As a traveler, have you ever tried to „get lost” in a real jungle? Maybe you have heard about explorers, penetrating deep into the rainforests of Amazonia, Congo or Papua? If you think that these explorers are „too professional” for you, that doesn’t mean that you can’t try a real equatorial rainforest. And you have a great opportunity for such an experience in the jungle of Taman Negara, Peninsular Malaysia. Go on reading this guide to Taman Negara, and the things you can do in this fantastic rainforest, full of life!
Basic facts about Taman Negara
There is a high mountain, located in the central-eastern part of Peninsular Malaysia, called Tahan Range. It is separated from the main watershed of the Malay Peninsula, but there is the highest peak of this land- Gunung Tahan (2187 m). The peak itself, as well as the whole mountain range, is covered by deep rainforest. While in the high mountain areas the forest consists of low trees and bush, in the low mountain foot it is a gorgeous deep equatorial jungle. And the whole mountain with the lowlands around it today is turned into a national park- the oldest national park in Malaysia.
This park’s name is Taman Negara, which simply means… „National Park”. Yes, it doesn’t have a specific name, but it still has become one of the most famous national parks in the whole of Southeast Asia. It is not just old, but also very large in area, shared by three Malaysian states- Pahang, Kelantan, and Terengganu. However, its most famous part is in its southwestern part, in Pahang State.
Taman Negara in Pahang has its starting point, a „base camp” for exploring this part of the national park. It is a village, called Kuala Tahan, located at Tembeling and Tahan rivers confluence. From there, you can penetrate deeper and deeper into the jeep jungle, by jungle trails or by boat on the rivers. Some of the treks are nice walks in the jungle, while others can be difficult and long trekking expeditions, including the trek which reaches Gunung Tahan Peak.
Our trip to Taman Negara
Since Taman Negara is one of the most important and representative places in Peninsular Malaysia, we decided to include it in our Peninsular Malaysia itinerary. Most visitors reach Taman Negara from Kuala Lumpur, but we came from Tioman Island. We had to travel by one ferry and three buses, since it is the best possible way to connect these two destinations, anyway, it was not too difficult.
First we back from Tioman Island by ferry to Mersing in the morning, then we got an afternoon bus to Kuantan. There are several buses from Mersing to Kuantan, and the whole trip is around 3 hours. We spent one night in Kuantan, and on the next day, we got the bus to Jerantut, the nearest city to the southwestern part of Taman Negara, for 2 hours. And from Jerantut, there was another hour and a half by another bus (which now doesn’t exist anymore) to Kuala Tahan, our Taman Negara „base camp”.
Geography of Taman Negara, Pahang
As usual, we wanted to experience the things to do in Taman Negara by identifying the places of interest in the area, as well as some specific events, traditions or something else that can’t be found anywhere else. But first, we started by making a „geographical image” of the place, and what is the most essential, representative and specific. Then we could think about where and how can experience and enjoy it.
So, one of the most important features of Taman Negara is the forest. A real equatorial rainforest, that is said to be one of the oldest on the Earth. Peninsular Malaysia is located within the equatorial geographical zone, and the rainforest is its most representative feature, at least inside the mainland. In fact, it was the most important reason why we included it in our Peninsular Malaysia geographical itinerary.
But the area of Taman Negara is not just a jungle. There is more than this- rivers, even some waterfalls or at least rapids, as well as some karst systems. The area is hilly and mountainous, reaching its highest point at Gunung Tahan.
And there is something more- the human culture. In Taman Negara you can find some of the oldest aboriginal tribes in Peninsular Malaysia- people called Orang Asli. They have their villages in the jungle, and you can meet them, becoming familiar with their way of life.
Thus we determined our things to do in Taman Negara- to try, taste and enjoy its incredibly beautiful rainforest, and all the interesting spots and places hidden in it.
Kuala Tahan- the „base camp”
This is where we spent three nights. Kuala Tahan is the starting point of most of the things to do in Taman Negara. It is a resort village, located at the confluence of Tahan and Tembeling rivers. In fact, you can see more tourists than locals there. Kuala Tahan consists of two main, and several smaller streets, and many small hotels and guesthouses. Don’t expect anything luxury- this place is much proper for travelers, backpackers, and adventurers. From there, the only thing that you have to do is to descend to the river’s wharf and its floating restaurants and get on a boat- to the other bank, or a river cruise.
