The jungle is covered in clouds and gibbons are singing as our small boat crosses the murky waters of the Tembeling river. The boatman skillfully negotiates the fast currents before dropping us off at the Mutiara hotel jetty. From here, a long series of steps lead to the Taman Negara park headquarters. At the very top, a red line reminds us of the 1971 water level. Last year’s flood crossed that line. All along the riverbanks torn tree trunks and leaning houses bare witness to the drama.
Sweat is already dripping off of me as we buy our tickets (1 RM per person + 5 RM per camera) and we didn’t even start the long hike up Teresek Hill. The first part is flat and easy as the wooden walkway meanders through the jungle. It reminds me of botanical gardens in Europe, only here there’s no need for a glasshouse. We are surrounded by exotic sounds and smells. Travel agencies always lure tourists with pictures of tigers, tapirs and elephants. The hard truth is that in the jungle, you rarely see anything else than trees. But today’s our lucky day as a small deer runs for shelter.
The boardwalk follows the river before making a steep climb up the hill. I make the classic mistake of sprinting up the steps, preferring the quick pain to endless torture. ‘Slow down! You go too fast’ – a Chinese man warns me, but I wave his advice away.
When we reach the canopy walk – Taman Negara’s star attraction (5 RM – open: Sat-Thurs 11 am–2u45 pm, Fridays 9 am-12 noon) – my shirt is already glued to my skin. It’s busy on the canopy walkway. I try not to give in to my extreme fear of heights, as I walk the wobbling and cracking bridge. We are 40 meters up in the treetops. Do-Not-Look-Down. I just focus on the person in front of me. And keep smiling for the pictures of course. But I’m counting down each of the 540 meters. Finally we reach the end. Only to realize that we should have done the canopy walk on our way down Bukit Teresek. Once again, we need to climb up the hill. This time, I follow the Chinese wisdom. ‘Slow down’
When we reach the first viewing point, my shirt has turned into the Niagara Falls
Bees start circling my head like flies in cartoons. It gets worse as we follow the last stretch to the top. From this second viewing point, we can see the endless jungle covering over 3000 km2.
For the way back, there are 2 options. Just turn around or take the alternative, long path back via the river. The minute we descend the steep, rocky path we realize why only 0.001% choose the second option. And the worst is yet to come. Pieces of boardwalk remind us that once this was truly an alternative road. But right now, the path is covered with mud and branches, while some wooden pieces start cracking dangerously. I carefully check the stability of each step. I also make a lot of noise to scare off any potential snakes.
The road gets worse and worse until a fallen jungle giant blocks the path and forces us to make a little detour. I’m hesitant but I can see people have done this before. Meanwhile, the surrounding nature is overwhelming us - we can even see small, colorful birds up close. But the road seems endless and even after 2 hours there’s no trace of the river.
Finally we come to a junction. Panic strikes as the sign is lying in the mud. Do we go left? Or right?
Can the sign be trusted? Or did some smart ass turn it? I try to find the basic map from the park headquarters. I had carelessly put it in the breast pocket of my shirt and now the paper is wet like a towel. I try to unfold the sticky paper but the vague map doesn’t make us any wiser. I just assume that the Tabing Hide is on the right, so the park entrance should normally be on the left. But I’m not 100% sure.
In one second, that lovely, exotic jungle that we enjoyed so much becomes a very, very scary place. We turn left and with each step, the doubt sets in. We try the GPS on our smart phone, but there’s no connection. And there’s still no trace of the river. We step through a muddy stream covering my boots in mud. I’m scared the path will reach a dead end.
‘I think we’re lost’ my wife says.
But I keep a straight face and answer: ‘No, we’re not’. But inside, I’m starting to calculate our survival options. We’re still fit. We still have some water. And we still have 4 hours of daylight. Sooner or later, we should come to a point, where at least I can figure out where we are on my wet map.
But then, finally, we catch a glimpse of the river. I quickly check the flow of the water: it’s going downstream … bingo! The camp entrance can’t be far. A feeling of relief comes over us. Especially when we spot some fellow hikers in front of us, telling us they faced the same dilemma. 20 minutes later, we arrive at the head quarters. We’ve made it.
Before this trip, I was dreaming of doing a 7 days jungle trek, but after these 5 hours, I’m not so sure anymore. I think I'll stick to other adventures in Taman Negara.