Taman Negara , National Park (Kuala Tahan) ~ Pahang Malaysia
Entry into Taman Negara via Kuala Tahan, Pahang
It would be my third trip to Taman Negara and I was looking forward to seeing it again even though the memories from my previous trip four years ago were still fresh in my mind. The three of us set out from Kuala Lumpur at about 8.30am and made our journey towards the town of Jerantut in state of Pahang. We had planned to catch the 1.00pm boat from the Kuala Tembeling Jetty which is approximately 10km away from Jerantut town. So in a green Waja we went and headed towards the Genting/Sempah.
Before I proceed further with my travel journal I thought it would be good to share a thing or two about Taman Negara. Well for the benefit of the foreigner, "Taman Negara" simply means National Park in Bahasa Malaysia (Malay language) The Park was established in 1939 and it is the known to be one of the oldest tropical rainforest in the world. It has evolved over a span of a hundred million years and its rich flora and fauna is truly a feast in every sense. The Park covers an area of about 4343 square kilometers (over a million acres) in the states of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan in Malaysia. It is the most extensive protected area of lush green rainforest in the country where commercial logging is prohibited. Taman Negara is also home to Gunung Tahan (Tahan Mountain), the highest peak (2187 metres) in Peninsular Malaysia.
We drove on Genting/Sempah highway until we reached the new East Coast Expressway which eventually led us to the Temerloh toll exit. After the toll we then made a right turn at traffic lights and stayed on route 98 towards Jerantut., about 53km away. It was a pretty easy drive and traffic was light on this sunny Tuesday morning. The new East Coast Expressway certainly has cut short our journey by an entire hour so we arrived at Jerantut with lots of time to kill.
Journey up the Tembeling River
the sungei tembeling jetty
After spending about an hour mooching about in Jerantut town, we then made our way to the Kuala Tembeling Jetty to catch our one o'clock boat ride. When we arrived at the jetty area I was truly in for a surprise. It was far from what it used to be four years ago. Before it was mostly dirt with wooden shacks but now it has transformed to concrete and cement structures. I suppose it is a lot more organised and clean. We purchased our boat tickets and paid for our park permits along with licenses for our cameras. Those who intend to fish within the Taman Negara boundary are required to obtain licenses.
We made our way down the stairs that led us to the wooden jetty. There were many long sampans (boats) equipped with motors waiting to take people to Kuala Tahan, Taman Negara. We boarded our boat and thus our journey upstream on the Tembeling River began.
At first everyone was excited, eyes were darting from one side of the river bank to the other. Some were snapping shots of the passing kampungs (villages) and of little children swimming semi-naked in the river or the kampung folks fishing with their nets from wooden sampans. As the journey progressed everyone was lulled into a nap except the boatman of course! The boat ride normally takes about 2 ½ to 3 hours so I guess a nap was inevitable.
After what seemed like a long nap I woke up and noticed a change in the river and the surrounding scenery. As the river narrowed you start to get a feeling that you are entering deep into a forest as you begin to see the thick greenery looming ahead of you.
Tip No 1
Travellers now have a choice to either take the boat in and out of Taman Negara (ie 2 - 3hours per way) or take the boat in or out and then hire a van for the returning or otherwise which takes approximately half the time. If you need more info on schedule and destination for transfers, refer to http://www.journeymalaysia.com/ptatamannegara
Where the Jungle Activities Begin
We arrived at Kuala Tahan close to 4 in the evening. The boatman dropped us off at a floating restaurant (on Tembeling River) and we made our way up a sandy slope to our accommodation, the Ekotone Chalet.
Ekotone Chalet is located across the bank of the Taman Negara area. In fact you will be able to find a lot of economical accommodations on this side of the bank if you are unable to afford the luxury chalets at the Mutiara Resort. Mutiara Resort is the only accommodation that is located in the Taman Negara area along with the Park Headquarters and Customer Service Station.
The Jungle Night Walk
Earlier when we arrived we signed up for the Jungle Night Walk. So at about half past seven we made out way to the LBK floating restaurant for dinner. At 8.30pm, our guide called out for our group to take the river taxi (small motor boat) across the river to the Taman Negara area.
The jungle night walk is a good way to experience night life in the rainforest when the nocturnal animals come out to feed. It's not an activity to see big animals but rather small ones like insects, spiders, scorpions, snakes and many others.
The walk starts at an entry point into the jungle where the Mutiara Resort boundary ends. Armed with only our torches about a dozen of us walked into the jungle following a wide path while being led by our experienced guide. Our first spot was a black poisonous scorpion hiding inside a rotting fallen tree. Then we were shown web-less spiders hiding out at a clump of bamboos waiting for their prey.
We also got a chance to not only see but to inspect a stick insect up-close which our guide picked up from a leaf. However I was most impressed with the sighting of 3 non-venomous Green Whipped Snakes coiled round each other like a spaghetti on a plate, actually a low tree branch. The night walk ends with a visit to the Tahan Hide (located within the proximity of the Mutiara Resort) which faces a natural salt lick. Animals normally come out at night to take a sip at salt licks. We were quite lucky as we managed to catch a glimpse of a Sambar Deer.
