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Longboats to get into Taman Negara

We were up and out early both feeling the effects of not enough sleep and knowing that we probably had another long day ahead of us. Before eight we were downstairs where there is an office for MKS Tours, who had picked us up last night and who seem to own the hotel. They have everything pretty well wrapped up. Last night we were given a couple of sheets of paper, one all about the hotels the company has the other a tick list of what there is to do and where there is to stay in Taman Negara.

While Stef went in search of a cash point to replenish our dwindling stocks I sorted out what we would do for the next couple of days. Fully expecting that last nights cleanliness and comfort is well and truly unusual for a backpacker pad we opted to stay in one of the better hotels at Taman Negara, not the Mutiara resort but the Rainforest hotel on the other side of the river. We opted to take the three hour slow boat to get there but the bus back and have also booked up a night safari by 4x4 and a walk for tomorrow morning.

As we sorted our tickets and park passes out a steady stream of backpackers came into the café from the hotel’s other building slightly further up into town. A slightly battered bus turned up outside driven by the chap who had brought Stef his coffee and everyone piled on board. We had a short twenty minutes or so drive down to the boat jetty from where we got our boat up to the park.

My tummy sank when I saw what I had in store for the next three hours and I regretted not checking the size of the boat when we booked. It was the same sort of thing we had been on I the Mekong Delta in Vietnam but this one had no seats. There were simply padded cushions on the bottom of the boat and on the wooden dividers that acted as seat backs. It was slung low in the water and I knew that I was going to have an anxious few hours ahead of me. At the outset I got jittery as they realised as we moved away from the jetty that the boat was unbalanced and people had to stand and shuffle about to sort it out.

We were both disappointed with the boat ride. When we went to Yacutinga Lodge in Argentina they also took you to the lodge by boat and brought you back by road. There though we had the hotel owner and guide with us and the trip was a nature trail in its own right. We stopped along the way to see the local flora and fauna and it was an interesting trip. This was just three hours of monotonously chugging up the river. The monotony was only broken by the engine conking out (which really gave me the collywobbles) which happened on a regular basis or by the pit stop required for those who had not heeded the warning to go before we set off.

By the end of two hours we were both thoroughly uncomfortable and bored. I made it through the last hour by just covering my eyes and pretending to be asleep, as every turn of the boat brought the prospect of capsizing ever closer to me. I felt pretty shaken by the time we got off the boat at the NKS café and also had a bad dose of ship roll which took a few hours to shake off. The boat stopped at the tour company’s office, which just happens to be inside their café, and we were bundled out, given some maps and had them explained to us. Stef just wanted to push on but I still needed to calm my nerves so I forced him to sit through the waffle!

It was worth the wait as we firmed up our plans and the tour agency arranged for our hotel to come and pick us up. We just had to walk with full packs across a plank to get to dry land and then up a sandy slope to the car park. The shuttle bus from the hotel arrived pretty quickly and within minutes we were checking in. We opted to upgrade the room to get a better view which ironically means we are now paying the same as the cheaper accommodations in the resort in the park. Ah well.

We offloaded our packs and cooled down for a while before heading out to get more information on possible walks while we are here. The hotel shuttle dropped us back down to the river where we had to get a sampan, a small motor boat, across the river to the national park. Having recently vowed I would not get on another boat in the near future here I was back on a tiddler. It was a short hop across the river with the boat pretty much being pushed to where it wanted to go by the fairly strong current.

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Rubber tapping (abandoned in favour of building lots of guesthouses)

The Mutiara resort looks very plush and comfortable although we have not seen inside the rooms. We bumped into a young couple who were on our boat and chatted for a while before finding the parks office. I think we had both expected to get more information here than we did. We want to do some walks in the jungle but want a guide with us who can explain what trees, birds and other animals we are seeing along the way. We were left with the distinct impression that the guides would simply show you the trail and not give that extra information. We bought a map that shows the different trails and have some options of what we could do for the time we have not yet booked up but we probably will not decide for definite until tomorrow.

We stopped for a late lunch at the resort’s restaurant which was very smart, served up tasty food but had even more outrageously priced beer than Tuna Bay on the Perhentions. Here it was £3 for a can of Tiger beer. With no real options to fill the time we have left this afternoon we opted to go back to the hotel and catch up on diaries for a while. A sampan took us back across the river and we decided to walk back to the hotel rather than calling for the shuttle.

The climate here is strange. When you are still it does not feel too hot or oppressive but as soon as you start to move the sweat simply pours out of you. We climbed up the stairs from the river bank meeting some young kids coming down who asked to have their photo taken. They chucked and smiled when we showed them the end result and then just toddled off on their way. We walked back through the town which is nothing more than guesthouses, a small medical clinic and a school and down to our hotel.

Just before the hotel is a small plantation of rubber trees which have all been tapped. The coconut shells tied to the trees were full of what looked like dirty, over sized marshmallows. We are not sure if this is what it is meant to look like or whether these are just not well cared for. A couple of shuttles from the hotel passed us on their way into town and you could see that the drivers were wondering why we had walked instead of using them. Having just spent a few days lazing around on the beach we both needed to loosen up a bit before our walk tomorrow.

In the evening we headed back down to the river to the café where we were dropped off so that we could watch their video about the park and home some dinner before our night safari. This was definitely back packer territory and I think we raised the average age of their customers by quite a margin. Young men coming down to the café would jump halfway down the sandy slope and then hop across the wobbly planks to the café, al no doubt to impress the girlies on the inside.

The food in the café was not great and the quality of the video was pretty dire also. One TV had it in black and white, another had it in colour but you could not hear the commentary so there was not much point in going to see it. At just before nine we were bundled back up the slop to get into our 4x4 for the night safari.

The jeep headed out of town and into a palm oil plantation. Unlike the night drive that we did in Cat Tien in Vietnam here we had slim pickings. We saw a couple of leopard cats, a civet cat, magpie robins, a barn owl, domestic cats and, on the way back, two dogs lounging by the road. It was disappointing that we had not seen more but there is no way to control the animals. Our spotter did the same spiel as the one in Cat Tien, “it is normally my friend but he could not come tonight”. Whether that is true or not we will never know but with him and the driver chatting loudly and smoking during the drive they probably frightened away more than we saw.