Taman Negara, in the heart of Peninsular Malaysia, is said to be the oldest rainforest on the planet. Worlds away from the bustle of Kuala Lumpur, this is the kind of place where you can arrive by boat and then hike through the trees to reach your guest house. Accommodations tend to be of the basic-wooden-hut variety and most of the restaurants are on floating barges to allow for increased river levels due to the monsoon.
Outdoor enthusiasts that we are, P and I decided that a couple of days hiking in the forest sounded like a great idea. Braving the impending rains with only a little trepidation (dark thunder clouds appear a lot more threatening when you’re in a tiny boat on a river in the woods) we embarked on a few days of tropical exploration.
For some reason, we always seem to prolong the hassle of finding a room by marching around for far too long with our giant backpacks while looking for the best deal. Our arrival at the tiny town of Kuala Tahan was no exception. We trekked up dirt tracks and confused ourselves with maps in an effort to find the place we’d heard recommended. However, for once we were entirely satisfied with having followed the hand-painted signs saying ‘Durian Chalet 200/400/800m’. Set in a beautiful little wooded garden, we found a great little room complete with a kettle and a drying rack. This last was an absolute necessity because of what seemed to be the predominating feature of life in the rainforest – sweat!
We went on two day hikes into the forest – one along the stunning canopy walkway and up to a hilltop viewpoint, the other to a bat cave along an equally hilly route – and each time we needed to only have taken a few steps into the trees and we were just bathed in sweat. Not just a little perspiration on the forehead and damp armpits, but full on drops falling in the eyes and a T-shirt that could have filled a small bucket if you wrung it out. The hikes were awesome, with giant twining roots, Tarzan-like vines and bizarre, unidentifiable plant life. But still, one of the things I remember most was the intense humidity. Not heat, for we have certainly been in places where the temperature was a few degrees higher. Just the overwhelming sense that the air is so saturated with moisture that you could be drinking it rather than breathing. We had to drink so much water to combat the gallons we were losing through our pores that I think we even sweated more from the weight of carrying so many bottles.
I felt that another of those hand-painted signs in the town summed up the way I felt about Taman Negara. In a comical case of mis-spelling, they were advertising their guest house as ‘Home Sweat Home’. I entirely agreed with the ‘sweat’ portion of the sign, but I was also very glad we had found such a homely place where I could fix myself a cup of tea after a long day out hiking.