MALAYSIA possesses the most biologically wealthy real estate on Earth. Thousands of plant and animal species, some found nowhere else in the world, are protected within specially-designated national parks and sanctuaries that showcase Malaysia’s biodiversity while protecting it from harm.
Taman Negara, Pahang/Kelantan/Terengganu
Taman Negara is Malaysia’s largest national park, stretching over an area of 4,343 km2 and spanning three states. The park’s indigenous flora and fauna belong to one of the world’s oldest and most diverse ecosystems.
Lowland forests develop into upper montane shrubland as one ascends the Tahan mountain range that bisects the park from west to east. Malaysia’s largest mammal species call the park home, among them the tapir, Malayan sun bear, Sumatran rhinoceros, and Asian elephant. Over 300 species of birds inhabit the forest canopy, though they’re more often heard than seen.
Visitors can check into the Mutiara Taman Negara resort and explore the rest of the reserve from there – a network of trails, including the world’s longest canopy walkway, allows tourists to get up close and personal with wildlife. Birdwatching, fishing, and camping expeditions can be arranged.
For more information contact the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, tel. +60 3 9075 2872, www.wildlife.gov.my.
Niah National Park, Sarawak
The first known human communities in Southeast Asia lived in this network of caves in Sarawak. The earliest-dated human remains found here originated 40,000 years ago; one cave has prehistoric drawings of hands and animals in red haematite. The Great Cave, in particular, is spectacular with a 60m high opening that leads into a gigantic cave chamber.
The surrounding rainforests are populated by long-tailed macaques, tarsier, deer and partridges, hornbills, and birds living in the dipterocarp trees. Forest trails snakes through the jungle; one leads to the nearby peak of Bukit Kasut.
Niah park is best reached from Miri; local operators provide guided tours. For more information, contact the Sarawak Forestry Corporation tel. +60 85 434 184, www.sarawakforestry.com.
Kinabalu Park, Sabah
Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Malaysia, rises 4,095 metres from Sabah’s tropical rainforest wherein lies one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth.
Mount Kinabalu hosts about 6,000 species of plant life, including over 600 fern species, 1,000 orchid species, and three species of the world’s largest (and stinkiest) flower, the Rafflesia. Kinabalu’s animal life is no less varied: 330 species of bird in the forests and large mammals like the Borneo wild cattle, orangutan, and Sumatran rhinoceros inhabit the lowlands.
The park headquarters is a two-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu. Visitors can complete a leisurely guided climb up Kinabalu in three days or if you’re in a hurry race to the top in the annual Kinabalu Climbathon – a 21km trail that climbs 2,250m in a few hours. For more information, contact the Sabah Tourism Board, tel. +60 88 212 121, www.sabahtourism.com.
Penang National Park, Penang
It’s the smallest national park in the world, but the Penang National Park manages to cram plenty of wildlife and geographical goodness into its 2,563 hectares. Chalk it up to the wildly disparate habitat – wetlands, rocky outcrop, regenerated dipterocarp forests, mud flats, and coral growth house an amazing variety of plant and animal life.
Over 140 species of mammals live among the trees – leaf monkeys, flying lemur, fruit bats, squirrels, and leaf monkeys – and a hundred species of birds. Add the sea-going animals into the mix – dolphins, sea otters, sea turtles and more – and you’ll be amazed at the variety of life!
Visitors have the option to camp at Teluk Bahang, Teluk Tukun or Teluk Aling. If you are going to camp, you will need to get permission at the park headquarters: Penang National Park, Jalan Hassan Abas, Teluk Bahang, tel. +60 4–881 3530.
Endau–Rompin National Park, Pahang/Johor
The Endau river has profoundly shaped the topography of the Endau-Rompin National Park; this is immediately apparent on the many trails that skirt a series of scenic waterfalls and some of peninsular Malaysia’s most beautiful vistas.
The dipterocarp forests carpeting the park harbor a number of rare plant species like fan palms (Livistona endauensis) and the walking stick palm (Phychorapis singaporensis). Sun bears, bear cats (binturong) and wild boars stalk the undergrowth as gibbons swing through the treetops.
You can reach Endau-Rompin park from the Pahang towns of Kahang and Bekok. Visitors are usually accompanied by guides from the local orang asli (indigenous tribes) belonging to the Jakun tribe. Beyond trekking visitors can explore local orang asli villages, go canoeing or white-water rafting on the Endau river, or take night safaris through the darkened forests.
For more information contact the Pahang Development Authority for Pahang Tenggara (DARA), Wisma Sultan Ahmad Shah, Muadzam Shah, tel. +60 9 452 2300.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website
Mike Aquino is a writer, which means his office is anywhere he plugs in his laptop. He is based in Manila at the moment, but has had spells working as an advertising copywriter in Singapore and Malaysia. He is currently the guide in charge of About.com Southeast Asia Travel.