Posted by: Richard Marshall | February 20, 2018

Taman Negara

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View into the park

For my final trip in Malaysia I decided to head for the peninsula’s most famous national park, Taman Negara. I had always been interested in going but had been put off by the hassle of trying to get there from Penang. Getting  there involved a bus to the Cameron Highlands, spending the night there, another bus to Kuala Tembling and then a boat to the park. In fact much of the journey was very interesting, winding through what remains of Malaysia’s forested spine and then a very attractive boat journey to the main park entrance. The trip back was direct but absolutely terrifying as I caught a lift with a minibus being returned to Penang but not really intended for passengers. It was just the driver and myself in the vehicle and he drove so fast and recklessly I was convinced we were going to have an accident and the minivan would crumple like a concertina. That was later, however, and the boat trip especially, up the languid tropical river, was a reminder to me of why I love Southeast Asia.

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View from the boat

The boundary of the park is the Tembling river. With the exception of an overpriced and tacky resort in the park itself, most of the accommodation is on the other side of the river. I chose the Balai Serama guesthouse, run by a Dutch woman married to a Malay man, in the hope that she might have a better idea of what appeals to Westerners than most Malaysian operators. I was not disappointed. Although the inexorable palm oil apocalypse was creeping forward towards the  river, the hotel had a wide deck overlooking the magnificent forest on the other side. The food at the hotel was some of the best Malay food I have ever eaten and, fortuitously and controversially in rural Pahang, cold beer was available.

The park is quite heavily visited and one of the reasons I didn’t stay in the resort was that I predicted, correctly, that is was likely to be full of noisy people. Fairly typically, though, most people had no interest in walking more than a few hundred metres. Most of the local tourists contented themselves with visiting a long, vertiginous canopy walk near the park entrance. Foreign tourists tended to book tours that took them down the river to visit Orang Asli villages. The advantage for me was that I was not particularly interested in those things, and after walking just a few minutes I easily escaped the crowds and had the forest largely to myself. The forest is vast and truly magnificent. I was there for about 5 days and spent most of the those days entirely in the forest. Walking all day as very sweaty and tiring work, but I was rewarded over 50 species of birds, about a third of them new to me. Some were spectacular Southeast Asia specials, including Rhinocerous Hornbill. I saw boars, a gibbon and a brief glimpse of a mouse deer, but sadly no tapir and, of course, nothing like a tiger or panther. Nevertheless the park was one of the best outdoor experiences I’ve had in Southeast Asia and if I return to Malaysia I’d definitely make the effort to return.

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Part of the Canopy Walkway

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Beautiful river in the park


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