Taman Negara: 'Country Roads, Take me Home!'

Trip Start Mar 09, 2009
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Trip End Jul 31, 2009


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Flag of Malaysia  , Pahang,
Monday, May 18, 2009

Hello guys! You all better get comfortable and nicely settled in as this is a long one!   Teman Negara! Simply translated as 'National Park' in Malay, it is one of the oldest rainforests in the world (estimated at 130 million years apparently!). Visiting and exploring it had been something I had really looked forward to for quite a while.  

Day One:


After taking a bus from Jerantut, we arrived in Kuala Tahan - a small town on the outskirts of the national park separated from it by the Tembeling river (quite a nice place to stay- most of the restaurants and cafe were floating picturesquely on the river). We found a cheap dorm bed in Aki Chalet before crossing the river (very, very brown and with very strong currents) via a short boat ride to the Park HQ on the other side. After a brief stop to get our park permits (RM1.00 (approx. 20p) for entry - I think few places in the world make so much genuine rainforest so easily accessible), we set off on our first jungle walk (albeit along the most used path in whole area) to the canopy walk attraction a couple of kilometres away. We saw some interesting flora and fauna (being a rainforest there is an abundance of weird stuff growing and living in Teman Negara) some of which were nicely marked with information signs a la the Countryside Centre in Worcester (although obviously Teman Negara is a tame place compared with the wooded areas of the Midlands(!)). There were huge trees (with huge overground roots)- including one that had recently uprooted - you could see the entire bottom of it - a huge bank of soil, massive ferns, lots of butterflies, several termite nests (you could hear them working away - it sounded a little like Rice Krispies when you first put the milk in!), amber sap dripping out of a tree (apparently some of it tastes like Coke!), colourful worms hanging down on threads in the middle of the path and even wild boar (we had a brief sighting of one before it pelted into the bush) [Rich: There were actually two of them, and I think we were more scared of them then they were of us]. We eventually made it to the canopy walkway (the longest in the world) and proceeded on to it . The walk, at times suspended over 40 foot from the floor, was lots of fun (apart from the abundance of flies that only seemed to exist at high altitudes!) although we did not spot much wildlife apart from the usual butterflies and birds [Rich: and shit loads of flies! I had over 7 fly into my eye on the canopy walk, and several that flew into my ear, one of which I killed in my ear, and then had to scoop out]. We returned along the same route and spotted a giant (and surprisingly flat) spider on the inside of a tree trunk - we think it might have been a hunter spider.

In the evening, we ate at this cafe called Mama Chop's which became our evening hangout for much of our time in Kuala Tahan. We saw the world's biggest bug (it was seriously about as big as my face) and met the Dutch couple again (we gave them some information about the Cameron Highlands - their next destination). We then got talking with this Malay local tour company head called Zeck who was very well-travelled and had spent 7 years living in Glasgow of all places! He was a little bit of a wheeler-dealer but seemed like a nice enough guy. We whiled away the time playing cards and watching some locals play American pool on a full size snooker table! We then meandered back to our hostel after dark - it was quite nice being in a place with absolutely zero street lighting!

Day Two:

We designated this day as a rest day - the other guys wanted to chill and I wanted some R & R to fully recover from my lingering illness before I re-entered the jungle! We then realised (after we had received information to the contrary) that Kuala Tahan, for all its mod cons (internet access etc.) did not have an ATM and we were all in need of a bit more money! Oops! Chris (bless him) volunteered to get the bus back to Jerantut and get cash out for all of us so that was one crisis averted! [Rich: I decided to do a botch toe operation in the meantime, and sow up my trousers again, because near tears were appearing. The big toe on my right foot was getting increasingly more painful and swollen, and it looked like I had a bit of an ingrowing nail. I decided to get my scissors and idoine spray out and cut/slice/saw at the nail, before scooping out and cleaning the wound with my scissors, and then spraying the area with my iodine spray. It looked a bit dodgey, but it seemed to do the trick. The toe stopped hurting and the swelling went down the next day. Ooohh yeah!] Nothing much else happened apart from our usual evening hanging out in Mama Chop's playing Pro Evo ('sorry, Winning Eleven')!

