Monthly Archives: September 2017

Discover A 130 Million–Years-Old Rainforest, Taman Negara

A bloodcurdling scream pierces the soupy humidity of the Malaysian night. Emanating from the depths of the impenetrable forest, it rumbles around the darkness, reverberating off colossal trunks and interrupting the tireless croaking of rowdy bullfrogs. “Someone in other group. See big spider,” whispers Angah, our guide, in colourful staccato Manglish. My concerns are more snake-related, given that I’ve forgotten my torch and arrived in plastic sandals, a potentially lethal oversight since my surroundings sparkle like fairy dust with the shining eyes of a thousand tiny insects. Angah’s flashlight reveals nests of splenetic black scorpions skulking in a hollowed trunk and spindle-legged spiders astride glistening golden threads. “Natives [sic] say only spider without web will attack. Web spider friendly,” she says.

This is my introduction to Taman Negara, literally meaning ‘national park’. It’s a sprawling natural heartland, extending some 4,343 sq km over three different states, and evolving fora mind-boggling 130 million years, to make it one of the world’s most ancient rainforests. Dense tropical lowlands overlooked by mountainous peaks accommodate a veritable cornucopia of strange and spectacular inhabitants. There are crab-eating macaques and roaring deer, insect-devouring pitcher plants and wheel-sized rafflesia (corpse flower), the world’s largest and possibly worst-smelling bloom.

Making it to the National Park has been a considerable test of stamina in itself. My partner and I left crowded Kuala Lumpurearly in the morning to travel 200km on a rickety old bus bound for northern Penang and the muddy banks of the Tembeling River. We transferred from bus to motorised longboat and phut-phutted along turbid backwaters for three hours to reach the shabby little township of Kuala Tahan, gateway to the National Park. Here, we clambered onto a clapboard boardwalk to join other travel-weary tourists gently stewing in the steamy jungle heat while seeking food and shelter under the tin-roofs of floating restaurants.

Eventually, a water taxi ferried us to the opposite hillside and Mutiara Resort, our stay for the next three days and the only lodgings located within the reserve. Its bungalow chalets fashioned in dark wood nestle neatly into the margin of the rainforest. At dusk we turned the key in our cabin door just in time to gaze through opened shutters at the river snaking into a resplendent sunset and a sky bruised chilli red and saffron yellow. Daybreak in the jungle is a momentous occasion, celebrated with a hallelujah chorus of chirping crickets and the ‘yoo-hoo, ha ha’ wake-up call of cheery hornbills.

Mutiara Resort

Mutiara Resort

Having survived the night walk unscathed, we emerge bleary-eyed to be greeted by a t hick mist curled along the riverbank, obscuring the forest beyond. A hearty breakfast sustains us through the morning as we trail the tentacular paths that radiate out wards from the hotel into the reserve. Neat wooden signposts point us along the eastern bank of the Tahan River toward the natural pools of Lubok Simpon.

At first sight the forest appears a uniform leafy green and tree-trunk brown. But lustrous colours soon appear in the detail. Miniature turquoise butterflies flash their iridescent wings around pom-pom bunches of crimson berries and flowering tree-vine lianas clustered in orange blossoms. We find pink jelly-like fungi flourishing on mossy wood and metallic-silver millipedes concertinaing across the spongy leaf litter at our feet. We take it in at a snail’s pace, over tangled roots and under taut vines that clutch and bend the trees like grasping fingers. The forest choir serenades our march: buzz, tweet, chirrup, buzz, tweet, chirrup.

The forest has a way of drawing you in and sharpening the senses. Every rustling leaf promises a sudden encounter with elusive animal life. My heart leaps into my mouth when a wild boar darts recklessly across our path, startling a fire back pheasant that careers across the canopy in a squawking tussle of black and blue feathers. We freeze at the sight of the bulky frame of a tapir appearing in the half-light between the trees, before it plunges back into the safety of the undergrowth.

