Known as the ‘green lungs’ of the Malay Peninsula, the 434, 350 hectare Taman Negara is a 130-million-year-old ecotourism park that is blanketed with dense jungle and a diverse range of plants and animals.
Over the course of its lifespan, the park has been spared major geological upheavals such as earthquakes and volcanic activity. As a result, it is acknowledged as one of the oldest jungles in the world.
Please note that Taman Negara is a restricted area. All visitors to the park must get permits from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
Taman Negara Attractions
Playing host to glow-in-the-dark fungi, two-tone fern and the giant rafflesia – the world’s largest flower – Taman Negara is acknowledged as an ecotourism haven. Its wildlife ranges from mega-fauna like Asian elephants, tigers, leopards and rhinos to smaller wonders such as flying squirrels. However it’s extremely rare that you’ll catch sight of these animals through the almost impenetrable forest. As a matter of fact, you are more likely to see snakes, lizards, monkeys, small deer and tapir, plus you’re sure to have a close encounter of the creepy kind with more than a few flying and crawling insects. If you give them the chance i.e. if you’re not wearing knee-high socks liberally soaked with DEET over your trousers, leeches will most assuredly latch onto you.
Taman Negara is a sightseeing attraction all on its own. The protected park boasts some of the most exotic flora and wildlife in the country and it houses a thriving indigenous population. Approximately 200 – 400 members of the Batek people, one of Malaysia’s aboriginal groups, live here. If you sign up for a tour to this hunter-gatherer settlement, tribal elders will give you a general overview of their culture, you’ll learn how to use a blowpipe and to start a fire without a box of matches. If you’re interested in the park’s history, stopover at the exhibition hall in Mutiara Taman Negara Resort to watch a video on the jungle’s history as well as to peruse the informative exhibits on display.
Taman Negara Dining
Just three hours from Kuala Lumpur, Taman Negara was first established as a preservation area in 1937. Spanning across three states, it overlaps with northern Pahang and the jungle houses an exotic collection of wildlife including the largest elephant population in Southeast Asia. The park’s headquarters is in Kampung Kuala Tahan and if you plan your trip beforehand, you’ll spend less time here and get more out of your excursion. Additionally, the longer your stay here, the more you’ll see in comparison to a brief visit.
Taman Negara is not known for its gastronomic offerings as the jungle isn’t the best place to run a fine-dining establishment. That being said, there are a few floating barge eateries that line the shores of Kampung Kuala Tahan; the fare is pretty standard – rice, noodles and western fare that are cheap and bland. The best restaurant is Mama Chop, located at the far northern end of the strip. There, you’ll be served Indian vegetarian banana leaf meals at lunch and good clay pot dishes for dinner. If you’re looking for a high-standard meal, then head on over to the Seri Mutiara Restaurant at the ritzy Mutiara Taman Negara with its good selection of salads, sandwiches, burgers and local fare. The American breakfast buffet here is slightly pricey yet filling and this is also the only restaurant in the jungle where you can get a chilled beer. Alternatively approximately 800 metres outside Kampung Kuala Tahan, the Durian Chalet is home to a simple restaurant and there’s also another one at the Nusa Holiday Village that serves standard but unexciting fare.
Taman Negara Nightlife
The 130-million year old protected Taman Negara has slim pickings when it comes to its nightlife offerings – people who come here looking for thumping techno beats and alcohol will be disappointed. There’s only one restaurant that serves beer in the area and that’s the Seri Mutiara Restaurant at the Mutiara Taman Negara Resort.
On the other hand, when the sun goes down Taman Negara is an undeniably fascinating location with plenty of things to occupy your time. First of all, try a night trek – this one-hour trail nearby the ranger headquarters allows you to see luminescent fungi, flowers that only bloom at night and nocturnal wildlife that makes the park seem like a whole different planet – imagine those Avatar moments... Alternatively hike out to the specially-built animal observation hideouts (bumbun). These ‘observation decks’ have been built in the forest overlooking salt licks and grassy clearings – the ones farther away from park headquarters are more likely to see feeding nocturnal animals such as tapirs, wild boars or deer. It’s a full five-hour trek to the Bumbun Kumbang hideout but you’re most likely to see elephants and other large game at this far-off encampment.
Taman Negara Shopping
Taman Negara – one of Malaysia’s major tourist attractions – is known for its exotic wildlife and flora; shopping opportunities are pretty thin on the ground at this ecotourism park. Even though the park has experienced a significant tourism boom in the last few years, conservation efforts have resulted in the park’s maintenance of its natural surroundings.
The jungle is home to the Batek people, one of Malaysia’s aboriginal groups and travellers who sign up for tours to this orang asli settlement can purchase small handicrafts at the village. If you’re not looking for souvenirs and knick knacks, you can stock up on camping supplies, ranging from flashlights to high carbohydrate munchies at the camping store beside the boating registration desk of park headquarters. Alternatively, there’s a floating-raft store just across the river jetty that sells colourful flip-flops, batteries, cold drinks and other items.
However you should be aware that prices here are decidedly higher than in town – nonetheless you can negotiate for fairer price tags and you should also take the time to shop around between the stores for bargains as well as to determine the better quality products. One thing you should not forget on your excursion to Taman Negara is insect repellent – if you forget it you can still purchase some at the camping store but you’re going to be paying a lot more than back home.
Taman Negara Activities
Established in 1939, Taman Negara is Malaysia’s premier national park. Home to tangled ancient trees with giant buttressed root systems, limestone caves, waterfalls and jungle-clad mountains, the park straddles three states in the east coast region: Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu. Each of its four entrances offers different attractions and activities.
Overnight treks or long-boat cruises up its rivers are commonplace and there are a variety of hiking possibilities, from an hour’s stroll to nine arduous-but-rewarding days scaling Gunung Tahan, the peninsula’s highest peak. Easier trails have been marked with signposts with fairly accurate walking times but if you’re thinking of delving deeper into the jungle, particularly along the Keniam, Tenol or Gunung Tahan trails, then a guide is recommended. One of the park’s highlights is the Canopy Walkway – a 40-minute circuit suspended between huge trees; only four people are allowed on the swinging gangplank at a time. Alternatively caving is a good Taman Negara activity – try the easy-to-explore Gua Telinga, also known as Ear Cave. On the other hand, if you’re not an experienced trekker, head to the Lata Berkoh waterfalls for a cool swim or anglers can try their hand along popular fishing rivers such as Sungai Tahan, Sungai Keniam (north of Kuala Trenggan) and the remote Sungai Sepia.
Taman Negara’s peak tourist season is from April to August and the dry season takes place from February to September. At other times of the year, rainfall is fairly unpredictable – a slight drizzle might turn into a torrential downpour and trails transform into treacherous slippery treks before you know it.