However, once we got back to our guesthouse things picked up slightly. The other guys went to sleep but I wasn't really tired so I went outside the room into the hostel's little garden to read. Nearby were a group of Malay men playing guitars/ tambourines and singing quietly to themselves. I was minding my business just tapping my foot along to the beat (I heard random snippets of riffs I recognised including 'Sultans of Swing' by Dire Straits) when I caught the eye of one of men and he motioned for me to join them! I ended up talking to all of them (Waddy, Kahbi and Fernando Ronaldo(?!) (who left quite early) and making requests for songs (they were actually really quite good!) for a couple of hours! Highlights including 'Wish You Were Here' by Pink Floyd (with vocals) and 'Hotel California' by the Eagles. They told me I was quite lucky as this was the first time the two men had played together for a few months and they only usually played for themselves. They then asked me if I played an instrument and I said a bit of guitar (and anyone who knows me really should understand that I really mean 'a bit') so they made me play for them! I played some Radiohead, then some Flaming Lips and Waddy jammed along with me - it was hilarious! As time went passed, I eventually got confident enough to play along to some of their songs on a tambourine/ sing along to 'Country Roads' by John Denver (which was particularly funny as at that moment a large group of other guests came back from their dinner)! Shortly after this, I told them that it was one more song then I was also going to bed - they then played a beautiful Malay song about the moon - and it appeared between the clouds halfway through before disappearing again. It was truly a great moment...

Day Three:

After breakfast in the usual place (we fast became recognised regulars at our usual haunts), we decided to walk up Bukit Teresek - a hill a little further into the jungle than the canopy walkway. After a reasonable walk to the hill - we stopped at the first viewpoint which offered decent views of the surrounding countryside (and provided the inevitable high-altitude flies!). Unsure whether or not that viewpoint was the actual summit, we continued down the path a little bit until we started to go downhill. Just as we were about to turn back, Chris noticed another viewpoint up ahead. Kudos to him as this one gave a truly fantastic view of practically the whole rainforest (you could see the domineering Gunung (Mount) Tahan framed in mist in the distance). There wasn't a man-made structure in sight - just endless greenery with a small snippet of river meandering slowly through the landscape - it really was awe-inspiring!
  
We took another path home (I guilted the guys into going another way as I wanted to be a little more adventurous!) [Rich: I was more than happy to take the new route home, but tried to make Tom feel guilty when the path got a little hard. The bonus was seeing him trip over 10 times in less than 2 minutes ... I'm not lying, he really can't walk properly]. I got my wish as the trail back was a lot denser than we had previously experience and included fording a couple of streams, many occasions where we thought we weren't on a path at all and endless dodging of leeches (strange creatures - they look like little worms but they move in such a bizarre way- they reminded me of Slinkies of all things) [Rich: Chris and Tom were very blind and failed to see the leeches until I ahd pointed them out]! We also saw a giant (although very, very spindly) bright red spider) [Rich: It was so small/thin that you could only see it when the sun shone on it, yet when Tom saw it he made a noise as if he'd seen the biggest spider in the world]. I had a definite sense of satisfaction upon completing the trek back! We sat down in a floating restaurant for a well-deserved drink. I took of my shoes and of course one of the leechy blighters had got me (he'd obviously grabbed hold of my sandal then hoisted himself on to my foot) - he had fattened himself up nicely on my blood - the bastard! [Rich: You should have worn socks!] I flicked him off and he slunk away under the floorboards whilst I went on to bleed profusely until I managed to get back to the hostel and plaster myself! [Rich: I was very upset that I hadn't been leeched. I did my best to avoid them, but then realised I was missing out on the jungle experience when I hadn't been got, damn my Ray Mears expertise! I did however feel something nipping me during the walk. And although not as good as a leech, I did find a very large, dead termite buried into my sock which had obviously been trying to bite me. Little bastard!] [Rich: On arriving back at the hostel, we'd found that our German room mates had disappeared (obviously they'd had enough of the water not working) and that they'd bene replaced by a Czech girl called Anuska; she looked like an identical female version of Tom Payne, one of Tom's mates.  We got chatting to her and she seemed plesant enough, but at times she just wouldn't stop talking, really wouldn't stop talking, and wouldn't stop sitting on my bed. I found out that she working in the Uk, not so long ago, and that she had worked as in Au Pair in TOTTERIDGE and WHETSTONE! hahaha. Small world. Brilliant. I was tempted to ask who she had worked for, or named some names to see if she had looked after some of my friends from back home. After telling her that some of my friends lived in Totteridge and that I lived in Wood Greem, she laughed at me. haha. Oh well. On the plus side, she did give us 20 Singapore Dollars! I say "us", but she actually gave it to me, but I was kind enough to split it with the lads. I wish I had kept it for myself now!]

