Dark Was The Morning

By Stephen | May 31, 2014

14,772 km so far.

Our alarm went off at 5am, about 25 minutes before the call to prayer began. What on earth would compel us, famously anti early morning risers, to do this?

Reports on the internet told us there was one boat per day heading upriver from Kuala Tembeling to Taman Negara, a National Park in the heart of Malaysia which promises us jungle walks, and possible sightings of monkeys, tigers, elephants, leopards, pangolin, and panthers. It also almost guarantees getting eaten by leeches.

How could we pass that up?

The Sounds Of The Jungle

The benefit of hitting the road before sunrise was that the jungle was still buzzing. Though the sun hadn’t yet risen, the air was already hot, and we began to sweat before the sun was even up over the horizon.

Frogs were croaking, moths were floating past, attracted to our headlights, and as the sky slowly began to brighten, we heard an orchestra of birds all welcoming the sun. The trees were filled with families of monkeys getting one more meal in before the day got too hot.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what appeared to be a monkey flying through the air. A group of monkeys were on the roof of a building, and had lined up at the roof’s edge. One by one they were jumping off, throwing themselves into the air, arms and legs outstretched, and soaring down to the ground. They looked almost exactly like sky divers do just before releasing their parachutes.

About halfway to Tembeling, we met Jono, a Kiwi doing a solo bike ride from Singapore up to Bangkok. He is 16 days in, and headed to the Cameron Highlands.

As we rode down the mountain yesterday we were commenting that it seemed like it would be a more difficult ride in the direction he is headed. His climb up is longer and less steep than ours was, and I don’t think it would be possible to do the whole ride in one day. Check in with his blog to see how he went.

Good luck Jono!

Mad Dash

The road this morning was a repeating pattern of long, slow climbs, followed by downhills that were over too soon. The 42 km we had to ride to the boat took far longer than we expected. Leaving 3 hours to cover this distance seemed like plenty as we set off, but as the day dawned, and the hot and damp air began to get hotter, we got slower and slower until we weren’t sure if we would make it.

Jane’s note: It didn’t help that my new tire is a heavy, cheap piece of knobbly rubber, which seemed to be sticking to the road more than it was rolling.

Not far from Tembeling, we stopped to check the map. We had about 6 km left to ride, and 20 minutes to get to the boat. We kicked into high gear, and pushed ourselves hard for the final few kilometres. A few people were waiting for the boat when we arrived, and the ticket man called us over. He informed me that he was waiting for a few people and the boat wouldn’t leave until 10:30am.

Sheeeeeit.

We didn’t have to get up at 5am and ride like speed demons after all.

Our alternative plan was to take the road from just across the river and ride the 50 km into Taman Negara. But during second breakfast, we asked around the restaurant and found that there is no bridge across, unless we ride a further 18 km to Jerantut. That wasn’t going to happen, so we decided to store our bikes at the ferry terminal (for RM5 each per day), and wait for the boat to leave.

Waiting for the boat to take us to Taman Negara.

Waiting for the boat to take us to Taman Negara.

We probably could have paid a local to ferry us across to the road, and it turns out there is also an afternoon boat at 2pm. Also, you can put your bike on the boat for an extra 15RM, so if you’re coming this way, you do have several options.

It’s A Jungle Out There

The boat ride was uneventful, but quite relaxing.

We got front-row seats for the boat ride to Taman Negara.

We got front-row seats for the boat ride to Taman Negara.

Sitting in a boat, being propelled along, made a nice change from cycling up and down mountains. We both napped a little, looked for wildlife in the trees, and enjoyed the ease with which we could watch the jungle sail past.

Oooh wildlife! On the boat to Taman Negara.

Oooh wildlife! On the boat to Taman Negara.

The only real wildlife we saw along the river was a large lizard (roughly one metre long) slowly wandering along an empty beach.

Water buffalo don't count as wildlife, but they are scenic.

Water buffalo don’t count as wildlife, but they are scenic.

Kuala Tahan is a rundown, simple little town, not too dissimilar from Pakbeng, Laos where we stayed halfway through our two-day ride along the Mekong. There are a handful of floating restaurants along the river, some simple accommodation, and lots of backpackers and Malaysian families wandering around.

Floating restaurants in Kuala Tahan.

Floating restaurants in Kuala Tahan.

Also, there is a plague of butterflies.

Taman Negara is why everyone is here. Its name literally means National Park in Malay, and it is one of the main tourist destinations in the country. We are saving it for tomorrow, prioritising a good sleep over a night walk in the jungle tonight.  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.

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