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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Rookie Moves | Teman Negara National Park | Malaysia

It's funny because every time someone mentions how knowledgeable or capable I am when travelling, I get a bit flustered and embarrassed. The reason I have this reaction is that I feel for someone who has travelled as much as I have, I continuously make rookie moves.


It's true.

I do something foolish ALL the time.


~ Oblivious.

~ Unthinking.

Those two words sum me up.


'Rookie moves' seem to take precedence, regardless of whether I know better or should've known better.


Leaving the Perhentian Islands, we were heading in the direction of Teman Negara, Malaysia's beloved National Park and also the world's oldest tropical rainforest. It was a bit of a trek to get there, so we'd broken up the journey by staying in Kuala Terengganu.


One of the reasons for this particular seaside stop was the Mesjid Kirstal, the Crystal Mosque. We drove all the way there to see this impressive structure made from steel, glass and crystal... and it didn't even once occur to us to bring proper attire for entering a mosque.


Rookie move #1.


So ya... we didn't get to go in.


It was a shame, considering how majestic an attraction it was. I did bolt from the car quickly to take a photo from afar, but even being on the grounds with jean shorts and a tank top was frowned upon and I felt that undeniable "get out of here" vibe from everyone surrounding me.


We didn't end up doing too much in Kuala Terengganu. We found somewhere to have dinner, walked along the market pier for a little bit and then headed back to the hotel to get some rest before the big drive the following morning. From there, we were headed directly into Teman Negara. This national park was pinned as a must-see if you were in Malaysia. Of course, due largely in part to Google Maps, we just knew where it was, and how to get there... and we booked a place that seemed close by in a village called Kuala Tahan... and was fairly reasonable in price. Neither of us did any real research on what it was all about, what it offered... etc etc...


We just showed up... blind.


Rookie move #2.


We arrived at our hotel and lucky for us, they were in the process of changing out all the bed mattresses and bed frames. It didn't occur to us that the reason for this shift might have been because of an infestation of bed bugs. That didn't even cross our minds until someone else asked us about it later on in the day. It was like a light went on...


"Oh... maybe..."


The LAST thing you ever want to hear when you're backpacking, is BEDBUGS.

That's a big no.


On the first evening, we wandered down to the river's edge to see about booking a couple of rainforest/jungle tours for the following day. There were suspension bridge tours, hiking tours, ethnic village tours, river rapid tours, and night jungle tours... and they were so evenly scattered out throughout the day, that one could do them all if so desired.


We decided on the combination tour of the trek up Teresek Hill and the canopy walk. I'll admit, I didn't know what a canopy walk was. It sounded like a boardwalk through the jungle... which in some ways, was a bit correct.


The only problem with our bookings was that they only took cash.


Nothing else.

So guess what happened? We didn't have any cash. Neither of us. We had enough money between us to book one activity... and then we were completely broke.


Next obvious question...


"Where's the ATM?"


Nowhere.

No ATM in Kuala Tahan???? Nope.


"WHAT??" Uh oh...


The closest one was the town of Jerantut.

One hour away.

No...


Rookie move #3.


It had been a long journey getting here and we were ecstatic to park the car for a couple of days. We hardly wanted to get back in and repeat the drive. But... we had no other choice.

Back into the car we got and headed right back to Jerantut.


On our way there, I checked out a few restaurants in the area, determined to find us something that might take the pressure off the drive. I was seeking a meal that would essentially ease the pain of our self-inflicted financial hardship.


I found the Gypsy Garden.


The name was cool. Right?


Well... I think the name was the only cool thing about it.


We did have high hopes... but that hope collapsed as soon as we walked through the front door. I think we expected a restaurant with a certain degree of personal charm. What we encountered was a packrack's filthy den.


No word of a lie.


It was as though they'd turned the basic living room and kitchen of their house... into a restaurant and... just opened up for business. We stood there, trying to act as normal as possible, wondering where we'd just landed ourselves... all the while, trying to take in the astonishing sight that surrounded us. The place was bursting at the seams with broken furniture, bikes, trinkets, vases, stools, books, rugs, guitars, buckets, pictures, garbage... and more. Even the kitchen was atrocious. I managed to glimpse through the splintered and smashed saloon-style doors at one point and I could hardly believe the blatant neglect. You could barely see the countertops for so much crap. I doubt it had ever been cleaned properly.


Everything was a mess.

Seriously.


There wasn't one inch of the entire house/restaurant that could not be described as either dirty, dusty, soiled, stained, cluttered, chaotic grimy or grubby.


It was a dishevelled hoarder's house... turned restaurant. Canadian Federal restaurant regulation and safety standards would have had a coronary.