After a tiring day, we ended up back at Mama Chop's. [Rich: We also got stranded there because of yet another thunderstorm (but you have to expect it in the rainforest). This was proper thunder too, the kind that actually makes the floor rumble. It was pretty damn cool]. We attempted to play Pro Evo again but the owner (laughing with his friend about us) came over and told us we had to pay saying 'Nothing is free here' and making claims that we'd even have to pay for the toilet. This annoyed us a little as he had let countless Malays play for free before us. Well - we had the last laugh as we had played it for 3 hours for free the previous night! Haha. We played cards instead but were soon interrupted by clouds of flying ants clustering around the electric lights- they were obviously in mating season! [Rich: There were seriously over 60 ants flying around just one light, god knows how many were in the room in total. And one dead ant that had flown into the condensation of my drink, seemed to be being mounted by another half dying ant ... Hmmmm]. A giant moth then flew in [Rich: It was probably bigger than my hand]. We were all admiring it when it casually flew straight into the fan above us and was ripped to shreds. I actually think one of us was saying something along the lines of 'what a beautiful mo...' when it happened. It was the most horrible/hilarious thing I've seen in a while. The rest of the night passed quite uneventfully - other than the brilliant cat who kept sitting under Rich's chair and annoying him [Rich: Fuckin' stupid cat, it was ruining the species brilliant name]. Good boy!

Day Four:

Another chilled day (we decided to do one day in the jungle, one day off really) catching up on the internet etc. I decided to spend the day in a jungle hide (a wildlife observation spot - there were several dotted around the rainforest all overlooking animal frequented water-holes/salt licks) close to the Park HQ. I read quietly on the wooden bench (surrounded by insects) and looked up when I heard an unusual noise. After about an hour I was rewarded as an entire family of wild boar came into the clearing in front of me (5 adults and 6 tiny, bouncing 'boar-lets'). Some had a little drink at the water-hole, others had a little bath. Birds occasional flew in and landed on the boars pecking food off their backs which was pretty cool to watch. All-in-all a great thing to see (even if our guesthouse manager later told me that he sees wild boar running around in the town streets all the time!)

We spent the evening watching the football (which was disappointing for me but happy for Chris as United won the league) and I made my decision to spent the next evening sleeping in a jungle hide (the others decided not to join me (I have more balls)) [Rich: You mean we had more sense. I would have stayed in the jungle at night, had I had the equipment to see things in the dark. Unfortunately, I did not bring my night vision goggles with me, so I therefore decided to go on a night safari where the chances of seeing some REAL wildlife was much much higher].

Day Five:

After breakfast, the buying of supplies for that night, the renting of a sleeping bag and the acquiring of a permit to spend the night in the jungle, Chris and I (Rich stayed behind as he doesn't like caves) set off in the direction of Gua Telinga (Ear Cave) - the home of a colony of bats [Rich: I like caves, I'm just a little claustrophobic, so hearing that I'd have to crawl through small spaces put me off]. After another sweaty (and occasionally extremely boggy) walk (very steep and taxing (Chris fell flat on his arse at one point) at first but it levelled off nicely) and the sighting of a giant ant to beat all others, we arrived at our destination. We did a quick leech check and both of us had some attached to our socks but the little tinkers couldn't get through the material to our skin - aha! we had the last laugh! The entrance to the cave was very narrow (you went in using a rope to guide you to avoid falling into some water) and it soon became so constricted that we would have had to crawl. Neither of us were particularly fond of crawling around in bat shit so we didn't go that far into the cave. Loads of bats were still flying around us though so it was worth it nonetheless [Rich: Thankfully not that many bats, otherwise I would have been really disappointed about missing it].

