Taman Negara, Malaysia’s oldest and most popular national park, sprawls across 1,677 miles of jungle, rivers, and mountains. Shielded by a dense, green canopy, Taman Negara is home to indigenous people along with enough flora and fauna to keep biologists hopping. If that weren't enough, Taman Negara is one of the oldest rainforests on earth with an estimated age of at least 130 million years.
Technically, Taman Negara means “national park” in the Malay language, so the often-heard usage of “Taman Negara National Park” is redundant. Regardless, an excellent infrastructure and relatively easy access are blessings for the many travelers and ecotourists who visit each year. For many good reasons, Taman Negara remains a top destination in Malaysia.
How to Get to Taman Negara
Taman Negara is located around 3.5 hours by van northeast of Kuala Lumpur in Peninsular (West) Malaysia. Getting there involves first reaching the town of Jerantut, located to the south just outside national park boundaries in the Malaysian state of Pahang. Buses and tourist vans run from various points in Malaysia to Jerantut.
Once in Jerantut, you have two options (bus or boat) for reaching Kuala Tahan, the base village inside the national park. The two or three daily vans/buses are inexpensive and take around 90 minutes to get to Kuala Tahan. Going by boat is certainly scenic, however, they are much more expensive. Entering by boat takes between 2-3 hours, depending on the conditions of the river.
Boats seat around 15 people and depart from Kuala Tembeling Jetty when there is enough demand.
If making your own way sounds daunting, numerous travel agencies around Kuala Lumpur sell van-boat combo tickets for Taman Negara. Although day trips from Kuala Lumpur are available, they require a ridiculously early start and rushed sightseeing. The 2-day-1-overnight tours are a better option if you can’t stay longer.
Entrance Fees and Costs
The entrance fees for Taman Negara are surprisingly reasonable. You can purchase permits at park headquarters upon arrival.
- Entrance Cost: RM 1 (around US 25 cents)
- Camera Permit: RM 5 (around US $1.25)
- Fishing Permit: RM 10 (around US $2.50 per rod)
- Canopy Walk Entrance: RM 5 (around US $1.25)
Crossing the river by boat to the park entrance costs RM 1 each way.
Arrive with enough Malaysian ringgit so you don't have to worry about ATMs or exchanging money at less-than-ideal rates.
The Best Time to Visit Taman Negara
Taman Negara gets heavy rainfall throughout the year — after all, it’s a rainforest! The driest period is between March and September. March and April are good months to visit as rain slows but peak season hasn’t kicked in yet. Many species of birds begin mating season and are easier to spot in the spring months.
Taman Negara’s popularity becomes apparent between May and August. Winter in the Southern Hemisphere sends people scrambling for warmer destinations and fresh air so trails get busy. Groups of backpacking students take advantage of summer break by visiting the area. Taman Negara is arguably part of the “Banana Pancake Trail” of popular backpacking destinations in Asia.
Monsoon season for Taman Negara is from October to January. The national park remains open, however, heavy rain often forces the closure of the canopy walk, one of the highlights. Flooding may cause access delays and road closures.
Activities and Things to Do in Taman Negara
The primary reasons travelers visit Taman Negara are jungle hiking and bird watching. The national park is home to an estimated 350 species of birds.
- Visit Park Headquarters: You can enhance your visit to Taman Negara by looking around the park headquarters compound a little. Informative videos are shown in the Interpretative Room at 9 a.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m.
- Canopy Walk: For good reason, the most popular activity in Taman Negara is to scramble across the Canopy Walk. The 1,738-foot-long bridge is suspended 130 feet in the air allowing you to potentially spot some of the many birds and monkeys that call the national park home.
- Smell the Trees: The sap from one species of tree in the park smells and tastes like cola! Ask a ranger about how to identify one.
- Meet the Orang Asli: Small Orang Asli (the indigenous people) settlements are found throughout the national park; some are only accessible by boat. A visit usually includes shooting a blowpipe gun and trying different fruit juices.
- Visit the Kelah Sanctuary: Boats stop at this fish sanctuary on the way back from the Lata Berkoh rapids. The large fish churn as you stand barefooted in the water. Fortunately, they are friendly!
