Kuala Tahan, Malaysia
Slept in a couple of hours more than I would’ve like to, but eventually roused myself out of my bed and got ready to enter Taman Negara – I was sure to apply copious amounts of sunscreen and insect repellent. I then walked down to the river and paid the price of one ringgit to be taxied over to the other side of the Tembeling River. After that brief boat ride, I walked up to the Park Headquarters to pay the entrance and camera fees. Then I immediately set out on the trail in the rainforest to the “Canopy Walk”. The rainforest itself is to be reckoned over 130 million years old, which makes this the oldest existing rainforest in the world. Many of the trails in this park are elevated platforms made from metal and fiberglass (as opposed to wood, no doubt due to a lot of termites, which I saw on my trek), and many portions of the trail are in disrepair – surprisingly I never fell through, though it looked like the fiberglass planks would break under my weight more than once; this elevated pathway was also very noisy to hike on, which is never a great thing when one is walking through nature hoping to glimpse the natural wildlife. I then made it to the “Canopy Walk”, paid the five ringgit fee, and joined a group of secondary-school kids in the front of the line. Walking through the forest canopy on rope and steel-wire bridges was more fun than I had expected and I was glad I did it, even though the walkway was congested with children.
After that walk, I came back down to Earth and continued on the trails to Bukit Teresik (a nearby hill). The wildlife I viewed along the way were mainly birds, lizards, butterflies, termites, and ants – I came across several giant ants that were larger than anything I had seen before in my life (slightly over an inch long); also the ants and termites had their own highway network with streams from their colonies moving both ways along their scented paths. As the trail began to ascend Bukit Teresik, the elevated pathway ceased and I was on a normal trail. I made it up the hill and shortly after crossing the highest point, there was a clearing in the rainforest giving a nice view of the mountains and jungle in sight. Then I trekked down the hill through a quieter and less crowded section of the park. The trail headed west until it came along side the Tahan River, which it then followed south to where the Tahan empties in to the Tembeling. Finally I reached the Park Headquarters, where I started, and I then took a water taxi back to the other side of the Tembeling River. I walked back to my hostel after purchasing a large water and isotonic drinks; I then sat down for a while to cool off and rehydrate. I was only hiking in the rainforest for about two and a half hours, but I was drenched in sweat and desperately needed fluids.
After resting for about an hour, I went back down to the river, entered in to a floating restaurant, and ordered my next trip – a journey up the river to visit the Orang Asli tribe, a native people (Orang Asli actually means “native people”) who live in the rainforest here. It was only about a ten minute boat ride up river before we (the other tourists and I) docked at the sandy bank along the river and walked up to some thatch-roofed huts. We sat around on wood benches as our guide explained the culture of the Orang Asli: what they eat (they hunt mouse-deer and other animals, buy rice and goods from villages, and collect fruit and nuts from the jungle), how they marry (young men and women will spend a night together and if they like each other, will remain together and get married by their chief), how they make money (selling souvenirs and sandalwood – which catches a high price), how they live (the Malay government gave them houses, but they prefer their old huts; also, they are a nomadic people and will move about in the jungle – although the village we were visiting is permanent, but from what I understood, the families continue to be nomadic and people will come and go to this permanent location to collect money from tourists like me), and how they treat diseases (they have medicine men and women who will use jungle remedies to cure the ill – such as using a mixture of elephant dung and herbs for one to consume to cure asthma). Our guide then showed us how they use rattan, rubbing it back and forth quickly, to create a fire, as well as how to use their long blow gun for shooting darts; we were allowed the opportunity to try our hands and mouths on these tools, and I was sure to try out the blow gun. Then we walked up a trail to see their actual village, which was a collection of thatched huts, clothes hanging out to dry, and (regrettably) lots of trash. After walking around the village, I then headed back down to the river and waited for a boat to come to take me back to Kuala Tahan. The boat came and then I went.
Once we were safely (and relatively dry) docked back at Kuala Tahan, I immediately bought more liquids to consume and then I rested for a while before dinner. Rain and thunder rolled in while I was in the hostel, so I waited inside until it let up; I met up with two other backpackers (an Aussie guy and a Dutch man) and we talked for a while before deciding to go to the nearest floating restaurant to eat our dinner. We ordered our meal, talked for a while, and then a video played on the restaurant’s television which showed an overview of Taman Negara and its wildlife; after about ten minutes of watching the video, I realized neither our food nor drinks had come out to us and it had been forty minutes. After another twenty minutes we got our drinks (the lemon ice tea tasted like cold plastic cup with sweetener) and a chicken fried rice meal, which we guessed was the one the Aussie ordered (even though there was precious little chicken); as he ate and finished his dinner, the Dutch man inquired about our meals; finally, my meal came out (fried rice with anchovies and other), which I ate and finished; finally the Dutch man received his meal (white rice and a chicken soup); all in all, we spent over ninety minutes to receive and eat our dinners, all separately. We then decided to go to the island in the middle of the river, so we took a water taxi and walked up to the restaurant to order some beers. We joined two German gals and three local Malay guys. Then someone brought out mats for us to sit on under the nearly-full moon; at this point two older Italian ladies joined us, another German-speaking girl, and then yet another German-speaking girl with a Swiss girl (who worked at the hostel I was staying at). We were all drinking beer, some were strumming on guitars singing rock songs, one older Malay man was telling jokes about elephants, and a few others were inhaling good times – I was offered, but did not partake since I made a commitment to myself which I must (regretfully) honor. Eventually it was past midnight and the Aussie guy, Dutch man, two older Italian ladies, and I took a boat (really just ten meters at most) back to shore; we walked back to our hostel and I finally went to sleep.