In Kuala Tahan, there are many tour companies, offering various tours (you can see them around the center of the village, as well as in the round building over the riverside). And if you want to experience the jungle in full, you have to join some of them. But some of the things to do in Taman Negara you can do by yourself, no need for tours or guides.
Things to do in Taman Negara, Pahang
So, here are the things to do in the Pahang part of Taman Negara- the things that we also did, as well as the things that we didn’t do, but really wanted to try if we had more time. In general, there are three main types of things to do, and they can be combined.
Hike in the jungle
To hike in the rainforest of Taman Negara is the best way to feel and touch this geographical zone. Just like the rainforest of Amazonia, this one is very rich in plants and animals. You can see plants of various sizes, as the largest and highest of them are the Tualang trees. If you are lucky, somewhere deep in the jungle you can see Rafflesia, the largest flower on the Earth.
There are a lot of animal species too. It is almost sure that you will see the monkeys. But there are many more- Malaysian gaur, various kinds of deers, wild pigs, Malayan tapir, even tigers, and elephants. However, they are much rarer. Most of the animals are shy and hidden much deeper inside the jungle. There are also a lot of birds, reptiles, and insects.
The jungle is not silent. When you walk through it, you can hear a lot of birds, but the noisiest creatures there are cicadas. Their constant sound is coming from everywhere around you. Sometimes you can here other mysterious sounds. And they are mysterious because in most cases you can’t see the animals making these sounds, but only can hear them, somewhere deep in the jungle.
So, let’s make a jungle adventure in Taman Negara. You don’t need to bring a machete with you to make your way through the jungle unless you want to try it in the most difficult way. There are several trails, and let’s start with the easiest one.
Classic easy trek- Bukit Teresek and Canopy Walk trail
This is actually an easy walk in the jungle. You don’t need a guide to do it, and you can make it for 2-4 hours (depending on which version of it you will walk). I can say that this is the first thing that you can do in Taman Negara, for your first impression.
First, you have to go to the river wharf with floating restaurants. Then, cross the river for 1 RM. On the other bank is Mutiara Resort- a complex of bungalows. The first thing that you have to do is to go to the tourist center, from where you have to pay your entrance fee for the national park, and the Canopy Walk Bridge.
Currently, the entrance fee for Taman Negara is 1 RM per person. I have read about plans to make it 30 RM for adults and 15 RM for children, from January 1, 2020. But seems it is postponed, for now, we were there at the end of January’2020 and the fee was still 1 RM. However, have in mind that it seems you can expect the new price at any moment. For the Canopy Walk, you have to pay an additional 5 RM and have to do it in the center, not at the Canopy Walk itself.
Canopy Walk Bridge
Then, the whole path of the Bukit Teresek trail is well arranged by wooden boards and stairs on the slopes. Just follow the signs. Canopy Walk Bridge is a little aside from the main path to the top. When you arrive there, you have to wait in a queue, then follow the instructions of the staff.
Canopy Walk Bridge is one of the longest in the world. However, a part of it is currently closed. But it still provides an exciting experience in the high layers of the forest. Just be sure you are not afraid of heights. After the bridge, you can back to the main path to Bukit Teresek.
Bukit Teresek Hill
Then, after another 20 m ascending, you will reach Bukit Teresek. The peak is 334 m high, but the panoramic view to the distant Gunung Tahan is a bit behind the highest point. From there, if you just want an easy walk, better back on the same path to Mutiara Resort and Kuala Tahan. But if you feel more adventurous, proceed on the path, which descends steeply down to Tahan River.
There is a path along Tahan River, part of three other trails (that I mention below). When you reach it, just turn left and after 45 mins to a 1-hour walk, you will back to Mutiara Resort. On your way, you can stop for a rest at a nice riverside place with a small pavilion, called Lubuk Simpon. The whole trek (its longest version) can be done for 3-4 hours, and if you don’t have time for more, or just not into too many adventures, it can be enough to „taste” the equatorial forest of Taman Negara.
Riverside hike- Lata Berkoh
You can do this trail by yourself too. Being a riverside hike, it is relatively plain, without too many ascends and descends. It follows the Tahan River, and the first half of it is also a part of two other trails. It is a nice, but not a round trail- you have to back on the same path to Mutiara and Kuala Tahan. But it has some adventurous parts- if you want to accomplish it to Lata Berkoh, you have to cross the river. And it is natural and wild- no bridges for crossing. You have to cross the river on foot, and in the middle, it is a bit deeper than your waist (better don’t do it on a rainy day!). But that’s no problem, a little further is Lata Berkoh.