As we penetrate deeper into the jungle, heavy floral aromas give way to the steamy odour of damp earth and rotting vegetation. Angah shows us the spikey stem of the rattan palm used locally to fashion sturdy furniture and basketry. Later, she takes water to a bristly melastoma leaf before buffing it into a soapy lather. “This is a natural antiseptic. Rub it on your arms, it will keep away mosquitoes,” she advises. Finally, the tangled thicket parts to reveal a sunlit section of riverbank. We cool our feet in its pebbled shallows under the beady eye of a white-plumed heron. The sky is wide, the heat searing, and there’s a pervading stillness that quiets the mind and lifts the spirit.

Our return journey takes a different turn, as we climb a wooden ladder, emerging high into the treetops. Starting from the summit platform, I grapple shakily at rigging either side and wobble along the wood-and-rope walkway suspended 45m above the ground straight through the leafy chaos of canopy. When I pluck up enough courage to look around, I notice dozens of conical nests dangling pendulously from the surrounding trees, home to colonies of tireless tree-climbing termites. Up amid this infinite sea of emerald green, it’s the airy sense of freedom that stays with me long after my feet touch firm ground.

DOWN THE RIVER – The next day we return to the boat and expertly weave between sandbanks and rapids to explore further downstream. As we go, nature shape shifts; the jungle becoming skyscraper tall. From their buttress roots soar majestic tualang trees — the tallest of the rainforest — furred with fluorescent lichen and lashed with strangler figs. Playful grey macaques shimmy down knotty vines while below, a herd of glossy black water buffalos wallow in the river’s muddy shallows. A breeze caresses my face and I try to resist drowsiness for fear of missing a single moment of the view.

Amid the profusion of life coexisting within the forest, there is human presence too. Along the riverbank we stop at a settlement of the nomadic Batek tribe, one of various tribal peoples still living within the National Park that are collectively referred to as Orang Asli, meaning simply ‘original people’ in the Malay tongue. Despite government efforts to settle them in permanent villages, many of these communities still abide by their hunter-gatherer traditions, relocating to more fertile ground every three to five years to allow their former forest dwellings to replenish.

For the past year, eight families have lived in this village which consists of little more than a small clearing dotted with several semi-open, leaf-thatched huts pitched with hardwood branches and bamboo walls. Almond-shaped eyes, belonging to the women and children who spend the daytime in refuge from the sweltering heat, peer out at us from the shadows. Their appearance is markedly different from the rest of the Peninsula population — they’re darker skinned, with curlier hair and are shorter in stature.

Men are mostly absent from the camp. We’re told they’re out hunting game and gathering wild fruits and edible plants. “Sometimes they leave for weeks at a time,” says Angah. But the tribal chief has remained to greet us. He’s a small but stocky man with jet-black hair and an intense gaze who proudly shows us his blowpipe fashioned from rattan palm and held together with a rubber-like tree resin. While the Batek used to subsist entirely from the land, many of them now interact with the local economy, trading sought-after forest products, such as sandalwood for rice, tarp and other basic resources. In one hut, a withered man lies motionless, struck down with an infection. “He won’t go to hospital,” Angah tells us. “The Batek have their own healer. Their medicine[s] are the plants and remedies of nature.”


Our fleeting visit has left us hungry to return, and on our final night, over Tiger beer and steaming river-fish curry, my partner and I plot future excursions. I’d like to forgo the luxuries of the hotel to camp out in the nearby limestone caves. He’s dreaming of hiking the 53km trail to Gunung Tahan, Malaysia’s highest peak, in the northwest corner of the park. In little time we’ve come to feel at ease in the brooding presence of the forest, now hardly noticing the procession of ants streaming past our dining table or the shrill sound of ever-present cicadas. Before leaving, my partner records the sounds of the jungle on his phone — a small but resounding memory of a treasured stay to play back on the long trudge home.

