Days: 1-4 days
People seen: Very few
Guidebook: Lonely Planet Malaysia
Taman Negara is Malaysia’s oldest park (in Malay ‘Taman Negara’ literally means ‘national park’). Originally called King George V National park, it was established in 1938 and protects some of the oldest tropical rainforest on the planet. The dense forest here covers over 4000 square kilometres, three states, and is estimated to be over 130 million years old.
Getting to Taman Negara
Getting to Taman Negara is a lot easier than it used to be. The most popular entrance is via the hamlet of Kuala Tahan. Tour operators in Kuala Lumpur run daily buses from the capital to the jetty at Kuala Tembeling (3 hours), from where a small boat carries tourists a further 2.5 hours up the river to Kuala Tahan. It is also possible to drive directly from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Tahan – though the spectacular views of the forest from the boat mean it is worth completing the boat trip in at least one direction.
Accommodation in Kuala Negara
Inseparable from the park entrance, the Multiara Taman Negara hotel has a nice (but expensive) restaurant and a large number of cabins. They also have nice 8 bed dorms with shared bathrooms – these were virtually empty when I stayed there, effectively giving me my own room. It is also possible to camp on the grounds, but unfortunately the campsite is not great – there is limited flat ground and the bathrooms are quite poor. Sleeping in a tent in the jungle is also very, very hot – as I found out!
There are numerous hiking trails in the park, though most visitors stick to the few kilometres of boarded walkways near the main entrance. These shorter trails lead to an excellent canopy walk, riverside viewing areas, and a small hide where – with luck – wildlife can be spotted.
Longer, unpaved trails head off into the jungle or upstream to other villages. Although fairly well marked, these hikes require experience in this type of environment. The reward is the ability to sleep in elevated huts (hides / ‘bumbun’ in Malay), with the opportunity to experience nighttime in the forest and potentially even spot nocturnal wildlife. The ultimate trail in Taman Negara is to the hike to Gunung Tahan (2,187 m / 7,175 ft), the highest point in peninsula Malaysia, and a very tough 4-5 day walk. See below for details of individual hiking trails.
Equipment and Preparation
I originally thought the jungle might become cooler at night, and brought a sleeping bag in preparation. This was a mistake. Even sleeping in the open hides, I never felt close to cold.
Taking a tent was also a mistake – I used it when camping at the park entrance (which was unbearably hot), and after that slept in either the hides or the cheap dorms at Multiara. Although the park map and rangers claim there are camping areas deep in the jungle, I never saw any evidence of the one I should have trekked directly past on one of the days. In place of a tent I would take a solid mosquito net, preferably square and with double netting. These could be hung up over the beds in the hides to provide protection during the night.
Despite being in a very hot environment I wore full boots, thick socks, and long trousers the whole time in an attempt to protect myself from the myriad leeches in the park. On days after rain even stopping for a minute would reveal up to a dozen of these blood suckers heading towards my boots. Socks tucked in to trousers might look silly, but offered protection alongside a good dose of DEET on the socks themselves.
Hiking in Taman Negara
Perhaps not surprisingly, my initial talk to the park rangers revealed that several hides and campsites were no longer open or accessible and I would need to change my plans. Additionally, the caves at Gua Telinga have been indefinitely closed due to safety concerns. With hindsight this probably enabled to enjoy more of the park than I would have otherwise, as it forced me to complete several shorter hikes rather than a single long hike.
Tahan Hide (Bunbum Tahan) is the closest to the park entrance – literally 3 minutes away. Because of this, there is a limited chance to see wildlife here – and it tends to get busy with groups at night. This is the only hide in Taman Negara which does not permit overnight stays.
Night walk near Tahan Hide A night walk is always a good chance to spot Taman Negara’s wildlife, and is one area where I am always happy to hire a guide. A good guide will spot creatures you would otherwise walk straight past in the black of the night. On our night walk we spotted many spiders, scorpions, a tiny deer hiding in the bushes, and a snake in the trees above us. Although arranging the walk through Multiara was more expensive than arranging it across the water in Kuala Tahan, the groups did seem much smaller – and therefore quieter. Some of the groups from outside numbered up to 20 people, which is far too many to have a chance of spotting wildlife.
Lubok Simpon is a small beach area next to a peaceful river, just 20 minutes walk from the park entrance. At the right time of day you are likely to have the place to yourself. There is a small shelter and some benches, and swimming in the river is considered safe.
Canopy walk. Taman Negara is famous for its canopy walk, which hangs up to 40 metres above the ground. The start of the walk is just over a kilometre from the park entrance, along a boarded walkway – though in the jungle’s heat it can feel further. The canopy circles around and ends close to the start. From there it is possible to continue on the Bukit Teresek trail or return the way you came back to the park entrance.
Bukit Teresek offers panoramic views over Taman Negara and the surrounding landscape. The trail follows the path to the canopy tour from the park entrance before branching off. Once the high point of the trail is reached the boarded walkway stops and mud trails continue. The second part of the trail, wrapping around the back and side of the hill, are quite steep at first and on a few sections ropes are fixed to help cross the slippery terrain. Eventually this trail loops back around to join the path coming back from Tabing hide and Lubok Simpon.
Tabing hide (Bumbun Tabing) is one of the easier ‘deep jungle’ hides to reach, but even this requires quite a long walk. The trail, sometimes called the riverside trail, is flat and easy to follow: heat and leeches are the main hazards. The hide itself overlooks a peaceful clearing in the forest where even during the day I was able to spot several deer grazing. The hike there and back could easily be achieved in a single day, but spending the night is the best way to really experience the jungle. At the time of my visit (October 2015) the hide had basic wooden bunk beds with some mosquito screens, but if I visited again I would take my own for extra protection. I saw nobody else during my time in Tabing hide.
Taman Negara hiking maps:
Below you can find maps and GPS routes (gpx files) for the Taman Negara hiking trails described above.