Connecting the west coast with the east via the sparsely populated interior of Peninsular Malaysia, the Jungle Train offers one of Asia’s great railway journeys. While the views may not be as expansive as those to be had from the Himalaya narrow-gauge lines, you get to encounter rural Malay life at close quarters and traverse areas of pristine rainforest, riverine plains of rice paddy, towering karst cliffs, rubber and palm oil plantations and numerous rattling river bridges.
Most people begin the trip in the north at Kota Bharu and proceed south as far as Gemas in 9–10 hours. Alternatively, break the journey to make sidetrips to the Taman Negara National Park, explore the Gua Musang Caves complex, or take a jungle river cruise at Dabong.
As much as the varied tropical landscapes, however, it’s your fellow passengers that really make this trip so memorable. Pausing frequently at backcountry villages and obscure forest halts, the trains provide vital transport for inhabitants of remote areas. You could find yourself sitting next to a family of Orang Asli hunter gatherers, a cheroot-smoking durian grower, or small holder with a basket of chickens bound for market.
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