My Trip to Taman Negara: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Before I begin, allow me to stress that Taman Negara is a BEAUTIFUL place, and is really worth going to visit! I am definitely going to go there again as I have not been able to do many of the trails and activities during this trip.
What’s UGLY are the people whom I had the misfortune to go with…
ISSUE #1 : THE YOUNG AND INCONSIDERATE
Okay, I know it’s quite harsh of me to write it like this. But I can’t help it. You can say that it’s because I’m “getting older” or something. But I do know that even when my friends and I were their age, we were certainly a lot more considerate about other people. Perhaps it’s just this particular group of students.
A group of students had joined us on the trip to Taman Negara under the same tour operator, and we had to pick them up from their university campus before heading over to Taman Negara. The students all spoke mainly Mandarin, and since I’m no Mandarin speaker and my fellow KL travellers (Adibah, Abby and Jie) are Malays, we didn’t really spend much time chatting with each other.
I WOULD like to say that they’re not all bad as they were polite, some of them were in fact quite helpful, and one of them had even offered to lend us a deck of cards to play with while we were waiting for one of the activities to begin. What irked me was mainly two things:
- They were always late. Even if we had already arranged to meet for breakfast at 7.30am, they’d stroll down about 8.10am. That’s not too bad as the activity was only to start at 8.30am. The worst one was on the day of departure, which was a Monday. They had specifically asked the driver who was supposed to take us home to come as early as possible as they wanted to try to make their 4pm class. The driver actually arrived at 8am instead of the 10am he said he would, so we all jumped out of bed and had a bit of a mad rush to get ready so that we could leave as early as possible. Don’t forget, we had to drop these kids off at their university first, BEFORE we headed back to KL, which means we four adults had the longest ride back home.We four adults were done with breakfast at about 9.30am, and by then the kids were also done, with just one girl halfway through what looked like her last bit of toast. So we adults decided to head up to the jetty carpark where the driver was parked so that we could use the washroom, and the students assured us they would be up soon after. Their “soon” turned out to be half an hour later as they ambled up with their own selfish assurance they could make it for their 4pm class without any consideration about the rest of us facing a four-hour drive after dropping them off.
- “We’ll go where WE want to eat for lunch.” Because the driver was a Chinese man who only spoke in Mandarin/Cantonese, he and the students got along like a house on fire.When we arrived at the town near their campus, the leader of the students suddenly turned around to the four of us who were seated at the back of the van asking if it’s okay to stop for lunch. Of course it was okay – it was lunchtime. But then the van driver suddenly stopped at a very run-down roadside wooden stall that barely offered any protection against the heavy rain, and the student explained that “we really want to eat Chinese food as we haven’t had Chinese food in campus for a very long time. Is it okay if you all eat this mamak and we go for our Chinese food?”This wasn’t even a mamak. It’s just a roadside stall.I looked at the stall and thought, “OMG I wouldn’t eat there myself” and so I turned doubtfully to the other three and asked if the stall was okay. Adibah (who is sooooo nice and sweet) said hesitatingly, “Okay kut…” but the other two were so furious that they refused to answer.After a few seconds of silence, the driver got the hint and turned the van around to another more respectable-looking Malay restaurant that was at least within a shoplot. By this time the other three were so fed up that they just went. As for me, I chose to accompany them to than to hang around with the students and the driver, not because I can’t speak Mandarin anyway (well… partly), but because I didn’t want to hang around a bunch of people who gave so little consideration of others in favour of their own wants.
It’s not that I have a problem with the students wanting a Chinese meal… having studied in a local university myself, I know exactly what that feels like. But if you want to split up, please don’t just dump the non-Chinese in some horrible little corner of your choosing and expect them to be okay with that. Some respect for people older than you, especially since you are supposed to be intelligent students, would be nice. At least let them make the choice of where they would like to eat before you go and hunt for the Chinese food you have been so desperately deprived of.
