What are five ladies doing in a 130-million-year-old tropical rainforest, ensconced in big black rubber donuts?
They are floating down Sg Lebir, enjoying the peace and tranquility of their surroundings, while also screeching away and trying to avoid near collisions with rocks and overhanging branches.
Nomi, one of the participants explains, “Actually, we discovered this place by accident. While traveling along the Gua Musang-Kuala Karai road, we saw the Taman Negara Kuala Koh (TNKK) signboard. We turned in to explore and boy, are we glad we did!”
Established in 1936, Taman Negara, formerly known as King George V National Park, has an area of about 4,343sq km, straddling Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan. The most well-known, of the four entrances to this park is at Kuala Tahan in the south. The others are through Merapoh, Tanjong Mentong and Kuala Koh.
In the East Coast, Kuala Koh is the only entrance to Taman Negara Kelantan, which has an area of 1,013sq km of jungle, covering 24% of Taman Negara. TNKK is situated at the confluence of Sg Lebir and Sg Koh.
Facilities and activities
Opened in 1995, TNKK houses a park office, interpretive centre and museum, staff quarters, a café, a mosque and several large aquariums for the breeding of kelah.
For visitors looking for accommodation, there is a choice of six chalets, with attached bathrooms, and a hostel with 86 beds. Three of the chalets are air-conditioned.
The more adventurous can camp at a campsite with showers and toilets, a covered cooking area and even fluorescent lights at night. Be warned, though, because scavenging wild boars may pay you a visit. So keep those tent flaps zipped!
Meals, which are reasonably priced, are available at the prettily furnished D’Keloh Cafe. For lunch, there is rice and two or three cooked dishes while dinner is à la carte.
Nature appreciation activities like bird watching and wildlife photography attract those inclined towards these interests.
Visitors can also explore several of the jungle tracks, try out the canopy walkway, go fishing, feed the fish at the fish sanctuary or look for the Rafflesia in Lubuk Pertang.
Those who are not aquaphobic, can swim in the river or try rubber tubing.
River of fun
Nomi and her four friends sign up for riding down the river in rubber tubes, something they have never done before and are understandingly apprehensive about.
At about nine in the morning, they are taken by boat to Lubuk Jeram Sinar, the nearest fishing campsite.
After a short briefing by their nature guide, they go through a water confidence workout where they overcome their initial reluctance to get into the chilly water and learn how to control, and get in and out of the tubes.
In no time at all, their giant black donuts are snatched away by the current and they are drifting downstream together with their river guide and an accompanying safety boat.
The girls have a hilarious one-hour experience trying to avoid getting beached on sandbanks and dunked in the river.
The current, at times, propels them forward much faster than they can control their “boats” and inevitable bumps and collisions result in many screams and much laughter.
The five friends are, however, safely protected by personal flotation devices and the inflated tubes they are sitting in also act as over-sized shock absorbers. So floating down the one kilometre stretch of Sg Lebir, even for a non-swimmer, can be loads of fun.
Another popular activity is fishing. TNKK is one of the few places in Malaysia where anglers have a chance to battle the mighty Malaysian Masheer or kelah.
After paying a licence fee, they have to hire a boat to take them to camp at one of the five designated fishing spots located at certain river bends of Sg Lebir, namely, Lubuk Jeram Sinar, Lubuk Kedah, Lubuk Kaloi Bawah, Lubuk Kaloi Atas and Lubuk Jengal.
Besides the kelah, the sebarau (Hampala barb), lampan (River barb) and baung (catfish) are also found in these fishing holes. Day trippers can opt to fish along the riverbank near the park HQ and resort.
A suspension bridge across the Sg Lebir leads hikers to the start of several well-marked and sign-posted jungle trails. Among them are the Fig Tree Trail (Bulatan Ara), Rafflesia Trail and the Pallas Trail.
The Ara Trail is developed as an interpretive trail and it takes about two hours to complete the circuit. The Pallas trail is much longer and goes all the way to Lubok Pertang where the fish sanctuary is.
The terrain is hilly and rugged and the trails are replete with leeches, confirming the high density of wildlife in the park.
Large mammals like the elephant, sambar deer, tapir, wild boar and sun bear have been sighted here and indeed tracks of the first four mammals are often encountered on the walking trails.
These mammals are nocturnal, so the chances of seeing them may be better if one spends a night at the Bumbun Impian elevated hide, about 30 minutes hike from the suspension bridge. This well-constructed and comfortable hide overlooks a salt lick in a valley
About 100m after crossing Sg Lebir is the start of the Canopy Walkway. A 300m-long steel-cabled suspension bridge links five platforms attached to giant tualang and meranti tembaga trees.
The highest platform is about 50m off the jungle floor, giving visitors a unique opportunity to view flora and fauna living in the roof of the forest. Bird watchers can now see the canopy dwellers eye to eye!
Over 350 bird species entice birdwatchers to TNKK. Star birds include several kinds of hornbills, crested fire back, bamboo woodpecker, pittas, frogmouths and owls.
In May 2008, in just over a two-day visit, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) members recorded more than half this number of species. A fig tree in the car park was fruiting then and there were waves of birds flying in to feed on the fruits.
“We didn’t even have to walk the trails because there were so many birds here,” says Chan Kai Soon, an MNS birder.
The area in front of the park hostel is brightly lit at night and attracts a lot of insects that become delicious breakfast the next morning for hordes of birds that fly in to feast.
At night, a resident pair of Buffy fish owls patrols the resort and often calls for long periods of time, competing with the Brown hawk owl and Javan frogmouth.
Getting To Taman Negara Kuala Koh
Taman Negara Kuala Koh is about 90km from Gua Musang, a one-and-a-half-hour drive. From Gua Musang, head towards Kuala Krai and after 45km turn right at the Sg Aring Felda Scheme. The road is tarred and goes through the Felda oil palm plantations. Follow signages to Kuala Koh.
o Resort Taman Negara Kelantan, Nik Nora Hiryani (manager), Tel: +6012-965 4788 .