South East Asia Adventure, Stop #3: Taman Negara

Last night in bed, Sue asked me if I had liked the jungle. I thought about it for a second, and said I both loved it and hated it. Then she asked if I would recommend it to someone else. I thought about it again and decided I’d recommend it, but not the way we did it.

Getting to the village of Kuala Tahan, just outside park headquarters, involves a 3 hour long boat trip up the river from the next closest settlement. You are given a brief welcome to the jungle upon arrival, and then set loose to find accomodations in the village. Turns out every building other than the school is a guest house of some sort. All quite rough, but it’s a village and what we’d expected. That evening we were approached by a travel agent guy and a guide to see if we wanted to join this group who were doing a 2-night trek into the jungle. It sounded like a good idea, all gear would be provided, so we decided to go.

Our guide was an old, slightly crazy Chinese man. He knew a lot about the nature of the jungle, got a lot of facts wrong, and has led a rather sketchy life. He was a heroine addict for 20 years, was in jail 4 times (once in Holland for drug trafficking, three times in Malaysia - the jails in Malaysia are quite bad, he says). All of his druggie friends have died of AIDS and they all used to share needles - terrifying! He lost himself in the jungle for a week in order to learn it’s ways when he arrived at this village over a decade ago, and has been a guide for over 11 years now. The younger, Malay guides refer to him as ’sifu’ - master, or teacher, and he is considered a wise man here. Sue considers him a freakin’ idiot.

The rest of our group consisted of 4 Swedish guys just out of high school. If we thought we were unprepared for this trek, they were a thousand times worse! The did the whole trek with one set of clothes each - each were in Billabong board shorts, K-Mart quality “running” shoes, and socks that wouldn’t stay up. Sue and I looked pro in our KL-bought long sleeves and pants tucked into Anita’s knee-high argyle socks that she’d left me when she moved back to Taiwan.

The trip probably wouldn’t have been quite so bad if we’d had Sue’s camping gear with us, but we left the big stuff at our hostel in Singapore so we wouldn’t have to carry things like sleeping bags and cooking stoves around Malaysia. Wish we had them! The sleeping bags were gross, we had to make fires out of soaked rainforest wood for every meal.

The trekking itself was okay. The paths were wide enough, and well travelled enough. But covered in leeches! I was the only one without any damage to my feet after the first day. Sue joined my club on the second. The poor guys! At least 7 made it through each of their socks, so gross! And the cuts just bleed after picking them off.

This was also the worst no-trace camping that either of us have ever done in our lives. I felt we only did slightly better than the group that took packed lunches in styrofoam boxes to the landing site and left all their trash there. So that’s not saying much for us.

We slept the first night in a giant cave. The cave was pretty cool. There were bats, our guide freaked us out about rats coming to eat our food in the night. Oh yeah, and the food was gross! Instant noodles for lunch each day, weird canned foods for dinner - squid in a can, and curry chicken in a can were my two least favourite. I didn’t sleep much in the cave.

The second day involved only 3 hours of trekking. We didn’t even get going until 11:30 am, and stopped at 2:30pm. When I found out that the other group that had stayed the night in the cave was simply trekking out of the jungle from there I was angry. We weren’t even taking a different route as the 1 night people! We were just spending another 24 hours squatting at a hide for the hell of it. We did see jungle cats that night though, so that was cool.

The night in the hide was brutal. Sue and I shared a wooden bed, sleeping head to foot, but neither of us really slept. Putting on my fetid jungle clothes the next day and preparing to face the leeches again was as near to torture as I’ve put myself so far. It also rained a lot in the rain forest, so the water level had been steadily increasing as the trip progressed. We traversed 2 rivers carrying our bags over our heads that last day. It was a short camping trip, but I’ve never been so anxious for a trip to end in my life!

If I did if again, my advice: take your own gear, and hike out to the first hide from HQ yourself, without a guide. Do the cave from there if you’re up to it. You can go there and back in a day, np, sleeping in the hide.

Before leaving the jungle, Sue and I and the guys went to an Aborigine village, and the canopy walk (very cool!), took a shower, and donated all our dirty jungle clothes to the lady at the hostel we stayed at our first night. We then took the boat back to town, then bus to the next town, then bus to the next town, then over-night bus to Butterworth, then ferry to Penang… where we got a hostel and collapsed.

3 Responses to “South East Asia Adventure, Stop #3: Taman Negara”

  1. Dad Says:

    Interesting. Your own experience and judgement probably saved you from many leeches, possible infections and worse.

  2. the mum Says:


  3. Dad Says:

    In light of Mum’s articulate response I think you did a great job overcoming a difficult situation. Maybe you’re cut out to be tour guides, skip the heroin addiction please, kava maybe the way to go. Did they have kava-light?

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