- As for the driver, what can I say? As the adult, he should have handled this as one. But from his tone of voice, I could tell he had little consideration for people other than of his race (and I hate to sound racist). But when he had pulled over to the roadside stall, he spoke in Mandarin very roughly (and yes, I do understand a smattering of Mandarin), “Ask those people at the back if they are okay with this.”I’m Chinese, but I’m ashamed to be associated with people like these.
And now, for the even uglier bit..
ISSUE #2 : TAKEN FOR A RIDE, DUMPED AT THE SIDE…
Oh, where do I begin? Let’s begin at the beginning…
I signed up for this trip with Braveheart Adventura which is run by a woman named Reha. I had once gone on a one-day white water rafting trip that was organised by her, and it turned out fairly well (in spite of a few hiccups – she hadn’t even known where the place was although she claimed she had been there several times). So I thought this would be relatively safe to go since she claims she had organised many trips before, including to Taman Negara.
What went wrong:
- Facebook reminders are not the way! She sent us reminders by posting on our Facebook walls the day before to remind us to gather at KL Sentral by 7.45am, instead of calling or texting us. (Reha herself arrived at 8.10am) As a result, Adibah who said she had received an earlier reminder to meet at 9am and claimed she didn’t get the Facebook wall was very late. In fact we had to ask her to tell her cab to go to Gombak where we picked her up from a Shell station. The van driver had to go around in circles as Reha and Adibah couldn’t seem to figure out where we were supposed to meet each other, and it was only after Abby spoke to Adibah that we met at the correct Shell station and were then on our way.
- We’ll be on our own during the trip. It was during the trip that she revealed that she would not be joining us for the trip. She claimed she had to come back to KL to prepare for a meeting and presentation over the weekend.Tell me, which tour operator just takes their clients to the location and dumps them there?
- Wrong campus cost us about 2 hours. As mentioned earlier, a group of students were joining our trip to Taman Negara. All she knew was that they were from Universiti Malaysia Pahang – but she didn’t know which campus. When we arrived at the Gambang campus (which was closer to the toll from the highway), she called them up only to be told that they were actually at the Pekan campus.So, she obviously didn’t do her research.We could see the driver was already very impatient, as he had already made an hour’s detour that morning to pick Adibah up. But he still drove without complaint all the way to Pekan (which is almost an hour from Gambang – one way!) to pick the students up, and after a brief stop for lunch, we had to drive another hour back to the toll, and back onto the highway towards Taman Negara.
- No boat ride, and she didn’t know the way. Part of the Taman Negara experience was taking a boat ride along the river to our chalet. In this case however, we went solely by road, which took a few more hours from the Gambang town, and Reha kept looking at the milestones and trying to figure out how much longer it would take – as if she had never been there herself. She never even told us what to expect – whether there was a boat ride or whether we were going by road. Jie was furious about that, because she had been promised a boat ride.When we finally arrived at 5pm, Reha kept trying to call Stanley who was supposed to be our local guide, but due to poor reception it was a while before she finally got through to him. And when we arrived at Kuala Tahan where all the cheap chalets were (across the river from the actual gazetted national park), she didn’t know which lodge we were going to stay in, and where it was; and apparently Stanley had refused to tell her over the phone. It sounded very dodgy, and I was beginning to wonder whether we were going to get beaten and robbed, when Stanley showed up in an open-backed four-wheel drive.All of us except Reha and the van driver piled in, and Stanley drove us to our chalet, which was…
- Park Lodge. Please don’t ever stay there. EVER. It really is that bad.During the trip, Reha had proudly told me that due to her connections, she managed to upgrade our rooms from quad-sharing to twin-sharing without a price increase. But when I got to Park Lodge, I only saw a few chalets which had two rooms each, and ALL of them looked like twin-sharing. Perhaps there were quad-sharing, but I did not see any of them there.
