Leeches aside, the Malayan rain forest is an enjoyable place to spend a weekend of boating, trekking, river-crossing, waterfall bathing, bird-watching and overnight camping.
Seen here is the Endau-Rompin National Park, a half-day's drive north from the concrete jungle of Singapore. The nature reserve stretches from the foot hills of Johor into the mountain range of Pahang. It is cut by the Sungai Endau, a broad, fast-flowing river (mostly waist-deep) crisscrossed by rapids, hunchback boulders and waterfalls.
You start from the timber town of Kahang and veer off on a bumpy track through a palm-oil plantation into a tiny settlement of Orang Asli (aborigines) at Kampung Peta, next to the river. Your group loads provisions and camping gear into the boats, the Orang Asli guide guns the outboard engine, and you glide silently upstream for an hour's ride into the heart of the emerald kingdom.
The destination is a spacious clearing which will be your camp site for the night. It is cool and dark, being completely overshadowed by spreading trees. In front of the clearing is the gurgling river, broken in various parts by mini-waterfalls and circular pools. Everyone changes into swimsuits and treads cautiously down the slippery stone slabs into the water which is chilly despite the warm afternoon sun. You edge yourself towards one of the mini-waterfalls and sink your body luxuriously as the water splashes onto your shoulders, massaging away the stress and aches of modern life.
Dusk comes with an overwhelming cover of darkness so deep you see no more than your arm. After dinner, your party gathers for small talk around a battery-powered table lamp, then settle into plastic tents.
The next morning everyone assembles in Indian file for a trek, led by several Orang Asli guides. The route is six km starting along a muddy track where you see elephant dungs and the spoor of tapirs, mousedeer, boars, sun bears and wild buffaloes. Your group then turns off the track into the green-dark forest, following the Orang Asli along an almost imperceptible path. It is up hill, down hill, sometimes following parallel to the stream and sometimes cutting across the water. While wading through the stream, you feel thirsty, and, following the example of the others, you scoop a generous portion of the crystal riverine liquid with your bottle and pour the water down your throat.
The group takes a breather on the bank and you take the opportunity to inspect your legs and arms for leeches. Aaargh! They are all over your ankles and your thighs.
By late afternoon, you return to camp, dismantle the tents and help load everything back onto the boats for the downstream ride to civilisation. -- Francis Chin, June 12, 1999