MALAYSIA VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jllTNFIu8Fo&t=3s
We bounced our way north of Kuala Lumpur in what is commonly known as a coach but would have been better described as an oversized space hopper. After 3 hours on this contraption and 30 minutes in a taxi we arrived at Kuala Tembeling. Right on the river it’s described as the gateway to The Taman Negara, so we purchased our tickets for a 2-hour boat ride into the jungle. Note that when entering the jungle everyone needs to buy a park pass (around 1 MYR) and if you plan on using any kind of camera equipment (including your phone) you will need a photography pass as well which is also very reasonable at approximately 5 MYR.
Travelling as a single mum with a 1-year-old has definitely taught me a lot, most importantly that even the best laid plans are likely to crumble and fall at your feet. So I was pleasantly surprised to make it all the way into the jungle relatively unscathed. Wilfred loved the boat ride, despite it being rather long he didn’t try and jump out the boat, pull off his life jacket or throw food at other passengers. Win! Instead he was mesmerised by the jungle lining the shore – like some kind of scene out of Jurassic Park. We were flying passed hundreds of years of untouched rain-forest taking in the different colours and strange noises that emerged the deeper we travelled.
We were dropped off at Kuala Tahan, a small settlement within the jungle, picking up our bags with one hand and Wilf in the other I started up a steep embankment to meet our hostel owner. The heat here was stifling compared to the city, not a trace of breeze could be found and Wilf and I arrived at our hostel sticking to each other with sweat. Putting the fan on full blast and freshening up in what was sold to us as an en-suite shower but was in fact a rusty cold tap about half way up the wall, we welcomed a power nap.
By 6pm we were sat on one of the few floating restaurants in Kuala Tahan, quite literally planks of wood held together with rope, floating on large plastic barrels. It was bliss, the heat was ever so slightly more forgiving, and the local food was fresh and delicious. We enjoyed chilli prawns, vegetable rice, sweet & sour chicken whilst watching the wooden boats drift by and sipping on a fresh watermelon smoothie. It was at that exact moment that it started to make the hard day of travel with a 1-year-old all seem incredibly worth it.
The following day we were up bright and early with the heat, we packed a small rucksack and headed to the river side. For 1 MYR one of the small wooden boats will take you across the river where you can start one of many hikes through the jungle. Where I only had myself to carry the bag and the baby, we opted for something a little less taxing! Lucky for me Wilf was in a fine mood and we walked the hour and a half hike to a perfect swimming spot further into the jungle. Apart from us two there was only one other local family cooling off in the stream – otherwise we were completely alone and remote from civilisation. It does make you wonder what on earth you would do in an emergency and makes me realise how lucky we are in the UK with such easy access to 999 when we need it. With nothing but his nappy and some driftwood Wilf was off in his own world, happily playing for a good few hours – stopping only to have a snack and a drink from time to time.
Once we had made our way slowly back for lunch and a nap, we were up and ready to go again. This time we were headed to a tribal village, only accessible by long boat up river, and through some rapids. I had been warned by several people that it was not at all possible with a 1-year-old due to the rapids. I had then been advised by different people that it would of course be fine, but he would need a life jacket. The skipper of our little boat was happy to stop at the first sign of any trouble and he also happened to be the owner of our hostel so it was nice to be guided by someone I vaguely trusted. We were whisked up stream at some speed, Wilf was wide eyed and a little unsure at first but quickly started to chuckle when he was getting splashed with the cool water.
We made it in one piece to the Orang Asli Village, made up of wicker huts and banana leaf shelters. There were more children than I thought I’d see so remote and far from human connection. For the fact a lot of these people had never left the jungle their whole lives, they were extremely happy people. Was this the trick to a happy life? Or just naivety as to what is going on in the world? Either way they were the loveliest people and were keen to show us how they lived, how they made fires and how they hunted food. Wilf was thrilled to play with the children and at that age the language barrier was no issue at all. With the permission of their parents we handed out packets of Oreo’s which were quickly devoured and hugely appreciated. They advised that most people are keen to travel upstream for the rapids but rarely stop at the village, most just snap a few photos as they motor passed in the boats. I can’t recommend visiting the Batik people enough, such a wise group of people that seem to have so much perspective considering the fact they are limited in their overall experiences.
The rest of our time in the jungle was spent tasting local foods and playing with our host family – the children were wonderful with Wilf and couldn’t get enough of the funny looking white boy that came to stay. We did attempt a night safari, recommended to be good for children and adults alike. I would avoid them like the plague. It’s understandable that you can’t guarantee any animal sightings, b having been twice now I am yet to meet anyone that has seen a single living thing. They charge around 60 MRY, are always late in starting and in our case had crammed 12+ people on a standard 4×4. Wilf and I were cramped and due to the delay it was not suitable for young children and he got particularly tired with no space to lie down on me to nap. Instead I spent an hour and a half stood up in the back of a moving truck, holding on for dear life with one hand and rocking him with the other – the end of the safari was by far the best part!
The safari debacle aside I urge any families visiting Malaysia to visit the Taman Negara. Such beautiful scenery has never been so accessible and can be done in an overnight trip from the capital – I hope people make the most of this wonderful part of the country without it turning in to the next tourist trap.