- Accommodation: Agoh Chalets (50 ringgits/night, private room with A/C, private bathroom, free wifi). The guy who showed us to our room made it seem like the place was almost entirely booked up, but when I went to register my name in their guestbook it looked like nobody had checked in or out in several days. The room was fine, definitely on the more rustic side, but I’ve seen worse. We were a little worried about the rat situation since there was a big hole in the bathroom wall. Also the sink, toilet and shower were all connected via the same pipe, so I’m still trying to figure out how that worked. Maybe that explains the brown/green water that came pouring out of the faucet when I turned it on. But in the end it worked out fine and how much can you really expect from a hostel in the jungle in Malaysia anyways? Plus miraculously there was free wifi that worked really well (still trying to figure that one out). All the other lodging in the town looked pretty similar with the exception of the resort across the river.
- River Barge Restaurants: The only places to eat in Taman Negara are the barge restaurants that float on the river. They’re all pretty similar and serve mediocre Chinese and western food. I tried to be a vegetarian and stuck to veg fried rice. The ice is safe to drink, so it’s ok to order smoothies etc. All the restaurants are inexpensive. The setting is pretty cool on the river, you definitely feel like you’re someplace very remote!
After Kuala Lumpur we headed to Taman Negara National Park, the oldest rainforest in the world. We hadn’t exactly figured out how to get there but we hoped that we could stop by the office of NKS, a tour operator, on Monday morning to see if we could get a ride on their bus that left for Taman Negara at 8am. We tried to book it ahead of time but they weren’t open on the weekend so we had to wait until Monday. Their office is located in the lobby of the Mandarin Pacific Hotel near Chinatown. We didn’t want to book a Taman Negara excursion through the hostel because it was expensive and it was an all-inclusive package tour, whereas we prefer to travel independently. The NKS “tour” only provides transportation to Kuala Taman, the base town of Taman Negara, the rest is up to you. It is possible to get there independently without a tour company, but I think it involves a lot of transfers and after our Java experience we decided its probably best to just pay a little more and have them figure all that out for us. One thing I know for sure, don’t take the Jungle Railroad to get there. Lonely Planet says it’s cool, but everybody who did it that we talked to said it sucked – it wasn’t interesting and it was so slow.
Luckily there was still availability on the tour bus so it ended up being 75 ringgits/person to get from KL to Kuala Taman. We also booked transportation onwards to the Perhentians from Kuala Taman through NKS, that way we would have that all figured out ahead of time. The mini-van from Kuala Taman to Kuala Besut (the pier for the Perhentians) was 90 ringgits/person, plus a 70 ringgits/person motor boat ticket from the mainland to the islands. They quoted a similar figure in Lonely Planet so I know that was a reasonable rate.
Anyways, the trip to Kuala Taman was pretty smooth – a 3 hour bus ride to Jerantut, 1 hour lunch break, 30 minute bus ride to the jetty and a 3 hour long boat ride to Kuala Taman. The boat ride was really great, we all piled into these rickety long tail boats where the river was nearly at eye level. It was really beautiful and scenic, even if it was a little too long. I definitely recommend doing it at least one way. Since you’re just sitting on the floor of the boat it did get uncomfortable after a while though, so make sure to leave out a sweatshirt or something to sit on. We arrived at 5:30pm and we ran ahead to try and book a hostel as we read in Lonely Planet that they can get booked up since the town is so small and there’s not many places to stay. It looked like there was more supply than demand to me, but maybe that has more to do with the season. Luckily we got there right as it started to rain, and it didn’t let up for several hours.
The next morning we ate breakfast at a barge restaurant and then were ferried across the river to the entrance of the national park. The boat ride across the river was literally less than 2 minutes and cost 1 ringgit/person. You can catch these boats at any of the barge restaurants. We decided to do the canopy walk first since I read that it can get busy later in the day. It cost 5 ringgits/person. It was fun but I was under the impression that it was one long canopy walk; instead it was separated into different sections with landings. They still say it’s the longest in the world, but then again Malaysia is obsessed with world records so who knows. But most importantly Rosie conquered her fear of heights and walked across the whole thing!
After the canopy walk we set out on another hike up to Bukit Teresek only to find hundreds of school children also on the trail, so we decided to turn around and try a different one. We started along a different trail and noticed that it was very muddy, but we kept going because we figured the entire trail couldn’t be like that, and after all, it rained the night before so all the trails were going to be somewhat muddy. About an hour into the hike our sneakers and legs were covered in mud and we had a few leeches around our ankles. But we just embraced the fact that we were going to be filthy by the end of the day and we were in the jungle after all! (It took me an hour to wash our shoes when we got back and it took almost 2 full days for them to dry out). The trail was totally unmarked and we only passed a couple of people so at certain times I didn’t even know if we were still on a trail because of all the mud. We eventually made it to an intersection with the original trail we wanted to take up to Bukit Teresek. So we started up the trail and at this point I was starting to feel a little woozy since we’d been hiking for about 5 hours. I hadn’t eaten much dinner the night before and we only had a granola bar for lunch. Not too mention that I was really out of shape at the beginning of our trip! But I figured the trail couldn’t be too difficult since we saw all those school kids doing it in the morning. I was so wrong! It was literally a muddy path straight up the hill. We had to slowly climb using our hands and knees with the occasional rope provided. It was more like rock climbing at that point because it was so steep. I was afraid I was going to miss my footing and tumble backwards down the mountain. I guess they haven’t heard of switchbacks in Malaysia. Anyways, about half way up I felt as though I was going to faint. But we had to keep climbing because if we turned around it would have taken us forever to get back and it was already 3:30pm at this point. We wouldn’t have made it back before the sun set, and I didn’t feel like getting lost in an Asian jungle. So onwards and upwards we climbed. Rosie was a savior though and she offered to carry my backpack for me. That helped a lot. The best part is that it was only 800 meters to the top but at the glacial pace I was going – climb for 30 seconds, pause for 1 minute, climb for 30 seconds – it took us over a half hour to get to the top. I’m sure Rosie was probably ready to kill me at that point. It’s pretty pathetic that a bunch of school kids could do the hike when I was seriously struggling. I told myself they didn’t go all the way to the top to make myself feel better. The view from the top of the mountain (Bukit Teresk) was really beautiful so I’m glad I didn’t drop dead on the trail.
After 7 hours of hiking through the muddy jungle, I was pretty excited to shower! It’s funny because when we first saw brown/green water coming out of the faucet we both said there was no way we would shower there, but we quickly changed our minds after our hike! After downing a bag of goldfish we went to dinner at Mama Chops, one of the barge restaurants. We saw a girl who we met on one of the trails and so we ate dinner with her and a couple other guys. The travelers we met in Malaysia and Indonesia were older than what I was expecting, like late 20s, early 30s. It was definitely a much different crowd than the Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia circuit, which tended to be younger than us.
I thought Taman Negara was perfect for 1 day/2 nights, but I don’t understand the ads that show tigers and elephants in the park, like they’re a common sighting. I wasn’t expecting to see any wildlife but if you came there under those pretenses you’d be pretty disappointed. The most wildlife I saw was a squirrel and some birds. Also there aren’t many trails you can hike on your own without a guide. Maybe it would have been better to sign up for a 2-3 day trek with a guide. However, I’m glad we got to experience the Malaysian jungle!