One of Malaysia’s top nature destinations reveals new ideas to add even more excitement and fun for visitors.
The 130-million-year-old virgin rainforest, on the Peninsular Malaysia, was established in 1938/39 as the King George V National Park when the sultans of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan set aside a piece of land covering their three states as a protected area. It was renamed Taman Negara after independence, which means simply “national park” in Malay. Taman Negara has a total area of 4,343 sq km, and after Australia’s Daintree Rainforest, Taman Negara and Royal Belum in Malaysia are thought to be the oldest rainforests in the world.
Attractions at Taman Negara National Park include the world’s longest canopy walkway, visits to an aborigine (Orang Asli) village, trekking under rainforest canopy, climbing the highest mountain on the Peninsular Malaysia, caving, fishing, camping, observing wildlife, and many more. The park has thus developed into a famous ecotourism destination, renowned throughout Asia, and indeed the world.
Eco-resort at heart of offering
Mutiara Taman Negara, an eco-tourism resort that offers a variety of accommodation types promises guests this unique experience with basic amenities and modern comforts.
Mutiara Taman Negara Resort is operated by Trade Winds Hotels Group, which has several properties in Malaysia – three in Langkawi, three in Kuala Lumpur, two in Sarawak, one in Johor, and one in Taman Negara. The resort was established in 1990, before which it was a game park and was managed by the Wildlife Department. At Taman Negara, it’s the only resort inside the park. It has around 90 chalets on around 6 hectares of land, and caters mainly for foreign markets. Between 75% and 80% of clientele comes from Europe, mainly from the Netherlands, Germany, France, England, Italy. They also have a considerable number of Australian visitors. About 50% of visitors are holiday-makers. Another 25% are corporates, incentives, and team-building. Then there are specialist travellers, such as for photography and bird-watching.
Renovations Under Way
Satiyasilan Maniam, the resort’s Resident Manager, explains that as the property has been open almost 30 years, they undertake regular works on the rooms: “Two years ago, we renovated the bathrooms, and currently we are working on the roofing, ceiling and flooring. Every year, we refurbish 30-35 chalets.”
Maniam explains that for all visitors, there are five basic activities. “There’s the night walk – a one hour walk to spot some snakes, scorpions, lizards and so on. Then there is the jungle trekking. It’s about a three-hour trek, including the longest hanging canopy walk. There are around a thousand steps up to the peak, from which visitors can get a good view of the valley and the hills and also the tallest mountain in this part of Malaysia. Then they do the rapid shooting, going through seven rapids, stopping over at an Orang Asli village, where they learn about their culture. The last one is the Lata Berkoh, which is quite amazing. In this area, there is one big river and one small river. The small river is called Lata Berkoh. It’s about half an hour’s journey. On the way, it’s possible to see a huge tree called the Tualang tree, one of the biggest trees in the rainforest. The base is so big that around 20 people can stand side-by-side around it. Then they can stop at the Kelah sanctuary, where they can feed the fish or swim with the fish. A little further up they can go to the cascade where they can have a dip in the river. These are the five basic activities. Beside this, we have a trek we can to the Kumbang hide. It’s about a half an hour boat ride, then a one hour trek. Kumbang hide means black panther hide. There, you can spot a number of animals like gaurs, tapirs, deer and so on. People can actually stay overnight in the hide.”
Three New Activities Launched in 2018
“We are now also taking guests to a beautiful four-tier waterfall,” explains the resort manager. “It is about 20 a minute ride, followed by ten minutes of four-wheel drive, then it’s about a one-and-a-half-hour walk, and we have become experts in this now. What we are doing now is dusk walks, around 6pm. At this time, the insects that one can see are different from during the day or during the night, as it’s a ’switch over’ time, so we have brought in some experts to help people discover new things. We are also introducing early morning walks – around 6am, which have not been done until now. This is specially for the birds as they become more active.”
Fostering conservation and the love of nature
According to Maniam, the only way people can really become dedicated to the protection of nature is when they actually have unique experiences such as a visit to Taman Negara.
“Once you cross over the river and arrive here at the resort, you will notice that all the forest around us is untouched… it’s all about ecology here,” he explains. “We have programmes on conservation. In the resort itself, we recycle foodstuffs, in our mini-markets, all plastic containers come with a refundable deposit of one Ringgit, so that people will bring them back. In the rooms as well, you will see a note explaining that if you want the linen to be changed, you need to indicate this, otherwise it will not be changed for up to three days. When groups of people come in, we will give them a briefing on safety dos and don’ts, as well as briefing them about the park in general. Preservation is very important to us, because we want to maintain this place as it is. The canopy walk, which is held up by the tress, runs 365 days a year. But during long public holidays, we can get up to almost 1,000 people in the park. Because of this, to reduce the impact on the forest, since February 1st, the number has been limited to 600. Once a week – every Thursday, we also close the canopy walk. Before, tickets for the canopy walk would be bought at the entrance to the canopy walk itself, but now, they have to be purchased at the entrance to the park, avoiding people being disappointed if they trek all the way to the canopy walk to find it’s sold out for the day. Of course, they can still walk there, they just can’t do the canopy walkway.”
Resort management works very closely with the Malaysian Wildlife Department, meeting on a weekly basis to talk about improvements to be made. Every three months, a stakeholders’ meeting is held between all the key tourism players, including boat operators, and tour guides from the resorts and the wildlife department, where discussions are held as to what can be improved and what measures need to be implemented.
“80% of the local community’s income is from tourism, so it’s in everyone’s interest to maintain and protect the forest,” states Maniam. “There are around 100 guides here, and they all have a great sense of responsibility for the area. It makes it easy to manage the place, because everybody is working together to maintain and protect the park.”
Taman Negara a big drawcard for European visitors
European visitors make up the biggest group of tourists coming to the rainforest. From Europe, the #1 source market is Holland, second is Germany, followed by France, UK, and Italy. Australians, Japanese, and other Asian tourists also often come for bird watching.
Chinese visitors, increasingly prevalent in other parts of Asia, are not yet flocking to the area, but that looks like changing.
“Most Chinese tourists, when they visit Malaysia, don’t have enough time to come and spend a couple of days here in the rainforest, so not many come here,” says Maniam. “Occasionally a group will come and stay overnight as part of a tour. A couple of agents visited recently, and said they would be planning two-night stays in the near future for Chinese visitors. It’s quite new and different for them here, and if they visit one time, they generally always want to come back.”