A walk over the woods: magic in Malaysia
Petronas Towers might be spectacular and the shopping is great. But if you go to Malaysia and are looking for something magical, you must walk on a canopy above one of the world's oldest rain forests.
by Charukesi Ramadurai
Editor's Note: In her previous column about the perfect winter getaway, Charukesi Ramadurai promised to introduce us to a canopy above the forest in Malaysia. Sounds magical? Join her for a walk on the wild side.
So, Malaysia again. Every time I saw a television ad for Malaysia, it was not shots of misty clouds swirling over Genting Highlands with people merrily gambling away inside resorts that caught my attention. Nor was it the gorgeous blue-greens (is aquamarine the word?) of Langkawi or further East, Redang and Perhentian, that made me want to go. And given that I am a city girl, it was not even the twinkling lights of the Petrona Towers at night. It was the canopy walkway over the lush forest at Taman Negara. A walk over the woods.
Taman Negara is one of the world's oldest rainforests, 130 million years old. The name literally translates as 'National Park' — you would think that a forest as ancient and venerable deserves a zingier name. But no, it was called King George V National Park before the Malay government changed its name after independence in 1957. And anyway, who am I to crib? In India, we would have renamed it the Rajiv/Indira/Rahul Gandhi National Park; in comparison, Taman Negara seems the work of a creative genius.
The route to Taman Negara (or Kuala Tahan, the nearest village) is picturesque, with two hours on the broad divided highway, followed by two hours on narrow village roads from Kuala Lumpur. From the Kuala Tahan jetty, it's a short ride on a longtail boat across the muddy Sungai Tahan to get to the National Park area.
From the entrance, a two-kilometre walk takes you to the canopy, not a tough trek even for the 'softened by the city life' types. During parts of the walk, the sky is hardly visible, thanks to the cover provided by the tall, wide trees. Although it does not sound like a long walk, it takes close to an hour, mostly because it is a path full of booby traps in the form of long, winding tree roots. Add to this the mandatory photograph stops: trees, flowers, leaves in all shapes and colours; ditto for mushrooms. Though a guide is not strictly necessary, it might be useful to have one point out the vintage and names of the trees and shrubs.
The canopy itself is a narrow walkway that meanders for 400 metres close to 100 feet above the ground, over the forest, through the middle of tall trees which stretch a further 100 feet above. Keep your ears open to the sounds of the forest: birds chirping, leaves rustling, crickets and insects humming, even the flow of the river at a distance. The wobbly bridge is initially scary; focus your energies on just holding on to it for dear life. By the time you reach the first bridge point where you can stop to rest, you will be comfortable enough to pull out your camera. From then on, look ma, no hands!
Why go now
The big Malaysia year-end sale is on till 1 January, making this the ideal time to head there. Also, the weather at this time of the year is just perfect (go in summer and you will lose a few kilos just sweating in Taman Negara – not entirely a bad thing, but you know what I mean).
The walkway is open from 11 am till 3 pm on all days except Friday when it operates between 9.30 am to 12 pm. Try to get there an hour before it opens to beat the crowds (I had to wait three hours since only a limited number of people are allowed on the canopy walkway at a time).
I had friends who drove me to the National Park but you can just as easily get there by public transport. From Kuala Lumpur, it is a comfortable 4-hour drive if you wish to rent a car. Or, you can take a bus or cab to Jerantut and take a 3-hour boat ride from Kuala Tembeling to Kuala Tahan (on the other side of the river from Taman Negara, a minute by boat).
Most of the resorts/guesthouses are located in Kuala Tahan — there is only one resort, the Mutiara which claims to be inside the rainforest, but this too is on the periphery and perhaps not worth the premium. If your budget does not stretch so much, stay in Kuala Tahan – I stayed at the reasonable priced Rainforest Resort.
You do not need a travel agent if you just wish to do the canopy walk. However, other adventures available at Taman Negara include river cruises, jungle treks, meeting with the Orang Aslis (aboriginal natives) and night safaris (not recommended at all unless you wish to see bats). Your resort should be able to organise these – so, ideally, take a package that includes food and activities.
Charukesi Ramadurai is a freelance writer and travel blogger from Bangalore. When she is not actually traveling, she is busy planning her next trip. Read more about her at her website.
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