We reached the resort at Taman Negara by 3 p.m. – late starts, rainy mornings and pit-stops for middle-of-the-road photography notwithstanding. One of the first things we did on arrival was to check out the possible activities for the next 24 hours – and signed up for a night safari.
And we spent the rest of the evening napping, walking in and around the resort, looking for food (which my meat-eating friends found at a village home where we were welcomed warmly for a Hari Raya / Ramzan meal – and where the aged matriarch smiled sweetly and smoked beedi non-stop) and then vegetarian food (which we finally found at the resort having sent the kitchen staff into a tizzy).
The safari was to begin at 8.30 p.m. and we stood crisply by the open van a good ten minutes earlier, visions of night-time experiences in the jungle (that included spotting wild animals and exotic insects, among other things) crowding for space in our heads. Four others from a Singapore family joined us and we clambered up into the jeep – two of the group literally, since they were sent to sit up on the rooftop on an open, flat wooden seat. Don’t worry, very safe, said the guide looking at our apprehensive faces. I’ve only fallen off twice. Heh, he didn’t say that last bit. What he did say was, you guys on the roof are the lucky ones, you get to spot the animals first. And what he certainly should have added was, in any case, any animal we do see will be an herbivore.
For we did spot animals in the safari – three plump and indifferent cows, a terrified leopard cat and a void in the distance high up on a tree that the guide promised us was a flying squirrel. Wait and watch, he fly now. Er, no, he didn’t fly, if there was indeed any he up there. And if you are wondering about cows and cats inside a 300 million year-old rainforest, it turns out that the resort forgot to mention that the night safari is inside a palm plantation just off the highway, in the opposite direction to the rainforest.
Well, well. We all live and learn. Sometimes.
Not that the night was without excitement. Just as we were turning back towards the main road, the front wheel of our jeep got stuck in a ditch. And there we were, eight tired and sleepy people, a guide trying to be reassuring and not at all succeeding (it may have helped if he did not look so close to tears) and a thoroughly perplexed driver on a mud path in the midst of pitch-dark palm trees. What to do, lah?. No signal on any mobile phone, no further ideas from anyone. And on the positive side, the knowledge that there was nothing more dangerous in the vicinity than a disgruntled cow.
And so we stood, a small bunch of us exchanging ‘what is the worst that could happen’ ideas, during which friend and I kept dissolving into hysterical giggles (we were tired. No? not good enough?). Anyway. At the end of an hour, someone came up with a brainwave – and the jeep came unstuck and we finally headed back to the comfort of the resort and a roof over our heads.
That apart, Taman Negara is a fabulous place, a must-visit on your trip to Malaysia. And here are some tips for getting the best out of Taman Negara:
~ Em, avoid the night safari. Oh, you’ve thought of it already by now, have you? Try a night walk instead – you may still spot nothing but atleast they take you into the forest…
~ The adventure activities on offer at Taman Negara include – river rafting and fishing, a visit to the Orang Asli settlement (original inhabitants of the forest), visits to old caves, treks and hikes into the jungle… All this requires you to spend a minimum of three days – unfortunately we were there just for a night and had to miss most of it. Your resort / guesthouse will usually be able to make arrangements for these activities. Ideally, take a package from the resort that includes food and activities.
~ That said, there was no guide available for the forest canopy walk for the morning but it turned out to be not a problem. You do not really need a guide for this – ask around to see if you really need a guide for all the activities (that just means extra charge from the resorts).
~ Taman Negara is accessed easily by road from Kuala Lumpur – a comfortable 4-hour drive. Or, you can take a bus or cab to Jerantut and take a 3-hour boat ride from Kuala Tembeling to Kuala Tahan (on the other side of the river from Taman Negara, a minute by boat). Most of the resorts / guesthouses are located in Kuala Tahan – there is only one resort, the Mutiara which claims to be inside the rainforest – but this too is on the periphery. It just is on the right side of the river – and if your budget does not stretch so much, stay in Kuala Tahan – we stayed at the Rainforest Resort.
Also read about the canopy walkway inside the rainforest: A walk above the woods