Useful Guide Before Your Trip To Malaysia

Witness the stunning natural beauty and the wonderfully diverse culture of Malaysia with these exclusive offers only available with Barrhead Travel. From the pristine beaches to the bustling metropolises you can experience this South-East Asian travel-lover’s paradise!



The Historical City of Malacca

Malaysia offers an incredible depth of culture from the island’s most historical city of Malacca- which boasts a rich ancient and colonial past and UNESCO World Heritage status, the bustling multi-cultural hotspot of George Town, and the incredible capital city of Kuala Lumpur. You can even catch an insight into local customs and life with a local Malaysian homestay!



Cameron Highlands – Malaysia

From the pristine white-sand beaches to the beautiful country scenery of the Cameron Highlands, our Malaysia packages ensure you witness some of the most stunning scenery in South East Asia. Sip on Cameronian tea while you take in the incredible vistas on the region’s highlands, chill to the sound of the ocean and marvel at the mountain peaks within the rugged national parks.


Malaysian cuisine reflects the melting-pot of cultures and multi-ethnic population of this amazing nation. With influences from China, Europe, India and the surrounding South-East Asian nations, food lovers will be in heaven as they experience a rich combination of flavours. Whether you’re stopping by one of the amazing and popular street food markets, sampling Kuala Lumpur’s luxury restaurants, or everything in between, you’re sure to fall in love with the diverse and delightful dishes.




  • Return flights from the UK
  • 8 Nights hotels, 2 Nights homestay,
  • 1 Night Sleeper train
  • Small Group experience


  • Experience multi-cultural Penang
  • Lounge on white-sand beaches
  • Experience local life and stay with a Malaysian family
  • All this from only £1349pp





  • Return flights from the UK
  • 8 Nights hotel accommodation
  • 8 Breakfasts, 4 Lunches, 1 Dinner


  • Explore Malaoca, Malaysia’s most historical city
  • See the Twin towers in Kuala Lumpur
  • Spend a night in the spectacular Cameron Highlands
  • All this from only £1597pp

Petronas Towers: Scale The Most Beautiful Tower In The World

No trip to Kuala Lumpur would be complete without a whizz up the futuristic towers that shimmer like skyrockets over the cityscape. Measuring an eye-watering 451.9m, the post-modern peaks remain a metaphor for the soaring ambitions of the city. Notice how the hypnotic pattern of their steel frames evoke arabesque motifs and finish in masts resembling minarets, thus reflecting the country’s dominant faith.


Ascending visitors stop off on the 41st floor, where the Skybridge links the towers, before zooming up to the 86th-storey Observation Deck. The descent goes down to Suria KLCC, one of the city’s largest shopping malls and home to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

European Feels in The Far Fort Kochi, Kerala – India

With a melange of European influences, Fort Kochi is a historic place, with much architecture to marvel at. Kerala is a favourite with international visitors, but it can be as interesting as it is affordable.
Walk through one of India’s oldest Jewish quarters, Mattancherry, and visit the Dutch Palace and the Synagogue. Believed to be India’s oldest European church, St Francis, built by Portuguese Franciscan Friars, the Santa Cruz Basilica and Fort Immanuel are all worth visiting.


Dutch Palace – Mattancherry, Fort Kochi

The Dutch Cemetery is a quiet, lovely spot for a break in your day. Fort Kochi’s beach, with its iconic giant Chinese fishing nets, is lovely in the mornings and evenings. Plan to visit the nearby Vasco da Gama Square and Maritime Museum along with Fort Kochi. The Kerala Folklore Museum is a must-visit, with daily traditional dance performances. If you’re hankering for a day-trip, Alleppey, with its beautiful backwaters and lagoons, is a good option.


Chinese fishing nets – Fort Kochi

Cherai Beach on nearby Vypeen Island is also worth visiting, with swimming and seafood restaurants vying for your attention. Back in Kochi, Bishop’s House Road, with its beautiful old-style homes, the Indo Portuguese Museum and The Union Club Building are all very pretty, and worth a dekko.


