as we so often have on this trip, felt right at home. She made us breakfast each morning which usually included some freshly picked vegetables from her garden – couldn’t have asked for a better accommodation.
After exploring the town a little bit the first night, we set off early the next morning for our elusive hike – and finally got it…kind of.
First, to access the park we had to hop across the Tembeling River on a little shuttle boat which performed absolutely amazing water acrobatics while docking against the strong current.
Once on the other side, we registered with the rangers and set off north along the river on our ‘hike’ which turned out to be more of a walk along a boarded pathway which led off into the rainforest. Despite the fact this wasn’t the sort of ‘real’ hiking we were looking for, it was absolutely beautiful!
The rainforest was thick with greenery and abuzz with with hundreds of different kinds of insects – from bees and wasps to ants and termites, butterflies to centipedes.
We trekked along for another couple kilometers when we came upon the highlight of the area – the canopy walk. This rope walkway stretches across – as the name would suggest – the rainforest canopy and reaches heights of 30 meters (almost 100ft!).
The ropes don’t instill the greatest confidence at times (panic attacks must be a regular occurrence on this thing) but it turned out to be a really cool experience.
Earlier in the hike we had met up with a friend we had met on the bus ride up Kate, who is from London, and so after the canopy walk we set off to finish what the park rangers had suggested as a good circuit for the day.
The boarded pathway continued in the form of about 8,000 (?) stairs which ended at the peak of this particular hill where we were greeted with a beautiful view of the rolling landscape leading further into Taman Negara. It’s important to note that the park itself is absolutely massive and our exploration was limited to about .01% of its vast expanse.
After soaking in this view we started descending on the far side of the hill and finally got our ‘real’ hiking. The boards were no more and the trail became quite steep making for quite an arduous, but fun 2-3 hours down. At one point we came across an absolutely massive downed tree so big we had to go around instead of over – the trunk had to have been 8ft thick!
We finally made it back to our starting point, grabbed a shuttle back across and made for our late afternoon nap.
That evening we went to dinner with Kate at the only available restaurants in town – floating ones! They line the area where the shuttle boats cross and are literally floating on the river. There’s about 8 of them so we got to try a new one for every meal!
We had read the food was abysmal but found just the opposite – it was really good! And especially for restaurants in the middle of nowhere floating on a river, I give them extra points for that.
We had all sorts of fried rice, noodle soup and fried noodles with just about every combination of fruit shake you can imagine. And best of all – it was as cheap as anywhere we went.
The next morning Jenna and I set off alone for what we heard was a bit more of an involved hike – this time to some caves. We took the shuttle boat this time to an even more distant bank where it became immediately obvious this trek would be the one we were looking for.
Although it ended up taking only 3 hours or so we had to make our way through some really dense undergrowth, sometimes having to make our way through where no trail appeared to be at all. If it wasn’t for what proved to be absolutely stellar mosquito repellant we picked up in KL, I’m not sure we wouldn’t have any blood left due to the literal clouds of mosquitos that swarmed us the entire hike.
These however, were not the only ones after our blood. Because anyone who knows anything about Taman Negara knows about the leeches.
We somehow avoided them on our first hike but received our comeuppance on the second – they were everywhere.
Forget to look down after about 3 minutes of hiking and you will have a small colony of leeches making their way up your leg if they haven’t already made it into your shoe. We didn’t catch onto this until about an hour into the hike when we realized Jenna was harboring about 10 in her shoes.
Fortunately they’re not big – about an inch or two long and no more than a couple centimeters wide – nor are they dangerous but there’s just something unsettling about something latching onto you and sucking your blood for long periods.
It’s actually pretty amusing just standing still for a minute and paying attention to the ground at your feet – you’ll start to see these little worm-like creatures come out of nowhere and start slinking their way to you like some sort of mini zombies out for blood. Did I stretch the zombie reference? Oh well.
So despite these foes we made it to the caves, which turned out to be filled up with water and rather unimpressive (it’s about the journey not the destination right?), we made our way back through the dense undergrowth and headed back to town.
That night we feasted once more on the floating restaurants and turned in early, zapped from the intense heat of the day. The next morning we caught the bus back to KL but did so with our hiking appetite appeased, at least for the moment.