Peninsular Malaysia’s interior comprises a vast swathe of territory, stretching northeast of Kuala Lumpur all the way up to Kota Bharu on the east coast. Until recent times this was a remote region of steep, sandstone peaks with knife-edge ridges and luxuriant valleys inhabited by Orang Asli groups. Colonial administrator Hugh Clifford described the terrain in the 1880s as “smothered in deep, damp forest, threaded across a network of streams and rivers.” Indeed, rivers were the sole means of transportation until prospectors, investors and planters opened the interior up through the twentieth century; companies built the earliest roads and a railway arrived in the 1920s, helping to establish the townships of Temerloh, Gua Musang and Kuala Lipis.
Much of the interior has now been logged, settled and tamed, though Clifford’s deep, damp forests survive in the dense chunk of undeveloped jungle that is Taman Negara (literally “National Park”). Gazetted as Malaysia’s first national park in 1925 and covering 4343 square kilometres, Taman Negara forms by far the largest tract of rainforest in Peninsular Malaysia; it contains some of the oldest rainforest in the world, which has evolved over 130 million years as a home for a fabulous array of wildlife. Some of the Peninsula’s one thousand Batek Orang Asli live here too, many as hunter-gatherers; the park authorities generally turn a blind eye to their hunting game.
Reached via the transport nexus of Jerantut, Taman Negara’s main entry point, the riverside township Kuala Tahan, is the trailhead for jungle hikes lasting from anywhere between a few minutes and two weeks. With so much to see here, it’s easy to overlook the rest of the region, but outside the park you can ride the “Jungle Railway” north through the interior, touching on lesser known sections of wilds – caves and waterfalls at Kenong Rimba State Park; remoter areas of Taman Negara at Merapoh and Kuala Koh; and more forest, waterfalls and views at Stong State Park.