Cherai Beach

LEAVE ON A JET PLANE OR TRAIN: Return flights start at USD109 and USD70 from New Delhi and Mumbai respectively and from USD 3,300 from Bangalore; trains from Bangalore start at USD12.
GET AROUND: Auto rickshaws, taxis, rented scooters and radio cabs- take your pick. Of course, the cheapest option is to walk or cycle. Autos will cost a minimum of USD 3 – be prepared to bargain. Local taxis charge from USD 8, scooters can be rented for USD6 day. Radio cabs are easily available and almost as economical as using local cabs and autos.
STAY: Try The Old Courtyard, Raintree Lodge and The Fort Bungalow.


The Old Courtyard Hotel – Cochin

EAT AND DRINK: Visit the KashiArt Gallery and Café to feed your mind and soul, as well as your body with all-day breakfasts, hearty sandwiches and soups. The Teapot Cafe is justly famous for its variety of teas, including rose ice tea as well as local seafood dishes. You must visit Hotel Rahmaniya for the Kethel Chicken Fry. The no-fuss Kayees Hotel is famous among locals for its chicken biryani; get here fast as the biryani gets sold out quickly.


KashiArt Gallery and Café

WHEN TO GO: October to February is the best time- Kochi is less humid then and its tropical climate is relatively cooler, with occasional showers.
If you like the rain, July to September, the non-tourist season, is a better bet, with lower prices.

The National Wallace  Monument – Stirling, Central Scotland

Standing over 150 metres above sea level, this imposing tower, dedicated to the real-life Braveheart, is a fitting tribute to a legendary Scottish hero

On a September day in 1297, Scottish national hero William Wallace stood atop the Abbey Craig hill, closely observing the English army in the moments before what would become his greatest success. Almost six centuries later, this dramatic peak would become the site of a spectacular monument to his legacy Born into a minor landowning family, little else is known about Wallace’s upbringing and path to heroism. A patriot at heart, the young warrior made a name for himself attacking Lanark in May 1297, a town held by the English. His assassination of the town’s English sheriff won him fame and notoriety, and he was soon able to gather together a band of commoners and gentry, united by a common enemy. And so began the first truly organised resistance against the growing English influence in Scotland.


The imposing monument overlooks the site of Wallace’s most notable victory over the English – the Battle of Stirling Bridge. As King Edward I’s men began to cross the narrow Stirling Bridge, hoping to encroach further on Scottish lands, Wallace picked his moment. He waited until half of the English army had made it to the other side, before launching his attack from Abbey Craig. The battle is revered in history as one of Scotland’s finest moments, and the 27-year-old Wallace became one of the nation’s greatest heroes. As a prize for his victory, Wallace was awarded a knighthood by the Scottish royal court. He fought once again at Falkirk, although defeat marked the start of his downfall and, just a few years later, he was captured by the English and hanged, drawn and quartered in London in 1305.

A revival of interest in Celtic nationality and culture in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the construction of a monument in his honour. Literary figures such as Robert Burns and Walter Scott began to romanticise the nation’s dialect, capturing the imagination of Scots that had lost their connection to the land and its unique history. William Wallace provided an ideal figurehead for this cultural renaissance.

It was decided that a bold, statement-making structure would be built to commemorate his remarkable impact on Scottish history. Once Stirling had been chosen as the location – resolving the fight between Glasgow and Edinburgh for the prestigious selection – a competition to design the tower was held. After 106 plans were sent in, including some that were disqualified for being too ‘anti- English’, a Gothic Revival design submitted by Glasgow architect JT Rochead won. The plan featured many subtle homages to Wallace, including stained glass windows, which portrayed a glowing likeness of the man himself.

