Thursday, March 24, 2011

Adventure Into Taman Negara - Day 1

This one week March school holidays we decided to go on an adventure into Taman Negara, Pahang (TNP) ….a place we have not been to in our lifetime, a place that is so close but yet we chose to ignore in the past, always passing by its borders either on the west, north and south…and wondering how does it feel to go inside there? Since 2011 is the Year of the Forest, we decided to take the opportunity to clarify that curiosity and experience our national heritage…while it is still there.

TNP is a huge virgin tropical jungle which has existed for millions of years and it is an important carbon sink and biodiversity bank for the world. The TNP sprawls over 3 states ie Pahang, Kelantan & Terengganu. This is one of the many tropical jungle National Parks in Malaysia and others includes places like Kinabalu National Park, Mulu National Park, Royal Belum and Endau Rompin.

Mount Tahan is located towards the northeast of the park and it takes 4 days to trek to the peak and 3 days to return to Kuala Tahan or a shorter period (4 days total) if entry and exit are both done through Merapoh, near Gua Musang. The access to this National Park can either be through Kuala Tahan (our destination), Merapoh (west Pahang – via road & rail), Kuala Koh (from Kelantan – northwest entry, by road) and Kenyir Lake (from Terengganu – northeast entry, by boat).

After all the research and review, we decided to take a full board package (include boat rides, accommodation, food, entry permits, camera permit, jetty to hotel transfer, nature guide and activities) with Amaze Hotel and Travel (owned by En Firdaus who is based in Jerantut – contact no: 017 9527505 or email for 9 of us (including Chef Aidy, Pak Long, Mak Long and Ica).

We found limited info on family travel and outing at TNP and we hope our posting here will give every reader a better idea and picture of Taman Negara Pahang for you to plan your holidays.

In this adventurous family outing, it is important to travel light and safe so each one of us to bring and carry his / her backpack….no big bags!! We also had to buy new trekking shoes (Bata or Power will do), re-energize our headlights (2 out 3 were still working) and torchlights plus look for a walking pole / tongkat (in store somewhere).

Enough of planning, we finally left KL at about 10:30 AM on Tuesday 16 Mar 2011 after fetching Dini from KL Sentral earlier in the morning (she had just arrived from Kelantan for her school holidays). We headed through the Karak highway and exited at Temerloh then on to Jerantut and finally to Kuala Tembeling jetty which took us approximately 2.5 hours drive. Kuala Tembeling is a location where Sg Tembeling meets Sg Jelai and marks the beginning of the mighty Sg Pahang which flows to the sea at Pekan, a few hundreds km away to the East.

You could drive straight to Kg Kuala Tahan through Kg Piol (many Malaysians prefer to do this nowadays) but we decided to experience the boat ride….which is undoubtedly the symbol of TNP. There were many foreigners mainly Europeans (I met Swedish, Germans, French, Czech Republic, Dutch etc) and Japanese waiting to board the boat into TNP….we thought they made the right choice of travel.

At this time of the year, it is towards the end of rainy season and we could see there was a big flood a week earlier (marks on the river banks which are 10m high) and luckily the flood has receded significantly this week but still the water level is still higher than normal. However, the condition was safe enough for travel (even better with high water as boat passage is easier) and entry into TNP…it would have been impossible a week earlier!! Based on conversations with locals, the best time to go to TNP would be between May to August when the water is low during dry season….so we might want to go there again during that period.

We met Pak Long and his family at the jetty who had arrived 10 minutes earlier and we also met Firdaus for the first time and he assured us that everything has been arranged for us. We parked our cars at the jetty (a safe place to do so with a charge of RM 5 per day) and then we had our lunch at the jetty…..ikan patin masak tempoyak is the signature dish of the locals. We also abtained the Entry Permit (only RM1.00 per person) and Photographic Licence which cost RM5 per camera/videocam… alhamdulillah all went well so far.

After lunch, at 1:30 PM, it was time for us to start the journey. We walked down the stairs to the jetty floating on Sg Jelai and then hopped on to a wooden boat which could fit in 12 people…we chartered the whole boat to ourselves. Boat to Mutiara Resort normally departs at 2:15 PM. Once everything was ready, the boatman rammed up his engine and the boat glided across Sg Jelai into Sg Tembeling…we were sitting very close to the water….scary at first but very enjoyable after a while. I kept admiring the skills, bravery and knowledge of these boatmen in selecting the right routes to maneuver the boat….some areas are deep and some areas are shallow, some are calm waters and some are fast gushing waters….hard to describe but you should experience it to appreciate it.

The journey brought us through peaceful surroundings with only the noise of the boat engine…while enjoying the flora and fauna (not many except for hornbills & buffalo) along the riverbanks. The width of the river got smaller and the path got winded as we go further upstream and it rained when we reached half way at Kg Kuala Atok, a right junction where Sg Tekai meets Sg Tembeling and also marks the southern border of this TNP (on the west bank). It was windy too so the boat had to move slowly….luckily the rain was not so bad and it was just enough to cool us down. Some were soundly sleeping throughout the journey. After almost 3 hours of boat ride upstream of Sg Tembeling, we finally arrived at the Kuala Tahan jetty…approximately 60 km north from where we started at Kuala Tembeling.

