Taman Negara National Park

Last time we met, I left Tioman Island with one leech. How sad :( The
next stop for me was back to Ampang for the night and off the next morning
(24 Sept) to Taman Negara (TN). Cathy offers an environmental management course (Monash University) and the field trip to TN is part of the course. She had invited me to join in on the fun since there would be several
bodies to use as bait to attract leeches :) Monash university is a
private university (from Australia). The student body is mainly composed
of Malaysian citizens of Chinese and Indian descent and are distinguished
from Malaysians, or Malays. There are very few Malays that attend private
universities in Malaysia, since Malay universities are free or next to it.
All other citizens are pretty much forced to attend private universities.

About Taman Negara:
TM is Malaysia's largest national park. It contains the largest
unfragmented tract of rainforest in Peninsular Malaysia with some of the
oldest rainforests in the world. Unfortunately...OK here it comes...with
nearly 60 thousand visitors a year some of the more popular trails are
suffering from erosion and crap left behind and thrown about by tourists.
Additionally, the construction of a large resort on NP land (also where
the park headquarters are found), noise and disturbance has contributed to
the migration of some of the more interesting animals away and deeper into the forest.

Saturday morning I met the 12 students and a lecturer from the university,
Mr. Tan, that was going on the trip as Cathy's replacement. Unfortunately,
Cathy had to tend to family matters and could not go.
So we set off on a 3 and half hour journey by bus eastward to the central
Malaysian state, Pahang. Taman Negara is found here. What I didn't know
is that after the bus ride there was another 3 hour boat ride along the
Sungei Tembeling river to the main villages near the park entrance. So we
arrived to the Tembeling jetty but had 2 hours to kill before departing up
river. So I took the opportunity to get to know the students. So we ate
and they taught me some Malaysian phrases and how to play Cho Tai Tee, a Chinese card game. I wasn't very good.

At around 2pm it was time to head over the dock and catch our ride on a motorized sampan up river. The river was the color of tea with milk, but the students were telling me that the river reminded them of teh tarik - a
sweet milky tea drink made by pouring the tea between two cups to make it frothy. I never tried so I took their word for it. The sampans are long boats that sit about 16 or 18 people, two at a time. Thankfully, there was a roof to protect you from the blazing midday sun.
Yes, not a cloud in the sky. Not even one!

What a relaxing ride! The breeze was wonderful and the scenery was
spectacular. We saw a few crocs moving out of the boat's way and some
water buffalo wading and drinking by the waters edge. As we got closer to
our village, Nusa Camp, there were a few points along the river with
rapids. The boat driver expertly maneuvered through these rapid which
were moving down river (we were going up) and for fun would speed up and
managed to get some of us soaked. Ha Ha very funny! By the end of the
ride I had no ass, I was soaked and was very happy to walk again.
Mr. Tan and Young (one of the students) shared a chalet and I had my own
room next to theirs. The rooms were simple, spacious, especially for me,
and with a bathroom. While the rest of the students were put up in dorm
style rooms that were cramped with up to six bunk beds in a room and a
shared bathroom. They weren't really happy about that. Some of the girls
came to investigate our rooms and begged to use our bathrooms for showers and the like.

We had dinner and I was introduced to kampung fried rice. It had some
mixed veggies, egg and I believe fried anchovies, oh and it was spicy. It
was soooooo! good. I don't think I ate anything else the whole time I was
in Taman Negara. At around 8:30 pm some of us scheduled for a night walk.
While we waited for the walk to start, the guide was talking to some of
the other guest and I overheard him talking about leeches and how to get
rid of them (i.e. burning, salting, etc). When we started the walk a
quickly went over to the people and asked them not to kill the leeches if
they saw them. I assured them that I would be happy to remove the leeches
for them.

The night walk was kinda whack!
The guide proceeded to give us a short blurb about the park and the focus
of our night walk .... insects. He then told us that he did not know the
names of most of the insects (fair enough) because there are millions of
species (OK)....and that (get this)...old species die every day to make
room for the new species that are arise. I tried everything to stop myself
from bursting out laughing. I'm so mean, right.
We saw a large stick insect, the biggest tarantula I've ever seen, other
spiders, moths and played a game to turn off our flashlights so we could
see the luminescent fungus growing on the leaf litter. It appeared that
he was the only one seeing this because we did this for 15 minutes. Turn
on, turn off, turn on, turn off. We ended the hour-long trek by turning
off our lamps, remaining quiet and listened to the "orchestra of the
jungle." Cute.

After the walk, myself, Mr. Tan, Young and two other student (Wai and
Mandy) went by the river to look at the stars. Young busted out a
constellation map so we could try to figure out what we were looking at.
To my excitement this endeavor didn't last very long as the clouds started
coming in. Maybe some rain for tomorrow?

