Welcome to the Jungle; A Malaysian jungle trekking adventure
Jungle trekking is a unique and fun experience which helps you reconnect with nature and learn more about it. The Jungle Book, Tarzan, Indiana Jones, The Lost City of Z and so on… the wonderful experience of visiting a mysterious and dangerous jungle has been my dream as I grew up.
When we decided to move to Asia a new adventure started and of course, we also made it a priority to finally go to a real jungle trekking tour in Malaysia. Since none of us had any relevant experience yet we chose a moderately difficult trek for the first time.
We visited Taman Negara for 4 days 3-nights with 1-night jungle stay. We had 9 km walk ahead of us per day. We knew we had to prepare to walk 7 to 10 hours daily, depends on how fast we can move.
We left our big backpacks in Kuala Lumpur at the hotel reception and only took our 2 small 14 L bags. As we were told we will only need those and spare clothes, flashlight, swimwear, repellant, and of course our cameras. We wore simple running shoes and were comfortable on the whole trek.
However, trekking shoes may be a better choice if you’re worried about your ankle. Definitely, don’t wear sandals or slippers. You would be surprised how many people choose to wear them and then lose these flip flops during the trek. It’s not just dangerous for you but also harmful to the environment since most of these footwears are just left in the mud.
You have to be fit and you better have a travel insurance policy that covers helicopter evacuation otherwise they only come if you’re already dead because it’s too expensive.
We got picked up by a minivan in Kuala Lumpur and had an about 3-4-hour ride to go for a quick caving. It was an about 3 hours trek and we visited 3 caves. We don’t have much caving experience but we didn’t find the climb too difficult. There was a few climb that was quite challenging but they were absolutely exciting. After the last and most difficult climb, we arrived at the highest point of the last cave where a magnificent view awaited for us. Definitely worth to squeezes, twists, and turns.
After the caves, we hopped back in the minivan and drove to a small village just the doorstep of Taman Negara. It’s called Kuala Tahan. You can also visit this village by yourself and try to find a tour you like once you’re there. Although, it can be challenging since these tours are usually fully booked weeks earlier.
Our first day and night were quiet and comfy mostly just preparation for the next day. We had a lovely dinner at Wan’s floating restaurant by the river and we also visited the village’s market. We fell asleep in our surprisingly comfy beds by listening to the sounds of the jungle on the other side of the river.
Next day we had to meet up after breakfast at the floating restaurant to get ready for the trek. There were other groups since this trekking area is quite popular with tourists. We got our water and food for the next two days. And of course, we could finally meet our tour guide Ajip who told us that it’s not going to be just the 3 of us but 4 more people are going to join the trek.
A boat stopped next to the floating restaurant and we had only one stop left before we can finally enter the jungle.
We had to pay a small fee of about $2-3 per camera and write down everything we take into the jungle. They checked our bags before we entered and then when we came back again. This way controlling tourists not to leave any garbage in the forest.
After a short boat ride, on the beautiful Tembeling river, we finally arrived at the entering point at the Canopy Walkway. I remember climbing up the stairs to reach bridges up in the high. How the majestic towering trees surrounded us and how I felt already closer to nature despite the fact that we’ve barely left the entrance. We still had many tourists around us but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the magnificent views from 20 meters up.
Around 9 am we have reached the entrance of the trekking path. Our bags were light, Ajip, our tour guide, however, had to wear a 30 kg bag with all the necessary things we needed on the trek. We once again used our mosquito repellant, tucked our pants into our socks hoping that leeches couldn’t reach our skin and walked into the jungle.
Begining the real trek
Ajip led us through the jungle, often using his machete to cut the branches and weeds in our way. Mostly it was easy to walk, only the roots caused some trouble here and there that laced all over the ground. After the first hour or so our group had the first leeches. After a couple of screams, Ajip told us to spray them with mosquito repellant and they will willingly let you free. Thankfully neither I or Ben had any leeches.
I couldn’t believe how chatty Ajip is even with that horrible weight on his shoulders. During the trek, it became clear that he’s not just an ordinary tour guide but someone who loves nature and his “office” Taman Negara passionately.
He’s not just interested in environmental issues but takes courses and is always up to date about the issues rainforests have to face.
He makes sure that his trekking partners get more than just a peek into the jungle. He makes sure to spread the information about the ever growing palm oil plantations and the deforestation that go with it. How it negatively affects not just the animals that live in these wonderful forests but us as well and the whole planet. He tells stories about how he sees from first-hand as the climate and the nature have changed just in the past couple of years.
I’m sure many tourists come out from the jungle with a bigger appreciation towards our nature and will care about these issues more. He also knows the animals and plants very well, and friends with many tribes who still live deep in the forest.
As we passed by the building sized trees he suddenly stopped next to one which had unusual cuts all over its trunk. Just before we would have touched it he advised us not since it was the deadly Antiaris Toxicaria tree, a poison tree that is used by many tribal people for hunting, warfare and to avenging their enemies till this very day. Don’t worry It just gets you sick, maybe some temporary blindness occurs if you touch the tree but it kills you if the poison gets into your blood stream.