Treks with a View
The next morning after breakfast we joined another guided tour to Bukit Teresek (334m/1096ft) and the Canopy Walk. The trek starts off at the same entry point of the jungle night walk. Our first destination was to Bukit Teresek which is about 2km away from the Kuala Tahan/Mutiara Resort. The trail starts off fairly easy for the first 500m and then changes to a steep climb of 1.5km to the summit. The climb up normally takes about 45 minutes to an hour on uneven natural soil and mud steps carved out by previous climbers and guides. Park authorities have built wooden stairs along certain sections to enable easy climbing for visitor.
Upon reaching the top you will discover two look-out points on Bukit Teresek one facing each side of the ridge. If you wish to spot Gunung Tahan, the highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia then you must make your way up the higher lookout point which is another 10 minutes walk.
However you will only be able to see Gunung Tahan on a clear day. I was not so lucky as Gunung Tahan was still covered by the morning mist. Nonetheless I was rewarded with an amazing view of lush green mountains and also a glimpse of the Tahan River far below.
As we made our way downhill there was a slight commotion halfway through. One of the guides spotted a red tail viper about 2 feet in length perched on a tree branch within arms-length of our path. It became a photo-frenzied session and everyone who passed by had a good look at the venomous snake in its natural setting.
Soon we reached the entrance of the Canopy Walk which is a series of suspended bridges built 40 -50 metres above the ground. It is the world's longest canopy walkway (500m) that provides a unique perspective of the rainforest from above. We had a rather long wait until our turn because only a few people were allowed to cross at a time. As a safety precaution we had to keep a 5 metre distance between each other as we made our way across several shaky bridges. While on the bridge do look out for wildlife such as birds like the majestic rhino hornbill and also monkeys. And if you look down you will also notice the various heights of the different trees that make up the rainforest.
almost like going through the ear's canal...tight in places, snug in others, wide in some areas. be prepared to get dirty...
Our second activity of the day was Gua Telinga, the Ear Cave. We took a short boat ride downstream Tembeling River to the little jetty of Pengkalan Gua and made arrangements with the boatman to pick us up two hours later. The jungle trail that led us to the limestone cave is wide and well defined and it only took us 20 minutes to arrive at Gua Telinga.
The entrance of the cave is small and looked somewhat menacing with jagged edge stones greeting you as we crawled in.
The cave slowly opens up to a bigger cabin where colonies of Dusky Fruit Bats were seen on the cave ceiling. Our skillful guide managed to spot a baby Cave Racer Snake which was hiding in between crevices.
Cave Racers live in caves and feed mainly on bats and other living creatures in there. There are a few difficult sections in the cave that required some crawling and you may also need to squeeze through some narrow gaps. Otherwise the cave is a very manageable activity and an interesting one as well.
If you are a keen caver there are bigger caves to be explored further up the Tembeling River at Kuala Keniam accessible by boat or foot.
River Rides & Activities
An activity not to be missed is a boat ride or a trek to the Lata Berkoh cascades. It is one of my favourite as the boat ride along the Tahan River is one of the most scenic. Be sure to bring your camera to snap photos of the archway of trees overhanging the river. The boat journey takes about half an hour one way through the shallow, pebbly river to reach the cascades. The boatman normally makes a short stop at Lubuk Tenor (swimming hole), a dedicated sanctuary for the endangered Ikan Kelah (Malaysian Mahseer). Our stop at Lubuk Tenor gave us a chance to feed the fishes with pellets given to us by the fish keepers.
Other fishes that can be found here are the greenish gray Ikan Jelawat and also the red tailed Ikan Lampam.
Upon reaching the pebbly bank at Lata Berkoh we had to take a 20 minute walk through the forest to reach the cascades. We found a great spot on one of the rocks and spent some time relaxing and wading our feet in the cool waters of the river. Most visitors come to Lata Berkoh to picnic and take a plunge into the tannin-coloured water. Be warned that the currents can be strong and the rocks are slippery as well.
Jungle Hide (Bumbun)
All sorts of fungus sp. can be found along the trek to the bumbun
This was probably one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had. My friend and travel mate (also the owner of journeymalaysia.com) suggested that we spend a night at one of the jungle hides. It was truly an exciting adventure for three city girls as we hoped to catch sight of some wild animals in the middle of the jungle at night!
We chose one of the closer hides, Bumbun Tabing which is about 3km from Kuala Tahan/Park HQ. We opted to take a 15 minute boat ride up the Tahan River on a rainy evening. We were dropped off at a jetty and then continued our journey on foot to the hide. Luckily the trek was a short one and it took us about half an hour to reach Bumbun Tabing. It was not a very tall hide but it was situated on top of a hillock overlooking a man-made salt lick. The hide was basic and rustically furnished with eight wooden bunks beds and a long bench facing the viewing window. There was also a toilet with water supply from a nearby spring. However we felt rather vulnerable, as the hide had no door. We could not help but imagine some wild animal making its way in to feast on us in the middle of the night!
