Taman Negara is a splendid national park that is very popular among tourists because of the relatively short travel time from the capital Kuala Lumpur. It is one of the largest national parks of Malaysia, and also one of the oldest primary rainforests in the world. Taman Negara offers jungle treks and easy hiking trips. You can also go on pleasant river cruises and do a Canopy Walk. There are enough accommodations on offer in the direct surroundings of the park entrance. Most of them are pretty basic, but there is also a luxury resort; the beautiful Mutiara Taman Negara Resort.
About the resort
Mutiara Taman Negara is a splendid resort located next to Taman Negara’s park HQ. It is the only resort that lies within the nature reserve; ideal to experience the ultimate jungle feeling. Mutiara Taman Negara is quite a luxurious resort, attracting travelers who want to stay in the jungle for a few days, but who do not want to stay in a too basic accommodation. The resort stretches out over part of the reserve’s border; along the river Tembeling with kampung Kuala Tahan on the other side.
The rooms at this resort are magnificent private bungalows, scattered across the terrain. The cottages are made of wood, very pretty and fully equipped but otherwise fairly basic. The rooms have A/C, keeping the bugs out. If you have been away for the whole day, it may take some time before the room gets cold. It contains a small refrigerator and a flat screen TV. The bathroom is a well isolated, attached modern decorated space. The cottages have a porch with two chairs. The resort is large and some cottages are quite a long walking distance away from the lobby and restaurant. The cottages have no Wi-Fi. You will have to go to the restaurant; it is the only place with Wi-Fi.
A tapir is walking around the cottages, a beautiful animal. Do not be surprised when you find the tapir sleeping on the grass patch in front of your porch. Then, there are wild boars in the garden and monkeys on your roof making your stay the perfect jungle experience.
There is a cozy restaurant where you can enjoy a delicious meal. This is the place where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served. The dishes on the menu are affordable according to Malay standards. Next to the restaurant are a few tables with a nice view on the river passing the resort. As most people show up at the restaurant at the same time, it can get really crowded in the restaurant. If you have planned a trip during the day you should time your visit to the restaurant accordingly. In and directly around the restaurant, you can use the free Wi-Fi; the internet connection is quicker when it is less crowded.
If you are staying at the resort for a longer period, it may be nice to visit one of Kuala Tahan’s local restaurants for a change. On the other side of the river are some floating restaurants, where you can have a good and cheap local meal. If you walk down the big staircase at the resort, a boatman will come to take you across the river, like a taxi service. After you are done eating, you can take a boat back to the resort.
Breakfast was good, a bit simple though. It can be quite crowded if you go the restaurant just before the day’s activities. It is a buffet service, so you can take whatever you feel like. The coffee was ok though not great.
The excursions are fun but realize that standard tours will only take you to see the tourist part of Taman Negara. It means that the paths you will be using during the jungle trek will be sort of asphalted (or boarded with wooden planks) and you will meet small guided groups with other tourists every now and then. School classes come there too for an educational day trip. All that aside, it is a splendid jungle, and once you are on the road the crowd is not that bad.
You can also take an overnight tour; taking you deeper into the jungle where you will not see other people. If you want to do this, you will need to reserve in advance.
Of course, you will have to go on a Canopy Walk (a swing bridge between the trees at 135 feet), that’s one of the main reasons to go to Taman Negara. It is a lot of fun to walk the small rope path. At times, it can be quite crowded so you will have to wait for a while to go on. Once on the Canopy Walk, it is an experience to remember. Looking down, you see the magnificent jungle, and often spectacular views on the jungle and the river Tembeling. The signage to the Canopy Walk is easy and you do not need a guide to visit. However, a guide you can teach you a lot about the jungle. And a guide can spot animals and insects. It would be a shame if you would miss a rare snake or spider hiding in the trees.
Close to the Canopy Walk begins the hiking route to the Bukit Teresan viewpoint. The hike up the mountain is pretty hard and the view from the mountain is only spectacular when the sky is clear. If it is misty or clouded to begin with, skip the trip and wait for better weather. If you are lucky, you can enjoy a splendid view on the region.
The river cruise is much fun; you go searching for wild animals by boat. The river cruise has to be reserved in advance. You leave at a set time from the pier at the resort. The boat enters the jungle through very clear water. The flat longboats float easily through the shallow rivers. The boats stop every now and then so you take in the gorgeous jungle; looking into the water, you see all kinds of fish swimming. After a nice tour, you reach the end of one of the river’s many ramifications, and from there it is a 10/15 minutes’ walk to a magnificent waterfall. Here you can relax and enjoy a swim.
Night hike and night safari
The night hike is an absolute must-do when staying in the resort. When it is dark, you can distinctly hear the animals and insects. With a flashlight and OFF-protected, you go into the pitch-dark jungle. You walk on a wooden path, stopping now and then for the guide to explain things. Often, he has already spotted an animal or insect which he will show immediately. Sometimes, you even meet very rare animals, how cool is that.
The Night Safari is enjoyable too, tracing animals from the back of an open jeep in the dark. You cannot always book this in advance; ask at reception or take the boat to Kuala Tahan and ask for the guided tour there. The guides are very good at spotting animals, insects etc. in the dark. Many animals are nocturnal (creatures that are mostly active at night), so it is the perfect time to go look for them. Do not expect to see really large animals, as Taman Negara is a large nature reserve and the animals know how to hide themselves from tourists in the extensive scenery.
Kuala Tahan is the village that lies on the other side of the river Tembeling. If you are not staying at the resort, you will probably stay in one of the village’s basic spots. Kuala Tahan is not much to look at. There are a few simple shops were you can also have a meal during the day and at night. Along the river bank are a few floating restaurants, with a pleasant atmosphere at night as everybody goes there to eat. In Kuala Tahan is also a large guarded parking lot, where you can park your rental car for RM10 a day when driving to Taman Negara yourself. Some activity shops can be found, offering tours. The costs are slightly lower than booking at the resort, but not much.
How to get there?
Taman Negara lies some 3 hours by longboat through the jungle, along the meandering river Tembeling. To get to Kampung Tembeling, most travelers first take a touring car from Kuala Lumpur, taking two hours to reach the village. The drive by bus is offered by HAN Travel and NKS Travel; two local tourist agencies in Kuala Lumpur. When booking the trip as part of an organized journey or on its own in the Netherlands, transportation is included in the price.
An alternative is to drive yourself by rental car. You can park the rental car in Tembeling, or drive all the way to Kuala Tahan. In this small village are the most budget accommodations located. To get to Mutiara Taman Negara, you just have to take a boat across the river.
Our final verdict
Mutiara Taman Negara is the most luxurious resort in Taman Negara, though it is still mainly basic. You pay a high rate per overnight stay because there are not many ‘luxury’ alternatives and the basic lodges are not for everybody. Also, the resort is located within the national park, which guarantees the ultimate jungle experience. The resort is very popular and as a result, during peak season often fully booked. They have thought of everything; from checking in or out to the tours available, from the service in the restaurant to the staff at the activity centre; everything is smoothly and efficiently taken care of. The staff are friendly and glad to help you. We had a splendid time in the resort. It is well-worth the price.