Lata Berkoh is called „waterfall”, but in fact, it is just a rapid. It is not so spectacular, but the whole landscape of the area is really wild. There you can swim or just play in the river (as you would already cross it). Finally, you back in the same way, unless you have arranged a boat to wait for you (it would be a special tour, more expensive than the normally offered tours). The whole trail would take one whole day- in both directions it is 23 km (14,5 miles).
Night jungle watching- Kumbang trail
First, let me explain something about the night jungle watching. As you know, many animals sleep or hide in the daytime, but in the night, they become active. They go hunting or looking for a partner. So, the chances to see wild animals in the night is much higher than in the daytime.
For this purpose, there are several hides (in Malay called „bumbung”)- observation huts in the forest. The nearest one is called Bumbung Tahan, and it is just 10 m walk from Mutiara Resort. Some of the hides are arranged for overnight, with beds and even a simple bathroom. And Bumbung Kumbang is the most popular one since it is located in an area with the highest chances to see more of the wildlife.
Bumbung Kumbang is relatively far, so this activity requires two days, spending the night in the hide. You can go there on the Kumbang trail for around 6 hours, or by boat. For this adventure, it is advisable to join a tour with a guide, which includes a boat cruise on the Tembeling River. Depending on the number of travelers, the price starts from 240 RM per person. But if you do it by yourself, you have to book a night in Bumbung Kumbang on the same day or the previous day.
Caves in the jungle- Gua Telinga and Tenor trail
This is a short trek, on the western side of Tembeling River, west of Kuala Tahan. It can be accomplished for around 2-3 hours. The most attractive part of it is Gua Telinga Cave. Its name means „Ear Cave”, derived from a rock formation shaped like an ear. Unfortunately, now the cave is closed for visiting after a rock collapse accident. You just can hike the trail, but can’t enter the cave.
Caves in the jungle- Gua Kepayang and other caves on Keniam trail
This is a longer and more adventurous trek. Normally, it is organized for 2 days and 1 night, by joining a tour that every tour company offers in Kuala Tahan. It includes a boat ride to Kuala Terenggan, then hike on the Keniam trail and finally back from Kuala Keniam by another boat ride (or the same route but in the opposite direction).
The trek itself is very exciting, but the most exciting and adventurous part is the cave’s experience. There are several caves on the route- Gua Kepayang Kecil, Gua Kepayang Besar, Gua Daun Menari and Gua Luas. And the tour includes spending the night in Gua Kepayang Besar, with a shower in a river, campfire and candlelight dinner. So you can not only explore the jungle but also the wildlife in a cave. Again the price starts for 300 per person.
Climb Mount Gunung Tahan trail
This is the most essential trek in Taman Negara. It starts from Kuala Tahan and ends in Sungai Relau, northwest of Gunung Tahan peak. Normally, it is planned for 7 days and 6 nights. It is not just a „walk in the jungle for tourists”, but it is a real jungle expedition. You spend the nights in campsites and walk through various altitude zones. The highest peak- Gunung Tahan can be cold- the temperature can drop down to 4 C, and there are even witnesses for frost! It means that you have to bring more clothes too.
Probably you can do it by yourself, but as far as I know, by law, it is required to join a tour with a guide. The price for a whole group can be between 2800 and 3500 RM, so if you are more people together, it would not be so expensive.
Waterfall in the jungle- Four Steps Waterfall
This is an additional route, with some tour companies add to the Gunung Tahan trail. It takes some additional time (and price), depending on the tour. The waterfall is deep in the national park and the jungle, and the route is the hardest of all Taman Negara routes. Definitely not for people without experience. Reaching the waterfall is maybe the most difficult adventure of Taman Negara, but for those who like such activities, it would be unforgettable! Don’t be surprised if you see an elephant or even a tiger!
More jungle adventures
There are some easier, but also exciting tours for exploring the rainforest. The most attractive of them is the night walk in the jungle. It is a one-two hours tour, usually arranged for the late evening. Unlike watching animals from a hide (bumbung), it includes walking. To see more animals, just you have to walk quietly, avoiding noise. Of course, you can do it by yourself, but joining a tour is recommendable, first for your safety. And also, you can learn more by the guide, so the trek would be more meaningful. Usually, the price is 30 RM per person.
Another experience is night safari in the rainforest. It is the same as the jungle walk, but just you penetrate in the jungle by 4WD vehicle, and thus you can penetrate much further. They know the best places to stop and observe the night wildlife, so it can be worth trying too. The duration is 2 hours, and the price is usually 45 RM per person.
