Maybe it’s the high oxygen content, maybe it’s a latent primordial gene; whatever it is, I love the rainforest. Which is surprising, because I hate being hot and sticky, and I’m not too keen on over-exerting myself. Still, there is something about exploring land that has not been changed by humans — well, not much — that appeals to me.
Bearing this in mind, it is understandable that I felt drawn to Malaysia’s Taman Negara, one of the world’s oldest rainforests, estimated to be a staggering 130 million years old. Travel in Malaysia has many rewards, but Taman Negara has to be one of the best.
Taman Negara National Park
Taman Negara National Park is a three-hour drive and a four-hour boat ride from modern, eclectic Kuala Lampur. I arrived at Kuala Tembeling Jetty, purchased a park permit and climbed down the steps to the dock.
The boat, loaded with luggage and a dozen passengers, headed up the Tembeling River. I felt like I was the star in my own National Geographic documentary. Between walls of green the boat motored up river, the breeze offering respite from the heat and humidity.
People fished with nets and poles. Children refreshed themselves splashing near the shore. Water buffalo with only horns and noses sticking out of the water avoided the sun. Other boats whizzed by.
We passed an adventurous group poling along on bamboo rafts; others were kayaking and tubing. The ride was beautiful, with an occasional bit of white water to add a momentary thrill. All too soon the trip was over.
Only minutes after the boat docked at the eco-resort of Mutiara Taman Negara, I was soaked in perspiration, and as I lugged my bags up the steps I wondered if I only liked the rainforest when experienced on TV. Sometimes I am not realistic about how much I am willing to rough it.
At the top of the steps I caught my breath, looked around and heaved a sigh of relief as I took in the resort’s large, modern, open-air dining area and landscaped grounds, with a walkway that meanders from cabin to cabin. My cabin had electricity, a hot shower and, best of all, air conditioning.
A video documentary presentation in the Educational Center explained the dynamics of Taman Negara, where more than 10,000 plant species and about 350 animal species make their home. Spotting big animals, such as wild elephants and members of the cat family, is highly unlikely here. But macaques made the resort their playground, and an occasional monitor lizard wandered around.
In the morning I set off with Jo, my guide, for a three-hour nature walk. We set an easy pace, stopping for mini-lessons on various plants and their uses, and to inspect a wide array of bugs I never would have noticed without Jo’s keen eyes.
Amid this “jungle” is the world’s longest canopy walk, 1,673 feet (510 m) long and 148 feet (45 m) above the forest floor. Gingerly, I walked on the wobbly, narrow boardwalk with high net sides, keeping a required 15 feet (3 m) behind the person in front of me.
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