The superlatives come easy when it comes to Taman Negara National Park. At more than 4,000 square kilometres in size it is the largest national park and home to the tallest peak in peninsular Malaysia. The old-growth forest, mostly untouched by humans, is believed to be more than 130 million years old — making it the oldest primary forest in the world.
A popular trekking destination, Taman Negara plays host to many endangered species, including the sun bear, Asian elephant, tigers and leopards, and likewise protects a vast collection of flora. While your chances of seeing big game within the park is close to zero, the sheer variety of plants and the incredible towering trees more than compensate.
Within the park’s boundaries are spectacular caverns, hilltop viewpoints and the park is delineated by fast-flowing rivers, which you can travel along to reach the upper reaches of the park. Established in 1938 as King George V National Park, the park was renamed following independence from Britain as Taman Negara (which means “national park” in Malay) and encompasses territory belonging to Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu provinces.
The park is most commonly approached from Kuala Tahan, a small, riverside hamlet in Pahang province, which in turn can be approached both by bus or mini van from Kuala Lumpur or other regional centres via Jerantut (which is on the train line).
From Kuala Tahan it is possible to spend upwards of 10 days hiking through the park totally incommunicado, but many if not most first-time visitors will spend one, two or three days in the park. Our ideal first-time stay would be two to three days.
A number of simple walks can be done without a guide and a combination of two or perhaps three of these can be used to create a pretty full day in the park. On top of these simple walks, more organised one-night, two-day and two-night, three-day treks can be arranged — generally involving a boat trip to the starting point — to get further into the park.
The longer the trek the greater the expense, but not always the greater the experience. A number of shorter activities can also be done (with a guide) to further pad out your time.
Simple activities within the park that do not require a guide include the Canopy Walkway, where you can walk through the high forest canopy on suspended rope bridges, and Bukit Teresek, a double viewpoint. Those who are very confident walking alone could also take the trail to another viewpoint, Bukit Indah, or all the way along the riverbank to the ranger station at Kuala Trenggan, though we were told that in both these latter cases a guide, while not required, is very advisable.
Trips that require a guide include the night jungle walk, fishing trip, river rafting and a visit to the Orang Asli village along the river.
While longer treks can stretch to as much as nine days — to summit Gunung Tahan, the tallest peak in peninsular Malaysia — in practice most opt for a two-day or three-day trek starting from Kuala Keniam a couple of hours upriver of Kuala Tahan.
How long do you need to explore Taman Negara National Park? Someone with limited time should allow one day and one night in the park, visiting the Canopy Walkway and perhaps Bukit Teresek and then either arriving at Kuala Tahan or returning to Kuala Tembeling by boat to enjoy more of the park scenery.
Those with more time should consider doing the above and then doing a two-day, one-night trek — this is what we did and we found it to be the perfect taster for the park. Our guide admitted there was no particular benefit in doing the two-night, three-day trek other than a slightly increased chance of seeing wildlife.
What level of fitness is required?
Anyone of moderate fitness can visit the Canopy Walk. Bukit Teresek is more demanding, but more due to the poor quality of the trail than it being overly difficult. The longer treks do require some fitness. On our two-day, one-night trek there was eight hours of trekking on each day and we found the going quite tough.
Will you see wildlife?
Most likely no. We saw wild pigs and monitor lizards on the way back from the Canopy Walkway, but during the longer walk saw only rustling trees and one hornbill. We did sleep in a cave and saw a tonne of bats and a snake. You need to be very lucky to see larger wildlife — while we came across numerous fresh looking elephant trails, we never saw one. Our guide had seen a sun bear once — in seven years of trekking in the park. What you will see are leeches. Plenty of leeches.
What gear do you need?
Comfortable walking shoes are required. You do not need to bring trekking boots (though if you have them with you, why not). The trails, especially during and after rainy season, can be treacherous. There is no phone signal in the park.
What does it cost?
A two-day, one-night trek costs 230 ringgit. The three-day version is 320 ringgit. Admission to the Canopy Walkway is five ringgit. Admission to the park is one ringgit and a camera pass is five ringgit. A boat across the river is one ringgit.
When is the best time to visit Taman Negara?
The best time to visit the park is March through September, as those are the driest months. November through January generally sees the heaviest rainfall.
When it comes to information, there are “Tourist Information Centre” signs aplenty around Kuala Tahan township and all connected with tour touts. The two main players in town are NKS and Han, who also have a monopoly on transportation options in and out of Kuala Tahan. We would recommend heading away from the river when making area inquiries or booking tours.
We found Tahan Makmur Travel & Tours (T: (09) 266 1491; (019) 976 5897, ask for Bard), on the corner just before Teresek View Motel, to be straightforward and reliable. As a solo traveller, we found that this agency went out of their way to find solo travellers with another company to pad out our group rather than just say “Sorry, not enough people”. We had a poor customer service experience with Danz Travel & Adventure, next to the public toilets, and don’t recommend using them.
Internet is available at most hotels while the nearest ATM we saw, was in Jerantut, so be prepared cash-wise. Although the local bus back to Jerantut is only seven ringgit it is still a bit of a time consuming back and forth ride. Some of the tour companies, such as Tahan Makmur Travel & Tours, NKS Hotel & Travel and Han Travel and will take credit cards for walk in bookings.
There is a small Polis station in Kuala Tahan, just down the road from Teresek View Motel. Medical services beyond basic jungle first aid are available in not-so-nearby Jerantut, so be careful!
By Vanessa Workman.
Last updated on 15th October, 2016.