Saturday, September 11, 2004

Having A Break At Kuala Tahan, Malaysia

Kuala Tahan, 07/09/2004, a historic day for me. That day was the first time that I arrived at the Malaysian National Park (during the British era it was called King George V National Park) in the interior of West Malaysia up the Pahang River. I have heard so much about the place but had never dared to venture that far to visit it. I have always thought that its the end of the world where civilisation ends. But I found out that it was a contrast. Its a very civilise place, with a 5 star hotel in it.

I went there with my wife and another retired couple, like we are. We stayed at a very nice, clean and comfortable newly built hotel, for 2 nights and had the opportunity to visit some of the more interesting sites at the Park. And we were just a few of the local visitors, many of the visitors were from Europe, and other white mans countries. When we were there must have been about 200 to 300 of these foreign visitors.

We traveled by car all the way, and the road was par excellence, though a few blotches here and there due to lorries carrying logs and palm oil fruits using that road to get to sawmills and palm oil refineries.

A place more than worth a visit.

My wife and I started off from Kuantan whilst the other couple started from KL, we have arranged to meet at the Temerloh Toll of the Karak/Kuantan Highway. We met right on time, that was about 10.30 am. But we did not start moving to the National Park until about past 12.00 noon as my wife had to attend to some family business. We meanwhile went to my wife’s uncle’s house in the nearby kampong and waited there. We were entertained to some refreshment and the couple getting to know my wife’s uncle who happened to be the brother of the couple’s husbands second cousion late husband. Quite a coincident that, rather a complicated truly amazing relationship find.

My wife having finished her business, we departed from my wife’s uncle’s house, by my car; the other couple’s car left garaged at my wife’s uncle’s garage for safe keeping. And we traveled to Jerantut, a small town about 30 km away towards the National Park. And the road to Jerantut is as good as any road in any part of the world and it took us only about half an hour or so to reach Jerantut Town, where we had lunch. And Jerantut Town is a progressive town, like any in Malaysia today, with new shop houses having been built and a beautiful mosque just built on the approach to the town. My friends, the couple, who had not been there for over 20 years then was very impressed with the changes for the better of Jerantut Town. And we had a very nice lunch at a Malay restaurant in the newer part of the Town, when after lunch we wet straight to cross the bridge over the Pahang River, just off Jerantut Town, to the entrance of the road that would take us to the National Park. Pahang River is a big river in Pahang State and the bridge span about 100 meters across the rive, high enough so that flood water will not inundate it. Pahang River normally floods during the Monsoon Season of Nov. to Jan each year.
The road to the National Park is just after the Jerantut Bridge, turning left. Its a good wide road, a bit windy at places with pot holes here and there in the second half of the about 60 km distance. Not too bad considering the torture the road has to endure due to logging and palm oil fruit heavy lorries using it. Along the way there are a few FELDA scheme villages and a few original Malay villages, nothing to talk about really. And off course when you have these then you will see a lot of palm oil trees and here and there durian and fruit orchards. But we did not meet any wild animal along the way, except for domesticated cows and buffaloes, their dungs on the road now and then. And after about 60 km of driving, lo and behold you reach Kuala Tahan village (town?) after coming out of a couple of hills into a valley. Basically its a Malay village really, but comparatively modern with modern amenities such as good road, water supply, electricity supply and fixed telephones lines. But be aware that at the time when we were there you still cannot get signals for handphones, so our handphones are quite useless. But who wants handphones when you are in the ‘ulu’ having a holiday.

