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 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, 3-hour 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. The river crossing is RM1.00 and only takes a few minutes. However, on this occasion we chose to stay at Mutiara Negara (see prices here), which borders the national park and means that you can access the paths from your hotel, without having to climb up the steep steps from the river every time.
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. 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 eatable with a mix of Western and Asian, and we were mesmerised by the sight and sounds of the jungle.
The first time we visited a few years ago we saw one of the resident tapirs having a nap while we were eating dinner, but on our last visit in February 2019, we were told the tapirs are no longer seen in the resort.
Taman Negara activities
Before you head out to the park, you need to pop in at the National Park office behind the resort to register and pay fees for visitors and cameras, all just some ringgits. All these activities can be booked at the Mutiara Taman Negara reception. Also note that if you don’t want to join one of their scheduled trips, you can opt to do one just for your family.
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.
Taman Negara canopy walk
Taman Negara Canopy walk was closed down in 2018 and it will remain closed for an undefined time.
On our first visit 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.
Trekking in Taman Negara
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 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. This is a large expanse of jungle – if you are unsure of your path don’t venture on.
The trail to Bukit Terasek is only 1.7km but believe the staff when they tell you it will take an hour to get there. The path is pretty much only steps that take you to two fantastic viewpoints. The trail is all boardwalk/wooden stairs, but it is hard work! Keep your park tickets with you, they have rangers occasionally checking them along the paths.
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 and swimming trips
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.
If you don’t want to go on the boat trip, there is a small swimming spot just a 20-minute walk away from the hotel, all on wooden boardwalk. The shallow river and soft sand make for a perfect playground, only disturbed by the steady flow of boats passing by. If you have several days in the park, pack some snacks, books, maybe a spade and head over hear for a nice picnic.
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.
Check the latest prices for Mutiara Taman Negara here.