We ate our packed dinners early and sat by the bench looking into the rainy forest. In the middle of our meal we saw our first animal. It was a wild boar. We were truly thrilled and hoped for more to come. We turned in early to reserve our energy for later sightings during the night and the dawning hours. Bumbun tabing is known for sightings of wild boars, barking deers and tapirs.
The next morning after a rather unsuccessful night of animal sightings we made our way back to Kuala Tahan. The hike back is fairly easy with the exceptions of some steep slippery slopes at certain parts. To make up for the less successful night before we came across two wild boars foraging for food along our trail back. The journey back took us under two hours to Kuala Tahan/Park HQ and brought back some a few jungle friends with us - leeches. If you wish to spend a night at any one of the six hides in Taman Negara, you must register yourself at the Customer Service Centre and pay a small fee for your stay. Be sure to bring a powerful torch or you can rent one from the Customer Service Centre.
The Orang Asli Settlement
a batek girl clad in her mother's sarong
A trip to Taman Negara would not be complete without a visit to the Orang Asli Settlement. The Orang Asli found in the Taman Negara area is the nomadic Batek people. They live in small groups from 10 to 40 family members and it is quite easy to locate them as they normally settle near rivers. They lead a very simple life getting all their provisions from the jungle.
The men hunt and gather food from the jungle using their blowpipes to shoot down monkeys, birds and other mammals while the women prepares the food and care for their young. They live in small shelters, which are made from wood and woven palm leaves.
Should you want to visit any of the Batek community you must go with a recognised guide. During my visit I got to see a traditional fire-making demonstration using only bamboo shoot and wood, and our guide also explained the process and production of a the blowpipe and its darts.
What captivated me the most was a cute creature that the Batek people kept as pet.
There was baby Binturong (Bear Cat) and also a two-month old Rhinoceros Hornbill.
The Binturong is a nocturnal mammal (of the civet cat family) with short limbs and black wiry fur, and it can grow up to four feet in length. We tried to play with the little Binturong but it was obvious that its only interest was sleep as he kept walking off to find a spot to snooze. Many a time after the hunters would take in the offspring of their prize catch as pets and later sell them off to the zoo.
Opening hours :
Counter opens 11.00am - 2.45pm (Saturday till Thursday)
Counter opens 9.00am - 11.45am (Fridays)
Wildlife Department office
Opening hours : 9.00am - 9.30pm
Located at the Mutiara Taman Negara Resort, this is where visitors can book for boats going into the taman negara area for trips such as to Lata Berkoh (Waterfalls) etc. Also booking of hides are also done here. Payment of camera license RM5 per camera, fishing license at RM10 per rod, entrance permit of RM1 per person.
Those wishing to stake out at the hides will have to book & pay prior to going. You will also have to register at the wildlife department. The distance of the hides from Kuala Tahan varies in distance. The accommodation at the hides are nominal, about RM5 per person. Visitors can also rent torches from the department. A deposit of RM20 is required for torch rental in which is refundable upon return of torch. Please bring packed food and water for your stay at the hides. There are toilets at the hides but no cooking facilities. Also if you can, bring along your sleeping bag.
article written by Melissa Lim
best time to go
Drier months from February/March until September/October. There may still be sporadic rainy periods during these months. After all, it's a rainforest!
There are several ways of getting to Taman Negara. Self-drive, by bus and by train. Then, of course - there will be the 2 1/2hr - 3hour boat ride from kuala tembeling to the boundary of Taman Negara.
From Kuala Lumpur
Take the Gombak road heading towards Kuantan from the outer ring road. From here, the new Genting/Sempah highway connects Karak with Kuantan. The old road used to take approximately 3 hours to get to Jerantut. Now, it's possible in 1 1/2hours to 2hours depending on traffic. Take the Temerloh exit. From the exit toll, turn right at the traffic lights and head towards Jerantut on route 98, which is about 53km away from this exit point. Once you get to Jerantut town, you will see a set of traffic lights with signboard directing you to the Kuala Tembeling jetty. The Kuala Tambeling jetty is about 14km away from Jerantut town. Please do not confuse the Jerantut jetty with Kuala Tembeling jetty.
Take the same Genting/Sempah highway and exit at Mentakab. From there head towards Jerantut town.
Please log onto www.ktmb.com.my for train shedules.
Generally, trains leave :
KL Sentral station - 8.30pm . The journey takes about 6 1/2hours from KL.
Wakaf Bharu, Kota Bahru - 6.28am/6.45pm/8.28pm. The train station at Wakaf Bharu is a 6km taxi ride from Kota Bharu. The journey takes between 9-12 hours.
Have a look at our transfers at http://www.journeymalaysia.com/ptatamannegara