Jungle Railway

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August 19th 2007
Published: September 10th 2007
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The guesthouse , Zeck Traveller's, we had planned to meet Sharon at in Kota Bahru turned out to be full. We had chosen it because the Lonely Planet guide book had said the owner was a mine of information and very helpful. He pointed us in the direction of a very expensive looking hotel 100 yards across the road. We decided to give it a try as we were anxious to get settled somewhere and then e-mail Sharon so she would know where we were.

At that moment in time she was travelling on the overnight train from Bangkok (or at least we hoped she was!) To our suprise the hotel wasn't too expensive at all and it turned out that it had only opened that day and we were the very first customers.(Where was the champagne?)

After dropping some much need laundry off at Zeck's traveller's we e-mailed Sharon, then went in search of Lunch. Despite Kota Bahru being a largish city no-where seemed to be open, we came across a roadside cafe full of locals and sat down. A little old lady came over, spoke to the guy on the next table who then asked what we wanted. 'Is there a menu' I replied, no, apparantly not. We were starving by this time so decided on Vegetable rice (can't go wrong with that, can you?) Wrong! A few minutes later she came over with a plate full of grey stodgy rice topped with some soggy looking vegetables and a thick grey sauce. She stood there with a huge toothless grin whilst we took our first fork full expecting us to go in raptures over her food. To say it was awful would be an understatement! The rice was luke warm and the vegetables cold. I swear the sauce was made from boiled fish. Try as we could we just couldn't eat it so feeling a bit ashamed we paid up and left it there conjealing on the plate.

Back in our nice air-con room we began to wonder if Sharon had managed to get over the border from Thailand into Malaysia succesfully and picked up our message. The last time we'd actually spoken to her on the phone was 4 weeks ago. Now, here we were half way across the world hoping she'd walk through the door of some previously unknown hotel. Before we'd even had time to wonder what we would actually do if she didn't turn up, a knock came on the door. Sharon! Bang on 3pm, the time she'd estimated she may arrive. Meeting up in some far corner of the world is becoming a habit, this is now the 4th time! After much catching up on the gossip and exchanging recent travel stories we went over to Zeck's travellers again to try and arrange our jungle trip for the next day. The owner insisted we didn't need to book seats on the train, just turn up at the station in the morning. He booked a taxi to pick us up at 5.15am to take us to the station. After a hurried meal that night we retired by 10pm ready for our early start. This was the first time Sharon had slept in a bed since Sunday night, it was now Thursday!

Bright and early we climbed into our waiting taxi, by 5.50am we were on the platform along with several Malaysians and a few other European Tourists. The ticket office wasn't open. 6.15am came, still no-one in the ticket office, then a few minutes before the train was due, it opened, a queue soon developed but many of the Malasians didn't seem to be bothering to buy tickets. Just as Stan and Sharon got to the front of the queue the train pulled into the station and the ticket man announced 'sold out'. Now what? He gestured us to get on the train anyway and we could pay the ticket collector. Lesson one, don't take it for granted the locals know everything. Apparantly this was the start of the school holidays so the guy at Zeck's should have known the train would be booked out, instead he had insisted we didn't need tickets. Obviously most of the Malaysians had booked their's ahead.

The other ticketless Europeans has settled themselves, crossed legged, into a small space between carriages. Hmm, I didn't fancy the idea of doing that for the next eight hours! As the train pulled away, a quick glance around revealed several empty seats. Phew! We settled ourselves down and began to enjoy the journey. The ticket inspector came along and we had to confess we had no tickets, he seemed unpreturbed by this and charged us the going rate but gave us a receipt not a ticket. About an hour later we pulled into a station, the platform was heaving with people. Sharon said " O.K. it's time to act like we're asleep." We settled back, closed our eyes and hoped no-one would turf out of our seats. Didn't work, a few minutes later I felt a finger prodding my shoulder, as I opened my eyes a ticket was being pushed under my nose with my seat number on. Oh well, it was worth a try.We all vacated our seats and stood in the aisle resigned to spend the next seven hours there. Within a few minutes we realised this was not an option, the Malaysians just never sit still, every two minutes someone was squeezing past us. We went in search of a 'space' and found empty seats in the dining car, the three of us sat down surrounding some poor Malaysian tring to eat his cold rice and fried egg ,with his fingers, from off a sheet of brown paper. I don't think he was too pleased, especially when we got out a loaf of bread and some cheese slices and proceeded to make sandwiches.