“A bold, statement-making structure was required”

In order to finance this ambitious project, funds were sourced both from public subscriptions and foreign donors. One such benefactor was the Italian reunification leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, a sympathiser of the growing affection for Scottish heritage and nationalism in the Victorian era. At a cost of £18,000 (over £1 million in today’s money), construction began on Bannockburn Day in 1861, and it was opened on the 572nd anniversary of Wallace’s historic victory at the site.


Be warned that there is a mammoth 246-step clamber to the top. However, there’s a space on each level to catch your breath and absorb more of Wallace’s fascinating story. The climb is worth it as it ends at the crown of the monument, a regal tribute to Wallace that can be seen from miles around. Take a moment to reflect on the stunning view of the Ochil Hills, just as the ‘Guardian of Scotland’ did more than 700 years ago.




The first floor of the tower narrates the story of the Battle of Stirling Bridge and features original weapons, armour and equipment used by each side.



Climb 64 steps to the next level and visit Scotland’s unofficial ‘hall of fame’, featuring busts of other great Scots such as Gladstone, Robert the Bruce and Rabbie Burns.



The Wallace Sword, Scotland’s very own Excalibur, is the centrepiece here. Whether Wallace actually used it is debatable, but its 5’4” length has to be seen to be believed.


The final floor is home to an interactive exhibit of the monument’s construction, where youngsters can try their hand at building their own tower.



The monument’s Gothic peak is an architectural wonder, featuring intricate battlements and ornate decorations that would not look out of place on a fairytale castle.



Spot the Scottish Highlands in the distance, with the Firth of Forth, Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle adding to this magical view, which is worth climbing up 246 steps for.


Some more Scottish gems for you to discover:



On the way into Stirling town centre, visitors can see the site of Wallace’s greatest victory, and cross over the 15th-century bridge that now stands there.



Visible from the Wallace Monument, Stirling is one of Scotland’s finest castles, featuring banqueting halls and a royal palace within its hilltop grounds.


Four miles south of the Wallace Monument, watch a 3D demonstration of this other famous battle, then re-enact it.


The Perhentians Imprints A Colourful Memory Of Life

Malaysia and I had got off to a strange start. I knew of Melaka City and its colonial past; of Kuala Lumpur and its exceptionally tall towers; and, of course, of the orangutan of Sarawak and Sabah. But all that would have to wait. Having crossed over from Singapore, on a spluttering coach, my Malaysian adventure was destined to begin with a lesser-known destination: the Perhentians. On my first morning on Perhentian Kecil — the smaller of the two islands — I’d overslept and stumbled out of my beach hut into a scene completely devoid of people. I’d expected breakfast hour to be buzzing with sizzling woks, whipping up meegoreng (spicy noodles), and a chorus of blenders mixing fresh coconut water with fruit. But the tables were empty, the plates and cutlery discarded. Where was everyone?

The answer lay out to sea, where I could see the local fishermen bobbing on the horizon, the occasional boat transporting visiting divers. Beyond them, our larger neighbour, Perhentian Besar, seemed to emerge like a verdant boulder from the still waters. Having strolled the beach, I finally found a local man called ‘TP’, who was neither a diver or a fisher. My attempts to find out more about him were met with an animated hand-dance — and an instruction to climb into his chalky blue boat. I jumped in. The engine chugged as he pulled on the cord, and the ocean began to ripple out from beneath us.


As we pulled out into the water, I looked back at the higgledy-piggledy lines of wooden shacks that seemed to tumble down the bay towards the sea. We swerved round the first rocky promontory and chugged around from bay to bay, trying to find a favourite, before settling on a gleaming sandy stretch bordered with boulders. The fine white sand, made up of crushed coral, crunched under our toes.

TP headed into the jungle while I donned a snorkel and joined the schools, darting round the sun-dappled waters. And suddenly I understood the deserted breakfast scene — it was a real kaleidoscope of colours down there. Later, back on the mainland, at the colourful port town of Kuala Besut, I tried out satay stalls while I waited for the coach. It was a whirlwind journey but it had paid off. It looked like Malaysia and I would get on after all.

