Taman Negara (Jan 24-26): Rainforest, Leeches, and a Python

My trip to Taman Negara was longer than what I expected, but it was an experience in itself! I had to pay 65 ringgit ($21.22AUD) for what I thought would just be a shuttle from my hostel in Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands to the main town of Taman Negara called Kuala Tahan. However, I was in for a surprise… The 13-passenger van picked me up at my hostel at around 8:15 and there were five other people there. We dropped three people off in a small town, stopped for a 15-minute snack/bathroom break (squat toilet, of course!), and arrived in the town of Jerantut at around 11:45am. There, three of us had to fill in our forms to get a permit to enter the park. The park entrance was only 1 ringgit (30 cents), and if we wanted to take pictures, we had to pay 5 ringgit ($1.60). The man said that they’ve kept the park admission fee the same since they opened the park to the public, but it obviously isn’t enough to wholly contribute to the upkeep of the park, so they asked that we keep everything clean. We were then brought to a desk, where a guy spent about ten minutes trying to sell different tours to us at a “discount price,” and if we didn’t make the decision at that very second and get 10% off, we’d have to pay full price when we get there. It was to the point where it was just uncomfortable, where I said no multiple times, and he continued with, “Well, if you’re not taking any tours, then why are you going?” I’ve already spent so much money on tours and I’ve read that hikes could be done in the Taman Negara without a guide, so I figured I would save my money this time. Anyway, he said we had until 12:30pm before the next bus would come pick us up. I decided to get lunch, which was just fried noodles for 5 ringgit ($1.63), and I tried to eat it as fast as I could before the bus came. We then boarded another 13-passenger van (which was full this time) and made our way back the way that we came but this time, stopped about 30-45 minutes later at a ferry pier. We were sat down and talked to about the park, and told how it was the oldest rainforest in the world (more than 130 million years old) because it was untouched by the ice age, and told what to do if we got lost. We had to wait for them to get our permits ready, which we would have to carry with us in the park at all times. At about 1:30pm, we were led to a dock, which was only accessible by literally walking across a wooden board that wasn’t more than a foot in width, and hoping that we (along with any of our stuff) didn’t fall off into the water. Some people brought huge suitcases so it was interesting watching them try to get their stuff across. We had to board an extremely long canoe-like boat and were seated two by two. They stacked all of our luggage in a massive pile in the front and I have to say that I was quite impressed that nothing rolled off during the trip.

The boatride was cool because we were level with the water and it was so relaxing, I kept nearly falling asleep. We saw some water buffalo on the way but other than that, it was just a bunch of green for two and a half hours.

We arrived at Kuala Tahan right before 4pm to a dock on the side of a floating restaurant, and then they wanted us to stand in line and tell them where we were going so that we could get suggestions and/or transport to our accommodation.

I couldn’t be bothered waiting in line so I made my way to my hostel, which was up a huge hill but was literally less than 300 metres from the dock. Kuala Tahan is a pretty small area, which probably has less than ten restaurants and about two convenience stores so you can pretty much cover the entire thing in less than ten minutes. I was staying at Wild Lodge in a 6-person mixed dorm (with a riverside view) for 26 ringgit per night ($8.60) and while I was unpacking my stuff, I was greeted by Thom, a Dutch guy, who basically introduced me to everyone else.

In my room, there was another Canadian girl (finally!) named Alana. She’s from Vancouver but she’s been living in the UK for the past ten years. Another main person who I met was Ros, who’s from the UK, has been travelling for nearly six months, and was planning to move to Melbourne next. I visited with people for a few hours and then we finally decided to go for dinner, which I was extremely happy about since I was starving! Let me just say that the food in Kuala Tahan is known for not being great, so I knew not to have high expectations. We went to a place that I believe was called Julie’s Hostel and I decided to get chicken curry with a coke. Afterwards, we all treated ourselves to ice cream and I tested out a Kit-Kat Drumstick, which was so good! We all went to bed, and I completely passed out since I hadn’t had much sleep during the past two nights.

On Friday morning, I woke up and most of the group had left to Cameron Highlands. The only people remaining were Thom, Ros, Alana, and I. We took advantage of the free coffee and tea from the hostel, and then the four of us went for breakfast at the same place that we had had dinner at the night before. This time, I had a tomato omelette with an iced coffee for 8.50 ringgit ($2.78). We then decided to go on a hike together. We went online and decided to do a 2.1-km hike to a cave called Telinga Cave. We had to pay 1 ringgit each (30 cents) to get a boat across the river to the start of the trail, and then we went on our way at about 12pm.

I’ve been hiking plenty of times before, but this was a proper proper hike. There usually wasn’t a distinct trail and sometimes, we didn’t even know which way to go (thank goodness for the app ‘maps.me’ so that we could make sure we were on the right track!). We had to push aside many (prickly!) branches, step over and under logs, and climb up and down steep hills.

