Have you ever got lost in the woods? After following a well-trodden path, have you ever accidentally turned the wrong way, and suddenly figured out that you had no idea of where you actually were? Being lost in the woods is the ultimate adventure, born out of children’s tales and parents’ nightmares. We did get lost once. Only, it wasn’t in the woods. It was in the jungle.

Taman Negara Rope Bridge

Walking into our adventure in Taman Negara

I can’t remember what brought us to Taman Negara. I must have read about it somewhere, and thought it sounded good. One of the last remaining patches of primary rainforest in the country; a reminder of what Malaysia used to be like, not so long ago. Taman Negara means national park; it is the main national park in Peninsular Malaysia. From Singapore, 8 hours on a Malaysian train took us to Jerantut, from where we caught a riverboat and reached the village of Kuala Tahan, the gateway to the national park.

Two Orangasli girls swimming

Two Orang Asli girls swimming

Taman Negara is believed to be one of the oldest rainforests on Earth. The main draw was spending the night in a hide in the middle of the jungle to see wildlife. One of my ambitions was spotting a slow loris, a cute wide-eyed primate that is often found in Southeast Asian forests. Several options were on offer, huts of all shapes and sizes scattered around the four corners of the park. Obviously, we went for it and chose the furthest hide from park headquarters. We decided to ditch guided tours and make our own way there. We were told paths were well-marked and easy to follow, the terrain was smooth and flat all the way to the hide. It was supposed to be a 11 km hike. A walk in the park, we thought.

Taman Negara Blue Fern

Blue Fern in Taman Negara

So we set off. Every step we took felt like we were being swallowed into a giant green living organism. Everything twitched, wobbled, throbbed with life. The path was as soft as a mattress, thick with fallen leaves, rotting bark, decomposing branches. Eyes followed us. We caught glimpses of monkeys, peering through the boughs. Every now and then, the azure flash of a kingfisher. Bugs of all sorts, plodding across the past, slowly nut surely like antique tanks. And leeches! The place was crawling with them.

Taman Negara Kingfisher

A Kingfisher surveying the Taman Negara wilderness

At first, it was great walking around with no guide, just us and the sounds of nature. There were whizzes and whirrs, the whoosh of leaves, the sudden thud of a branch falling onto the undergrowthWe were able to stop whenever we wanted to try and spot some wildlife, or have a break. It was really hot and humid and I was carrying a big pack, so every hour or so we had a 5 minutes break. The trail seemed easy and safe enough. There were all the ingredients for a wonderful day.

Taman Negara Orangasli Mother with child

An Orang Asli mother with child

Every once in a while, we crossed paths with orang asli, the traditional inhabitants of this part of Malaysia. Orang asli means ‘original people’ in Malay. There are about 500 in Taman Negara. They follow a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle, moving their settlements across the forest following the cycle of game and seasons.

Taman Negara Orangasli Boy Smoking

An Orang Asli boy smoking on the edge of Taman Negara

All went well, until my husband almost stepped on a 4-foot snake which was right in the middle of the path and was poised ready to strike. we exchanged terrified glances; he remembering his Australian upbringing and the dangers of snakes, I convinced that if I moved I would be bitten and die there, in the middle of the jungle. Luckily, my husband had a stroke of genius. With the aid of his tripod he was able to guide the snake into the bushes.

Coral snake taman negara

Here’s the famous snake!

We kept going. The heat was unbearable and the big backpacks full of camera equipment and the gear for the night were getting heavier and heavier. Around 3 pm it started raining, and we were nowhere near our destination. We were starting to feel the inconvenience of having taken so many breaks. The rain was a problem because we had to wade through a river to reach the hide, and rain could make the river swell quickly.

Taman Negara Crow Shadow

A crow hiding in the trees

We decided to start running. As we crossed a creek, we noticed the trail was finished. All we could see was shrubbery, trees and fallen logs. The rain kept falling, heavier and heavier, buckets of water being emptied over our heads. We were soaked to the bone and my trousers were ripped into shreds. The leeches were feasting on our exposed flesh, but that wasn’t the problem.

The problem was we couldn’t find the trail.

