Taman Negara is the largest national park in Peninsular Malaysia and one the most famous nature reserves in Southeast Asia. Taman Negara is Malay for “national park”, so there’s no need to say Taman Negara National Park when referring to it. As one of the world’s most ancient rainforests and being the green heart of Peninsular Malaysia it deserves its eponymous title.
It’s often claimed to be the oldest rainforest in the world, though the Daintree Rainforest in Far North Queensland in Australia also claims this title. Whether it’s a million years old or 130 million years old (as it’s estimated to be), this is not a detail that is noticeable to the casual visitor. What is noticeable though is that this large swathe of protected forest feels like an ecological oasis after travelling through miles of palm oil plantations to get there.
The reality of travelling in Malaysia now is the endless rows of palm oil plantations. Even on the road to the park forests are being cleared and converted into plantation land. I fear that eventually the national park will be completely encircled by palm oil plantations, with no natural passageway for wildlife to traverse the length of the peninsula.
I’ve been to Malaysia so many times over the years and yet a visit to the park kept eluding me. I had a trip on the jungle railway planned, so I took the opportunity to visit while I was relatively nearby. I was under the impression from some guide books that the park is best experienced with an overnight hike. If that’s your thing then sure, but if you just want to experience a pristine jungle then a day trip will suffice.
Visiting Taman Negara
The park is almost in the centre of the peninsula in three states (Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan). The main entrance is via Kuala Tahan in Pahang state. There are other entrance points, but for the casual visitor this is the most useful as everything can be arranged from here.
While the park covers an area of 4,343 km2, most of the visitor activity is focussed around the entrance at Kuala Tahan. If you’re not doing extreme adventure activities like a 10-day hike through the jungle or summiting Mount Tahan (the highest point in Peninsular Malaysia), then the activities at the Kuala Tahan entrance will suffice.
The tourist facilities are kept outside the park, so it’s a true national park that isn’t cluttered with shops.
There are ferry boats on standby on either side of the river ferrying people across for 1 MYR.
Once you cross the river there is a national park office, where a modest 1 MYR entrance fee and 5 MYR camera fee is collected. This ticket is good for the length of your stay (6 MYR = $1.44 USD).
At the park office is the start of the trail to Teresek Hill.
The total walking distance Is about 5km on a mix of boardwalks and jungle paths, which includes some steep sections on the climb to the hill.
The paths are clearly marked here, so no need to worry about having a search and rescue team coming look for you.
At 334 metres in height it’s not too strenuous, and the elevation gives a good overview of the forest and rivers, as well getting a view of Mount Tahan.
On the way to Teresek Hill is a detour path to Lubuk Simpon. Make sure you take it.
This is a good spot to go swimming or just relax by the river.
I was mesmerised by the sounds of the gurgling waters. I had recently reread Siddhartha, which has a passage about listening to what the river says.
One of the highlights of the park is the canopy walkway. This is a series of suspension bridges built among the tree tops up to 40 metres high and 530 metres long.
Unfortunately the walkway was closed for repairs when I went. I had read that it was closed beforehand and it was one of the reasons I wanted to visit the park. I had put off visiting the park for so long though that I wasn’t going to pass up this chance to visit.
I walked to the start of the canopy walk anyway, which is along a well-maintained boardwalk through the jungle.
I saw many varieties of lizards, and I’m pretty sure I heard every snake within a 100-metre radius. I came not expecting to see any large wildlife, so my low expectations were met.
Where to stay in Taman Negara
There is resort accommodation inside the park at Mutiara Taman Negara, which has a variety of accommodation options. Apart from that, accommodation is opposite the Tembeling River at Kuala Tahan. This is a classic backpacker village, with a variety of hostels, guesthouses, and cafes serving western food. I enjoyed going to the cafes on the rivers edge, where you can have a coffee with a view.
This is in a conservative part of Malaysia though, which means that most places don’t serve alcohol. Don’t expect a party atmosphere here like in Thailand, or even Penang.
There is a functioning town Kuala Tahan, with a school and klinik among other government offices.
How to get to Taman Negara
The park is not on the way to anywhere, which is also part of its appeal. If it was on a main highway between major urban areas it would probably be overrun by now. I was pleasantly surprised with how manageable the number of visitors were.
I visited Taman Negara after travelling on the Jungle Railway from Kota Bharu. Unfortunately the train is not a useful way to get there. The closest station is Jerantut, which has one train a day. If you are coming from Singapore/Johor Bahru then this actually works, otherwise don’t bother.
I got the Jungle Train to Kuala Lipis and stayed there the night as it’s an interesting place. I then got a bus to Jerantut, and then a taxi to Kuala Tahan.
If you are travelling independently from Kuala Lumpur get a bus to Jerantut, and at Jerantut there is a local bus to Kuala Tahan. The local bus from Jerantut to KT departs at 8am and 3pm, so it will basically take all day to get there from KL if doing it on the cheap.
Alternatively you can get a taxi from Jerantut if you don’t want to spend a few hours waiting around Jerantut. It’s a 45 minute drive and will cost 70 MYR ($16.80 USD). If you are going by local bus you will need to stay in Kuala Tahan as there are no bus combinations that can facilitate a day trip from KL.
You can visit Taman Negara as a day trip from Kuala Lumpur with a tour, which is the least amount of hassle. If you are doing a day trip then bring a clean change of clothes as you will exude several litres of sweat by spending half a day in the jungle.
Another option to get to Kuala Tahan is by boat from Kuala Tembling, between Jerantut and Kuala Tahan. This is a good option if you have time and are looking to add to the overall experience of the trip.