Chris walked back to Kuala Tahan whilst I explored a little bit to take up some time before I installed myself in my hide (a kilometre walk away from Gua Telinga), I had a quick look at a nearby Orang Asli (aborigine) traditional village. Unlike the villages I visited in Thailand, the people in Teman Negara led a very basic lifestyle - sleeping in small, teepee like huts on the ground- and (way too many) middle-aged women were walking around topless.

I then began my walk to Bumbun Blau (my jungle hide of choice)- I was soon joined by this Orang Asli dude named Lehman. He walked crazily quickly through the jungle (walking pver roots and streams as if they weren't there!) and at times I struggled to keep up with him. He lived in a small village across the river from Blau and told me that the population of it was decreasing by the year - the youngsters tended to move away a lot more to the bigger cities and a different lifestyle.

Pretty soon we came upon my resting point for the night and we parted ways. Bumbun Blau was surprisingly open - it had two massive, glassless viewing windows in the same area as your bed - I expected to be bitten to death by mozzies that night!

There was a separate toilet and shower connected to a water tank in the rafters - but neither worked (not very Muslim friendly in a Muslim nation really). The sleeping arrangements were made up of 6 wooden bunk-beds pushed together. All of them were soaking wet! I was just settling in when this Dutch couple arrived (Erik and Lisz from Utrecht). After my initial bout of courage, I was kind of relieved that I wouldn't be spending the night alone (even if I would be a bit of a third wheel!) They just left their bags and went to explore the area leaving me to peruse the hide's comments book alone. This journal was full of descriptive accounts made by previous guests. An early entry mentioned a crazy dude with a machete who would turn up in the middle of the night and tell strange stories! Then everyone writing after that seemed extremely paranoid about him - the man had turned into a mini urban legend! Some of the comments made were very funny including the fantastic: 'After arriving at the hide we heard some noise in the bushes, got excited thinking it was an animal. Unfortunately it was a Malaysian man masturbating not ten feet away from the hide'! Lets hope he had safely stored his knife...

In terms of wildlife, there seemed to be more inside the hide than out - a giant spider was living in the bathroom and there were random white fungus things growing everywhere - some so big I thought they might be nests. A giant wasp was also very interested in my sweaty bag.

The Dutch couple soon came back and they told me that the next hide (another kilometre away) - Bumbun Yong - was much nicer (by much nicer they meant not entirely covered in water). Aware of the RM40.00 I paid as a deposit for my sleeping bag I followed them to the next hide - just getting in before darkness started to fall. Yong was much the same as Blau apart from it was a little smaller, there was a slightly unnerving amount of dried blood on the floor and it resembled a WWII bunker a little more! The comments book was also a lot more boring barring the entry made by three Geordies claiming they got pissed on a bottle of vodka, put Rolf Harris on their I-pod speakers and then didn't see any wildlife (er... you think?).

Darkness slowly crept upon us. It was beautiful watching this happen to a background of lightning strikes in the distance and dozens of fireflies flitting across the clearing (I think that experience was the highlight of the night for me to be honest). The jungle noise rose and I really began to feel the power of nature! A giant (I have come to the conclusion that rainforests have most of the creatures that exist in the outside world just 20 times as big) gecko appeared in the hide rafters - I thought that he'd hopefully eat all the insects!

Once it became dark, we sat around flicking our torches into the surrounding bush attempting to locate wildlife (eyes reflect light remarkably well - you can even pick up moths!). The darkness was so black - there was absolutely no slight blur of electric light that you inevitably get anywhere else. As soon as you'd start to feel relatively secure in the hide - something a bit mad would happen. Lisz flicked her torch around inside the hide and found this giant brown spider standing on the bed right next to mine! It was monstrous and looked a bit scorpion-esque!

The Dutch couple were both in bed by 21:30 and had brought their own mosquito net with them (guess who the mozzies were all gunning for that night?). So I sat out on my own reading by candlelight (which attracted every flying ant in the entire rainforest) until the early hours - occasionally flicking my torch around. Unfortunately, I didn't see any large wildlife but the jungle chorus was fantastic. The wall of noise noise was mainly made up of insects and frog calls but there were so many tones to it and the occasional strange hoot mixed things up a bit. It was brilliant (if a little scary particularly as we the door to the hide was jammed and we couldn't shut it properly- god knows what could've made it inside - the masturbating Malay man may have turned up!) sat on my own in the pitch black a couple of kilometres away from any sort of civilisation (and about 4 from the nearest actual town).

