Thursday 30 May 2013

Canopy Walk @ Taman Negara

I had suspicions that the Taman Negara Canopy Walk was not going to feature anywhere in YK's itinerary for he had other things to do. So when I announced on day 2 that I was going to do the walk myself, they tagged along rather reluctantly just to be sure I would be safe.
I knew that deep down inside, they wished they were somewhere else because the forest trail leading to the canopy walk wasn't teeming with the kind of butterflies they were anxious to shoot.
Trail leading to Canopy Walk.
Huge tree in the forest.
 Situated 1.5km from the Park HQ, the Canopy Walk stretches 530 metres in length and 40 metres above the forest floor. Originally built for research purposes, it has become a major attraction at Taman Negara and a popular place for bird enthusiasts.

This beautiful Black naped monarch female built her nest on a low branch hanging along the boardwalk. She and her male partner take turns guarding 2 eggs.

If you don't like walking, you can take a river boat to the jetty near the Canopy Walk. 
There are lots of steps to climb of course, in order to get to the tree top walk.

If you have sharp eyesight, you can spot creatures like skinks and insects such as this interesting one below.

We paid an entrance fee of RM5 to enter the canopy walk. Luckily there were only a couple of visitors around that morning.  During the weekend, we were told that there was such a long line of people, the waiting time was 3 hours!
It was first built in 1993 which makes it as old as YK now. Stepping on the worn out and sometimes uneven and shaky platform made me nervous. Even though we're protected by the netting along both sides, the bridge swayed as we made our way across, I did not even stop to survey the tree tops around us.
There are 9 platforms constructed on the tree top which provide a bird’s eye view of the rainforest's 5 main canopy layers. Only 4 people are allow on each platform at one time.
One of the platforms along the walk.

View from the top.

I don't know if it's a blessing to be on such a long canopy walk  because after walking stretch after stretch of narrow swaying platform, my legs became wobbly. The second leg of the walkway was cordoned off due to damage. While I was happy to end the misery, the guys lamented that they should get a 50% discount!
Then there is a steep descent to the base where you can continue trekking deeper into the forest or make your way back to the park HQ.
After spending the entire morning here, we decided to break for lunch before going to other areas in search of butterflies. Losing copious amount of sweat in the morning made us crave for ice cold drinks instead of lunch. At the floating restaurant, my noodles wrapped in fried eggs turned out to be disappointing.
The weather was particularly hot that afternoon, still the heat didn't stop the guys from running out of the restaurant to shoot butterflies frolicking under the sun.


Tuesday 28 May 2013

Lubuk Simpon

Having traveled to many places, I've realized that you're bound to make some wrong moves when you've arrived at a new destination, whether it is paying too much for a meal, a ride or whatever.

It happened to us this time in the form of river transportation. We wanted to begin the trip with a visit to Lubuk Simpon, a beach along Tahan River. What we didn't know was it was merely a short walk away. We paid RM60 (USD20) for a one-way boat ride that took less than 5 minutes.

We soon found out that we could walk back to the hotel in less than 15 minutes. We were literally taken for a ride! For the rest of the week, we walked there every day because the forest trail is home to some rare butterflies. And that was the whole reason why YK was there in the first place - to take photographs of the butterflies in Taman Negara.

Indeed there were lots of them puddling at the spot where a group of people had just finished their picnic. The butterflies must have been attracted to spilled drinks or sweat. It was a beautiful sight to behold!
Butterflies puddling.

Shooting butterflies.
 Over the week, we walked to Lubuk Simpon many times. While it is only 800m away from the hotel, the trail is quiet on most days. We only began to see more people during the long weekend.
The trail to Lubuk Simpon begins behind the park headquarters. After the camp site, just follow the  boardwalk that takes you through a forest.
Campsite at Mutiara

If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll be able to see hidden gems like ginger flower, monitor lizard, skinks, squirrels, caterpillars and millipedes.
Moth caterpillar.

Ginger flower.

Monitor lizard.
It's extremely humid in the tropical rainforest. Every step you take will send sweat oozing out of your pores. There were steps to climb and thorny branches to dodge, but we were too engrossed with the surroundings to complain. It certainly was a good workout for me. I returned home with toned muscles and a lovely tan.
Up and down...
Surveying the riverbed.

Monday 27 May 2013

Trip to Taman Negara

Just thinking about traveling to Taman Negara National Park in Pahang, the world's oldest tropical rainforest, robbed me of several nights of sleep. I wish it was the excitement of treading on the 130-million year old jungle that kept me awake, instead of the logistics. Getting there is quite a feat in itself.

In my younger days, I've traveled there twice by train. The overnight journey took 8.5 hours from Tanjong Pagar KTM railway station to Jerantut station, followed by a 3-hour river boat ride along the murky Tembelng river to Kuala Tahan, Taman Negara.

