The main gateway to Taman Negara, the township of Kuala Tahan, 250km northeast of KL, is the location of the national park headquarters and the pick of its visitor facilities. It’s also where to get your bearings and seek advice before crossing the Tembeling River and heading into the forest: well-marked trails include relatively easy strolls along boardwalks to hilltops and a treetop canopy walk; tougher day-treks out to caves and hides overlooking salt licks in the jungle; or a ten-day return ascent of Gunung Tahan, Peninsular Malaysia’s highest peak, involving steep climbs, river crossings and camping rough. If you’ve never been inside tropical rainforest before, just listening to the bird, insect and animal sounds, marvelling at the sheer size of the trees and peering into a tangled understorey of palms, flowering lianas, luminous fungi and giant bamboo is a memorable experience. You don’t have to go far to encounter wildlife either; monkeys, elephant, tapir, mouse deer, seladang (wild oxen) and a host of smaller creatures can be found – with a dash of luck – within minutes of Kuala Tahan’s ranger station. If you’re not a hard-core hiker or wildlife spotter, you could also take advantage of opportunities for a river swim, low-key rafting or even angling.
Kuala Tahan is reached via the service town of Jerantut, somewhere to shop for supplies and change transport. Note that you can also enter Taman Negara further north at Merapoh and Kuala Koh – or even hike to either from Kuala Tahan in a ten-day traverse of the park. Both require more effort to reach and have fewer facilities, but they’re also less crowded than Kuala Tahan – though not necessarily easier places to see wildlife.Read More
In bustling JERANTUT, 50km south of Kuala Tahan, road, rail and river converge in a small grid of streets. Activity revolves around the central, open-air bus station, set among market stalls close to most of the businesses, with the train station 500m west and Tembeling Jetty, for traffic upriver to Kuala Tahan, a short taxi ride north. And that’s about it; the town is just somewhere to find last-minute supplies, top up with cash (there are no banks at Kuala Tahan), and have a feed before heading out.
- Kuala Tahan
Planning a visit to Taman Negara
Planning a visit to Taman Negara
Given that tropical rainforest is always sodden, the driest time of year is between February and mid-October, with the peak tourist season roughly from May to August – make sure you book ahead. Mid-November to mid-January is extremely wet, and movement within the park can be restricted as paths go under water and rivers become impassable. Usually, however, most of the park’s trails require no more than an average level of fitness, though of course longer trails require some stamina. Some essential camping and trekking gear is available to buy at Jerantut, or to rent at Kuala Tahan, but take your own if possible.
To budget for your trip, remember that for any trek involving overnighting in the forest (other than in a hide close to a park office or accessible by boat), you must hire a guide. The charge may seem steep, and boat excursions can also prove costly, but these are the only substantial outlays you’ll face, as inexpensive accommodation, eating and transport options are easy to find. Many visitors never do any serious trekking and stay for just two or three nights, which is enough to get a reasonable flavour of the park.
Getting around the park
If you simply need to cross the river from Kuala Tahan, small on-demand wooden boats (daily dawn–9pm; RM1) cross from Kuala Tahan’s floating restaurants to the jetty below the resort and national park headquarters. Put your fare in the tin by the ferryman.
Aside from trekking, wooden longboats seating four to ten people are the only way to get around Taman Negara from Kuala Tahan; you can use them like a taxi service to reach distant trekking trails, or speed your return journey after a long hike. Boats might wait for you or, more likely, return at an agreed time; don’t expect them to hang around indefinitely if you are late. Book through the national park office; prices are the same for single or return trips.
The Orang Asli
The Orang Asli
The twentieth-century spread of the timber, rubber and palm-oil industries through the interior had a huge impact upon the region’s Orang Asli, who were traditionally nomadic peoples living by hunting and slash-and-burn agriculture. These days many have been forced to settle down, existing at the fringes of the cash economy (a transition steered in large part by the government’s Department of Orang Asli Affairs). The mountain-dwelling Temiar, for instance, trade in forest products such as herbal medicines and, increasingly, timber (though their logging activities are minimal compared with those of the State Forestry Department). Some Batek do still live fairly traditional lives at Taman Negara, where you might meet shy groups walking in single file along forest trails, or come across their temporary vine-and-forest-brush shelters in jungle clearings.
However, three-quarters of Orang Asli peoples (including many local Batek, Senoi and Semang) live below the poverty line, compared to less than a tenth of the population as a whole. That fact makes it all the harder for them to confront the many forces, from planning agencies to Christian and Muslim groups, who seek to influence their destiny. The issue of land rights is among their gravest problems, for while the country’s Aboriginal People’s Act has led to the creation of Orang Asli reserves, at the same time many Asli traditional areas have been gazetted as state land, rendering the inhabitants there, at best, tolerated guests of the government.
Kuala Tahan hides
Kuala Tahan hides
Spending a night in one of the park’s hides (known as bumbuns) doesn’t guarantee sightings of large mammals, especially in the dry season when the salt licks – where plant-eating animals come to supplement their mineral intake – are often so waterless that there’s little reason for deer, tapir, elephant, leopard or seladang to visit, but it’s an experience you’re unlikely to forget. It’s best to go in a group and take turns keeping watch, listening hard and occasionally shining a torch at the salt lick – if an animal is present its eyes will reflect brightly in the beam.