Abandoning Borneo and heading to Taman Negara

Sleepy jungle village

During this trip, I really wanted to go to Borneo. I had images in my head of walking through pristine jungles and diving Sipadan, a very famous dive-spot off the east coast of Borneo. I just had an image of Borneo in my head as a sort of ultimate adventure destination, perhaps short of the Amazon, the jungles of Borneo might be the wildest place on earth (whatever that means). And all throughout the trip, I had this idea of visiting Borneo. As the actual date of travelling to Malaysia got closer reality started to creep in. You see I also had some other ideas about what to do in Malaysia, mainland Malaysia to be exact. I started to look at how much of our allotted time and budget for Malaysia that would have to be spent in Borneo in order for me to do what I wanted. It turned out that it was quite a big chunk of it. Now if I had been travelling myself that wouldn’t have been a problem, however, as it were, I am not travelling by myself. For instance, travelling to Sipadan would be expensive and time-consuming. And only fun if you are diving, nobody goes to Sipadan for any other reason. As of yet Elly is not completely comfortable in the ocean so diving is not an option for her at all. Taking her somewhere that gobbles up a lot of our time and money, where only I can enjoy myself didn’t feel very fair. While Elly was ok with jungle trekking, she hadn’t done it before and was quite insecure about how much she would enjoy it and for how long. With this information in mind, it didn’t feel right for me to go to Borneo even if I really, I mean really wanted it.

Our Guesthouse

I’m not gonna lie, I think it was right for me not to try and force a trip to Borneo, but it was still disappointing as hell not going there. As a sort of compromise, we ended up deciding that we were going to visit Taman Negara. Taman Negara is the biggest national park with untouched rainforest on the Malaysian mainland. After all, spending almost 6 months in Southeast Asia without a proper jungle trek would be completely unacceptable. However, I think this does highlight some of the issues when travelling as a couple. I didn’t take some things into account before setting off together with Elly and frankly, I don’t think our communication about our expectations regarding what we would actually do during our trip were very good. I came to realize that while Elly probably would go along with almost everything I wanted to do, she would certainly not enjoy everything that I could drag her along on. Elly probably realized that she should have planned more of what kind of activities she actually wanted to do during our trip. She had always said to me that when she stops working she would have time for a lot of trip planning a.k.a planning during the trip itself. It turned out that between essential planning (hostel booking, travel tickets), schoolwork (she studies) and doing the actual travelling, there was not as much time to plan ahead the actual activities and places you wanted to go to. At least if you wanted to stay ahead of the present week or so schedule wise. So we both kind of made some misjudgements regarding how our trip was going to be and work out planning-wise. I felt that Borneo kind of became the casualty of that and that made me a bit sad, to be honest.

The difficulties of being a craftsman around lots of animals

As a kind of compromise we decided to go to the jungle but in mainland Malaysia which ended up being Taman Negara. As it turned out Taman Negara had a pretty nice jungle as well. But more on that in my next post. First, we needed to get to Kuala Tahan, which is basically a service village for the national park. Going by bus in Malaysia certainly felt slightly safer and more comfortable than most other countries we’ve been to. At least in regards to the quality of the roads and vehicles. That feeling quickly changed when we got on the road. Since there are less traffic and better roads, the bus- and minibus drivers tend to go at it like maniacs. While this certainly is the case in many other places, usually the quality of the roads and the amount that the vehicle is overweighted with passengers and cargo simply prevents most transport from going too much haywire. Not in Malaysia, it would seem. It also effectively blocks you from reading or watching something on your tablet or phone during the ride because it will cause motion sickness because of the aggressive driving. However, we did survive a bus ride from KL to Jerantut and then a minibus ride from Jerantut to Kuala Tahan.

I thought Kuala Tahan itself was a very pleasant little village if somewhat overcrowded with tour operators. We ended up going with the one who had the best location. Our reasoning was that since we wanted to do a jungle trek which required a minimum of four people (unless you wanted to pay for four people all by yourself), we figured we had the biggest chance of having other people book the tour there as well. This was also the approach of our very friendly hostel owner (Tahan Guesthouse) recommended “All the same, but you need four people, if not, very expensive”. It was a bit of a sweat but quite late a French couple dropped in that were willing to do the tour with us. After dinner, during which we were twice disturbed by a cat catching and playing with giant crickets, which made a surprisingly loud and metallic sound like some kind of mechanical toy fighting for its life, we went to bed amid the sounds of throngs of insects, birds and beasts looking forward to a jungle trek.

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