Breakfast over, we settled down to watch the scenery go by. The jungle vegetation was so dense that for a lot of the time it was like travelling through a green tunnel, just wide enough for the train to pass through. Occasionally it cleared and the distant hills could be seen with wispy clouds creeping up through the lush vegetation, clear blue sky above. Spectacular rock formations appeared out of no-where. From time to time the train would stop for no apparant reason, half an hour later another train would pass in the opposite direction and we'd be on our way again.

Eventually eight and a half hours later ,and much seat shuffling on the train, we arrived in Jerantut. The boat we had planned to get up the river to Kuala Tehan, The National Park Headquarters, had already left. The bus was not due for another three hours. We decided the only thing to do was to take a taxi and then at least we'd beat the boat and bus and have a better pick of accommodation.

On arrival the first couple of places were full so we treated ourselves to the 'expensive' hotel on the hill. Air-conditioned and hot shower, luxury! We dropped our bags and got the boat across the river to find out where the path to the canopy walkway began. We needed to start early next day so we could get the 2pm boat back down the river to Jerantut. It turned out we needed a camera pass too before entering the jungle. As we queued up to get it, Sharon was alarmed to see a picture of a tarantula on the wall. The chance of seeing snakes, tigers and rhinoceros didn't worry her but the spider did!

As we walked back to the hotel I heard a voice calling my name, I turned round and there was Fearghal and Misa. We arranged to meet up later and have a meal together in one of the floating restaurants.Over dinner they warned us of the leeches and scorpions. Like most places in Malaysia alcohol, again, was not an option, which was just as well, as the level of the river had mysteriously risen and the planks of wood we had to walk over to leave the restaurant were virtually underwater!

The following morning we clothed ourselves in long trousers, socks and shoes with everything you could possibly tuck in, tucked in! Not too comfortable given the humid heat but we had to at least try to avoid the dreaded leeches! A quick spray all over with 50% Deet and we were on our way.

It took about half an hour to get to the canopy walkway and thankfully there was only a few people queueing in front of us. Only 4 people were allowed on each section of walkway at any one time with a gap of 10 metres in between each person. Presumably this was because the walkway was constructed only of planks of wood resting on aluminium ladders held together with ropes. Only 2 weeks previously a storm had destroyed a whole section of the walkway so we weren't too confident, but fortunatly we all made it across in one piece! The views from up there were amazing but I was dissapointed I hadn't come face to face with a monkey.

Once off the canopy walkway we carried on along a jungle path to Bukit Terasik, a high point where the vegetation parted and we had a panoramic vista over the jungle. As we walked along Sharon and I were constantly on the look out for the dreaded leeches, not only on the ground but also on the underneath of leaves, where the tiger leeches are reputed to lay in wait to attach themselves onto your upper body. We had no idea what they looked like but imagined something like a small slug. we soon noticed some strange thin, twig-like things attached to the ground, pointing upwards and waving around in search of their next victim. Obviously leeches.

I glanced down and noticed a ring of blood on my white sock, I dragged it off quickly expecting to see a leech in there, no sign, presumably it had had it's fill of my blood and dropped off! A short while later another ring of blood appeared on my sock, this time the little blighter was still attached and was indeed looking like a fat slug, Grose! Out came the Deet spray and Stan bombarded it and then flicked it off. That'll teach it!

By the time we were back at our hotel 3 hours later, we were drenched in sweat. Nice! A quick shower and we were on our way again. Sharon was keen to get on a beach somewhere! In the nick of time we got the 2pm boat back down the river to Jerantut. From there it was on to Kuantan for an overnight stop before travelling to Tioman the following day.

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Jungle Trekking

Watching out for the leeches!

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