Jungle hiking tips
There are various „levels” of exploring the jungle. You can try the easiest way in the classic Bukit Teresek and Canopy Walk Bridge trail- it is just like a walk in a normal city park. At the same time, the most difficult way is the trek including the Four Steps Waterfall, which requires enough strength, hiking experience, and hiking gear.
Most of the trails are in low altitude, so the weather is hot and wet. The paths are wild and uneven, often muddy. So you need proper hiking shoes. Then, the weather is not always stable. So, bring a raincoat or poncho. Yes, it is hot, but to be wet is not a good idea- not good for your health, for your luggage and your camera or mobile.
For longer treks with spending the night in the jungle, of course, you have to bring more things like torch or flashlight. Tents are normally provided by the tour companies. And for hiking Gunung Tahan, you need also some warm clothes, because as I mentioned above, the temperature may drop significantly there. And finally, don’t forget repellents against mosquitos!
We made our easy classical trek to Bukit Teresek, reached the peak and descent on the other side of the peak to the main path along Tahan River. We had enough time and before back to Mutiara and Kuala Tahan, we wanted to reach a nearby bumbung (hide), called Bumbung Tabing. I confess that I was wearing sandals (which was ok on the wooden boards’ path to Bukit Teresek, but not so convenient on the muddy descending path on its other side). But Ying Ying and our children were wearing simple hiking shoes.
Anyway, we could see various insects like ants, spiders or beetles, and we also saw short and small stretching worms on the leaves. Soon my daughter said: „One of these worms wanted to bite me!”, then she was nervous and scared, and wanted me to bear her on my back. In the beginning, I just told her to not worry, they are not dangerous, however, I also didn’t know what actually was this. But because I saw our children scared, we decided to turn back to Mutiara.
We stopped in the middle for a rest, and Ying Ying also said that a worm tried to bite her. Then I looked at my foot, and I was horrified to see that it was covered in blood. Then I realized that these tiny worms were leeches. Four leeches were sucking my blood, and maybe there have been more of them because the blood was running. And interestingly, I couldn’t feel any pain, nothing!
How to deal with leeches
Then I made a mistake, which fortunately didn’t bring any consequences- I quickly pulled the leeches from my foot. When we back to Kuala Tahan, Ying Ying discovered two more leeches in her socks and feet too. The first thing we do is to check more information on the internet, and this is what we learned:
- The leеches are harmless, they don’t spread diseases.
- But pulling them from your skin is a mistake because part of their teeth and jaw can remain inside and can cause infection.
- They use anesthetic substances when they bite to suck blood, thus the human or animal can’t feel anything (at least by most kinds of leeches).
- In Taman Negara, they go out and are more active after rain (in general, at the end of the rainy season- exactly the time when we were in the national park).
- They are not in the water (so you don’t need to be afraid in the river), but mainly on the ground, especially on (and under) fallen leaves.
- You can protect yourself by wearing special socks, and if they anyway bite you, you can use salt or ash to let them leave you.
Now, let’s see what other things you can do in Taman Negara.
Float on a jungle river
There are two main rivers in the area- Tembeling River, and the smaller Tahan River, which joins Tembeling exactly at Kuala Tahan. And there are speed boats on these two rivers in both directions.
Reaching Kuala Tahan from Jerantut
This is a cruise, which is not exactly a „thing to do” in Taman Negara, but more a way of transportation to reach or leave Kuala Tahan. The cruise is approximately 3 hours long and starts from Kuala Tembeling Jetty, which you can reach by shuttle from Jerantut or Kuala Besut. Then, the boat ride is 45 RM. We haven’t tried it, and we have heard that it is not so comfortable, but the sights and views around the river, especially approaching Kuala Tahan, are really worth.
Tahan River cruise
This is a tour, offered by every tour company in Kuala Tahan. Actually, it is Lata Berkoh cruise, because the boat reaches a place just 10 mins walk before Lata Berkoh. On its way, there are one or two stops (depending on the tour you book)- The Fish Sanctuary (Kela Sanctuary), and a place with high trees. We joined this trip, paying 240 RM per boat (later we found a company, offering it for 200 RM), and a boat can bring not more than 4 persons. At the end of January, the river water is not so pure, looks muddy and brownish, due to the rain, so we didn’t swim. We only fed the fish in the sanctuary and relaxed at Lata Berkoh. But the cruise itself, floating in the thick corridor of the jungle was the most spectacular part, and only for this, it is really worth it.
