📍Kuala Tahan, 14th September 2018.
Jungle, baby! We were so excited to go on an overnight trek in Taman Negara! Since the only safe way to fully experience the jungle was by getting a guide, we decided to really go for it and booked a two-day trek through our host. This meant we would be paying for one night of accommodation in the guesthouse just to store our backpacks, but we concluded it was worth it.
You can, get an idea of all sorts of treks available and their prices on the official website of the park. The list is, however, a bit overwhelming and doesn't answer all the questions. With very little information available, we only had a vague idea about what to expect. Let us summarise it for you - expect to sweat, get dirty, get wet, get leeches, be exhausted, but mostly - expect to get an unforgettable and fun adventure 🙂 If you are curious to know more – keep on reading 😉 And if you are too lazy to read, skip to the video 😉
To help you navigate
Morning – Let the adventure begin!
The gathering was at 9 AM at a hostel next to the jetty. There were about 10 people around, but nobody was mingling outside their groups – we were all either still sleepy or not ready to socialize with strangers. We received our rations of water (3 x 1.5l per person), sleeping bags, cups, bowls and food to carry. The bags were full now, so the sleeping mat had to be attached externally with a rope. This will be fun.
Following our shy guide Tom, we got on a boat to cross the river to the park. Before we took off we had to register with the park management, which was slightly amusing both to us and the park rangers. Questions like where we were planning on going and for how long were understandable and even reassuring, but the reasoning behind questions like how many pieces of clothes we had with us remain a mystery Until today, trying to think what could they possibly do with this data? Any ideas?
Later that morning – the Canopy Walk
After a short boat ride, we stopped and climbed a couple of stairs towards the canopy walk. A few minutes in, and not only were we sweating like in a sauna, but we were also out of breath. How on Earth were we going to handle the trekking?! Not allowing the scary momentary thought to grow into a full panic, we quickly dismissed it and decided to tackle challenges as they arose. We didn’t have to wait long for that.
Of course, we wanted to film and take pictures of crossing the jungle on the canopy walk. There were, however, two obstacles. First, due to the continuous flow of people on the walk, we were advised not to stop unnecessarily. Meaning no time to look for the perfect angle nor get creative – we were lucky to get some sneaky shots while queuing (I guess the usual rules apply – come super early). Second, David, fearing heights especially when on unstable floor, had to focus on breathing rather than filming not to get paralyzed in the middle of the rope bridge. You should have seen his happy and relieved face as he approached the last platform of the walk. He made it! Unless you have the same phobia, the walk is actually not scary – everything looks very safe.
Afternoon – the hike
Pumped with adrenaline, we jumped back to the boat and continued onwards. We disembarked at the station which seems to have been an ecological research centre at some point in time. In a creepy yet exciting way it resembled the settings of series Lost. This was to be our last touch with civilisation for the next at least 24 hours. Goodbye cellular coverage!
The total walk was about 10 km with three stops in between. 10 km doesn’t sound much, in fact we walk that pretty much every day during our travels without even noticing. Jungle is different though. We barely stepped on a straight surface – instead, we climbed over fallen trees, crawled, jumped, made our way through the bush, got over streams and rivers balancing on narrow pieces of wood laid out not to get the shoes wet (they did get wet regardless). It was very muddy. If that was not enough, the road was never horizontal – it either went up or down, just to make the whole obstacle course more fun. And fun it was!
The 90-120 minutes periods of walk we did between the stops started to become more challenging as we progressed. We had mixed feelings – on the one hand, we didn’t want the adventure to end, but on the other - we were ready to rest for the day. For both of us the day of trekking could be split into three stages.
Stage 1 – super excited and eager to jump over any obstacle.
Stage 2 – starting to get frustrated, tired and nagging quietly to ourselves.
Stage 3 – thoughts about backache or sore feet are gone, instead a trans-like mode, no thoughts, just breathing.
It was tough to get to that last stage, but it was the best – total emptiness of mind, total peace.