- Other Things to Do: Caving is an option within the national park, as is “shooting” through rapids in speedboats. Safaris (day and night) via 4WD can be booked. Guided and self-guided fishing is available.
Hiking in Taman Negara
Every minute that weather is permitting, you’ll want to be outside enjoying the rainforest. Conveniently, numerous hiking trails begin near park headquarters. Grab one of the decent maps and go!
Shorter hikes can be enjoyed independently, however, you’ll definitely need a guide for longer treks and night excursions. Without much notice, you can ask which of the friendly guides are going where, then join their groups.
Before setting off on your own, always register in park headquarters so someone knows where you’re going. You should also know what to do during a monkey encounter. Here are just a few of the most popular trail options:
- Bukit Teresek: More of a scramble than a hike, this 1,100-foot-tall hill is a relatively easy challenge with rewarding views of the national park.
- Night Safaris: Arranged via the rangers in park headquarters, venturing into the jungle at night is an unforgettable experience. A man-made hide is available for watching animals interested in accessing the salt lick. Along with nocturnal creatures, you may even see glowing fungi!
- Lata Berkoh: Fit trekkers can walk the 5.5 miles to a popular stretch of rapids on the river. Unfortunately, the finale for your hike won’t be one of remote isolation — groups who don’t want to make the hike often charter boats to go there.
What to Pack
- Plan to Get Wet: One way or another, you’re likely to get wet in Taman Negara. Pack a poncho or rain gear, and have a plan (e.g., dry bag) for waterproofing your passport and electronics.
- Good Shoes: Flip-flops may be the default in Southeast Asia, but you’ll want something better for walking in the national park. Trails can get slippery, and flooding happens.
- Tall Socks: Leeches can be a real nuisance on some trails. Wear socks that reach above the knees and spray them with mosquito repellent.
- Small Backpack: Although tour operators will provide your drinking water, you’ll need an easy way to carry several liters!
- Other Items: Pretty well anything you buy while staying in Kuala Tahan will cost more than in Kuala Lumpur. Arrive already stocked with your usual hygiene items (e.g., toothpaste, deodorant, etc) as well as sunscreen and mosquito repellent. A flashlight is essential, especially if you’ll be participating in one of the night walks.
Food in the National Park
After enjoying the glorious food scene in Kuala Lumpur, Taman Negara won’t exactly feel like a culinary destination — but there are choices. Along with local fare, vegetarian, Indian, and Western food can be found for reasonable prices. Fresh fish is abundant.
Most travelers end up enjoying the many floating restaurants along the river. Alcohol isn’t really a thing in Taman Negara. Instead, enjoy some of the fresh fruit juices found on every menu. Unless you request otherwise, juices get cut with sugar syrup.
Climbing Gunung Tahan
The most memorable adventure opportunity in Taman Negara is hiking to and then climbing Gunung Tahan, the tallest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia.
Although the summit at 7,175 feet (2,187 meters) doesn’t sound very tall when compared with snowy peaks in the Himalayas, or even Gunung Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo, tackling Gunung Tahan is challenging.
Several paths are available, however, the most popular trail from Kuala Tahan requires around seven tough days to trek, summit, then return. The trail involves dense jungle and some river crossings.
If climbing Gunung Tahan is your primary goal in Taman Negara, you may wish to enter the park from the west (in Merapoh) and use the Sungai Relau trail to shave a day or two off of the trek. Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll need a permit, guide, and gear for dealing with the cold temperatures on top.
Where to Go After Visiting Taman Negara
If Taman Negara whetted your appetite for the jungle, consider returning to Kuala Lumpur and grabbing one of the cheap flights over to Borneo. Malaysia’s slice of the big island includes Sarawak (the southern state) and Sabah (the northern state); both offer an impressive array of national parks and outdoor adventures. Plus, Borneo is one of two places left on earth to see wild orangutans!
If you already served as dinner to enough mosquitoes and leeches for one trip, grab a bus northeast to Kuala Besut. From there, you can take a speedboat over to one of Malaysia’s beautiful Perhentian Islands for some recovery time in the white sand.