West Malaysia’s 130-million-year-old rainforest inside Taman Negara Forest Park provides the ultimate jungle experience near Kuala Lumpur. Culture Trip uncovers the essentials about visiting this ecotourist haven, including what to do, how to get there and where to stay.
Taman Negara is Malaysia’s oldest national park (gazetted in 1938/1939) housing both the world’s longest canopy walk and the grand Mount Tahan (West Malaysia’s tallest peak). Covering 4,343 square kilometres over three states, the park is an absolute biodiversity hotspot. More than 150 species of mammals (including the rare Malayan tigers and Asian elephants) and 3,000 species of plants and flowers, with innumerable types of insects call this rainforest home.
Visitors who venture into this jungle are promised an unforgettable rainforest experience, including trekking, wildlife spotting and canopy walks. Other activities range from white water rafting and fishing to exploring caves, bird watching and visiting Orang Asli villages (Malaysia’s ancient indigenous peoples). Mountaineers can attempt the gruelling multi-day expedition to scale Mount Tahan at 2,187 metres (7,175 feet). Discover how to climb Mount Tahan here.
The real highlight is Taman Negara’s Canopy Walk, which holds the title as the world’s longest ropewalk – stretching 500 metres (1,640 feet) and soaring 45 metres (148 feet) above the forest floor. Canopy observation huts in the treetops allow you to spy on wildlife, while regular information boards explain the flora and fauna you’re seeing. People have been known to spot everything from elephants to slow loris up here – so fingers crossed you get lucky. Admission is RM5 ($1.20 USD). Pay at the ticket office at the foot of the canopy.
Pro tip: The canopy walk is Taman Negara’s main attraction. If you’re travelling independently, get there as early as possible before the day tourists from Kuala Lumpur arrive. The Canopy Walk closes on Thursdays and may not open in wet and windy conditions.
Visitors have several options to reach Kuala Tahan Park HQ, using a combination of buses, trains and boats. If you join a tour from KL, expect a three-hour journey on an air-conditioned tour bus. Independent travellers can expect closer to six hours (or longer with a boat trip) and should consider staying overnight. Take the bus (from Perkeliling Bus Terminal at Titiwangsa) or train (Express or KMT) to Jerantut town located 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of Park HQ. From here, the fastest route is to get the bus directly to Kuala Tahan village (approximately one and a half hours). The scenic drives arrives at Kuala Tembeling port, following an intrepid three-hour boat trip along the jungle river. When you finally port, you’ll arrive at Kuala Tahan village – the entry point to Taman Negara Rainforest. Click here to find out how to get to Taman Negara.
Pro tip: Because of Taman Negara’s location, it’s not practical to visit from Penang. Plan a trip from Kuala Lumpur with an overnight stay. If you want to climb Mount Tahan, you’ll need to enter at the northern Sungai Relau (River Relau) entrance via Merapoh.
There are three accommodation areas in Taman Negara, and where you stay depends on your budget. Backpackers will find a handful of guesthouses in both Jerantut town and Kuala Tahan village. Staying in Kuala Tahan makes the most sense if you want easy access to the jungle and organised tours. Be warned though – there’s only a handful of restaurants on the river bank and absolutely no ATM access. But the proximity to the dark and deep forest makes for an exhilarating atmosphere.
Jerantut town, on the other hand, offers plenty of Malay, Chinese and Thai restaurants as well as an attractive orange, green and gold mosque. But it’s still 18 kilometres (11.2 miles) from the Kuala Tembeling ferry port, which means you won’t reach the park until midday (unless you take the bus).
Both Jerantut and Kuala Tahan are conservative and you won’t find any alcohol. If you want to splurge, check out Taman Negara’s Mutiara Resort, which is set right on the edge of the rainforest itself. Picture air-conditioned wooden bungalows surrounded by lush jungle on the banks of the river. Little visitors like porcupines and tapirs and known to nosey about the resort grounds when the sun goes down.
Taman Negara is hot, wet and sticky. The saturated jungle air hovers around 100% humidity, as temperatures soar to the mid-30s (Celsius) on a daily basis. Pack waterproofs, a change of clothes and plenty of water. Mosquitoes fill the air and leeches live in the undergrowth. Wear long sleeves and bottoms with leech socks pulled up towards your knees. Culture Trip suggests insect repellent as an extra precaution.
Lubuk Simpon near Park HQ provides an ideal spot to cool down and swim after a sweaty few hours in the jungle. Bring swimwear, but respect local customs and leave the revealing bikinis and speedos at home. Wear a t-shirt and shorts when you’re in the water.
Travellers visiting independently and staying overnight outside Taman Negara will find the trip surprisingly affordable. The entry permit at Park HQ in both Kuala Tahan and Sungai Relau costs just RM1 ($0.25 USD) with an extra RM5 ($1.20 USD) for a camera licence – yes, you need to pay to take photos, but it’s a small price to pay for what you’re getting in return. Admission to the Canopy Walk is RM5 while fishing permits cost RM10 ($2.50 USD). Prices to hire guides vary and you’ll need to inquire when you arrive at Park HQ. Organised tours from Kuala Lumpur usually cost several hundred ringgits. What is guaranteed though is that the experience of visiting this ancient rainforest is absolutely priceless.