I caught the Wau Senandung train from Sentral KL to Jerantut at 8:30pm. It was only 6pm when I got off the Air Asia Skyway bus at Sentral KL so I had enough time to try to find the train platform and have some dinner. I already booked my berth online (thank God for KTMB’s online ticketing system) a month before so no rush. I had lunch at a fastfood joint dispensing Malay-style fried chicken and rice combo meals. It was quite good. There were some curry puffs warming in a small counter-top glass cabinet but I resisted the temptation as I was hell-bent on not gaining weight, and if possible, even lose some, during this trip.
I even had time to browse at a stall selling Massai handcrafts and contemplated on buying a flat rattle (RM 60) but I figured it might just get squashed in my bag.
Kl Sentral can seem a little intimidating with so many people and so many gates to the several trains. I did manage to get directions to mine which was on the second floor right next to some souvenir stalls. Just to make sure, at the short queue to the turnstile, I asked a Malay woman if it was the line for the train to Jerantut.
At 8pm, the gate opened and we all headed to the platform and to the train. I plomped my bags at bunk #4 at the second car. It was a lower bunk but near the door which was a mistake as it meant that people were always coming and going especially on the first few hours of the trip. The sleeper class I booked didn’t have 4-bunk private cabins. It was just an entire car of bunk beds with curtains for privacy. The train was comfortable enough and the sheets and pillow was at least cleaner than the Hanoi-Lao Cai train I took in Vietnam. I was the only non-Malay in the car though I certainly didn’t look any different from them. Thankfully, it was quiet in spite of having entire families occupying some of the berths. I was a little worried I might wake-up and find myself in Tumpat, the end of the line near the Thai border so I put my cellphone on alarm and asked one of the staff if the station would be announced.
The conductor woke me up close to 3am to tell me we were approaching Jerantut. Not many people got off but there was a small crowd at the platform including a bunch of Caucasian young ladies seated on a wooden bench. They were probably waiting for the midnight train. The person from NKS, the travel agency that arranged my bus-boat ticket to Kuala Tahan was nowhere to be found. I knew the Hotel Sri Emas was walkable but I wasn’t too keen on taking out a map and walking in the dark. A cab driver offered RM 10. “Terlalu mahal,” I said. Everyone who had disembarked had gone and I was the only one left. A phone call later and a van finally pulled-up.
Maybe it was an upgrade or there was nowhere else but my RM 8 fan dorm room became a double with air-con. I managed to catch a few winks before waking-up at before 8pm fora breakfast of instant oatmeal I had packed with me.
By 8am, several of us had assembled at the NKS Cafe just across the street where I paid for my transport (RM 40) and park permits (RM 1 entry; RM 5 camera). We were herded in two mini vans and rode through palm plantations to the Kuala Tembeling jetty. A boat was waiting for us and soon we were pulling away from the village and were cruising the brown river of the Sungai Tembeling.
The wooden boat kinda looked rickety and it was very low you could actually reach down and play with the water but there it was surprisingly comfortable with enough leg room. Lush greenery and towering trees bounded both sides of the river. Occasionally, sandy shores appeared or Orang Asli houses peeped among the foliage. The cool breeze lulled me to sleep. It was all very nice and relaxing.
Three hours later, the famous floating restaurants appeared. We had arrived at Kuala Tahan, the village just across Taman Negara. We disembarked at the LBK floating restaurant which was also home to NKS where we were given a briefing and a handy map showing the trails.
“Okay… so welcome to Kuala Tahan… see those white stairs across the river? That’s the entrance to Taman Negara on the other side. “
I made my way to Mama Chop on the other end where Han Travel was. I had previously made arrangements for accommodations with them. I was to spend the first night at Tahan Guesthouse as Durian was full. Fortunately, the guy on the desk managed to wring a room for me at Durian Chalet which meant I didn’t have to transfer guesthouses.
Up a short road that climbed up then past the bus stop and behind the school was grassy and green Durian Chalet. The pathway that led directly down to the floating restaurants was closed due to some renovation going on. There were no durian fruits at Durian but the place was nice with the chalets arranged around a small grassy field. Adjoining the complex was a small warung. The twin room was clean and had strong a/c.
I just dropped my bags then set off to explore Taman Negara for the rest of the afternoon.