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Reputed to be the oldest deciduous rainforest in the world (130 million years), Taman Negara drew us in to the depths of its jungle with its old world charm.

We drove from the Cameron Highlands, and most of the time felt like we were the only people in the world as there were no other cars on the road! For the majority of the route, palm oil plantations spread as far as the eye could see. We’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but it’s rainforest they are destroying…

The only way to enter the National Park, where we were also staying, is by crossing a river, so parking our hire car, we heaved our rucksacks  to a fishing jetty and hopped aboard a small boat.

Greeted by towering trees, swinging monkeys and dense vegetation all around, we felt like we’d entered a jungle island!

After settling into our hut, we returned to the ‘mainland’ (1 RM/person for the journey, about 20p!) to eat at one of their floating cafes that line the shore by the village. Their magical twinkle of fairy lights reflected in the river was beautiful.

With darkness falling around 7pm, we retired early to read about what we might find on the next day’s trek. Sadly, we knew we wouldn’t spot any big animals (tigers and Sumatran rhinos reside deep in the forest), as we’d have had to join a 3-4 day and just didn’t have time. Without warning, the loudest roar of thunder we’ve ever heard came from right overhead, making everyone jump out of their beds! This was followed by hours of the heaviest rain we’ve ever seen and  spectacular thunder and lightening. Perhaps it was an omen we weren’t on a overnight trek!

Up bright and early, we breakfasted and joined our trek group for the day. The rain meant leeches would be abundant…aghh!

We hiked through a tangle of ancient trees with massive root systems and a network of thick vines.

Our tour guide taught us about the plants and trees that surrounded us, and how they can be used as medicines. We were particularly intrigued by the leaf that, when you hold a lighter or lit match underneath, explodes like a firecracker!

All kinds of lizards spied on us from the trees, as though unseen, but our beady eyes saw through their camouflage.

Lola was lucky (?!) to get an up close and personal meeting with a blood-sucking leech, who must have been feeding off her leg for a fair length of time to get so fat once we flicked it off!

From the top of one peak (Bukit Teresik), we were blown away by the expanse and density of the 4343 sq km shadowy, damp and impreneteable blanket of jungle, and could only imagine what lay within.

Later on, we climbed up to the world’s  longest Canopy Walkway, suspended between giant trees way above the thicket below. There was no fear from Lola and Albie, but Jake’s face was a picture! He didn’t much enjoy the height coupled with rather low rope rails to hold onto!

Our final expedition took us on a long thin boat to ‘shoot’ some rapids and visit an Orang Asli settlement, inhabited by people who live in the jungle. We decided to go with a local boatman rather than pay a tour company: firstly, its cheaper for us and secondly, he gets all of the money rather than the tour co getting the lion share!

The thrill and drenching had us all screeching as our boatman navigated 6 different rapids – so much fun! I wish I could’ve captured the sound of Lola and Albie’s squeals of delight – a memory to hold onto!

Further up the river, we were met by tribal elders who were happy to answer our questions about life there. We learnt how they make shelters, fire, and arrows that they ‘blow’ through a pipe at their hunt. Letting us have a go at shooting a target, we were surprised how light the 2-3m blowpipes were and were able to get pretty close to the target (Lola got the closest!). We were worried that they may view our visit as voyeuristic, but they said they like being visited and the fee they charge (£1/person) helps them. I love that Lola and Albie were so interested, asked insightful questions and Lola even said she’d like to live with them for a while to really see how they lived and enjoy the freedom she perceived they had.

On our return, we stopped at a tributary river to swim and cool off in the shallower, clearer waters. Our boatman taught Lola and Albie how to use sandstone to make face paint!

This was a surreal few days; we almost felt like we had entered another world to enjoy these experiences.