Taman Negara, Aguirre, Riffi Shariff and Shrödinger’s bus

After much hesitation where to head from Cameron Highlands, I chose to go Taman Negara National Park, one of the oldest rain forests on Earth. After an uneventful three-hour minivan ride, I took a boat along Sungai Temebelik river to the park entrance. The boat ride was awesome and I felt almost a character in Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes. There was even a blonde German guy on board, although resemblances to Klaus Kinski end here.

As I feared the park greeted me with with frequent heavy rains, which eventually made my stay at the park rather short (on the other hand Shrödinger’s bus extended my stay by one night, but more on that later). I lodged in Rippi Hostel, probably one of the filthiest and shabbiest hostels to date. Chung King Mansions in Hong Kong takes a prize here, but that’s a whole different level of filth. The sorry state of the hostel was compensated by charisma of the owner Raffi Shariff and his brother. Really cool people, kind of jungle hiking, guitar playing, alcohol bootlegging type (the park is in muslim area). Plus I finally got an answer to the question on the dangers of the jungle. In a nutshell, provided common sense jungle is not very dangerous. Wild animals are of the least concern, as long as you leave them alone. Dengue fever is apparently more common in the urban areas than jungle too. The most serious dangers in the jungle are 1) getting lost 2) spiky plants 3) banal incidents as tripping over or getting hit by a fallen branch. People get lost in the jungle all the time, in rare cases for good. As locals put it: “kidnapped by the spirit jungle”.

The rain made my stay at the park rather messy, but did not ruin my plans. I did a canopy walk and an exhausting 15km hike through trying to reach an aboriginal village. I did not expect much from the canopy walk, but it turned out to be a lot of fun and excitement. Well worth its price, although I did not pay as I tagged along with British girls, who took pictures for Conde Nast Traveller magazine. As for the hike, I walked most of the distance to the village, but turned back after seeing abandoned shacks thinking that it was the village. Talk about epic fail. No wild animal sightings, apart from some birds and way too many blood-sucking leeches. These beasts are surprisingly fast and furious and get to you through the boots and clothes. You do not even have to stop, as they are fast enough to take a ride on while you move. On the other hand, leeches are supposed to be beneficial for you, so it is not all that bad. The bleeding wounds they leave are rather scary looking, though.

This was enough considering the weather, so I had planned to leave on the second day. But the local bus never came, completely ruining my plans to take a night-train to Singapore. Upon several inquiries about the bus, I finally got an explanation “sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t”. Shrödinger’s bus, indeed. I managed to leave the next morning and took a day-train, which resulted in one hand a good night sleep, but on the other hand in one pointless day. Not much to do and nothing to see on the train and no power sockets, so the laptop was of minimal use. Why in this age of digital technologies they cannot equip trains with power sockets is beyond me. Oh well.

Cameron Highlands

Cameron Highlands must be one of the coolest sounding names. Sean Connery, Scotland and Highlander come to mind for some reason. The fact that is in Malaysia, right in the tropics and not somewhere in England only add bonus points. In fact, this place does not feel Asian at all. Cool temperatures, frequent rains and fogs all over the year, green hills, strawberry plantations and Cenral European-like architecture make Cameron Highlands truly stand out. The moment I got here made me really wonder if I am still in Malaysia. Weather is very like Finnish summer with temperature around +20C – +25С in the daytime and around +10C in the nighttime. Very refreshing after the blazing heat of Penang and even cold in the nighttime (socks and a jumper are a must). To make the Finnish summer impression more complete, they even have strawberry plantations here. In fact it is the only place in Malaysia to grow strawberries. A truly exotic fruit from an average Malaysian point of view, unlike for example a durian.
Cameron Highlands sports one of the most stunning scenery I have seen so far. Hills covered with tea plantations are simply breathtaking. The first time I saw all this idyllic beauty I could not believe my eyes and just kept staring in awe. Green hills and blues skies (when it does not rain) are a truly awesome combination. Then there is the idyllic mossy jungle with its entangled tree roots and massive waterfalls powerful enough to support a hydro power-station. A walk through the jungle on one of well-maintained trails (trails number 1 and 9 are the best) puts you right in the epicenter of a fairytale. Not as wild as the jungle on Ko Phangan, but certainly more enjoyable.
Unfortunately as beautiful as this place is, I experienced the place inflation very quickly. After two and half days here and I already got the feeling “been there, done that. Next!”. There is nothing much to do here, apart from jungle hiking and some dubious sights like a butterfly farm (did not go) or numerous strawberry / veggie farms. The next destination is Taman Negara national park, which is one of the oldest rainforests in the world. Will try to fit it into the schedule to make it to Singapore before Friday to see Sven Väth.

It is goddamn jungle

It takes roughly one hour to hike from Hat Yuan to Hat Rin on a jungle trail or about little more than by boat if you include waiting time. Very steep uphill and downhill, high humidity, mosquitos, snakes, roots looking like snakes, spikey vegetation, monkeys and wild pigs. Love it. The trail itself is omewhat difficult to find and follow, unless you are familiar with it. It took me three times to get it right and I got somewhat lost in process too. Apart from being eaten by mosquitos for hesitating long enough I suffered no consequences. I heard a story about a guy who got spent five days in the jungle of Ko Phangan trying to find his way to civilization, which sounds a bit mind-blowing considering the small size of the island. Being used to the safety of the Finnish forest (apart from ticks, which are complete assholes), I do not know how dangerous Thai jungle can be. Yes, there are deadly snakes and dengue fever carrying mosquitoes, but whether there are high chances running into those provided common sense is something I have no idea about. Proper shoes and long pants is a good idea, though.