Check out the video 👇🏻



I contemplated leaving immediately... but how could we? A place this repulsive in appearance had to be savoured. This pigpen was a STORY waiting to be told. Why leave now? A place with so many first-class Google ratings, had to be tried and tested. Agreed? This place was RECOMMENDED. In addition to that, the lady of the house was nothing but smiles and kindness... though I highly suspect her sanitation regime wasn't up to anyone's acceptable par.


When our meal finally arrived, we tried to enjoy each bite, though the lady stood at the end of the table and peppered us with a real interrogation buffet.


"Where you go?'

"Where you stay?"

"When you leave?"

"Why you go there?"

"Where you go before?"


It didn't stop... and it didn't really bode well with my continual efforts to ridicule the scene.

The meal wasn't my favourite... but we survived and lived to tell. Zero indigestion, upset stomach or abdominal pain. Win-win.


I guess this could've been Rookie Move #4... but we pulled through... stronger.


We made it back to our village just after dark and the next day, we prepared for a full day hanging out in the National Park.


We had signed up for the Canopy Walk Tour... though neither of us had a clue what it entailed. I don’t think we were quite prepared for the number of stairs involved in getting to the top. 900 metres of fibreboard stairs to reach the very top of Teresek Hill. These were gigantic steps as well. Nearing the top, we were given the option to take the jungle trail instead and I opted for that to give my legs a bit of a break from skyward marching. I was craving smaller steps.


The trail was no kinder. The entire odyssey was some real "Joe vs. the Volcano" stuff. We didn't know where we were going or how long it would take to get there, and it genuinely felt like an absurdist journey to our demise. Up... up... up... up...


I fell once... tripped across a twig and skinned both my knees open. Not very mountain goat of me. Many people gave up before we'd even reached the halfway market, sat down and just waited for the tour to meet them coming down... including a man wearing a "Make no excuses" shirt.


After we'd tackled the viewpoint, which wasn't much of a view at all, we headed to the suspension bridges.


Ok... get this!

~ The canopy bridge is 10 bridges and about 550 meters long. We only did 7 though.

~ The height, at the extreme, is 45 meters from the rainforest floor.

~ It's the longest suspension bridge in the world.


Pretty cool, eh?



I would not wish it upon anyone who had a fear of heights, but it was a pretty cool experience. We were up so high. It took real effort to remember to stop and look around, as opposed to just grasping onto the ropes for dear life and putting one foot in front of the other to make it to safety! It was tough trying to maintain balance, keep walking in a straight line, prevent the bridge from wobbling AND enjoy the scenery


When the canopy tour was finished, we contemplated doing the night jungle walk but changed our minds to doing the Rapid Shooting Tour. Now... normally when I hear 'rapids,' I opt-out immediately. I am fully aware that my specialty lies in setbacks and misfortune... so putting others into the direct line of danger isn't something I willingly gravitate towards.


But... I decided to throw caution to the wind and off we went.


It was fun.

A lot of fun.


But it wasn't like a regular rafting rapids ride... It was more like a back-and-forth wobble in an un-tipable speed boat. Like a "Wobble and Wet."


That would be a more appropriate name for it.


We got drenched.

Top to bottom.

Soaked.


We also visited an ethnic Batek village... but I don't think it was a village anymore. The guide's speech only served to confuse me. He spoke about how the tribes like to move... and how the tribe that had been in this particular village had moved on... yet there seemed to be a few people lingering about and doing daily chore-style stuff.


I don't know.


I think it was just a place to take tourists and make them feel like they were a part of a real tribal village. They taught us how to make a fire and then did a demonstration on how to hunt monkeys by spitting poison darts. The Batek tribes actually hunt monkeys!!! Poor little guys...

The guide also told us that they don't eat chickens. BUT... there were loads of chickens running around. Bizarre to have so many chickens but not eat chicken?


Why so many chickens??

They RAISE the chickens for the villagers but only eat the eggs.


Why?

Because they don't eat things that live on the ground.


Why kill monkeys?

Cuz they live in the trees!




  • They still practice their traditions and customs. (one of their traditions is to tie their dead to the tops of trees and just leave them there!)

  • Their huts are made from bamboo leaves.

  • Survival depends on hunting wild animals (monkeys) and collecting forest products.

  • Previously, the practice of the indigenous people of Batek was nomadic. However, nowadays with the help of the authorities, they have begun to live in specific locations and build permanent homes. This is where I get confused about the village again...

  • The rainforest products are mostly their source of income for sale in the outdoor markets as well as for their daily use.



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