Here’s what’s so bad about Park Lodge:
a) The bathrooms are horrible. The bedroom itself is not so bad, but the bathroom looks like it has not been cleaned out properly. It’s as if the lodge operators relied on the room guests to maintain a certain level of cleanliness, and after the guests had left, they just spray the whole bathroom with water. I don’t expect hot water or hospital-grade sanitization. But some decent level of cleanliness would be nice. I say this because there was one night where there was no water supply, and I had lifted the top of the water tank of the toilet to check the water level. That little action was my biggest regret of the entire trip.
b) Speaking of no water supply… the above happened when I was trying to take a shower, after coming back from night trekking. I hadn’t known why at that time, because when I turned out the tap in the sink, there was water; but the shower head refused to spurt out any water. Then I heard from outside, one of the students talking to someone, and that was when I gathered that their big water tank which was supposed to hold water for all the chalets in the lodge did not have enough water.
I don’t know whether they didn’t turn on the pump or they turned off the tap to the water tank… because from the way they talked, it sounded like it was an oversight on their part. We had to wait for more than an hour before we finally had enough water for us to take a shower. We certainly did not have this problem of “no water supply” the next night.
c) A horribly isolated location and no transportation provided. The reason Stanley came to pick us up in a four-wheel drive instead of letting the van drop us off at the front of the lodge was because the way to the lodge was down a steep village road about 300 m lined with trees – and it’s the only road there. The van could not have possibly made it.
And the only time we really got transportation was the first time we arrvived. All other times we were expected to walk by ourselves – for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and after our activities. And the road is pitch black at night because there are no lights lining the road, so it was fortunate that on the first night we had just finished night trekking and we had our torchlights with us.
Our meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) were not at the lodge, but at a floating restaurant which was about 10-15 minutes walk from the lodge. So everytime we went for meals, we had to hike up that long steep road, then walk down a sandy beach to the floating restaurant. Because of that, we made sure to time our activities immediately after a meal so that we don’t have to walk to and fro too many times.
We were actually told by Stanley that we were to walk, and they will NOT provide us transportation. There were only two other times we managed to score a ride: the second day for breakfast, when Adibah, Abby, Jie and I managed to catch a member of the staff driving the four-wheel drive up to the jetty, and the second night after night safari, where the safari guides willingly drove us to our lodge.
This is probably why Reha chose this spot – it was so much cheaper compared to all other lodges.
d) No water, no drinks, no food. When we first arrived, the first thing I noticed was the lack of a kettle. That’s usually what I look for because I like drinking hot drinks especially before bedtime.
Not having a kettle was fine, if the lodge provided drinks… so in the reception area, I looked around and found a lot of signs listing their breakfast prices. I also saw a bottle of water in a dispenser, and some sugar and salt shakers on a table.
But when I asked the only member of staff who was sitting at the lounge area, he said that the water bottle in the dispenser hasn’t been changed for months. And when I asked about the availability of buying drinks, he asked, “Erm… bila nak? (When do you want it?)” And I said, “Bila-bila (Anytime).” Then he looked confused and said that there wasn’t anybody working here at the moment, and if we wanted food or water, we would have to go to one of the floating restaurants or to the shops at the jetty to buy them.
So, please. Don’t stay there. Unless you really are on a budget – the signs around Kuala Tahan said it costs RM38 per night for a “fan chalet” – which is a chalet room with one wall fan. The fan is actually quite sufficient because it can get really cold at night. But I’d recommend you stay in any of the other chalets that are much closer to the jetty, and to where the shops and food places are.