No rain today.
We got up early to get on the first boat out to have breakfast in the main
village Kuala Tahan. For breakfast, students recommended nasi lemak -
coconut rice with a fried egg, cucumbers, peanuts, fried anchovies and
served with sambal (spicy chili paste). It was damn good, especially the
sambal. The students were quite surprised by my tolerance for heat. I
love spicy food!

After breakfast, we took a ride on the "umbrella boat" shuttle across the river for the equivalent of 13 cents which brought us to the park headquarters. Nusa camp and Kuala Tahan village are on park border across the river. We had a choice, to either go on a canopy walk first, then go on a steep hike up Bukit Teresek mountain (342 m) or vice versa. The students voted for the former. When Mr. Tan and I asked about the trails, we were told to avoid the canopy walk for a while since there was a large group moving through there. We pretended to go towards the canopy walkway, since they both started along the same trail. At the split we told them were taking the long way....up and up and up. There was some grumbling but most showed enthusiasm and, to my surprise, were keeping a look out for leeches. Occasionally, I'd venture off the trail....I came out empty. After about an hour and half trek we made it to the top. From here was a beautiful panoramic view of the forest and Gunung Tahan (2187 m). (Mr. Tan and Young are trekking buddies and
endured the 55 km trek to the top (a 7 day ordeal). I was impressed.) In
the distance, we could hear a group of gibbons by their distinct whooping
calls. Very cool!

We climbed back down to head over to the canopy walkway. It is set at 30 M and is almost 500 M long. they claimed to be the longest canopy walk IN THE WORLD. I wouldn't know, this was my first time. Other than some annoying flies that went straight for your eyes and mouth, it was a lot of fun. For the rest of the afternoon we hung out at Kuala Tahan village and enjoyed es kachang - shaved ice with red beans, cubes of jelly, sweet corn, rose syrup and evaporated milk. It was quite lovely and very enjoyable in the heat. For the evening we decided to have our own night walk. We came across the gargantuan tarantula, again, on the same tree, a scorpion and plenty of flying insects.

Dinner: cup o' noodle soup. The students wanted to save some money.
No leeches today.

The plan was to head to Gua Telinga, a bat cave. We took the riverboat
down stream to the starting point of this trail. The trail wasn't clearly
marked so instead of going right, we went left. Well, we stumbled upon a
forest tribe settlement. They weren't too impressed by our intrusion. There were several children looking at us from behind a tree and a woman
who definitely didn't look happy. After a few moments of awkwardness, we
turned around and went on our way.

It was about 3 km along the river then 200 M north to the cave. Apparently, the entrance to the cave looks like an ear. I didn't see it. Only about 7 of us went into the cave because one of the students didn't want to get dirty and wet. The 80 M cave, although long, was really narrow and at times we were on our hand and knees to get through the openings. There was a rope that led you through the cave and was useful to hold onto since the rocks were slippery from cave stream and guano (bat shit). One missed step and you were going down into a hole or getting wedged between rocks. We ran into a tour group of four that were with a guide. They had reached a group of bats, but more impressive, a massive toad, about the size of a fat cat. I'd never seen anything like it. I cursed every moment I was in the cave because I didn't bring a camera. I was given the impression that we were going to
be walking through deeper waters, so I opted to leave everything behind,
except a headlamp and a tube (just in case). Oh well. Then all of a sudden, I hear "leech!" In the cave?? This couldn't be. I was hoping for a bat leech, but it wasn't. One of the tourists had plucked one off of his ankle. The leech latched on along the trail. I tried not to kill myself on the guano as I moved as quickly as possible to collect the leech. The group gave me a strange look, but were amused by my excitement of seeing the leech.
We finished crawling through the cave and climbed out pretty dirty (with guano) and wet. It was a cool experience.

We decided to head back to Nusa camp to do the 1 and half hour walk to
Abai waterfall. Along the way, I hear "I've got a leech!" I quickly ran
back to find Mandy pointing at a leech sitting on a leaf on the ground,
waiting. The leech holds on by its back sucker, stretches out and waits
for an unsuspecting victim. The students were good, man. I only found 2
along the trail. I kept on asking, "what kind of a leech biologist am I?"
By the end of the trek I had increased my leech count to 11 near Taman
Negara and a total of 12 for Malaysia. Not something to boast about, but
it's better than nothing.

That evening the camp had a black out so, we had some more cup o' noodle
soup for dinner and hung out by candlelight.

Departed Taman Negara and headed back to Cathy's home.

Return to Bangkok, Thailand
Upcoming events:

30 September - 5 October
Tales of Bangkok
Khao Yai National Park

6 October - 15 October
Going North with Jean Pierre Hugot.
Thanks for reading. I promise you, I have better stories coming :)