Tembeling River cruise- rapids shooting
The tour companies offer a simple river cruise on the Tembeling River, which includes rapids shooting. When the boat passes through rapids, or even without rapids, the driver intentionally shake the boat or use a stick on the water to make everybody wet. And yes, this is really fun (just protect your camera and mobile- they give a dry waterproof bags for that). The cruise is usually 40-45 RM per person.
But most of the cruises on Tembeling River are combined with other activities- Kumbang Hide trail, Keniam Trail or visiting Orang Asli village. We chose the last one, thus we combined it with the third kind of activity- meeting the local Orang Asli people.
Meet the Orang Asli people
Orang Asli are the oldest people living in Peninsular Malaysia. They are divided into 18 tribes in three groups. And the oldest group is called Semang, or Negrito. It is unclear where they come from, but they look like Africans, Papuans or Australian Aborigines, so they probably have some distant common origin. And here, in Taman Negara lives one of these tribes- Batek (or Bateq).
Bateq are nomadic people, hunters in the jungle. Most of them don’t have constant villages, but more from one place to another, depending on the season, animal habits, or death of a family member. But there are now two constant villages, due to the growing tourism. And the people who live there have adopted some attributes from the modern civilization, like modern clothes, plastic, and metal accessories, and using money.
So we visited them as a part of our Tembeling River cruise. Yes, tourism definitely impacted their life. They can speak Malay and even some English. And they accept tourists every day. So, various members of their village show the tourists how to make fire, how to blow through a pipe with an arrow, and the guide teaches about their way of life. Anyway, although now the Bateq people’s life is not so authentic, it is still worth to visit them and learn more about them. The whole combined trip with rapids shooting was 60 RM per person.
Transportation- how to reach Taman Negara in Pahang
As I mentioned above, to explore Taman Negara, you have to reach Kuala Tahan. The direct starting point for Kuala Tahan is Jerantut, a small city in the middle of Peninsular Malaysia. And there are also tourist buses and vans from Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Cameron Highlands.
We were lucky to use a cheap bus that travels between Jerantut and Kuala Tahan for only 7 RM. But this service was stopped from February 1st, 2020, so now all the ways to travel to Kuala Tahan are relatively expensive. Buses and vans from Kuala Lumpur and the other popular destinations are from 90 RM and above. We could find a van (arranged by one of the tour companies in Kuala Tahan) to Cameron Highlands for 70 RM, and probably the price in the opposite direction is the same.
So, the cheapest way to reach Kuala Tahan is probably first to travel to Jerantut. Then, from there you can find a van to Kuala Tahan for 25 RM, or for 5 RM to go to Kuala Tembeling Jetty and take the boat to Kuala Tahan.
There are a lot of small hotels and guesthouses in Kuala Tahan. Most of them are not so cheap, but you still can find some budget options in Booking and Agoda. We found Greenland Guesthouse- several bungalows, located relatively far from the center. But the location is not a big problem, because Kuala Tahan is enough small.
Another option is to live in Mutiara Resort, but it is more expensive, with prices from 300 RM per room and above. Danz Eco Resort is a nice place too, but it is far from the center. However, its location can be better for some of the activities (they also offer some tours).
Food and other important tips
Kuala Tahan is a small place, and you can’t find many things that are in the big cities. No malls, no banks, no ATM, no pharmacies. We were in a lack of Malaysian Ringgits, but there is no way to change any money. At least some of the tour companies allow paying by credit cards, and it was the only way to pay without MYR in cash.
There are only several small supermarkets, from where you can at least load your food supplies for your jungle treks. But at least there are some good restaurants too- in the center, and at some of the guesthouses. And the best of them are the floating restaurants at the jetty- they are not only as cheap as the other restaurants, but also provide a nice environment at the riverside and the surrounding jungle.
We spent in Taman Negara 3 nights, in Greenland Guesthouse, and we had two days to try the best of the rainforest. On the first day, we made the classical Bukit Teresek and Canopy Walk Bridge trek. And on the second day we made the two cruises- on Tahan River to Lata Berkoh, and on Tembeling River to Orang Asli village, including rapids shooting. Of course, it was not enough to fully experience Taman Negara, but at least we could use our time in the best way.
Then we left Taman Negara by van to Cameron Highlands, our next destination in Peninsular Malaysia. And I can say that we experienced the best of this important feature of this country- the equatorial rainforest.
Get some impressions about the wildlife of Taman Negara from the video below!
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