I eventually decided to get some shuteye. Before I did though, I set about trying to remove the giant spider! Upon poking it with a broom - it fell on the floor - it must have died of shock or something! [Rich: I must add that this was the 2nd spider Tom killed in the jungle; murderous bastard. It's against the park rules!] Very strange. I slept sporadically (wearing ALL of my clothes inside my sleeping bag naturally to protect myself from any potential nasty! Haha) and as far as I know nothing attacked me in the night! I didn't even get that many mozzie bites (maybe the gecko did his job very well!). In the morning, sweaty, in desperate need of a shower and with only 4 gulps of precious water left, I set off on the 4km walk back to Kuala Tahan. I bumped into a group of English people halfway back and I must have looked quite a horrible sight- all dishevelled and dirty! 

[Rich: I spent the night on a jungle safari. When I say night, I mean 2 hours; from 8.30 til 10:30pm. I wasn't really expecting to see anything on the safari, because if you see anything you're quite lucky. I decided to do the night safari because I thought I'd have more chance of seeing something than Tom would have done in the hide. I was right. There were five of us in total, and we all sat/stood on the back of a 4x4 jeep with one driver, and two people sat on the roof of the driving compartment shinning huge beems of light into the jungle to freeze any creatures in their tracks who might have been going for a night-time strole.  Because I wasn't hopeing for much, I was quite pleased to see several sleeping birds, a few wild boars, some cows? a snake (which I didn't actually managed to see) and several wild cats. The wild cats were quite cool, they were slightly bigger than your average cat, and seemed to be spotted like leopards. I managed to snap a few shots of the animals that were close enough to the jeep, but I didn't manage to get everything. It was fun eitherway. (at least I got to see more than Tom!) It was just quite cool to drive around in the pitch black hearing the sounds of the jungle, even though it wasn't the dense jungle, seeing some wildlife, including the odd firefly, and smelling and hearing animals which we couldn't see!]
Completely out of energy and very tired, the only thing that kept me going was the promise of a shower at the other end. And, my god, when I got it - it was bloody worth it! Shortly after my arrival, we checked out and set off for Melacca. The first leg of the journey was to get back to Jerantut (the only entrance point into Kuala Tahan with any onward transport connections)-
Chris took the bus whilst Rich and I chose to take a boat. It was a good choice as the boat journey through the rainforest was really relaxing. We sat there listening to post-rock (how pretentious!) on Rich's mp3 player watching the world go by! [Rich: We also got to see yet another Water Monitor Lizard! They do seem pretty common, but are still pretty big! This one must have been at least over 2meters long! Our boat skimmed one in the water and it lept out of the water and tried to bite the boat! But it tried to bite the boat right where I was! I was actually less than 1 yard away from this huge Water Monitor!! It was pretty damn cool, and it made the boat trip even more worth while! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_monitor]

Before leaving, we had decided to stay another night at Greenleaf hostel. Chris got there first and booked us in AFTER being told that we had to take a private room as the dorm room next to it had to be fumigated as a bloke got badly bitten by bedbugs the night before! Haha. Luckily we didn't have the same problem. We went for dinner and I bought some 'Genuine Fruit Pudding' from a supermarket - I originally thought that these little tubes would be like Frubes, but they were just sticks of gelatin really - the stuff was seriously freaky to look at! Of course I got the strawberry one and waved it around as if it was a tiny penis. And some say I'm immature. Honestly.

The next day (after a delicious morning meal of Roti Canai and discovering that the train we wanted to catch was running two hours late) we got a bus to Temerloh, waited for three hours, then caught one onwards to Melacca - our last stop in Malaysia and our meeting place with Andy- the tallest man to ever grace Asia!

Talk soon boys and girls,

Tom
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Where I stayed
Bumbun Yong Jungle Hide
Aki's Chalet
Greenview Guesthouse

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