Kuala Tahan, Malaysia
I got up today, got ready, checked out of the hostel, and walked the short distance to the Hotel Mandarin Pacific. I was there by 08:00, ready for the bus to leave at 08:30 for my journey to Taman Negara (which means “National Park”; also, it was originally a game reserve, but later became a protected park and assumed the name of “Taman Negara” after Malaysian independence in 1957); the bus actually left at 09:11 and soon myself and all the other nature enthusiasts were on our way north on Malaysia’s excellent highway system. After traveling about halfway, we stopped at a rest stop – very similar in design to the ones along the United States’ Interstate Highways; after our short break, we resumed our journey.
Our next stop was a town named Jerantut; we exited the bus with all our baggage and was given two hours to eat lunch before our next bus arrived to take us to the Kuala Tembeling jetty. I first sought out an ATM to grab some more cash since the small village near Taman Negara where I would be staying at does not have a local bank; after receiving enough money to fund my travels for the next four days or so, I then proceeded to locate a place to dine – it ended up being Pizza Hut, where I had hot wings and a six-inch barbeque chicken pizza. After that messy, but splendid meal, I walked to the local mosque, designed in a “Taj Mahal”-style, though colored hues of purple and gold; I then went back to the drop-off and pick-up point to wait for the bus. The bus finally arrived (late), and from there we rode to the jetty along the Tembeling River.
We waited about a half hour before the boats were ready to take us all upstream. At 15:00, we loaded on to three different boats; our baggage was stored at the bow and stern, and we filled in the middle seats; the boats were long and narrow, and they each had nine rows of “seats” (mats on the ground and back with wooden dividers), for two people each. Shortly we were underway for our three hour trip to Kuala Tahan, which is a local village located on the east bank of the river, opposite the National Park. We came to one spot on the river that was too shallow, and saw the second boat stuck (I was on the third and last boat that had departed); we then became stuck as well, but both boats managed to make it through with the help of passengers – braving polluted and leech infected waters – who had exited the craft and helped push it through. During our travel up the the river we saw three separate groups of water buffaloes; most of them were chilling in the river, standing with the water up to their heads. Most of the journey was . . . not so smooth with the engine giving out many times as it struggled against the stream (particularly in one spot where the water was moving rapidly – it must have been a considerable change of elevation for the river), but we did finally make it to our docking destination and I was glad to stand up again, allowing blood to flow normally again to my haunch.
After unloading all our gear on to the floating restaurant we had docked at, we received more information about the park and the required permit. After that, I walked in to the village to find a place to stay and finally ended up at a cheap hostel. Inside the dormitory room, I met a Slovakian girl and we discussed our separate travels and I told her how much I enjoyed Bratislava when I was there four years ago. After a long conversation, she showed me how to get to the island in the river (named “Agoh Island”) where there exists a restaurant which sells beer (apparently the only one in the village); so I walked to the island, paid a crossing fee, and sat down at one of the establishment’s tables to enjoy much needed water and beer, as well as a beef burger, while listening to the Classic Rock station the owner’s were playing and watching the locals play volleyball. After my meal, it was already dark and the insects were coming out, so I walked back to the hostel to retire for the night; though I ended up talking with a man from China who was nearing the end of his month long travel; he was lamenting the fact that he probably would not get another chance in his lifetime to break away from work and travel for such a long period of time again; at the end of my travels, I will probably feel the same way, but, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.