If you are looking at for a long weekend getaway and don’t feel like the hum of a city or one of Malaysia’s many beautiful beaches, then I would strongly recommend heading for Taman Negara. This is reportedly the oldest rain forest in the world, 130 million years, so it should be a must on everyone’s Malaysian to do list. But if that kind of history doesn’t impress you then just go for the sake of getting back to nature.
For this family, we just needed an escape from city life and a chance to move at a slower and uncrowded pace. And that’s exactly what we found. It was a relatively easy drive from KL, and having left just after lunch we managed to arrive mid-afternoon at Kuala Tahan Jetty, where we found a ‘manned’ open air parking for RM5.00 – car sorted we were ready for the jungle.
Accommodation in Taman Negara
There are many options for guest house style accommodation just across the river from Taman Negara, and as the river crossing is only RM1.00 and only takes a few minutes, and there is only a small national park entry fee this makes staying close to Taman Negara a really viable option. However, on this occasion we chose to stay at Mutiara Negara, which boarders the national park.
TripAdvisor has mixed reviews about Mutiara Negara, however, we found it comfortable and relatively clean. There was probably an ant or two in the bathroom and some mold around the edges, and definitely more than one mosquito, but where else would you find a tapir having a nap while you were eating dinner. Yes, there are creepy crawlies, but you are in the middle of a 130 million year old rain forest. More importantly, staff were friendly and helpful, food was very eatable with a good mix of Western and Asian, and we were mesmerised by the sight and sounds of the jungle.
What we did
The afternoon that we arrive we decided to hit the rapids in a long boat, which while not quite the same as white water rafting, was a fresh way to cool down – you don’t remain dry for long – and it gave us an opportunity to explore the river while traversing the rapids. It’s a great thrill seeking activity with the kids but definitely not an extreme sport.
If you don’t mind heights then the canopy walk is a must. Apparently it is the longest in the world. I politely declined the full experience having seen the second tier of the canopy walk, but the rest of the family relished the adventure and continued on. One of the men manning the canopy walk let us know of a viper asleep in one of the trees. We never quite found it, even with his explicit instructions (possibly a good thing). The views are stunning and there is a certain sense of peace and contentment being that far off the ground in a rain forest.
There are local guides for jungle trekking and lots of trails for long or short treks. However, if you are interested in a self-guided walk through the jungle there is a local ranger’s hut, and information boards with destination duration and elevations. In our experience the times were very accurate.
We set out on our own for a morning walk with our two youngish children and no timetable or objectives. We followed a trail which was well marked, but the further you went from the lodge it was slightly overgrown in places and the path had fallen away due to rain in a couple of spots. For a longer journey I would recommend a guide. Our trek was cut short after about an hour when my youngest encountered a leech on her foot. She shrieked the jungle down and we could only placate her by promising to turn back. We carried plenty of snacks, water and insect repellent, and never ventured from the trail. Rest assured this is a large expanse of jungle – if you are unsure of your path don’t venture on.
Orang Asli Village
There is an Orang Asli village open for visitors. We waved from our boat, but declined the invitation to visit.
Long Boat Trip and River Swimming
The highlight for my girls was the long boat ride to a waterfall, further into the park. As usually happens with our family we only had a few minutes at the water fall as the children deviated from the brisk walk that we had intended. Instead they played in the river and learned how to make face paint out of the rocks from our boat driver. Playing in the water and face painting outstripped the chances of too much time spent in the jungle and when asked, this was their favourite part of Taman Negara.
We love the outdoors while enjoying the creature comforts, so Taman Negara ticked all of our boxes. Taman Negara is open all year around but does have a higher rainfall from November until February. The Canopy Walk is closed during this time.