The Inner Jungle Trek Through Taman Negara
As we sat circled around the fading candlelight in the belly of a cave deep inside Taman Negara National Park; our minds ran wild with thoughts of the delicious feast about to begin as well as the vicious beasts that would inevitably creep in.
Taman Negara National Park
Taman Negara was Malaysia’s first national park and has the reputation of being the world’s oldest deciduous rainforest at over 130 million years old. It was established in 1939 as the King George V National Park but later renamed to Taman Negara; which means “National Park”; after Malaysia’s independence from the British back in 1957.
The park has many activities for both family vacationers and backpackers looking to break away from the lights and noise of Kuala Lumpur. Easy day hikes are possible on the extensive boardwalks winding through the park; a canopy walkway takes you high up into the trees for a truly unique view of the jungle, and a few multi-day inner jungle treks give you the chance to test your metal against sweltering heat and humidity.
Guess which one I chose?
The Inner Jungle Treks
There are a few options to choose from if you do decide to brave the conditions and go on one of the Inner Jungle Treks. It’s worth mentioning that entry into the park will cost RM1 or $0.25 and a camera license RM5 or $1.50 per camera.
1 Day – A great way to experience the park if you don’t like camping. It starts with a day hike through the jungle, then a visit to the Orang Asli village, all ending with a ride down river “rapid shooting” your way home. Price – RM160 or $42.
2 Day 1 Night – In my opinion the best deal and what most travelers choose. It includes everything from the one day trek but this time you stay the night in a massive cave deep in the jungle. Price – RM230 or $60.
3 Day 2 Night – Both the owners of our hostel and our guide said that this was a rip-off. You hike the same distance as the two-day, but instead of leaving that afternoon, you spend an extra night near the pickup point. Price – RM330 or $85.
4 Day 3 Night – By far the most expensive option and it’s hard to find enough people to go; but if you do get the chance; I hear it’s the best way to experience Taman Negara. Price – RM500 or $130.
Myself and a few travelers I’d met hiking in the Cameron Highlands decided to go on the two-day one-night trek. We were accompanied by eight others from the hostel as we loaded our packs with food, dishes, and camping gear. We set off to the docks around ten, where we boarded a longtail and began boating upriver.
Boating Up The Trembling River
The ride upriver through the rapids lasted about an hour and a half and included a paper bag full of delicious curry soaked chicken and rice.
Once we landed at the dropoff point; our guide gave a quick overview of the hike, and we headed off into the jungle across a rusty swinging bridge.
A Rusty Bridge To Nowhere
We were quickly indoctrinated into the difficulty of the jungle as we crossed over swampy lowlands that swallowed up anything that touched the surface. The trail was especially soupy that day due to the torrential downpour the night before.
The Swampy Lowlands
One by one we started to notice these small little worms latching on to our socks and ankles. They quickly became engorged, and we realized that they weren’t worms at all, they were leeches!
I’d grown up with these bloodthirsty bastards, so they didn’t bother me much. However, for many of the others, that was not the case. 😂
After about four hours of plucking leaches from our blood-drenched legs and sweating straight through our clothes, we finally reached our destination. A small opening in the Earth known as Gua Kepayang Besar.
The Entrance To Gua Kepayang Besar
Big Kepayang Cave
This void in the Earth’s crust is named after the Kepayang tree; a tall timber found in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guniea that produces a large poisonous fruit known as “soccer fruit.”
The word Gua translates to cave and the word Besar to big; thus giving it the complete English name; Big Kepayang Cave.
Inside The Big Kepayang Cave
The entrance to the Big Kepayang Cave is very deceiving. It doesn’t at all look like it would open up to a chamber the size of a football field. Our guide told us that over three hundred people could fit inside. I have no idea how he got those numbers, but it looked about right.
After a few minutes of staring at the cave ceiling looking for bats, we threw down our packs, hung up our clothes to dry, and set off once more into the jungle for a much-needed river bath.
It’s Bath Time
Ok; it was more of a stagnant stream surrounded by mud, but at least the water was a relaxing semi-clear turquoise.
Once we had removed the stink and blood stains from our bodies, we hiked back to the cave in the evenings dying light, where we were joined by another group of travelers who would also be calling Gua Kepayang Besar home for the night.
Preparing For The Feast
As we ashamedly watched the guides prepare our dinner, we sat around the flickering candlelight chatting and getting to know one another. In total there were nine countries present.
Cave United Nations
That’s why I love traveling; in no other scenario would you find complete strangers from The Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Malaysia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and The United States in the same cave in the middle of the jungle. NO WAY!
Exploring The Cave
After our multi-course feast of Nasi Goreng and randomly picked jungle berries, we walked around exploring the cave until we were all too tired to stay awake any longer; so we hit the mats and settled in for a restless sleep.
Cave Tip: There is a porcupine that likes to visit in the night for dinner leftovers. He/she showed up at our back door around eleven when everyone was asleep and tried to steal some grub; so watch your stuff.
Sunlight trickling into the rear of the cave and the sounds of the jungle coming to life was our wakeup call, and it was the nicest one I’ve had in a long time.