Now that our nearest train station has been relocated to Johor, taking the train is no longer an attractive option. We could take a bus or plane to Kuala Lumpur, then catch another bus to Jerantut where we can take the river boat which leaves from the jetty at Kuala Tembling at 9am and 2pm for Kuala Tahan. If we miss that last boat, we would have to stay overnight in Jerantut town to take the next one in the morning.

The last option is to drive there. I had only driven to Malaysia once 8 years ago and didn't quite enjoy the 7-hour drive as I was the only one driving the car. This time, YK's friend agreed to share the driving duty which makes a huge difference if you ask me. The journey, which took about 9 hours, was pleasant and scenic. With the help of GPS, we didn't waste anytime getting lost.

We arrived in Kuala Tahan at 3pm and only managed to find Yellow Guest House after making several wrong turns. While the room rates are extremely attractive, it is sited in a weird location which makes it inconvenient considering we were staying for 8 days. The guys prefer a hotel that is situated within the park itself.
Welcome to Taman Negara.
Local school.
At this point, I should give you an idea about this area. Kuala Tahan is separated from Taman Negara Nature Park by a large murky river called Tembeling River.
Tembeling River.

River boats like this take passengers across the river to the park. Each trip costs RM1 per person.

That's Taman Negara Park across the river.
Apart from Mutiara Taman Negara, which is next to the park entrance, all other guest houses are located across the Tembeling River at Kuala Tahan. Most are within walking distance of the river and there are many boats to take passengers across to the park entrance.

Liana Guesthouse.

We parked the car at a public car park which charges RM5 a day, and made our way across the river. Driving has its advantages. I brought a thermal pot to cook soup and noodles, food and snacks, and even spare bed sheets and towels.
The steps leading to Mutiara is so steep, we always end up gasping for air. Luckily they've installed a cart to pull our luggage up.
The guys were right after all. While the room rate is much higher at Mutiara Taman Negara, it provides a more comfortable stay. What's important is we could just step out of the room and enjoy the nature around us. The trails leading to the forest, canopy walk, cascades and mountain start from here.
The view from our villa is gorgeous. We wake up to the sounds of birds chirping each morning.
The first time I went to Taman Negara 30 years ago with the Outdoor Adventure Club, we stayed in the camping grounds . It was rainy season and the ground was wet and soggy but we were young and happy-go-lucky and didn't mind one bit.
During this trip, I saw some Malaysian families pitching their tents at the grounds which brought back lots of fond memories.
According to the hotel manager, they are facing a problem with wild boars which steal food and destroy the tents at the campsite. True enough, we saw a family of boars heading to the kitchen area in search of food, sending the campers scurrying about in shock.
This trip also brought back memories of my other visit with my girlfriends in 2001 where we stayed in the cheaper chalet to save cost. Somehow, the chalets (below) look so worn out and unappealing now.
The facilities at Mutiara have improved over the past few years. The new restaurant, Seri Mutiara Restaurant, serves good breakfast and buffet dinners. On days when we were so tired after trekking, we took our dinner there. The buffet dinner costs RM50 per person which isn't exactly cheap considering the spread is quite limited.
Some days, we took the boat to the floating restaurants for a quick meal. While the food is cheaper, the taste leaves much to be desired - the food is either totally tasteless, burnt or too salty.
Naturally we were very excited when we heard about the Wednesday night market just outside Kuala Tahan. We loaded my shopping basket with peanut pancake, chicken rice, otak otak, fruits and desserts before heading back to the hotel to enjoy our stash.

Buying peanut pancake.

Orang Asli women at the fruit stand.


The market starts at 4.30pm and ends at 830pm. 
 We enjoyed our stay and did all the things we wanted to do. You have to love nature and the  outdoors to enjoy a holiday like this. The humidity level is so high, you're drenched in sweat all day. There are lots of insects like butterflies, sweat bees and flies buzzing around and landing on your limbs day and night.
Drenched in sweat and itching from insect bites.
If you're unlucky, you might get leech bites which will leave blood oozing out of your skin for hours.

Buffalo leech.

Bloody from leech bite.

For me, the opportunity to bask in the natural beauty of the forest and seeing wild animals made the trip memorable. It also made me realize that my passion and interest have not changed one bit. After 30 years, my heart remains the same.

Sunset over Kuala Tahan.

We stayed in a villa like these.
The resident barking deer.
Park headquarters.

Lots of wild boars roaming about.

Beautiful bird in the hotel compound.
Seeing the tapir was the highlight of the trip. YK was busy swatting flies that were attacking him relentlessly.
The rangers feed the tapir potatoes.

A gorgeous lunar moth.

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