Doing it yourself is a concept frowned upon in Malaysia, much as it is in Vietnam. Ask someone about arranging a bus trip and they’ll doubtless tell you that wherever you’re heading, you need to stump for a tour too. The fact is, while we’ve been spoilt with guides in the Cameron Highlands and around Siem Reap, Cambodia, the trip has been far more rewarding, and experiences much more memorable, when we’ve sorted things out ourselves.
Nowhere is this more true than in the rainforest of Taman Negara, Malaysia. Unfortunately, owing to a pending Myanmar visa, our time here was limited to just one full day. Of course, if you’re planning on staying for longer and want to travel deep into the jungle, you’ll need a guide. But for a quick turnaround, you just need a decent guidebook and a sense of adventure.
Getting to Taman Negara is part of the experience and where you should pay a little bit more if you can. We used Han Travel for our trip into the forest from Taman Negara. A two and a half hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur delivered us to the jetty at Kuala Tembeling, where we then had a three hour wait before catching a boat upstream to Kuala Tahan and the heart of the forest. In total this cost 75RM – 40RM for the bus and 35RM for the boat. The latter was definitely worth it, with stunning jungle views and the odd glimpse of huge lizards, teeth-bearing macaques and water buffalo cooling off in the shallows.
Once you’re at Kuala Tahan, though, there’s no need to fork over more cash to travel agents if you’re only there for a day and want to see the main sights. All are well sign-posted, even if some of the paths are undergoing major upgrade works, requiring you to take alternative, marked routes through the undergrowth.
Rather than pay 40RM for a morning trip to the excellent Canopy Walkway and Bukit Teresek, we handed over 1RM each to cross the Tembeling river by boat and simply walked to the former. The path, as mentioned, is severely broken in parts and we ended up taking a strenuous diversion, using provided ropes to haul ourselves up muddy hills and clambering around huge tree trunks and snaking roots.
The walkway itself is only open for the first 280 metres (as opposed to the full 500m), while it undergoes refurbishment work, but at just 5RM each, is totally worth it. The views are spectacular and if you go early and beat the tours, you can stop to take in life at 45 metres up in the canopy. Bukit Teresek is great too, especially if you’re willing to get up nice and early to beat sleepy backpackers.
The walk back to Kuala Tahan is a breeze and you can take in the delightful swamp loop, including a stop at a hide to try and spot some of Taman Negara’s more elusive fauna.
Best of all, though, is Lubok Simpon, a popular swimming hole that was deserted when we arrived after walking the 1km from the jetty at the Mutiara resort. The current of the Tahan river here is rapid, but swim in the shallows or against the fast flowing water and you’ll have an experience you’ll never forget. There’s a real feeling of isolation here, despite being so close to civilisation, and it’s best experienced on your own, rather than as part of a tour group.
In total, these fantastic activities cost 14RM for two people, including a boat back across to Kuala Tahan village. That’s compared to 80RM for a tour taking in the same things. Yes, you’ll get some local knowledge, but there’s a level of fun and adventure that’s missing. For such short trips, guides are really not necessary.
Returning to KL from Taman Negara needn’t mean stumping up for Han or NKS travel to take you back either, despite what their upselling reps might say. Public buses leave for Jerantut at 7:30am, taking 90 minutes and costing a mere 7RM per person. The bus from Jerantut to KL, which departs hourly, is only 16.80RM. Han Travel charges 75RM per person to get back to Malaysia’s capital. I know which one I preferred.