Trekking Tales from Taman Negara


Chinese New Year 2005 - a short holiday was definitely on the cards... and Malaysia, Truly Asia was the chosen one! We considered several options - Penang, Melaka, Pangkor Laut, KL, Genting Highlands, Cameron Heights... all these choices were discussed before their eventual drop from the list. Finally, Taman Negara - the world's oldest rainforest - was where we decided to go. And to stay, what better place could we hope to find than one that called itself the Taman Negara Resort?


In retrospect, a few things worked well for us. Firstly, we didn't do the holiday over the exact days of Chinese New Year itself. Instead, we were there in the days leading up to CNY, which was fortuitous because our resort was teeming with people as soon as the CNY holidays began. Secondly, we selected our resort over the internet. There appeared to be at least 3 other options on the web, but we went for this one. As it turned out, this was THE only lodge that was inside the national park. All others were across the river on to the other side - not too far, but not in the park either. And finally, for reasons not entirely known to us, it was a full flight to KL, and Cathay was happy to bump us up to business class! (In a bizarre conversation during check-in, we were told that we could either take the business class seats or get or specially ordered veggie meals, but not both).


A short flight from HK to KL - 3.5 hours long Ė and, at the airport, a breezy walk and short train ride (yes, KL International Airport has most arrival gates in a different building from the main terminal, and requires that passengers take a short train ride) through customs and immigration was followed by a smooth and efficient train to town (28 minutes by train, 60 by road!).


We checked in at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown KL. This hotel is managed by the same group that manages the Taman Negara Resort. Also, the pick up point for the bus to Taman Negara is in the hotel itself - quite convenient, lah! That night, we walked over to Bukit Bintang, a busy local shopping and dining district. For dinner, we chose a roadside stall that seemed to be quite popular, and ordered veggie fried rice and veggie Maggi noodles. The noodles brought back nostalgia - taking us back almost 15 years to the time when we were students and Maggi noodles used to be our staple diet. After some lovely coffee at a local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf outlet (Malaysia's answer to Starbucks), we were back at our hotel, all excited about the adventure that was to begin the following day.


The journey to the Taman Negara Resort

The journey from KL to TN is a long one. It involves a 3.5 hour bus ride to Kuala Tembeling (comfortable journey, largely over freeways), followed by a 2.5 hour boat journey up river. The boat journey was truly amazing and memorable, for a variety of reasons. Letís begin with the boat itself: we're not talking of the QEII here. For that matter, we're not even talking of a steamer or any such fancy piece of floating equipment. We're talking of a vessel made by piecing together 10 planks of wood, and rigging a motor to the back. Long, snake-like, all wood, shallow... that's the kind of boat we were on! Of course, it all made sense soon enough. The river we were on was shallow - anything with a displacement more than that of our boat would have been grounded for the most part. The other memorable aspect of the journey was the scenery. Imagine a river winding its way through a valley - high banks on either side. Now, to that view, add forest to the landmass that forms the banks of the river. Next, imagine the forest to be not your ordinary forest, but one that is lush, dense, evergreen and never-ending. Finally, add the afternoon sun beating down on the boat, and the picture is complete.


We had begun our journey from KL at 9 AM - we reached the Taman Negara Resort at 4 PM. After checking into our chalet (which brought back a lot of recent memories from Africa), we did a recce around the place before landing up for an early dinner. We had an 8:30 PM appointment with our guide and we didn't want to be late for that!


Izat, our guide for the duration of our stay at the resort was a local from a village directly across the river from our resort. That night, he took us for a night walk to the jungle just behind the resort. In the one hour that we were on this walk (suitably aided by our own flashlights), we were enthralled by the sheer variety of sounds in the jungle at night. Insects and other nocturnal animals were out in full force, attracting others of their ilk through a range of mating calls. We saw insects that looked like dried twigs - so good was their camouflage that it was difficult to identify them as living beings even when held in our hands (it doesn't help matters if the insect chooses to act dead when touched!). We saw grasshoppers that looked just like leaves - it would be difficult to identify them even in daylight because the green-leaf-fancy-dress is complete to the last detail! Their leafy attire even has the veins that are to be seen on real leaves! We also saw giant spiders (their reflecting eyes are a giveaway - the shining flashlight is their enemy in that sense of the word). We spotted a bird that was trying to sleep on its perch but was getting disturbed by human sounds, and we saw plants that only flower at night, for one night only. But most of all, we enjoyed seeing the night sky - so clear, and SO busy with stars - bringing back memories, yet again of that night in Africa when we were changing tyres on our 4x4 on the way to Ngorongoro.


We fell asleep to the sounds of the cicadas and other nocturnal insects. We awoke to the bright chirps and calls of the morning birds.


The Canopy Walkway in the forest

After breakfast the next day, we met our guide and began trekking to the Canopy Walkway. Much of the trek is along the banks of the river, but higher up, and through fairly dense jungle. When we arrived at the Walkway half an hour later, we were surprised to find that it is one of the longest canopied walks in the world, coming in at 550 metres. This 550 m span, however, is not one long continuous one. Instead, it is composed of several sections, each section spanning the distance between two (hopefully) strong trees. The walkway itself is narrow - just enough to carry one person across at any time - and supported entirely by ropes and mesh. The use of steel structurals is kept to the minimum, making the entire experience as natural as possible. In this regard, this canopy experience was different from the one we had at Tahune in Tasmania. Once we were up on the walkway, and walking from one tree platform to the other, the feeling was lovely. So high up were we that we could look down into the trees. In addition, there were the views of the river in the distance, the forest across the river, and the general landscape that added to the beauty. And the icing on the cake was the people we met along the way (yes, while walking on the canopy!) - people young and old, and people from all parts of the world - The Netherlands, Australia, Germany...


Izat led us to Bukit Teresek (Malay 101: Bukit = hill, Taman = park, Negara = national) after we were done with the Canopy Walkway. This involved a mildly strenuous uphill trek which ended at a look-out that provided stunning views of the Taman Negara forest (essentially, this was the kind of view we would expect to get if our backs were to the river and we were looking further inland into the national park. In the distance were visible a range of hills and peaks. And all over, every visible landmass was covered in dense forest. The view was somewhat reminiscent of a similar view to be had from the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains. From here, we trekked back to our resort in time for lunch that had just begun to get served in the dining hall.


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ã Vixabs Vacations Unlimited

May 17, 2006