Our third location in Malaysia, Teman Negara once again offered up warm hospitality and an adorable town – Kuala Tahan. The lady that ran our hostel – Tahan Guesthouse – was a really sweet old hippy lady, and the guesthouse itself felt like some kind of nature-inspired pre-school, all bright colours, murals of jungle creatures on the walls, and positive vibes. She gave us an amazing deal on the room – where if we promised to stay 5 days, it became essentially half price – and we were super happy to have found a room with both a balcony and our own private (squat) toilet! The first time we’d had our own toilet in Malaysia! It’s the small things.
We took a walk around (tiny!) town, checking out the river that dissects the town from the jungle itself, and spent a chilled day sitting on our balcony, watching the wildlife in our back garden, with big squirrels and birds bouncing through the trees. Given we were in the jungle, there was a real humid heat, so we decided to REALLY enjoy our balcony and private back garden, and got (almost) naked! We read trashy books and passed the time, only popping out in the evening for some (rather bland) food… the only downside to the town.
The next day, we ventured into the park – Teman Negara – for our first day of trekking. After a breakfast of spicy beef and rice, and super-sweet hot coffee, we took a boat over the chocolatey brown river and into the jungle. We took it fairly easy on the first day, sticking to the most common trekking loop which took in a VERY HIGH canopy walk, a steep climb to a lookout point, and a trek back through dense jungle and a swimming hole. We thought as it was a popular route it’d be pretty easy, but due to the heat and humidity it actually ended up being really tough! And also pretty long, at about 5 hours! There was a lot of ‘up and down’ involved getting up to the canopy, then the viewpoint, then down throught the jungle – so steep we had to use ropes to climb down parts of it! We were comforted to see all the other backpackers were just as puffed out and sweaty as us!
Despite not seeing much wildlife (as we’d learnt is normally the case in dense jungle from our Laos excursion… those big animals know how to hide!) the trek was really fun and scenic, it got the blood pumping and was nice to be back out in nature again, listening to the crazy loud howls of monkeys, insects and birds in the trees. Our favourite part of the trek was probably swimming in the Simpon swimming hole, which was essentially a part of a big river – so cooling and refreshing after sweating through our clothes! And at the very end of the trek – near the visitor centre – we saw a whole family of monkeys! Which was pretty cool. The guides told us apparently a lot of the animals tend to hang out near HQ, I guess because they probably get fed!
The next day we decided to take a rest day, as our feet and legs were pretty beaten up from the trek, so we had a lovely sunny lazy day, ‘testing out’ the restaurants in town (pah!) and treating ourselves to lunch on a floating restaurant on the river; then proceeding to lay around in the garden eating ice lollies and reading.
Then, to the BIG trek itself! We’d booked ourselves into a ‘hide’ deep in the jungle – which is like a huge hut on very tall stilts, where we would sleep, in the hope of seeing some wildlife late in the evening or early in the morning. This meant a fairly long trek into the jungle, so we set off, with plenty of water and food, for our long trek.
We bounced along for the first hour or so, along the tourist-friendly paved trail, taking in the beautiful old trees, and the odd bird or lizard shuffling around. Then, after an hour or so of clamouring over tree stumps, along barely-there trails, trying desperately not to slide into the river… we all of a sudden lost our bearings. We walked five minutes forward, but couldn’t see any markers on the trees. We walked right. We walked left. We tried every direction we could fathom, but couldn’t find a trail or a marker anywhere!
After clambering through a dried-up river, and through spiky tree branches, we FINALLY saw a tree marker! Pretty hysterical by this point, we were super relieved to be back on track, and found our bearings by the river we were following. Relieved and exhausted, we stopped off for lunch by the river and – having found a secluded part of the river bend – we stripped off for a naked swim in the river, which was super fun. The river floor was squelchy and the mud sank like quicksand as we climbed in, encouraging us to swim out. We kept just our heads above water, and hid our nudity from the boats passing by, ferrying people the easy way through the jungle!
To cut a long story short, the ‘6 hour’ trek ended up taking us closer to 9 hours, and consisted of agonisingly steep climbs along the bank of the river, and deeper into the jungle. The majority of the ups and downs were achieved by climbing up and down on ropes, which burnt into our skin, and we were permanently red, sweating, and gasping for air and water! Luckily we bumped into some fellow trekkers – a really fun, chatty mix of Canadians, Italians, and Germans – and we stopped every hour or so when we met up with each other again, to take a break and lament how far we still had to go!
We reached the hide by late afternoon, and quickly changed into our cosier night gear before it became dark. The hide was super basic – just wooden bunks to sleep on, and a maggot-infested toilet (that we didn’t use!) – but it was fun nonetheless, and the guys made a big fire on which to cook their noodles whilst me and Sam snaffled the rice and egg parcels we’d brought with us, narrowly avoiding Sam eating a peanut, which were hidden inside the rice!! Given we were 8+ hours’ walk deep into the jungle, if Sam had had an allergic reaction, it might well have been curtains. It was a TENSE 10 minute wait to find out!!
We spent the evening sitting around the fire chatting, and at one point we glimpsed a HUGE wild cat/baby panther – grey with white and black stripes – lurking in the jungle around the hide, which provided some excitement! Glimpsing the animal’s face and eyes reflected from our head torches was pretty thrilling! Nonetheless, given our exhaustion, we all soon turned in to sleep, so we could wake up pre-dawn to see if we’d get lucky with any more animals. Waking up in the night and shuffling over to the viewing window was pretty exciting, and the noise of the jungle in the dead of night was really beautiful – so many noises overlaid with each other. We said we’d record it but both forgot! Nonetheless, watching the jungle wake up in silence as a group was pretty magical, even if we didn’t see any elephants or tigers.
The walk back the next day was much flatter and easier, and we practically ran through the jungle with our new-found muscly legs, at points having to take off our shoes and walk through rivers. We made it back to the Sampon swimming hole in record time (after getting lost a few more times!) and had a nice splash around in the water with everyone, before splitting off and treating ourselves to a BIG lunch on the floating restaurant, then – post shower – some burgers and chips. SO GOOD. The lovely hostel lady said we ‘smelled of the jungle’ when we got back, which was pretty hilarious, and accurate. I don’t think I’ve ever been so aware of my own smell! Pretty gross.
We treated ourselves to a scenic boat ride the next day, as our final glimpse of the jungle, en route to leaving. We saw some weird warthog-type creature on the river banks, and a few families living off the grid in fields on the river bank, as we dodged the low tide and rapids to reach the nearest big town. From there, we caught a couple of buses and ended up stranded on a Friday night, half an hour from our target location. Malaysians LOVE taking the bus, especially on the weekend, and the buses were all sold out! So after trying to hitch-hike from the wrong side of the road (and failing) we paid for a spenny cab and arrived at lovely, coastal Cherating..!