Penang Island: Culinary Masterpieces And Entertainment

I’ve always been fascinated by Asia, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s borne out of growing up in Australia at a time when the food on offer really didn’t match the heat of the climate. So when I first ate chilli and noodles and rice, my palate was opened to a world of wonder. After travelling to various parts of the world, I still find Asian food the most intriguing. I’ve always believed that to understand a country’s food one needs to understand the people and their culture — and one of my more recent discoveries has been the food and culture of Malaysia. Many years ago, I was dropped into Penang while filming, and found this bustling, colourful island immediately fascinating — but sadly, I only had a day to explore. Recently, however, I spent a number of weeks filming my own TV series all over Malaysia, and my childhood love of blue skies and the sea ultimately drew me back to the island of Penang.


Of the country’s three dominant cultures — Malay, Chinese and Indian — it’s the Chinese influence that’s strongest in Penang — evident in both its architecture and, of course, its food. The capital, George Town, is home to some of the world’s best-kept culinary secrets and is definitely one of Malaysia’s food capitals. While wandering its streets and markets, I was introduced to a wonderful woman of advanced years, who was manning a cart with a wood-fired stove. On it, she cooked a Malaysian treat called charkoaykak — little cubes of cooked compressed rice and turnip cake, fried in pork fat with pork lard and spring onions and kicap manis (an aromatic sweet soy sauce).

This was served with an optional egg and lovingly scooped into a cornet of newspaper lined with banana leaf for extra flavour. Such a simple dish, yet so delicious and expertly cooked, it’s undoubtedly one of the best bits of street food I’ve ever been fortunate enough to eat. Food finds like this are common in George Town, especially in the markets. Try Jalan Penang (Penang Road) and the Chowrasta Bazaar or the famous Macallum Street Night Market on a Monday. And if you’re looking for the best streets stalls, simply head towards the crowded ones — the right place to be is wherever the locals are shopping and eating. In the mornings, hawkers cluster near the corner of Carnavon and Campbell Streets, in front of the Campbell Street Market. Look for the elderly gentleman selling prawn mee (spicy fried noodles) — and hopefully you’ll find my lady with the char koay kak’. At night, head to Kimberley Street to the stall with char kway teow (rice noodles with bean sprouts, chicken and soy sauce).


Downtown’s best kopipeng (Malaysian-style iced coffee) is served at the Toon Leong Coffee Shop (closed Sundays) at the corner of Jalan Transfer and Jalan Argyll. If you want a cooking lesson, then go see Nazlina, who taught me to make pineapple curry. Her cooking school, Nazlina Spice Station, sits opposite the Campbell Street Market, a former Victorian wet market, which is open most days. But if you feel like a sit down with some coffee and cake, then head to China House — a wonderful old building that’s now a coffee shop, restaurant and garden space serving great food and wine alongside more cakes than you can shake a stick at. Opened in 2011 by a fellow Aussie, Narelle and her team will be happy to let you in on some of the local secret food hangouts should you fancy advice on the area. I still miss the streets and markets of Penang and George Town but I’m adamant I’ll be back soon. For me, the best thing about it is once you’ve wandered the streets and feasted your eyes, ears and appetite you can retire to the beach and look up at that blue sky and out to sea.

Take a Spiritual Trip Through The Temples Holy Temples of Kathmandu

Kathmandu is famed for its holy sites, celebrating and preserving the sacred history of Nepal. Here are five of the most breathtaking

Boudhanath Stupa


This enormous temple still welcomes Buddhist pilgrims every single day and is considered as the centre of Nepalese Buddhism. Within this UNESCO World Heritage site lay the remains of Kassapa Buddha and the richly-appointed temple is steeped in history and legend.

