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.