Our first sign to turn back probably should have been the humongous snake that us three girls saw (it went away so fast that Thom missed it). I happened to hear something in the leaves, looked over, and about one metre away from Alana, I saw the body of a snake about 4-5 inches in diameter. I warned everyone else, and Ros and Alana were luckily able to see it before it “ran” off. I’m surprised how calm I was, but the girls seemed more shaken by it (I guess I’ve already had an experience of nearly stepping on a snake before). Our second sign to turn back should have been the leeches that attempted to dine on us three girls. All of a sudden, I heard Alana say that two leeches were on her ankles so Ros checked her ankles and had one, and then I checked my ankles and had one as well! Luckily, the one on me hadn’t latched on (likely due to my super toxic 80% deet that I had on!) and when I touched it, it wiggled onto my sock and I brushed it off. It actually surprises me how many people don’t know NOT to pull leeches off because they release an anti-coagulant that won’t allow your skin to form a scab (and therefore you keep bleeding, and usually bruise and/or scar). Maybe it’s cause I grew up playing in a lake that had leeches so my mom always told me not to pick them off. Unfortunately, Alana didn’t know this information so when she picked off the two leeches, her feet wouldn’t stop bleeding. We all stopped walking and decided whether we wanted to keep going, and for some reason, no one said to stop so on we went. We got to a huge group of (what we thought were) ants and some had huge pinchers!

If we stood quietly, all we could hear was them munching away. This would have been our third sign to turn back. We had to walk all the way around them since nobody wanted to walk through them. Then a few minutes later, Alana got a third leech. When she pulled back her shoe to look at her first bites, the top of her shoe was covered in blood – it wouldn’t stop! Luckily, nearby was the first written sign that we saw so we went to look at it and we found out that we had only done 800 metres during the past hour. We all agreed to turn around. I think we would have been alright if we did the 2.1km and there was a boat to take us back, but we weren’t sure if there would be a boat there and we didn’t want to risk it. Plus the leeches were stressing everyone out. I don’t think anyone was particularly enjoying themselves! Ros pointed out the leeches to me on the way back – they stick their heads out of the dirt and wiggle upwards back and forth, waiting to hop onto someone – it’s so gross! I think all of us were happy to finally get back out.

We paid 1 ringgit each to get back to the other side of the river and then went back to the hostel. I was nervous to take off my socks because I was scared that I’d find a leech underneath but luckily, I left the forest unharmed (and was the only one!). It was crazy watching Alana wipe off the blood and then less than 30 seconds later, her foot would start dripping again. Ros, Thom, and I decided to go for lunch to one of the floating restaurants called Mawar Floating Restaurant. We were the only table there by the time we ordered (just after 2pm) and decided to start by sharing some spring rolls. We each took a bite but they were hot on the outside and cold on the inside so Ros told the server. However, they just reheated the ones that we gave them and so we got them back with bites – they definitely do things differently in Asia! We then sat and talked for quite awhile and all of a sudden, the lady comes with the Tom yum soups that we all ordered and apologised – she had forgotten about us! The whole family had been sitting there watching TV and eating their own meals and then she remembered our main dishes. I didn’t actually think that we had been waiting too long, maybe because we were just so deep in conversation. The soup wasn’t too bad but didn’t really taste like a typical Tom yum. I also got an iced tea to go with my meal, which was probably the best part.

The paying process was a whole other story, which seemed to be way more complicated than it needed to be. My full meal ended up being 12 ringgit ($3.92). That afternoon, I visited with Alana and we did some research about what we saw. We found out that there’s only one type of python in the forest called a reticulated python, which is the longest snake in the world and the third heaviest! Apparently they’re really rare to see so I guess we were…. lucky? We also found out that the ants we saw were actually termites, so that explains why they were so noisy. We went for ice cream, and chatted with some new arrivals, such as Katie who came from London (literally everyone I meet is Dutch or British). That evening, Thom wanted to go on the night hike tour but I think after our day hike experience, none of us girls were too keen to go. The four of us girls went for a late dinner to a restaurant right by the hostel, where Ros and I split a burger (which they covered in sweet chili sauce) and some more springrolls. The meal cost me another 12 ringgit ($3.92). I was having a difficult time trying to decide if I should stay for another day because I wasn’t sure what I would do the following day other than relax (which wouldn’t be so bad). Alana and Ros were planning to head back towards Kuala Lumpur, and Ros was planning to continue to Melaka, which would be my next stop. I finally decided to join them since I didn’t want to figure out the buses on my own and because our bus left at 10am the next morning, we agreed to meet at 9am for breakfast.

On Saturday morning, I got up at 8:30, packed up my stuff, and Ros, Alana, and I had coffee at the hostel and then went for breakfast to the same place that we had went to for dinner the night before. This time, I decided to have a banana pancake, which cost me 5 ringgit ($1.63). We then took all of our stuff and walked to the end of the street to a retro, bright blue bus, which would take us to our next stop. Taman Negara was another beautiful place, which perhaps I preferred to enjoy at a distance, from the deck at our hostel 🙂 Next time, I’ll just have to come fully prepared with leech socks! Love always

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