Kota Bharu is the departure point to one of Malaysia’s most popular island groups – Perhentian Islands. But with the monsoon season still impacting the area, I opt to move on and board the ‘jungle’ train that night.
TAMAN NEGARA NATIONAL PARK, MALAYSIA
This incredible train journey traverses the Malaysian Peninsula from Kota Bharu in the North East, to Melacca in the South West. I disembark approx halfway along the route to visit the Taman Negara National Park.
From the Park boundary, the two-hour boat trip to the Park headquarters/tourist accommodation deep in the jungle interior, gives an incredible glimpse of this beautiful 4343 sq klm National Park. I spend two days walking the numerous trails and swimming the jungle streams. The 25 metre high canopy walkway offering a rarely seen perspective of the jungle.
I briefly meet three Europeans and their guide preparing for a 8-9 day return hike to Gunung Tahan – Malaysia’s highest peak. I longed to join them, lamenting my lack of time and fitness. Strangely this chance meeting would plant a seed, that would manifest itself and grow to where hiking would become a passionate pastime.
An early morning departure from Taman Negara, would enable me to board a connecting bus from nearby Jerantut, for early evening arrival on the east coast peninsula. When travelling – expect the unexpected! Almost equidistant from the Park Headquarters to the Park boundary, our boat engine terminates and we spend two hours stranded in the boat under a midday sun, waiting for a replacement boat to arrive.
On my late arrival in Jerantut, I’m informed that my bus to Kuantan and the east coast has just left. A friendly local offers his car and we set off in hot pursuit of the bus. Despite his death-defying speed and manoeuvring, we reach the outskirts of town with the bus nowhere insight.
Rounding one last corner we spot our target. Whilst driving on the unconventional side of the road and adjacent to the bus, I waved frantically at the driver while half out the window. The efforts of my mystery friend in getting me on the bus have been indicative of the wonderful people I’ve met here in Malaysia.
As the capital of the Islam state of Pahang, Kuantan has a very impressive mosque and the visual appeal is heightened when luminated at night.
When I board the bus the following morning, I arrange with the conductor for the driver to stop at the turnoff an hour or so down the road. From there I will walk the remaining 1 klm to the beach village of Cherating. Unfortunately she forgets. So I have little option but to continue on to the next city and catch the next bus back in opposite direction; this time I don’t miss the turnoff.
I contrived to sojourn in Cherating only a day or so, but my plans were derailed upon realisation that I had discovered one of Malaysia’s secret little treasures.
Diq was the owner of Mimi’s Guesthouse – consisting of about eight beautiful timber/bamboo bungalows only 50 metres from the beach. Cherating is the surf capital of Malaysia and Diq’s ten-year old son is already ranked 5th in Malaysia.
Diq tells me that Australians often stay at his guesthouse and surf the local beaches. He was a little bewildered that I as an Australian could not surf! Nonetheless, within two hours of arrival we were out surfing – yours truly sticking to a body board.
Cherating has a low profile on the tourist trail and for that I’m grateful. I feel really relaxed here, days spent swimming and walking the wide elongated beach.
Diq has made me feel like a part of the family. Watching him play in the pub band at night. Following his secret track over the headland, sneaking past the Prince’s armed residence, descending the cliff on a rope and onto the private beach that forms part of Asia’s only Club Med resort. Collecting grass with the kids to feed the horses. Helping to cut the roof off an old 4X4 he purchased the same week; the intention being to take tourists for day trips up the beach. His wife didn’t share his enthusiasm.
I continue further north through Terrengganu, returning back to Kota Bharu. The weather remains non conducive to diving, so I again abandon plans to visit the Perenthian Islands. This time, I take the jungle train for its full journey across the Malay Peninsula to Melaka on the South West coast.
A trading port used by Indian and Chinese merchants since the 15th century, Melaka has had periods of rule from the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Spectacular for its architecture, museums, and churches. I particularly enjoyed the Chinese Cemetary popular with joggers, with views of Melaka city one side and the Strait of Melaka the other.
It’s time to head home. On the bus to Singapore and Changi Airport, I reflect on the amazing events of the previous five months – a lifetime of memory’s. In time I’ll return, but for now my daughters are increasingly consuming my thoughts and I desperately need to return for hugs, see their beautiful faces and hear them laugh.
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