- Elevation: 2,187 m (7,175 ft)
- Prominence: 2,140 m
- Ribu category Tinggi Sedang
- Province: Peninsular Malaysia
- Malaysian state: on the border of Kelantan and Pahang
- Range: Banjaran Tahan
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none.
At 2,187m, Gunung Tahan is the highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia and is located in the Taman Negara National Park. It is also the highest peak in the Tenasserim Hills chain (Banjaran Tanah Seri), a 1,700 kilometre-long granite ridge older than the Himalayas which runs all the way down from mid-Thailand to southern Peninsular Malaysia.
It’s probably this region’s most challenging trek and the word ‘tahan’ means ‘endure’ which is certainly rather apt! There are two main trailheads, with one route being longer and requiring a lot more time than the other. The views from the higher slopes of Gunung Tahan are excellent, as the vegetation is mostly low-growing shrubs rather than tall trees.
Elephants and tigers still live in this region, though the chance of seeing any is very, very small. You will almost certainly meet plenty of sweat bees although they are relatively harmless unless they get stuck inside your shirt. If you are especially lucky you might spot one of the elusive golden cats on your trek.
The newer, shorter route is 18 kilometres long (ignore the blatantly incorrect 32km signs!) and starts at Kuala Juram, which is a 40-minute 4WD journey from the Park Office at Sungai Relau which is itself just under 7 kilometres from the small town of Merapoh. A return hike is usually done in 4 days and 3 nights although as of 2022 you are required to book and pay for 5 days and 4 nights. This is to avoid less fit hikers rushing or hiking in the dark in order to make it down for their transport.
The route is as follows: Sungai Relau (290m) – 4WD to Kuala Juram (205m) where the trail properly begins – Kuala Luis (240m) – Lata Luis (520m) – Kem Kor (685m) – Permatang (785m) – Kubang (1,375m) – Belumut (1,450m) – Bonsai (1,675m) – Kem Botak (1,935m) – Tahan summit (2,187m). Days 1 and 4 are fairly short half-day affairs but combined with the time consuming National Park administration and bag checks can end up filling entire days. Days 2 and 3 are more challenging with the lengthy and muddy trek from Kem Kor to the summit and back. Underestimate at your peril!
The other, traditional trail (which is regarded as the most beautiful) is allegedly 53 kilometres long (this may be as inaccurate as the 32km claims for the shorter route) and starts in Kampung Kuala Tahan and a return hike typically requires 7 days for a traverse to the Sungai Relau side. There are numerous river crossings. The route is as follows: Kuala Tahan (80m) – Kuala Melantai (140m) – Kem Tengah (415m) – Gunung Rajah (595m) – Kuala Putih (160m) – Kuala Teku (205m) – Bukit Sarsi (845m) – Gunung Pondok Dua (Wray’s Camp, 1,095m) – Kem Pangkin (1,265m) – Gunung Tangga (1,510m) – Gunung Reskit (1,635m) – Gunung Tangga Lima Belas (1,750m) – Gunung Gedung (2,066m) – Padang (1,800m) – Tahan summit (2,187m).
Obviously, the best hike to do is a traverse from one side to the other and most who do this seem to opt to start in Sungai Relau and finish at Kuala Tahan so that the lengthy Kuala Tahan route is more descent than ascent. This is supposedly around 71km in total and apparently the standard National Park requirement is that it is done over 7 days. Some groups may need longer.
The below is a brief overview of a return itinerary starting on the Merapoh / Sungai Relau side, with additional information on the traverse.
Day 0: Get to Gua Musang or Merapoh by train or bus. Consider staying at Merapoh Adventure Homestay – a spacious house suitable for a group of up to 10 people.
Day 1: Sungai Relau-Kuala Juram-Kuala Luis-Lata Luis-Kem Kor (685m). 4 hours of hiking after all the admin is done. 8km.
Get to the Park Office in Sungai Relau for a safety briefing, a time-consuming and thorough check of all your unpacked belongings before entering the National Park forest (this is checked again at the end to ensure that zero litter is left in the forest – be aware you may be fined). Travel 13km by 4WD along the National Park road to the Kelah fish sanctuary at Kuala Juram (205m) and begin the hike towards Kuala Luis (240m). This includes 4 river crossings with ropes, the deepest of which is at Kuala Luis itself. Start the proper climb here to Lata Luis (520m), the waterfall and then Kem Kor (685m) which you should have reached in around 4 hours plus breaks. Most groups doing either the traverse or the shorter return trek tend to stay at Kem Kor for the night, in both directions, as it is a large site with many flat areas just next to the river. However, stronger groups could potentially reach the much smaller Kem Kubang if they manage to get the administrative issues dealt with swiftly and can therefore start early enough. Not only would this mean an easier second day, but also less noise from other groups at the every-busy Kem Kor.
