Taman Negara

Ok have One Direction actually taken over the world? I come to Taman Negara, a national park three hours boat ride away from civilisation, and I hear their song playing on the radio in the local restaurant (shack). I also heard someone in Penang singing it too. So annoying. What's even more annoying is it gets stuck in my head and repeats for hours after the event. It's like a form of torture by terrible music.

"You don't knowwww, oh oh, you don't know you're beautiful..."

The journey to get to Taman Negara from the Cameron Highlands consisted of a few hours in a minibus - I was the only one apart from the driver! - to Jerentut. From there another half an hour or so to a jetty on the Tahan river, where a boat was waiting to continue the journey for three hours upriver to the village of Kuala Tahan. Not the simplest of places to get to, but I was soon to discover it was well worth it.

"Everyone else in the room can see it..."

The boat was long and thin, made up of around ten rows of pairs of seats (not exactly seats, but a padded mat across the bottom of the boat, and another to lean against). As I'm obviously travelling alone, I got sat next to another guy in the same boat - pun intended - for the journey. His name was Christoph, and he was also from Germany (I've met so many Germans on my travels it's ridiculous). We ended up staying at the same hostel together, so naturally ended up planning to trek as a pair.

"Everyone else but you..."

Our first day eased me in gently. We had planned a round trip route to a canopy walkway, and a big hill called Bukit Teresek. Approximately 10km in total. No problem. The view from the canopy and the top of the hill alike were very pleasant. Well worth the effort. I felt like I was on "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here" walking across those walkways...

"Baby you light up my world like nobody else..."

I also learnt on that first day my initial reaction when seeing a snake in the wild is not to run away screaming like a girl, but to reach down for my camera and try and get a photo. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing. As it turns out, the photo I did get was absolutely rubbish:

It's the silver horizontal line you can see in the centre of the shot... I know, I know...

When I showed it to one of the park wardens, he was (rightly so) less than impressed with my efforts, but advised it was probably a paradise tree snake. Looking on google I think he's right, as they appear to have a yellow underbelly which you can make out in my photo. They're not venomous apparently, which is nice.

"The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed..."

We saw lots more animals that first day, from the relatively small termites and ants (which are still bloody massive by London standards!), to an iguana type lizard thing (actual name), and monkeys when we got back to the village beating each other up! Check the one on the right with blood dripping from his face... nasty.

"But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell..."

Apparently there's tigers, leopards, panthers and elephants in the forest here. In fact, there definitely is - the park wardens have photos of them stuck up on the wall, snapped by the automatic cameras as they walk past the sensors. We didn't see anything quite that exciting, just the above animals, and weird trees 'n stuff...

"You don't know... oh oh..."

To reward ourselves for our first day trekking we settled down to a delicious five star beer at the five star resort they have right at the entrance of the park... the one you have to walk right through and gaze at the nice, clean bungalows longingly as you head out to the trails. In case you were wondering, a five star beer is one that looks and tastes exactly the same as a normal beer, but costs literally five times as much. As we were sitting there drinking, we heard music behind us. We turned round to witness a musical welcome, plus free cold towel and drink for some new guests that had just arrived. I wasn't jealous in the slightest.... OK I was a little bit. But it just goes to show how much I could be spending on this trip if I were doing things the "normal" package holiday way. We finished our beers and headed back over by boat to the peasant's side of the river, to our zero star dorm.

"You don't know you're beautiful..."

That night we'd booked to go on a 4x4 night safari through a huge palm oil plantation. You can also do a walking version, but apparently the one in the truck is the better option as you cover more ground, and have a better chance of seeing more animals that way. And see them we did:

An owl that actually swooped down in front of the truck, before settling on a branch, rudely facing away from the camera...

As well as the above, we also saw foxes, wild pigs, and a leopard cat. This is a small wild cat with leopard style camouflage, hence the name. Unfortunately these guys were all too quick to get any photos. They would freeze momentarily under the glare of the guide's bright spotlight, but then slowly move off and under cover.

"If only you saw what I can see..."

Apparently tigers have also been spotted here, very rarely - during the rainy season as they head through towards the river, with the national park on the other side. When that happens though, the truck drives off at great speed, as the back of it where the customers sit is completely open! Meals on wheels...

The following day we had something altogether more ambitious planned. We were going to trek for a similar distance to the day before, but this time sleep overnight in Kumbang hide, before returning via a different route the morning after. Sleeping overnight is a completely different story when it comes to what you need to take with you. You need at least three big bottles of water (I actually would have liked to have one more), a sleeping bag (I rented one), food, a change of clothes... all of this means you have a seriously heavy bag to start out with.

Before we left something really annoyed me as well, I bought a hydration pack for my main backpack before I left - its a waterproof bag you fill with water, with a hose (like a straw) that comes over your shoulder and attaches to a small mouthpiece for you to drink from. It saves you having to reach round for a bottle all the time. I'd barely used it the whole trip, so I was pleased I would finally be able to use it in anger. I filled it, put it in my bag and Christoph and I went for some breakfast. When we returned, the dorm room floor was completely soaked. Straight in the bin went the leaky piece of rubbish...

"You'd understand why I want you so desperately..."

To begin with the trek wasn't bad at all, I was full of energy and we were making good progress. We soon caught up another bunch of trekkers, who we discovered were also heading to the same hide, so we all walked together. Around the halfway point, we came across a really nice stream with a natural pool where we all took a well earned swim. I needed it by that point as well, I was beginning to struggle and I was literally dripping with sweat. My shorts were no wetter after getting in the water than they were before, that's how bad it was.

"Right now I'm looking at you and I can't believe..."

After a few more kilometres, I was starting to feel like I may have bitten off more than I could chew! The distance isn't the problem, it's the terrain you're covering. You are constantly clambering up and down as you cross lots of different streams making their way down to the river. I think five months of doing nothing has made me unfit too, as most of the group were doing well. A couple of others were also struggling though. When we finally made it to the hide, those two were already certain they were not trekking back the following morning, but making their way to a nearby lodge, where a boat could be taken back to the village. I wanted to see how I felt after some food and sleep, so I left it until the following morning before making my decision.

The hide itself was extremely basic, but very cool. When we arrived I was completely and utterly exhausted and in no mood at all to be taking photos, so I've stolen one of the outside from the Internet:

Inside were twelve wooden, double deck bunks, where you could roll out your sleeping mat and sleeping bag. Trust me when I say, this was probably the most uncomfortable bed I've had on my journey so far! There was a long, thin window in one wall, with a wooden bench next to it where you could sit and look out over a salt lick in the forest:

"You don't know... oh oh..."

We saw a couple of animals while we were there, tapirs and some kind of an eagle I think. It would sit in the tree and occasionally we'd see it swoop down and grab some prey from the forest floor:

The very coolest thing for me though, is during one of the countless times I woke up during the night/early morning, in the far distance I heard an elephant trumpet, and five minutes later the same thing but for longer. The sound carried so far through the jungle, and it was really incredible to hear whilst lying in bed! Sadly we didn't see any while we were there...

The following morning I wussed out and got the boat back. My legs were aching simply walking up the steps of the hide, there was no way I could manage another 10km! I got back, had a nice long shower, changed into some clean clothes and did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day! And it felt great.

"You don't know you're beautiful!"

This post was bought to you by Luke Twomey, featuring One Direction.