Merapoh - Taman Negara
Adventures in the Wild Jungles of Malaysia
(Taman Negara - the path least known)
After years of wanting to visit Taman Negara, I was lucky enough this time to hook up with two Malaysian friends who were just as eager to embark on a bit of jungle adventure. I have to admit that I probably wasn't fully aware of what I was getting into (which is a good thing or I would have missed out on this wonderful adventure). We set off by car and arrived at Taman Negara - Merapoh entrance. The idea was to enter Taman Negara from this entrance which has been far-less touristed than the Kuala Tahan entrance.
We waited around for our guide as it was Friday afternoon prayer time. I had to be reminded that people in the East Coast walk to a different beat to folks on the West Coast! We were then whizzed off on a 4-wheel roller-coaster drive to our base camp. Word of advice, if the driver asks you if you want to go on a roller-coaster ride, the correct answer is "No" unless of course if you enjoy having every bone in your body rattled and your knuckles turn white from trying to hang on for your dear life! Once we arrived at the base camp, we attempted to set up our tents (the guide and driver had left us for the night with promises to return to check up on us the next morning - we gathered they had great reservations about 3 city-slickers trying to rough it out in the great outdoors!).
Back to basics, and enjoying every bit of it!!!!
After struggling with our tents and finally getting them to stand up (somewhat)&;it was time to take a bath in the fresh river running along the camp-site. I don't know about you, but being a true city girl I have never washed in fresh river water&;.let me tell you, 'What an experience!'. It was truly the highlight to my days in the jungle - there's nothing that quite compares to the exquisite, refreshing and totally invigorating feeling after bathing in clean, cool water listening to all of nature's cacophony. I think my two companions thought I had succumbed to jungle-fever with my obsession to the outdoor bathing ritual!
One of the things which made this whole experience so memorable was the feeling of going back to basics;where even a meal of Maggi Mee instant noodles tasted sooooo good (esp. when it took us 30 minutes to get the water to boil - there's nothing quite like anticipation to whet one's appetite!). We did nothing but sleep, eat, talk, bathe, talk, eat, sleep. No modern gadgets to entertain us- nothing but an appreciation of nature and the simplicity of nature.
Much to our guide's surprise, we were found fit and ready to go on our overnight hike to Lata Luis. The return route was 22 km - we hiked 11 km on our first day and camped beside a waterfall for the night. Once again, the highlight after 4-5 hours in the sweaty, humid jungle (and surviving a couple of leech bites) was&;..bathing in the clean cool waterfall! Along the hike, we saw lots of beautiful tress, vines, big ferns and the sounds of wildlife (unfortunately we did not catch sight of any animals). Thankfully, our return hike was easier (we had eaten half our load!).
The next day we embarked on a day hike to Gua Gajah (Elephant Cave). Once again, during the hike we took in all of the beautiful flora and fauna, and the bewitching sounds of wildlife around us (sometimes it was a tad spooky cause you knew that the animals could see you but you couldn't see them). As we were about to approach the cave, our guides (we had 2 this time) began to act rather nervous as if looking out for something/someone.
We were signalled to stay low and told that there were poachers ahead of us. Our guides went on ahead and within minutes, we heard a group of men calling out to them. We stood there for awhile unsure what to do as wild thoughts raced through our minds&; 'had the poachers taken our guides hostage?', 'will they come for us?', 'or will they leave us out here in the jungle to fend for ourselves and fend off the wildlife that might come get us?' (perhaps I should add that these were my own wild thoughts, my two companions were probably thinking quite calmly and rationally).
We decided after some deliberation to move forward and were immediately spotted by the group of men who silently and very quickly walked away into the jungle. Our guides tried to appear calm and explained that the people we saw were the 'orang asli' (native/indigenous people) and were not poachers and were free to hunt in the jungle for roots and plants. We had our doubts about this 'story'/explanation. In the jungles of Malaysia and in Taman Negara poaching is still a very real and recurring problem. These poachers come into the jungle equipped with guns and ammunitions and sometimes move in fairly large groups. What becomes even more difficult for the guides who are locals (i.e. they live in the surrounding villages) is when the poaching is carried out by members in their villages who are friends, neighbours etc.
Gua Gajah (Elephant Cave) is quite a fascinating place&;.it's where elephants sometimes come to rest or take shelter. Inside the cave, there were evidence of elephant droppings and markings made by the elephants. After a short wander around the cave, we made our way back&;dying for our very first taste of ice cold Coca Cola after our 4 days absence from civilization (once a city-slicker&;). I had a brilliant time in Taman Negara and truly enjoyed the respite from the crazy, gadgety world we live in where our senses our constantly titillated (or numbed?) by mass-advertising campaigns and the media screaming out to us that if only we had XXX, we would find eternal happiness and bliss. It was refreshing to be able to be so close to nature and to remember that sometimes it takes very little to be happy.
