With impressively tall trees shining bright green colors that seem to reach beyond the horizon and to the end of the world, Taman Negara’s beauty makes itself clear the second you step foot into it. The combination of the forest’s silence and animal sounds really leaves an impression on you, while the isolation the trees give you makes your focus fall entirely on the wonders around you. Heavy floral aromas radiate from every corner, and the forest’s humidity penetrates your skin; this adventure will leave you with memories of all your senses. Slip on your hiking boots and prepare yourself for one of the harshest yet wonderful experiences you will ever have on this impenetrable rainforest.
Being about 130 million years old (yes, million), Taman Negara, literally meaning “national park”, is the oldest rainforest in the world. It is the home of amazing exotic animals like elephants, tigers, different types of fish and the Sumatran rhinoceros, insect-eating plants and crab-eating macaques; just to name a few. Here you can also find up to fourteen thousand species of plants and three hundred species of birds. Bet you didn’t even think there were that many birds in the world.
How to get there
This natural wonder is just three hours away from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
You can start the tour through Taman Negara from four different departure points: Kuala Lumpur, Jerantut, Sungai Relau, and Kuala Tahan.
The easiest and most used way to reach the national park that surrounds the forest is to take a bus to Kuala Tembeling, and there you can sail on a boat down the river to the park gate at the latest departure point, Kuala Tahan.
This boat trip down the river is a primary part of the experience, and meanwhile navigating these waters, you realize how isolated Taman Negara is from the outside world. Slowly taking you through the border of the national park, the trip offers wonderful views of the forest overlooking and suspended above the flowing waters.
Only a few steps into the rainforest you can already feel how it closes around you, leaving the outside world behind. The trees are so high and thick they shut down any external noise, darken the horizon and even change the weather as they block the sunshine and give mixed feelings of shelter but oppression. On the other hand, every sound from outside is replaced by the ongoing shrieks of some animals like birds and insects. It takes you a while to get used to the different sounds of the rainforest, and at night they intensify, sometimes even preventing sleep.
This truly is not a place for the weak-hearted. Although beautiful, the forest can be hostile and harsh, with elephants, tigers, snakes wandering around, and biting insects filling the air. And if it rained, you gotta watch out for the leeches that cover the paths; they can latch onto any animal or human that crosses their way. Walking through this rich ecosystem gives you a rush of adrenaline and sharpens your senses in a way that many have lost in normal daily life. Every creak of a dead leaf or tree branch makes your heart leap in your chest and your senses focus on your surroundings.
Of course, there are sights that you must get to, like the waterfall at Lata Berkoh, or the view from the top of the hill at Burik Teresek, looking over the trees below. But in reality, the actual wonder is all around you: birds shining bright colors as they quickly pass by, tiny turquoise butterflies softly flying around, lianas hanging all over the place clustered in orange blossoms, buttress roots so big you could hide a car behind, and rivers flowing slowly, carrying dead vegetation with them.
The longest canopy walk
A short walk away from Kuala Tahan lies the longest canopy walkway in the world. It hangs about fifty meters from the ground, from huge tree to huge tree; a 430 meters long wooden walkway giving a bird’s-eye view of the vegetation and sometimes even the wildlife, if you can gather enough courage to look around. Unfortunately, being the biggest tourist attraction, the canopy walkway usually gets very crowded. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on regular days, but on Friday, as it is the Muslim holy day, it opens a bit earlier, at 8 a.m. but by lunchtime, it’s already closed down. Getting there as early as you can gives you a better chance of having the wooden walkway all to yourself, and as a result, maybe a few birds or other animals won’t be startled by the usual crowd and show their faces here and there.
Where to stay
The Taman Negara Resort, at Kuala Tahan, offers different types of accommodation, going from cheap hotel beds to luxurious suites. Opposite the resort, attached along the river bank, you can find many floating restaurants selling cheap local food. Also, this resort is inside the park; where it ends, the rainforest starts. But monkeys and birds seem to take no interest in people’s space, as they are always seen on the grounds, keeping you company. This resort is quite big, but you’ll want to avoid it on weekends when it’s loaded by visitors from the capital.
Still, people don’t usually get too far from the resort; so if you want some alone time, you can take one of the many trails into the rainforest. You can hike out to the forest and back in a day or, for those with an adventurous heart, you can stay the night in one of the forest’s many wildlife hides, getting a higher chance of spotting some of the most elusive and shy wildlife. Among the ever-present sound of insects, you wait in both hope and fear of any animal showing up, and with the rush of adrenaline, you gain a new appreciation of the environment surrounding you. In no time, you learn to feel at ease with the once harsh presence of the forest, leaving you hungry to return.
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