Having arrived at lunch, I had the entire afternoon free so I signed up for the 3pm shooting the rapids and Orang Asli village visit (RM 60) and a night walk (RM 25) at Han Travel.
I was seated next to a guy from Slovenia in the wooden boat. “Why are you in Malaysia? Philippines is so nice,” he asked. I answered that I wanted a new environment. He and his friends were heading to the PH for New Year’s Eve so I suggested he head to Boracay as he seemed like the type of guy who wanted a beach and a party. Like most others, he was heading to the Perhentian Islands the next day.
The rapids at Sungai Tembeling aren’t really much. Think of bubbling brook rather than roiling water. The excitement was caused more by boats pulling alongside each other and the passengers splashing water. We should have brought water guns instead or even pails to scoop the water and throw it at the other boats. To add a little “danger” to the ride, whenever we came to a rapid, the boatman would try to shake the boat a bit. It was good fun nevertheless and getting soaked to the skin as refreshing; a cool respite from the steaminess of the jungle.
We disembarked on a sandy shore to visit an Orang Asli settlement. Literally meaning “original people,” the Orang Asli are Negritos, specifically Batek, and have lived in Taman Negara for centuries pre-dating the current Malays. Orang Asli are also found in other areas of Malaysia and are of different ethno-linguistic groups. At the Cameron Highlands three years ago, part of the rafflesia visit in the jungle included dropping by an Orang Asli village.
We watched the usual blow-pipe hunting and fire-making demonstration. “I wonder how it feels having your picture taken everyday,” Slovenia guy commented as dozens of people walked around the tiny settlement and snapped photos of their grass huts and of the people who smilingly obliged. There were less than ten houses in the settlement and mostly children and women were there. The kids were really cute and I had fun trying to make conversation with them as they understood Malay.
Back to the boat for another session of water splashing as we made our way back to Kuala Tahan passing the same set of rapids. We were told there were six rapids which in reality were just three as you passed by the same three ones on your way back.
Did I feel duped? Was it worth it? I like cruising down jungle rivers or any river on local boats and the scenery at the Sungai Tembeling was well worth the ride. “I joined this tour just to have something to do this afternoon,” quipped Slovenia guy. That just about sums up my feeling about the rapids.
I had an early dinner of kampung fried rice and vegetables at the Family Restaurant which seemed to be one of the more popular eating places (not that there were a lot of options) as it was filling-up with people just as I finished my dinner.
I almost missed the night walk as I took a post-dinner nap and woke-up at 8:25. I rushed down to Mama Chop in time for the guy to wave back the last boat crossing to Park Headquarters. “Sorry, I overslept,” I apologized to the passengers.
Our group of about a dozen people together with about another dozen groups assembled in front of Park HQ where we were given a briefing about the walk. We took the path that led to the Canopy Walkway and the guide pointed out plants and insects. I took up the rear so every time we stopped and the guide pointed out something, by the time I managed to inch my way up to the front, whatever insect he was pointing out with flashlight had flown away or sneaked past us. I did manage to see a large stick insect and a spiderthough. With so many people trampling up and down the trail it would be a miracle to see anything at all. Headlamps shining brightly in the dark and the sound of so many trampling feet effectively guaranteed that we wouldn’t see anything at all except for plants that somehow look different at night as you shine your flashlight on it hoping to see something that would make you go, “aaaaahhhhh… my RM 25 was so worth it…” Perhaps insects on the trails around Park HQ had already developed a keen sense of smell for mosquito repellant and they could smell a tourist lathered with it from head to toe about a hundred meters away. “Tourist alert! Tourist alert!”
I should have remembered the night walk we had at the Kinabatangan in Sabah. Except for a few stick insects, there wasn’t much interesting to see. Though sloshing in the mud in rubber boots was a little fun. I’ve never worn rubber boots before so it was an experience. On the second night, I skipped the night walk and just sat on the porch and stared at the river. I remembered all that as we wound our way through the trail and finally ended at the Bukit Tahan hide just a few meters from the Mutiara Taman Negara Resort.
Deers were having their fill at the salt lick a couple hundred of meters away from the viewing platform filled with tourists all eager to exclaim, “I saw an animal at Taman Negara!!!!!!” even if it was just a deer. At least it was wild deer roaming free at the world’s oldest rainforest and not a caged one in a depressing zoo. With so many flashlights pointing at them it was a miracle the deers weren’t getting spooked away. They’ve probably gotten used to it or their need for salt overrides their need to run away from the hordes of people all cramming their necks for a look. Honestly, it was the highlight of the entire experience. It was fun staring into the dark and then flashing your light and seeing deer grazing.
We took the path through the resort and back to the jetty to cross to Kuala Tahan.