Continuing the saga of my grand adventure in Asia…
For our first excursion out of Kuala Lumpur, we chose the jungle — Taman Negara National Park, a tropical rainforest.
In keeping with our strategy of easing into travel with baby steps, we didn’t go it alone. We booked transportation and accommodation through a travel operator. This was a great middle ground because it took all the guesswork out of getting there, but we didn’t have to go on any group activities. (We could have booked a full package tour, with evening, morning, and afternoon activities. We could also have paid for individual activities. We didn’t do any of the above because we preferred to go at our own pace.)
So we drove up in a comfy a/c minibus, had lunch, then boarded a narrow wooden boat for a three-hour trip up a river to the village where we were staying, Kuala Tahan. (This makes the village sound very remote. It’s not — there is in fact a road. But most tourists prefer to go by boat, because it’s more fun, though hard on the posterior!) We travelled through mostly jungle on both sides, passing occasional makeshift docks and motorboats — fascinating glimpses of other people’s lives.
We had one full day in the jungle, and we meant to make the most of it. We were up early the next morning to the sounds of a chorus of birds, mixed in with a call to prayer (ethnic Malays are Muslim). We had breakfast on one of the floating restaurants on the river, then crossed the river on a boat, walked through a resort, and entered the jungle proper.
I was surprised that the forest didn’t look stranger — nature documentaries make it look really otherworldly and full of creatures. Some of the trees were massive, some of the vegetation was weird, but overall it wasn’t so different from, say, the rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. We heard lots of birds but saw none. The main thing that struck me was how full the layers of vegetation were — everything from the forest floor on up was just a wall of green. No forging your own path through that, especially in the humid heat that even permeated the shady forest floor.
Our chosen trail was short and simple, sticking to a boardwalk. It led to a canopy walk — a series of suspension footbridges running between massive tree trunks high off the ground. This means that you climb up a stairway onto an anchored platform, then step onto a hanging bridge. It’s rather scary even for people who don’t mind heights. At least, when I stepped out onto the first bridge, my body went “You are high off the ground and your footing is not solid. This is not supposed to happen.” However, the second bridge was a little less scary, the third even less. And obviously we survived the experience.
Now, this is clearly adventure on a small scale — we met plenty of kids on the hike, and the canopy walk is carefully engineered to be safe. At Kuala Tahan we kept running into the sort of people we started calling Beautiful Young Backpackers — early 20s, strong, fearless, eager for all sorts of adventurous experiences, and somehow also managing to be sexier than my travelling companion and I put together. It’s easy to be envious of them, even if you may have been one once. I wish I were like them now, but I’m just not.
So we are continuing to seek out small-scale adventure. We are having plenty of new experiences, and yes, we are going out of our comfort zones in various ways. We’re just taking smaller steps than some. And we’re slowly getting more adventurous — we’ve taken to calling it “levelling up”, for you video gamers out there.
Side note: As it turns out, the Malaysian countryside is not scary at all, and we were being over-cautious. We could easily have taken a regular long-distance bus (and we did, later). The roads are very good, everyone speaks at least a little English, and everything we saw of the country was clean and safe and friendly.