What better way to get back to nature during a holiday, than to stay at a resort that is located right in the heart of Taman Negara.
Back in school, national parks always made star appearances in all my essays about conserving the environment. Little did I know then that I would one day set foot in Malaysia’s premier national park – Taman Negara.
Touted as one of the oldest rainforests in the world, Taman Negara encompasses three states, Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu. The park, established in 1939 as the King George V National Park, boasts a myriad of flora and fauna.
Nature enthusiasts are bound to get excited with the number of activities to be indulged in, including the chance to get up close and personal with the rainforest’s inhabitants.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by the rare sight of a barking deer grazing several metres away from two resting tapirs, close to the entrance of the park. Tapirs are known to be nocturnal and shy by nature, so this was indeed a surprise.
Staff members of Mutiara Taman Negara Resort were also all abuzz about rumoured elephant invasions on resort territory in the past few nights. Sadly, none of us was lucky enough to witness anything except tracks.
At Taman Negara, river cruises are almost an inevitable part of the experience. (Be sure to have your caps and shades, and a healthy dose of sun block on.) Our very first cruise, at midday, was to visit the Kelah Sanctuary.
Here, a rare and highly sought-after type of game fish, the Malaysian Mahseer or ikan kelah is reared right in the river, as it can’t be bred in captivity.
Due to rain, however, the water was murky and fish hardly visible. Clambering to higher altitude on the still under-construction observation deck, I managed to spot movement in the water and glimpses of fish that swam close enough to the surface.
Next, we decided to squeeze in a little hike up Lata Berkoh, one of the main attractions of Taman Negara. What seemed to me like a hike through nature’s very own obstacle course of twines, branches, trunks, logs and streams was apparently just a low-intensity walk through an easy walking path.
We stopped midpoint due to the high tide, and savoured the sight, which was breathtaking. Gushing, chilly water with deep pools framed by enormous jagged rocks seemingly in existence from the beginning of time, the waterfalls looked like a scene right out of the movies. Swimming is not advisable although a picnic would have been perfect.
Another popular water activity at the park is rapid shooting. Don’t worry, it’s not the kind of shooting you imagine; rapids are fast flowing, turbulent parts of the course of a river. Involving the boatman’s skilful manoeuvring of the boat, getting wet is the thrilling part. So, be sure to put your gadgets away and enjoy the ride.
Taman Negara at night
Visitors to the park can also go on a jungle night walk to catch a glimpse of nocturnal insects and creatures. From the wildlife observation hide, we managed to spot several barking deers grazing. There’s even an option to spend a night in one of these observation hides.
With nature’s orchestra playing in the background, we kept our eyes peeled. Aside from a praying mantis and several spiders, we managed to spot two centipedes mating quite discretely, behind a signage, appearing to look like a very long centipede.
It attracted quite an audience among the group, but thankfully for the centipedes, it began to drizzle. We made haste but the trees proved to be good shelter. So good were they that we only realised the extent of the downpour once we left the park; it was raining cats and dogs in the rainforest!
In an attempt to get shelter from the rain, we spotted a python resting quietly in a corner. Quite resigned to letting nature do its thing, we made camp. We witnessed the interesting sight of a barking deer zigzagging through resort territory as it poured.
After an hour with no sign of the rain ceasing, we made our way back through the rain, soaking wet but rather satisfied with the sights and sounds we took in.
The day after
The next day, the trek proved to be quite a challenge due to the the previous night’s downpour. Good shoes are a must here.
Having luxuriously applying sun block, I was told it was the wrong move as leeches are apparently attracted to the sweet smell. Common sense would dictate that you apply insect repellent instead.
Not being in leech-proof attire upped the paranoia level in me, as I constantly checked my legs for the bloodsuckers. (Early detection saves lives!) Spotting a dreaded black dot on my ankle, a flick told me it was not dirt. My first leech bite ever!
Before long, out of breath, we made it to the main attraction of Taman Negara: the canopy walk.
The canopy walkway is the longest in the world, up to 510 metres long. Be forewarned, the 43 metres high walkway is not for the faint hearted.
However, it’s one cool thing to slash off the bucket list so hold tight and just don’t look down. Unfortunately, it was under maintenance when we were there with half of it sealed off and I’m quite convinced I missed the best parts. I will most likely return to complete this.
The national park is protected land, whereby the only ones allowed to live off it are the Orang Asli who make it their home. Small built, dark-skinned and curly haired, the Batek tribe who are steeped in superstition live a nomadic lifestyle.
Visitors to Taman Negara can pay a visit to their settlement and see how they live. I personally think that it is an encroachment of their personal space but many people are intrigued with their way of life. You can watch them make poison darts for blowpipes and even test your skills with the blowpipes (sans poison).
Other activities at the park, which I intend to complete one day, would be mountain climbing and cave exploration. Taman Negara has so much to offer, you’ll never run out of things to do.
Cabin in the woods
Mutiara Taman Negara Resort is the only resort you will find on site. Accommodation ranging from tents to bungalows are scattered all along the fringes of the park. The cabin style accommodation offers you basic amenities with sufficient modern comforts where the forest is literally at your back door.
Amenities were rather run down and in need of replacement in the first quarter, but the resort is undergoing a facelift whereby renovation is taking place by stages. The newer phases have a touch of modernity while maintaining its rustic appeal.
All rooms come with views but make sure you are prepared to come face-to-face with nature. You are after all in someone else’s backyard.
Here, there are several dining options with a good mix of local and international cuisine. The restaurants are open all day and you can choose the one which suits your wallet best. The resort also offers barbeques upon request.
Entry permits and various licenses from the Department of Wildlife can be obtained at the wildlife counter. You will need entry permits and licences for cameras and fishing.
If you intend to stay the night at the National Park, Mutiara Taman Negara Resort offers a variety of packages for you to choose from. – By RACHAEL FRANCIS
To know more, visit Mutiara Taman Negara’s official website.
Tags: Batek settlement, Batek tribe, blowpipe, canopy, canopy walk, hike, kelah, Kelah Sanctuary, King George V National Park, Lata Berkoh, leech, Mahseer fish, Malaysian Mahseer, Mutiara Taman Negara, national park, night walk, oldest, Orang Asli, Pahang, rainforest, rapids, river cruise, Taman Negara, tapir