Do you remember those movies where tribal people used blowguns to take down their enemies? Well, they probably used the poison of a tree like this. You can easily recognize these trees by the hundreds of clean cuts all over its trunk.
Did you cut yourself or mosquito bit you? Don’t you worry, Ajip knows what to do! He leans towards the ground and picks up a greeny leaf rubbing between his fingers and tells us that this is Senduduk (Malestoma) which is the best natural antiseptic you can find in the jungle and tribal people also use it to heal themselves.
As we pass over a series of log bridges or jump over rocks and streams and the hours pass by the group gets more chatty and becomes very clear why we can’t see so many animals. I ask Ajip if he ever saw an elephant or tiger on the path. His answer was a bit disappointing. He only saw a couple of elephants, monkeys, and snakes.
Animals can smell and hear us from miles and wouldn’t even come close to us unless they’re sick or desperately hungry.
Thankfully we could however see, a couple monkeys, snakes, football sized frogs, bats, spiders, and various types of birds and other smaller animals as they appear for a second and then disappear in the lush again. We even saw a beautiful and mysterious Black Lily.
We found a couple of fresh elephant poop and foot prints but couldn’t spot any of their owners. Although, even just to see these narrow paths and the footprints were incredibly interesting since it was hard to imagine those huge animals passing by.
After a couple of hours, we tried to drop a little behind the group. So, we could hear the sounds of the jungle and not the chatting of others. We could finally hear the sounds of the jungle; insects buzzing around us, birds were chirping above our heads, branches creaking in the distance under the weight of jumping monkeys.
Ajip suddenly turns back and says; ” Oh, and don’t be surprised if you see a dead body hanging from the tops of trees!”
“What?!” Yes. That was our question as well. As it turned out tribal people around that area didn’t bury their dead but instead, they covered the bodies and then tied them to the top of the trees up to 10-15m high. They also build some platform to the body and wrap it with tree bark. Then use a rope or liana vine to pull the body up. They also dress them up and place the deceased person’s belongings such as cooking equipment, blowpipe & a few bottles of water under the tree as a preparation for the afterlife.
Looking back I’m not sure how creepy it is that we were all looking up, excited, hoping for a dead body to show up above our heads. Obviously, we couldn’t find one, because they choose a more quiet and peaceful area for their passed loved ones.
We had our breaks and lunch and as the sun started setting we were pretty much ready to arrive at camping space where we would spend our night. As we reached a big crossing on the path Ajip laughs and tells us that a while back he accidentally choose the wrong path with another group and got a “little” lost for a while. As he turns on the right path and we follow he continues to joke: “Or was it this one?”
Just before it would have become totally dark we finally arrived at a huge cave, our home for the night. We climbed up to see that other than hundreds of bats there was also another 3-person group already camping in there.
We went out to take a quick “shower” in the nearby river and Ajip showed us our Toilette; a nearby bush. Although, to be fair he said we could use any bush we fancy.
Once we got back to the cave Ajip prepared a campfire and made some dinner for us as well. We all helped with the preparations and enjoyed a lovely dinner by the campfire. I have to say the jungle is beautiful during the day but it is absolutely breathtaking at night. It’s mysterious, dangerous and the beautiful starry night will give you goosebumps for sure.
The cave was huge, and as we got quieter and put out the fire to go to sleep we suddenly heard as if small paws were approaching us.
We turned on our flash lights to see raccoon-like creatures munching on our leftovers. Ajip later told us they’re called Porcupines and they got pretty big as well.
Now, they’re rather beagle sized but still harmless, unless you’re a bag of leftovers.
Ajip was nice enough to send us this video about our little, thief friends.
At a time of our visit, we couldn’t go this close to them. They got rid of their shyness since then as you can see it in the video.
Oh, and the continuous, high pitched screeches you hear in the background are the bats.
Bats were hanging above our head and although they were about 10-15 meters high and didn’t bother us personally, their poop did so. Since they were continuously dropping their poop on us. We eventually decided to build a tent over our heads with our backpacks and plastic bags.
Next day we had to wake up 7 am and head back. The path was pretty much similar to what we had the day before, there were no surprises. With one big difference: this day we could visit a small village with about 15-20 tribal people. Ajip told us that these tribes are always moving creating new camps. So, it’s hard to find them. There are several different tribes are living in Taman Negara. The majority of them is from the Bateq but there are also the Semak Beri & Che Wong tribes who make up about 2000 people all together.
They had about 9 houses built from wood. They showed us around and we could even try their blowgun. They were also earning a small wage by selling tourists hand made tribal jewelry and a blowguns they use. We went for the blowgun.
We were also shown how to light a fire with just the things you can find in the jungle. And then they left us there to survive on our own.
Just kidding. After about a half an hour we made our way out of the jungle to be picked up by a boat to take us back to the world of toilettes, switches, computers and smartphones.
We were always interested in the deep jungle and its secrets and this tour made us sure to keep exploring and keep protecting these magical places until we still have time to do so.
One thing is for sure; we’re going back.