We spent an hour frantically looking for it, going back and forth from where we lost the trail, adventuring tearing and being teared apart by the shrubbery, where rattan palms scratched and other spiky plants dwelled so deeply into our flesh that we were being pulled back as we walked.

The forest that looked warm and inviting only a few minutes before now appeared looming and daunting, a mass of darkness where light was getting dimmer and dimmer by the minute. After two hours, the option of spending the night out was sadly starting to become real.

As it was getting close to 5, we decided to go back the way we carme and spend the night in another hide nearer to headquarters. We set off and walked as quickly as possible, but we were a long way away and probably wouldn’t have reached shelter before nightfall.

It was frantic, one of those moments where thoughts come out distorted and irrational. I honestly thought we were going to die. The forest is home to elephants, tigers and various kinds of poisonous snakes. Spending the night out, without shelter, all of the above would’ve been a serious possibility. At some point I tripped over and fell face down on the mud. I wasn’t hurt, but I just got a glimpse of my life, a sudden urge to see my family, alongside with the awareness that I might never see them again.

This is it, I thought. This is how it ends. I watched my story from the outside, I imagined my family reacting to the news, fruitless search parties, a newspaper obituary. In the impending darkness of the Malaysian rainforest, I contemplated the idea my life may have been coming to an end.

Then, the realisation came. I just had to keep going. In travel as in life, one has to keep going. So I got up, confident we were going to find our way, and walk out of Taman Negara, one way or another.

Taman Negara River Boat

How about a boat ride next time?

After about an hour we reached a river. At first, we panicked, because we hadn’t passed any river before. Then, barely visible behind a tree there was a sign: Bumbum Kumbang, 500 meters. The hut we were bound to in the first place. We found our way. I was so tired and happy I could not stand up. I collapsed on the wooden bedframes of the hut, thick with mould and moisture, my legs riddled with leech bites.

I only got out for a second, that night. Wrapped around a tree branch, I saw a slow loris.

Slow Lorris sleeping

Here’s the cute slow loris sleeping


11 Responses

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment Emily. It was so damn scary, but one of my best travel stories ever!

  1. Jess

    I’ve had that feeling while wandering around a muskeg (tundra swamp) in Alaska – it’s wonderful when you finally find a way out! At least it was a beautiful walk. And that slow loris is just adorable!

    • Margherita

      Wow, Alaska! Would love to visit. have you blogged about the muskeg? I’d love to know more!

  2. noel

    That sounds so exciting and scary at the same time..wow what a really cool place to visit. I think I would also be in a panic state if that happened to me and I could not find the trails.

    • Margherita

      Hey Noel! Thanks for stopping by. It was so terrifying, I still shiver when I think about that day. In retrospective though, I guess I have learnt a lot in terms of planning and keeping calm.

  3. Gran Canaria Local

    Wow, what a story. We try and get lost in Gran Canaria whenever we can. It’s a great way to find new places. Plus it’s a lot safer than a jungle, although the Atlantic can be quite capricious.

    • Margherita

      Hey! I would love to visit Gran Canaria, sounds like an amazing place to be!

  4. Backpacking in Malaysia: (Almost) Everything You Need to Know | Jonistravelling

    […] Taman Negara means National Park in the Malay language. It is one of the oldest rainforests on Earth and an area of incredible biodiversity. The rainforest is in much better conditions than in Borneo, making wildlife viewing a lot more difficult, even though Taman Negara is home to several species including elephants, tigers and several types of monkeys. The gateway to the park is the village of Kuala Tahan, from where you can organize activities such as guided treks and night walks. You can also wander around the park without a guide; there are several trails to choose from, including a canopy walk. Another interesting activity in Taman Negara is spending the night in a hide, called bumbum. Hides are built near water holes increasing the chance of viewing wildlife, especially at sunset. Read a full post here. […]

  5. » Blog Archive » Memorable Animal Encounters Around The World

    […] I’ve lost count of all the memorable encounters with cute animals I’ve had on my travels. Donkeys in Greece, monkeys in India, cute cats in Istanbul… yet, when I think of ‘animals’ and ‘travel’ the first one that comes to mind is a red ringed snake (or at least, I think that was the name) that we met while we were lost in the jungle of Taman Negara. […]