Evening – Setting up a camp in the cave
We arrived at the massive Kepayang Besar cave – our accommodation for the night, at around 6 PM. Although the cave can host up to 200 people, there were only about 15 of us – two groups doing the overnight trek. This was unbelievably cool. The cave had an opening on a side through which the remaining of daylight and fresh air came in (air-conditioned accommodation ). The ceiling was covered with bats undisturbed by our presence. We did have to set up a rather big fire to be burnt through the night to scare off any uninvited animals or bats to excrement on us (good thinking!). Apparently, that didn’t stop a puma to pay us a visit that night - so we heard from the guys in the other group later. Not sure if to believe it, but it’s definitely a fascinating almost-happened story to tell 😉
Being soaking wet with sweat, we were thrilled to take a refreshing “shower” in the crystal clear waters of the shallow river next to the cave. This was also the moment David realised he had forgotten his swimsuit and flip-slops. A little bit of nudity hasn’t killed anybody. At least he had less to carry.
Already during the walk, we had slowly started getting to know our fellow jungle explorers. We were seven in total - two guys from Marseille, two friends from the South of Germany, a young solo traveller girl from Munich and us. Short chats, a hand of help offered when climbing, shared laughter when a balancing act failed – all these little things bonded us. This bond only grew stronger during the dinner conversations over a cup of tea. We exchanged travel stories, showed pictures, laughed. Suddenly we were no longer strangers.
Happily exhausted, we went to sleep at around 11PM, all thinking we would wake up before sunrise.
Morning – Visiting caves
At 8:30 AM the following day the last ones were still struggling to open their eyes and join the rest for breakfast. Fresh air does magic. At around 10 AM, way later than expected, but totally chilled, we started our trek back. Same procedure. We weren’t sure how long the journey would be, as Tom, who no longer appeared shy, kept making jokes about the distance to be trekked. In the end, proudly another 8-10 km made. The second day was easier because we already knew the gist and tried to get into the “Stage 3” mindset from the get-go. Maybe it was also easier because we started chatting with each other more often, so the time simply flew by.
Shortly after we left our amazing accommodation we visited the nearby caves. These darker and more humid caves housed snakes, bats and toads. It was fun to see, but we were happy we didn’t stay there for too long. To us, the highlight of the day was the amazing fresh veggie-dry noodle lunch Tom cooked for us at a river on our last checkpoint. Maybe it was the fresh air, the physical activity, the scenery or everything combined – no matter the reason, it was absolutely delicious.
Afternoon – Boat fun instead of aboriginal village
The last stop was meant to be a visit to an aboriginal village. To be completely honest, we were not that eager to go there. We dreadfully imagined this show put up for tourists, a Disney rather than an insight into an unknown culture. We were told we might have to wait for up to two hours as there were so many visitors already queuing. Thankfully we then democratically voted to forego this stop. Don’t think we missed much.
To compensate for the “missed” stop Tom thought it was necessary to lift the mood. He did so by taking a rapid path and splashing all of us with water from head to toe. This was really a lot of fun! The revenge did follow as soon as we got on land 😉
The evening finished with a couple of beers with our fellow Indianas Jones and a dinner on the floating restaurant. It felt like a dinner with friends. Amazing how this kind of experiences bring people together.
This trip was the absolute highlight of our visit to Malaysia!
Good to know
What to wear / pack
- Long trousers if you don’t want to get scratched or expose yourself to leeches
- White/bright socks so that you can easily spot leeches (unavoidable but also not dramatic)
- Comfortable, stable shoes, preferably trekking shoes or sports shoes with a good grip
- Extra t-shirt + potentially pans/shorts – your clothes won’t dry overnight
- Torchlight (ideally headlight)
- Insect repellent
- Camera (but keep in mind that with this humidity the lens will be sweaty)
- Plastic bag to collect your rubbish
We did get a lot of food and snacks from the agency, so there is no need to take anything extra. Just remember, the more you take with you, the more you need to carry 😉
Budget & Timing
|Arrival||5 PM next day|
|Price||230 MYR per person|
Make sure to check out our blog post about getting to Taman Negara national park, accommodation, budget as well as why did we decide to get a guide for our prolonged jungle trekking.
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