Day 2: Kem Kor-Permatang-Kem Kubang-Belumut-Bonsai-Botak. 7-9 hours of hiking. 9km (or 10km to summit).
A long and arduous day, especially for those with large backpacks. After a river crossing just beyond Kem Kor, it is a further 3 hours or so to Kem Kubang (1,375m). There are a couple of ladders in place on especially steep terrain just before reaching Kubang. From Kubang, it is about 30 minutes to Belumut which is much less ‘mossy’ as the name might suggest and much more ‘muddy’. From Belumut to Bonsai is a further 3 hours of squelching through deep mud. From Bonsai, the terrain improves and the views open out in all directions. Bonsai to Botak is 1 hour on increasingly stony ground and Botak to the summit is a further 1 hour, though most groups camp at Botak and use head torches early the next morning in order to the reach the summit for sunrise at around 7am. The last water source is at Camp Botak (1,935m) but if you can make it to the summit (one further hour) then it is obviously preferable for sunset photos should you have fine weather in the late afternoon. Sections of mud exist all the way to the summit so sandles are not recommended even just for the final hour to the summit.
Day 3: Summit-Botak-Belumut-Kubang-Permatang-Kem Kor. 6-10 hours of hiking, depending on weight of backpacks and fitness levels.
Those returning to Sungai Relau tend to be at the summit for sunrise on Day 3 before the long trek back down to Kem Kor. The time requires varies widely based on the strength of each hiker after the previous challenging day.
Day 4: Kem Kor – Kuala Juram.
The short 4 hours back to Kuala Juram to meet the 4WD back to the Park Office for bag checks.
Day 5: Spare Day.
The traverse: For those continuing over to Kuala Tahan on Day 3 after the summit, camp spots will depend on the strength of the whole group. From the summit to Gunung Gedung is around 4 hours. Gn Gedung to Gunung Reskit is 1.5 hours. Gn Reskit to Gunung Pangkin is 3 hours and Gn Pangkin to Wray’s Camp (1,095m) is 1 hour. Wray’s Camp is named after a member of the 1905 Herbert C Robinson expedition here who were the first recorded hikers to have reached the peak, requiring two weeks in total. Unfortunately, Mr Wray was stuck here with diarrhea and didn’t make it to the summit. Wray’s Camp to Kuala Teku takes around 3.5 hours. Kuala Teku to Kuala Puteh (160m) requires around 5 hours and no less than 7 river crossings (some sources state 9 river crossings!) Watch out for leeches here. Next, ascend to Gunung Rajah (about 2 hours), and on to Kem Tengah (a further hour). From Kem Tengah to Kuala Melantai takes around 4 hours and involves crossing the 27 minor hills of Bukit Malang. It is then around 5 hours to reach the Park Resort from Kuala Melantai. Stay the night at the National Park Resort before transport home, probably using bus or train from Jerantut.
Bagging information by Dan Quinn (June 2022)
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- Getting there: A bus from KL to Merapoh and Gua Musang takes a little over 5 hours. Merapoh and Jerantut are the closest train stations, with an overnight train between Johor and Gua Musang operating (via Gemas) in both directions in 2019. To reach Merapoh from Gua Musang takes about 40 minutes by car.
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- Permits: National Park guides are mandatory and your items will be checked by staff to ensure no litter is left behind on the mountain. The trail is closed from November to mid-February every year. As of 2022, it is only possible to book via 2 local travel agencies / tour operators typically with a basica price of RM230 per person (minimum 10 people): Sgi Outdoor – 017-907 4241 (Pn.Fauziana) and RA Adventure-013-6056941 / 017-7065470 (Ms. Laila).
- Water sources: On the Sungai Relau-Kuala Tahan traverse route available at Kem Kor, Kubang, Botak, near Wray’s Camp, Kuala Teku, Kuala Putih, near Kem Tengah, and Kuala Melantai.
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