Swayambhunath Stupa


Situated atop a peak overlooking the Kathmandu Valley, visitors on foot can expect to tackle 365 steps to reach Swayambhunath Stupa. The Monkey Temple lives up to its name, so expect to see plenty of wild monkeys however you make the trip to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Changu Narayan


Once again listed by UNESCO, Changu Narayan was badly damaged by the 2015 earthquake. Thankfully, it remained standing. As the oldest temple in all of Nepal, Changu Narayan is famed for its wonderful collection of ancient art and a small museum that tells visitors all about its fascinating history.

Taleju Temple

Set in the breathtaking surroundings of Durbar Square, this awe-inspiring temple isn’t fully open to non-Hindus, but even the limited access on offer makes it an unmissable stop for any travellers. Towering over the square, its 16th-century pagoda architecture is sure to stop you in your tracks.

Pashupatinath Temple


Although non-Hindus can’t explore the interior of the temple freely, this vast sacred site hosts regular festivals, like Maha Shivaratri in celebration of the god, Shiva, that attract thousands of people. Rich in legend, the holy site can trace its origins all the way back to 400 BCE.

The Splendid Georgian Homes Found in Northern England

No trip to northern England is complete without a wander around a few of the truly splendid Georgian stately homes

Lyme Park


Famed for its numerous appearances in film and TV, Lyme Park has something for everyone. Whether you want to play an Edwardian piano, admire the artwork or just stroll through the deer park and let younger visitors loose on the adventure playground, Lyme is sure to be a great day out.

Castle Howard


One of the most magnificent stately homes in Great Britain, Castle Howard has long been a favourite of many filmmakers. With its evocative interiors, breathtaking architecture, hectares of parkland and a packed schedule of events for everyone in the family, this is not a place to miss.

Harewood House


Harewood House just oozes Georgian grandeur from every stone and every inch, from its Capability Brown gardens to its era-spanning collection of art and artefacts. There’s also a richly-stocked bird garden and, for the younger visitors, a farm, which features everything from pigs to penguins.

Dunham Massey Hall


Although Dunham Massey was built in the 18th century, the site also contains Elizabethan features and Victorian structures too. In the house are exhibitions telling the remarkable story of the family who made this their home, while outside red deer roam the serene parkland s.

Seaton Delaval Hall


Once home to one of the most notorious families in England, Seaton Delaval Hall gives visitors a chance to travel back through time and meet the infamous Delaval family. Catch your breath in the rolling grounds and enjoy a choice of many different family- friendly activities.

Royal Belum: Embrace The Perfection

I’ve always been a night owl. But, to be honest, this tends to involve late-night dinners, rooftop bars or binge-watching Breaking Bad with a bucket of ice cream. Now here I am, ankle deep in sucking mud, puffing and panting in 34C heat and 90% humidity, as I scrabble up a blackened hillside on a night trek around Malaysia’s Royal Belum State Park rainforest. It’s all a bit Blair Witch. Stray vines and fingers of bamboo keep lashing at my face. Unseen creatures squawk and cry and wail in the darkness. My torch seems to be generating the same glow as a tea light, and, I later discover, a leech has attached itself to my calf.


And there are snakes — hundreds of species, dozens of which are poisonous, including two types of cobra (common and king), three types of viper (the Malayan pit, the speckled pit and the white-lipped tree variety) and the strikingly beautiful blue coral snake, which my guide, Salihin, cheerfully informs me has the second-strongest venom of any serpent, only outdone by the black mamba. Oh, and we’re at least a four-hour drive from the neatest hospital. And yet I’m having the time of my life.

The biodiversity here is extraordinary. The rainforest is one of the world’s oldest, dating back 130 million years, around 75 million years older than the Amazon. And it’s home to some of the world’s most endangered, and enchanting, animals — sun bears, pangolins, Sumatran rhinos, Asiatic elephants, cloud leopards, tapirs, tigers and black panthers (who hunt at night dropping down from tree branches killing their prey with a single bite to the neck). It’s a night to remember of an altogether different kind — and it sure beats a box set.

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