“Almost every snake in this jungle will kill you,” my guide Ajip said over our candlelit dinner. “Snakes and falling trees are the two things I worry about the most while I take groups trekking in this jungle.”
The chirping song of cicadas mixed with the of distinctive chirping of crickets created an ambiance you would only experience in the middle of the jungle. I tried to focus on the sounds, but the thought of coming into contact with a snake made my skin bubble with goosebumps.
I trekked over 8 kilometers that day without seeing a deadly snake, but I still had another 8 kilometers to trek the next day. With my luck, I’d spent the next night inside of a snake’s stomach.
My guide reached into the pot of vegetables and canned chicken and scooped a heaping spoonful onto his plate. “We must finish everything,” he said, grinning. I could already feel my stomach bursting over my leggings and wasn’t sure if I could fit anything else down. Until, of course, he brought out the banana bread.
I looked around the cave, pitch black except for the candles my guide put around us. Bats swarmed above our heads and the stench of mildew and dirt wafted into the air, brought in by a breeze that promised rain.
After we cleaned up, I snuggled into my sleeping bag on the floor of the cave. I was on a two day trek through the oldest rainforest in the world, Taman Negara, at 130 million years old. The trek was over 16 kilometers long, and included an overnight stay in a massive cave.
I almost slept completely undisturbed that night. A spider’s soft 8 legged dance on my face woke me up in the middle of the night, accompanied by a mini freak out as I swatted my own face.
I experienced anxiety, excitement, and happiness throughout the two day trek. My group and I lucked out with our guide Ajip, who made the strenuous trek that much better.
Throughout the two days, I learned about certain trees, plants, and animals in the jungle, all with a twist of humor. At one point, Ajip stopped us to listen to the loud rhythmic vibration from an insect deep inside the jungle. “You hear that?” he said, cupping his ear. ‘They are horny insects!” A huge smile spread across Ajip’s face.
At another point, he stopped us mid stride to point out elephant poop on the side of the path. “Elephant poop, probably from a few weeks ago. You can tell because of the plant growth coming from the poop. See the mushroom? We will have a jungle party!” I burst out laughing from the openness and humor coming from my Malaysian guide.
We stopped for lunch and a swim in the river when we had 3 kilometers left on the trek. I sat down in the dirt and felt the weight literally lift off of my shoulders as I put my bag down.
But you know me, I can’t have any adventure without a mishap…
At that moment, I looked at my feet, suddenly remembering my guide’s warning about leeches. Knowing my luck, I probably have 40 of them.
I pulled my sock off, only to find my foot was the host to four blood sucking leeches. They swung to and fro as their teeth sucked the blood out of my foot and into their tiny bodies.
“Ah! Guys! I have leeches,” I said, not sure of what to do next. The other members of my group proceeded to check their feet as I patiently waited for an answer. I looked down again. Who invited you, I thought. Free food time is up!
“Spray them with bug spray,” Ajip said, bringing me out of my malicious trance. I grabbed a bottle and doused my feet in the chemicals, watching as the leeches fell off one by one.
“Hah!” I said, snickering. I watched as they crawled away like a punished dog. “Take that!”
The river looked even more inviting now that the parasites left the party. I immediately jumped into the murky water, followed by two of my friends.
“What the hell am I doing, I’m taking a damn bath in the middle of the jungle,” said the towering Dutch man as he poured a bucket of chilled water over his head. His blonde bangs stuck to the front of his face and dirt trickled down his back and into the river. I found that hysterical as I rubbed the bar of soap across my skin that I brought into the water.
What was I doing?
I sat on the ground as the cool water dribbled down my skin and the river flowed around me. My feet sighed with relief and my muscles relaxed.
Later on, we ate boiled vegetables and ramen noodles over cups of coffee and tea. When I asked Ajip how he looks so young, he told me “I drink the river water. It keeps me young!”
He then held a cup of boiled river water to his lips and drank a heaping portion with tea and honey. I raised mine to my lips as if it were from the fountain of youth, hoping it was as purified as it could be.
Before leaving the jungle, Ajip took us to the Orang Asli Village, which means the people of the jungle. Five or six families live in each village, and this particular one had only started several days prior. They move around a lot and for different reasons, such as food or death.
The Orang Asli people are simple minded. They “don’t want to be a part of our crazy world,” and prefer to live in the jungle. The government gives them free accommodation and food to try and assimilate them into our culture, but they refuse. They are one of the happiest people of the jungle, and live a simple life, only taking what they need.
Ajip told us a story about a group of school children from the Orang Asli village who had been scolded by their teacher after swimming in a river. Out of fear, they ran away into the jungle and hid for two months. Only 1 of the 7 children survived. Ajip told us the Orang Asli people and nature can never be separated.
“The Orang Asli people and nature must be together, or else they will die.”
We returned to the dock an hour later. The boat glided along the river as it transferred us back to our beds, showers, and toilets.
I love the jungle. I love the nature, the sounds, and the smells. I love the enormous trees and the fuzzy leaves that tickle your legs as you pass them. I love the mating calls of the monkeys, the clicking of the cicadas, the kettle pot squeal of the birds. I love the crackling of the branches underneath my feet, and the trickling current of the river as it passes through sticks and over rocks.
I felt a great satisfaction after leaving the jungle the next evening. I came out with a new found appreciation of toilets and a bed, and an even deeper love and appreciation for mother nature and all she has to offer.
How to Trek Taman Negara
I went with Han Travel once I arrived in Taman Negara. The cost of the tour is 230 ringgit (if you have 4 or more people), and they ask you to meet them the day of departure at 9;30 a.m.
Bring a small backpack and trekking shoes, a toothbrush, torchlight, change of clothes, bathing suit, sunscreen, and bug spray. They provide the sleeping bag, mattress pad, food, plate, spoon, cup, and water. This will all fit into a small day backpack and will end up weighing around 5 kilos.
Meet Anwarudin Razali (Ajip)
Below is the contact details for my guide Ajip. I HIGHLY recommend trekking with him, he’s not only hilarious, but also knowledgable and friendly. He’s been doing these treks for 7 years.
How to get to Taman Negara
From Kuala Lumpur: Buy a ticket to Kuala Tahan from Kuala Lumpur, around 80 ringgit. It includes the bus and the river boat ride. Use busonlineticket.com.
The bus is around 4 hours, and the boat ride is around 3 hours.
I recommend staying at Hana Guesthouse, which you book on arrival. A three person room is 50 ringgit, and a private is 40 ringgit. The owner is adorable and has the greatest smile!
I recommend eating at one of the restaurants along the river, like Family Restaurant. Meals are around 5 to 12 ringgit.