The Best Wake-Up Call
After a quick breakfast of jam and toast, we packed up our gear and headed out for our second day of adventures in Taman Negara.
It was pretty clear right off the bat that the second day was going to be much nicer than the first. The sky had held back it’s furry through the night, and the jungle was beginning to dry out; relatively of course.
The swamps that we had trudged through the day before were becoming fewer and far between, and the leeches; far less prevalent.
Things Are Looking Up
It was only a short walk to nearby Gua Kepayang Kecil; “the Small Kepayang Cave”; where we spent some time looking for “Cave Racers”; snakes that hang from cave walls and strike bats as they fly by; crazy right?
As we headed on from Gua Kepayang Kecil, we quickly settled into a rhythm and were making decent time. After a quick stop for lunch, and a dip in the river, we had finally made it to Kuala Terenggan; a remote jungle lodge on the Trembling river and the end of our trek through the wilds of Taman Negara.
Kuala Terenggan Lodge
After rejoicing our victory over the jungle and a quick hose bath; we loaded up in the longtail and headed South. By this point we were all very excited and tired; so much so that we completely forgot about our last stop; the Orang Asli village.
The Orang Asli Village
Located on the banks of the Trembling river, just North of Kuala Tahan is the Orang Asli village. Directly translated to “indigenous people,” the inhabitant of this settlement are members of the Bateq; an African tribe that has been in peninsular Malaysia for as long as anyone can remember.
Seriously; no one knows how they got there!
Two main theories have arisen trying to make sense of their origin; the first is that they were escapees from slave ships that used to sail through these parts, and the other; that they had migrated to the area before the separation of the singular continent Pangea during the Mesozoic era.
Whatever the case may be; it was by far the most fascinating part of my visit to Taman Negara National Park.
A Curious Local – Courtesy Of Flo Thomas
The reason that we were there was not only to learn more about this lost African tribe, but also to learn how to use their primary hunting weapon; the blowgun.
So we gathered around our guide Kree and listened intently as he explained the different parts of the ancient weapon as well as how to use it.
Showing Us How It’s Done
After half an hour of failed attempts trying to hit the raggedy teddy bear strung up on fishnet, some of us finally started to get the hang of it; the locals, however, didn’t seem too impressed.
Once we’d each had a go, Kree gave us some time to walk around the village, and before we knew it, we were back on the boat rapid shooting our way home.
Getting To Taman Negara
Getting To Taman Negara
Taman Negara and the town of Tanah Rata are some of the more remote areas in Malaysia. That being said; it is still fairly easy getting there. The most popular routes are from Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands, and Perhentian Islands.
From Kuala Lumpur – You can either take a 3.5-hour bus from Pekeliling station in KL to Jerantut for RM18 or $4.50, then to Kuala Trembling via a 20-minute taxi or public bus for RM20 or $5, and finally a 3-hour boat ride to Kuala Tahan for RM25 or $7. Or; you can just catch a van in KL’s Chinatown with Han Travel for RM75 or $20; the latter being less of a hassle.
From Cameron Highlands – There are a plethora of tour agencies who will take you to Kuala Trembling with the boat ride to Kuala Tahan included. The prices range from RM65 to 95 or $17 – 25.
From Perhentian Islands – The only company that I was able to find going the whole distance was Han Travel, and they charge RM95 or $25. Most companies in Kuala Besut; the jetty point for the Perhentian Islands; pass through the Cameron Highlands, so you might be better off splitting the trip in two.
Where To Stay
There are plenty of places to stay in the town of Tanah Rata, but only a few budget-friendly options. The resorts are great if you want to go all out in the jungle, the guest houses are perfect for couples, and the hostels are ideal for us penny-pinching backpackers.
Wild Traveller Lodge – The place where everyone in Taman Negara come to hang out. The owners are all certified guides and super friendly. Each bed faces the window overlooking the Trembling river across from the park and the sunrise and sunset from here is fantastic. The rooms start at RM25 or $6.50 for the eight and six-bed dorms and RM30 or $7.75 for the four.
Han Rainforest Resort – If you want to stay inside the Taman Negara National Park amongst the trees and roaring rivers, then this is the best option for you. Prices for a single double-bed room are RM90 or $24, and the cost goes up significantly for added space and amenities.
Tebing Guest House – This is one of the newer places in town and sits at the top of a hill overlooking the river. The rooms are spacious, and they seem to have a lot of useful information about the area. Price – RM128 or $33.
What Gear To Pack
What gear to bring and the quantity of each, of course, depends on how many days you plan to spend in the jungle as well as your individual preference. Below is a list of what I packed for the two-day one-night Inner Jungle Trek.
Packing Tip: You will be provided with a sleeping pad and bag as well as food and dishes for the trek; so make sure to save some room for the extra supplies.
- At least a 32L Backpack
- Hiking pants/ shorts
- 2 Shirts
- Hiking Shoes
- 2 Pairs of socks
- 2 Pairs of Underwear
- Head/Sweat Band
- Extra Batteries
- Insect Repellent
- First Aid Kit