Other Forest Trails
This trail starts from the ranger's base camp at Sungei Relau and winds through 4.1km of lowland forest to Pasir Gelenggang. The journey takes about 2 to 4 hours to complete. Crossing the Negeram River is necessary for this trail so be prepared to get your feet wet!
About 1.6km long, this trail also starts from the Sg. Relau ranger's station and ventures only 300m along a rough, unkempt trail through peat swamp and flat ground. Not a difficult trek but possibly need a guide as the entrance and trail is obscure.
535meters long, it's possible to venture off on this trail on your own. The trail is marked all along the way with signs and description of fauna in the area. The self-interpretive trail guide of the 20 stations is also available at the ranger's office.
You have to hire a guide for most treks at the National Park and it's not cheap. If you intend to stay and trek be prepared to pay RM60-80 per guide per day, RM20 extra for an overnight stay in the jungle. There are official and unofficial guides there. The thing is that the official guides are generally the rangers and the unofficial guides are the village boys. On both sides, they speak little English - and that makes it a bit difficult and not really worth the price quoted. Moreover, with communication difficulties - the trekker will learn less about the jungle.
Conquering Gunung Tahan?
Before even thinking about climbing Gunung Tahan, there are a few matters to consider like the cost and if you're fit enough. 2 very important factors. Let's see, there's the usual National Park fee at:
Entry Permit RM1.00/person
4WD transport RM7.50/person/way
then there is the porter and guide fees stated below:
For a 5 day trek from Kuala Juram (Merapoh) - Gunung Tahan (puncak) - Kuala Juram (Merapoh) ~RM950
Porter RM50/day per porter (only if really needed)
Trekking team ~ 12 pax per guide, 48 trekkers maximum per day
Also the duration required and the distance from one camp to the other and finally to the peak.
As the nation progress, we lose more and more of our natural heritage, if you wish to know more about how we are sealing our future with a dismal sign off and how some of us try our best to push back, https://www.facebook.com/SaveMerapohCaves/
For a 7 day trek from Sungei Relau - Peak of Gunung Tahan - Kuala Tahan ~ RM1,200
For a 9 day trek from Kuala Juram (Merapoh) - Gunung Tahan (puncak) - Waterfall - Kuala Tahan ~ RM1,400
Porter RM50/day per porter (only if really needed)
Trekking team ~ 12 pax per guide, 48 trekkers maximum per day
The Park is closed between November and January. Please contact the Ranger's station to make arrangements with them:
Taman Negara Merapoh
27210 Kuala Lipis, Pahang
Tel/Fax: +6 09 - 912 4894
Packing ChecklistMedication, mosquito repellent, stop-itch, mosquito coil, anti-histamine, any anti-allergy ointment you may need, muscle relaxant Toilet roll, bath towel, toiletries, non-slip slippers/sandals, torchlight extra clothing, jumper for cold nights, quick-dry clothing, raincoat/jacket, swimsuit cooking utensils, camping cooker, matches, mineral water (if you don't like drinking from the river), food, fruits….anything you fancy. If the furthest you'd venture is Kuala Juram, you're okay because the trip from Sungei Relau ranger station to Kuala Juram, where the hostel is, is by 4WD. Camping equipment, if you're camping out - flysheet, tent. Make sure they're strong enough. Torrential rains may weigh tents down if you're not careful. It may be a good idea to bring along some nylon string and tarpaulin for added patio to the tent. Also bring along some extra nylon string for hanging clothes. A knapsack rain protector would be handy.
watch out for this sign
From Kuala Lumpur, take route 2 which heads toward Kuantan. Turn off at the Bentong/Raub exit (which is not far from the Gombak Toll)and follow signs to Kuala Lipis (route 8). Passing Kuala Lipis, follow signs to Gua Musang. Merapoh is about 20kms before Gua Musang.
Merapoh station on the outskirts of Merapoh town, facing the road into Sg.Relau
Although Merapoh has its own station, passenger trains seldom stop here. They only do so upon special request. If you have a group of more than 10 or tickets valuing at more than RM200, request for a special stop at Merapoh when you purchase your tickets. Otherwise, the closest station is the Gua Musang station. Trains to Gua Musang runs daily. Economy a/c class @RM21 and Second class tickets @ RM 34 one-way. For detailed train schedules, check KTMB's website.
Please refer to the gua musang bus schedule for more information
Before purchasing your ticket, please inform the ticketing counter that you wish to be dropped off at Merapoh and then reiterate this to the bus driver as you get on the bus.
From Gua Musang(about 30km away) to Sg. Relau = RM55 per taxi per way
From Merapoh to Sg.Relau = RM7 per person with minimum 4 persons
These are private vans making a side income, so you may have to stop some villagers and ask them. Otherwise you could walk 7km all the way to the ranger's station
BY 4WD from Sungai Relau to Sungai Juram
The ranger's station will organise transport from sungai relau to the campsite at Sungai Juram for RM7.50 per person per way.
For those driving to Merpoh, you can park your car at the ranger's station and from there take the 4WD to sungai juram. Prior arrangements for staying at Merapoh required.
Article contributor: Eliza Lim