- And now, the icing on the cake… stranded at the train station because the driver hadn’t been paid. After being unceremoniously dumped by the van driver at a godforsaken eating place in the heavy rain, he picked us up after lunch, sent the students back to their campus in Pekan, and then we were headed back to Kuala Lumpur.As we were driving back in silence, the driver suddenly spoke to me in Mandarin asking me if I know Reha personally. I said no, I only met her through Facebook, and asked why. He said that he’s been trying to call her but he kept getting her voicemail. Well, then the rest of us tried but obviously if he couldn’t get through, none of us could.Then he told us that he hadn’t been paid a single cent for this trip.Why anyone would be stupid enough to go ahead with a job like this without getting a deposit, I don’t know. That’s his own issue. But he said he very nearly didn’t want to come from KL to Kuala Tahan to pick us up on the last day, because of this, and it’s only because Reha and one of the students called him that he came.So Jie got onto Facebook using her Blackberry, and found Reha online, and asked why can’t we get through to her and why hadn’t she paid the driver. Reha claimed that she had dropped her handphone and it was now spoilt, and kept reassuring her that she would call the van driver. She even said that she didn’t want to bring the money on Saturday (the day we left KL for Taman Negara) because she would be alone with the driver. That didn’t make any sense at all. Was the driver going to rob her of his own money?And after constantly reassuring Jie that she wasn’t going to cheat the driver, she went offline.One hour passed, then another. The van driver still hadn’t received any phone calls, and by then he was extremely irritated and furious. We were actually worried that he was going to leave us stranded at one of the rest stops along the highway; but fortunately he didn’t. He asked if we had already paid Reha in full, and we said yes; we paid months ago.He said that she told him that she would pay him when we arrived at KL Sentral (which was supposed to be our drop-off point), but that day we knew that was a lie. Reha had made no effort to contact any one of us; if it was true, she’d have been trying to call us to find out where we were, because it was way past the ETA of 5pm.When we finally arrived in KL at about 6pm, he refused to send us to KL Sentral, saying that it would be extremely jammed to get in and out, as it was a working day (Monday). So he dropped us off at the Batu Caves KTM station where we could take a train to KL Sentral, for which we were grateful for; he at least was considerate enough to drop us at a place where we could find our way home, instead of leaving us high and dry. After all, we weren’t the ones who were cheating him.
- How Reha handled the issue. Adibah, Jie and Abby were already furious because they knew her as personal friends, and have lots of other bones to pick with her. This was my first issue with her, and I was already tired and angry from how badly organised this entire trip was, including the driver not being paid. But I was still willing to give her a chance. Unfortunately…The next day Reha sent out an explanation via SMS, saying that she had gone to the bank to withdraw money to pay the driver, but her handbag was snatched, causing her to injure her hands and legs, and her handphone was dropped and in pieces. She ended the SMS saying that if no one trusted her again, she could accept it. Her only apology was the word “Sorry” at the beginning of the SMS.I checked with the others, only to find out that she only sent the SMS to Abby and me.Adibah had posted on Reha’s Facebook wall asking why she hadn’t paid the driver, but the post was deleted immediately. I suppose it was rather public, but if she had nothing to hide, she could easily reply by explaining the truth, right? That way people will sympathise and will, in fact, understand.Jie bumped into Reha a few days later, but Reha made no reference to having her handbag snatched. In fact, she said that she had wanted to pay the driver earlier but he had refused to take the money; which made even less sense than the theory that the driver would try to rob her of his own money. Mind you, remember that Jie and Reha are personal friends; wouldn’t the first thing you do would be to complain about your misfortune of having your money snatched to anyone who would listen? Especially with a character like Reha (if you know her).
Anyway, I hadn’t replied nor acknowledged the SMS because I was simply too furious about the whole issue. But here’s the latest news.
Reha has removed all of us from her Facebook friends list.
I was still going to give her the benefit of the doubt, and had even considered not posting her name nor her company name although many of my friends, after hearing my story, insisted that I should, to do whatever I can to protect people from getting cheated by her.
This happened a few days after the whole trip.
So this is the final straw. I don’t care about being friends with her on Facebook – not after what has happened. But that’s not the point. She doesn’t have cause to do that, we do. We are the ones who feel that we’ve been ripped off, we’re the ones who got stranded at the train station, we’re the ones who paid RM460 each for a trip that wasn’t even worth half that price. Yet she was the one who knocked us off. What does she have to hide?
And Reha, if you’re reading this, you need to ask yourself what really happened and why you let this happen.