Arriving at the end of the road, you are at the very edge of the Tembeling River/Tahan River junction, these rivers being the upper reaches of the Pahang River. The Tembeling River is the main river, a river of about 50m wide. The shop houses are really shanty in away but there is a new brick built school just built in the town. And here and there a few lodging houses, ‘A’ shaped huts some of them. But looking down to the Tembeling River from the river bank you see boats plying about taking tourists everywhere, up and down river and across the river. Because across the river is the 5 star hotel, in the trees, big mango trees and other jungle trees. And as I said, the hotel facilities is almost a complete 5 star facilities. To get across you only pay RM 0.50 per person per trip to the boatmen. And on this side of the river bank, just below you are house boats, these are restaurants where you can get good cheap food. And the food varies, from Malay, to Thai and from Indian to European. Good enough for your 1 or 2 days stay in the town. And also on this side of the river, there are good hotels (other than the lodging houses and ‘A’ shaped huts), within affordable price, clean and comfortable. You can either book earlier before you leave ‘civilisation’ or you may ask around when you arrive there. But if you are unlucky you may find that most of the hotels are fully booked, especially during week ends and school holidays.

What do you do when you are there? Depending really on what you want to do. Forget the activities that you get in KL or any big city/town. The place gives you something very different. For a basic, you may like to take a longboat ride up or down the river, or any of the tributaries. These boats are outboard driven elongated boats and they are quite pleasant to ride in. And the boatmen, they are very professional, very safety conscious and you can trust them to almost 100 %. They are plain honest people making a living out of the tourist industry. Young and energetic and very entuthiasm in performing their work. You can go upriver, climb up rapid by these boats, a water fall further up, and then you can float from there down river by rubber ‘tyre’ floats - follow the river flow and these activities are quite safe as long as you can swim and putting your life jacket on. And in another river, which has crystal clear water, upstream you will find a fish sanctuary, where they breed river fish, and further up a natural water swimming pool, just below a rapid - fun to swim and not dangerous. And probably you may go to the canopy walk, the longest in Malaysia I think, must be about 1 km of it or so, very high up the trees (about 100 to 150 feet most of the way in my estimate) in the virgin jungle. Not for the weak hearted (or those with vertigo) though, the climb to the canopy walk entrance from the river is enough to make you go faint. And once you are up the canopy walk there is no turning back, you have to go the distance and the height all the way through. But to participate in any activity in the National Park you will need a permit from the Wildlife Department, they have an office in the 5-star hotel compound. And of course if you want to do nothing while you are in Kuala Tahan then you can just sit somewhere and read books. Its a complete peace if you do not want to do anything.

Of course at such places, nice that it may be but here is always room for improvement. Malaysia being Malaysia, and especially in the ‘ulu’, and the out back, there is a lot of room for improvement - in cleanliness, in aesthetic, in landscaping; and probably a master plan for the whole town and its surrounding area will be needed to be done. A master plan should prevent ‘spotted’ development, which will result in chaos. Every land owner now wants to develop his land, to reap the most benefit from the influx of tourist. The people also have to be taught proper hygiene, proper service habits and how to maintain and keep tourist coming. And aesthetically, the grass have to be cut, flower plants planted and maintained, some sort of glimmer of lights placed at strategic locations in town (they do not really want bright street lights, not to spoil the nature of the place) so that people can move about safely (not from thieves and robbers going place to place, especially at the river bank where many people go in and out, up and down to the floating restaurants. With all these proposed improvement, it will really make the place a pleasant stay for tourist (and those on holiday), especially with all the present natural beauty and tourist facilities at the place. And of course being a place that attract foreigners, there must be a sort of order maintained, a good Police Station, a good Bomba organisations and a good medical facilities. Accidents do happen unfortunately, maybe a few in between but when it happens it must be attended to properly, quickly and professionally. The nearest medical facility now may be in Jerantut Town (I presume), which is about 1 hours drive by road or 2 hours by boat down river.

I mentioned getting here by road. But many tourists like to take the boat ride from Kuala Tembeling, which is about 3 hours boat ride upriver to Kuala Tahan and a two hour boat ride back down river. The boats are larger longboats, outboard motor driven, that take about 20 passengers per boat, all sitting two astride facing forward of the boat. The boat ride is pretty safe.

In short I would say that having break at Kuala Tahan i.e. at the National Park is a welcome break for anyone, especially those town folks who are always hassled by he busyness in the city/town. Its a get away place.

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