Older Than The Amazon: Taman Negara, Malaysia

Taman Negara rainforest is located on the Malaysian peninsula, 240 km from Kuala Lumpur. At 130 million years old, Taman Negara is not just older than the Amazon it’s the oldest rainforest in the world.

The over 4000 square kilometre national park is also home to flora, fauna and the Orang Asli, the indigenous people of Malaysia.

To get there, we take a train from Malacca to Jerantut. It’s quite a ride. By 10 am it’s already 34 degrees (celcius), the air is thick with humidity and the train’s air conditioning is struggling cool the cramped carriage. Passengers fan themselves down with hats and newspapers as condensation streams down the double glazed windows.

In an attempt to make the journey go faster, we eat. It doesn’t work, but we do have a lovely spread of pineapple tarts (a Malaccan delicacy), small pancakes with a jam filling and chip sandwiches.

At Jerantut we take a mini bus the rest of the way, stopping only to grab our rainforest entry permits, an ice cream, more water and a picture of a NO DURIAN sign.

Necessary.

When we finally get to our guest house afternoon tea is waiting. We scoff down, mango slices, banana bread, curry puffs and Malay sweets that look and taste similar to Japanese mo-chi sweets.

We wash it all down with orange juice and thick, black coffee sweetened and lightened with a splash of condensed milk. Following afternoon tea, we take a walk around the small town and head down to the muddy river that separates us from one hundred and fifty million years of nature and a five-star resort (there’s always one of those).

The river is dotted with ramshackle floating restaurants that double as docks for the small boats that ferry travellers across to the national park for just 1 Malaysian Ringgit (about 20 US cents) .

The next day, we return to the river to catch a ferry across to the national park, purchase a camera permit for a few Ringgit and head to the rainforest canopy walk.

We climb what look like several ladders strung together to the top of the trail. The jungle below is stunning and coloured with more shades of green than a Dulux paint chart.

I take photos but the variations in colour just can’t be captured on camera. Still, I give a good old college try.

Butterflies of varying sizes flutter by and a giant squirrel darts in front of us, but the real wild stuff; the tigers, the lemurs and the Orang Asli remain hidden deeper in the jungle. Away from our prying eyes.

The option to take a 5km trekking path (all uphill) presents itself and the fitter among us head for it. Meanwhile, those of us who know our limitations head straight for the 5-star resort for a cold drink.

That night, over dinner, we talk about what to expect on our rainforest walk tomorrow. It’s supposed to be pretty extreme, just us, thick jungle and a local guide with a machete.

Oh, and leeches.

Tina, a teacher from California and frequent solo traveller, has done her research. She says there are two kinds of leech in Taman Negara. And one of them gets into human orifices. That tears it for me. Leeches made my stomach churn before I knew there were some that try to find their way INSIDE you.

I turn to Wendy, who’s also not into leeches, or humidity, or the jungle and is only on this tour because her husband is too, and suggest we take a leisurely boat ride through the jungle instead.

Instantly, everyone at the table has something to say about this:

“Ah, you’re not afraid of a leech are ya?”

“They just suck your blood and drop off.”

“Mosquitoes are way more dangerous.”

The leech talk continues until Hannah, tour leader and the voice of reason chimes in,
“You probably won’t even see any. Leeches only come out after a lot of rain and it hasn’t rained in days. You’ll be fine.”

A few hours later, I lie in bed and listen as the rumbling of thunder shakes the walls of the guest house and rattles the windows. In a moment, the sky will open up –

TO BE CONTINUED…

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