Kuala Tahan is a local Malay kampung and a place where Sg Tahan meets Sg Tembeling and is the entry to Taman Negara. It is a place buzzing with activities especially with the foreigners and the boats…..there were 3 types of boats, one is the one that we had just rode (12 seater), another type is a fiberglass boat for river crossing (12 seater) and a smaller wooden boat (4 seater) for other river activities. Kg Kuala Tahan has all the supplies that we need….food (many food stalls and grocery shop on this side of the river) and accommodation (except for Mutiara Resort, all others are on this side of river).

When we arrived, we disembarked from the boat onto a floating jetty (rumah rakit) onto the beach where a pickup truck was waiting for us. We hopped on the back and were driven off through a steep river bank to our home ie the Rainforest Resort, approximately 500m away. Again Firdaus was already waiting for us (he came by road) at the lobby and gave us a short briefing of the arrangements before we got our rooms…4 rooms altogether Alamanda 413, 414, 415 and 416.

We checked in and took a rest, did our solat and spent the afternoon chit chatting with family members and playing some traditional games….one of it is a kind of sepak takraw but the ball is made of Kemboja flowers (just get 20 or so flowers which had dropped to the ground and tie them together to make the ball). It was fun and tiring too….enough to keep us happy and in the right mood and spirit.

After dinner (at the resort’s café – BBQ dinner) and solat (Jama’ Qasar), we again hopped on the pickup and headed down to the jetty…we were about to start our activities. We were first introduced to our nature guide, En Abdullah Mat Derani, (we call him Pak Lah) an excellent guide (and we would personally recommend this man for any future Taman Negara activity….knowledgeable, well experienced local, had guided trekkers to Mount Tahan trip for at least 40 times, excellent survival skill – probably better than Bear Grill, high level of patience, good educator, does his job passionately and is well respected locally).

We took a boat across the Sg Tembeling to the TNP entry through the Mutiara Resort….that is only a 1 to 2 minutes ride…in the dark!! Once on the other side, you’ll have to climb up the stairs towards Mutiara Taman Negara Resort…it is a very nice place but a bit more pricy…Rainforest Resort is adequate for our group.

We were going for a night walk heading towards the Tahan Hide….a place where animal go to get their supply of salt by licking or drinking from the area (Tahan Hide used to be turned into a light aircraft air strip during British days but had been restored to its original function). The walk was not too bad and not too far, approximately 1 km….clean and defined hiking treks with adequate signboards, lots of learning along the way especially about nocturnal animals and insects. We saw many things….spiders, scorpions, frogs, lizards, ants, snails, unique plants & flowers and 8 samba deers…surprisingly no issue of mosquitoes or pacat (leeches).

We finished the educational session at about 10:30 PM and shops were closed and we were all tired. After crossing the river back to Kg Kuala Tahan, we hopped on the pickup truck back to the resort. It was time to settle down for the day after a long and tiring journey.

Alhamdulillah, so far so good, spirit and health is good, everyone was enjoying themselves and there was no major problem. The funs continue tomorrow….

Info from
Taman Negara is the oldest protected area in the country. Originated from the legislation of Pahang in 1925, which set aside 130,000ha of land designated as Gunung Tahan Game Reserve. Then declared as King George V National Park in 1938 by the Sultans of 3 states Pahang, Trengganu and Kelantan. To preserve the land's indigenous nature in perpetuity, it was gazette separately by each state's Enactments in 1938-1939. The park was renamed Taman Negara after the nation gain independence in 1957.No commercial exploitations is permitted, except for subsistence hunting by the aboriginals (the Orang Asli people).

Dark history of Taman Negara was almost happened in 1971 by the proposal of Malaysian National Electricity Board to build a dam on the Sungei Tembeling. The idea was abandoned in 1978, but was revived again in 1982, only to be discarded in 1983 through the effort of Malaysian Nature Society, who lobbied the federal government. The dam would have flooded some 13,00ha, and would meant the excision of 32,600ha from the park. You can still see the evidence of the work on the ground today.

Taman Negara is the largest and the oldest protected area in the country. It covers 4,343 sq km; the central coordinates are 04°30' North latitude and 102°59' East longitude. The altitude ranges from 60m to 2187m at the summit of Gunung Tahan. This huge area shared among three states: Pahang 2,477 sq km (57%), Kelantan 1,043 sq km (24%) and Trengganu 853 sq km (19%).

In spite of being so far from the coast, most of the area (57%) lies below 305m above sea level. The Kuala Tahan park headquarters is one of the the lowest point at 120m above sea level. There are several hills in the park above 1,000m elevation, including the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia, Gunung Tahan at 2,187m, but there are no impressive high-altitude granite formations.

It is indeed a very important gift by Allah swt and a national treasure that every Malaysian should learn to appreciate.

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