S’poreans tell of 3-day jungle ordeal

May 7, 2011
Women got lost on trek in Malaysian national park
By Jalelah Abu Baker

ATTACKS by leeches, unnerving sounds of wild animals and a food shortage were among the trials suffered by two Singapore women when they got lost during a trek in Malaysia last weekend.

In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, Ms Neo Yiling, 23, and Ms Wendy Zhao, 25, said they decided to trek 8.5km from the entrance of Taman Negara National Park in Pahang to Lata Berkoh, a tourist spot there, after doing online research.

On Sunday, two days after checking into The Yellow Guesthouse in Jerantut, they set off at 8.30am. They were each armed with essentials like hard-boiled eggs, chips, a litre of water, a guidebook, torchlight, ponchos, matchsticks and a pocket knife.

At about 2pm, when they had still not reached their destination, they decided to retrace their route. This time, they could not find their way out of the dense vegetation.

‘It was still early and we thought we had ample time to find our way,’ said Ms Neo, an editor at a publishing company.

They gave up when it turned dark, and slept on a fallen tree trunk across a stream.

What followed were two more days of trying to find their way out, drinking river water, rationing their depleting food, being scratched by thorns, removing leeches from their bodies, and burning dry leaves and wood for smoke to alert potential rescuers.

They could not use their mobile phones since there was no network coverage in the park, and they later found out that the hostel in Jerantut had alerted the police only on Tuesday evening.

The most difficult part was keeping calm, said Ms Neo.

‘The mental part of it was probably more difficult than the physical.’

They eventually reached the town after finding their way to Lata Berkoh with their map and getting help from a tour guide.

They returned here on Thursday, grateful to their rescuers and unharmed save for bruises, scratches and sore throats from shouting for help.

Mr Ben Lee, founder of Nature Trekker Singapore, has been to Taman Negara more than 100 times in 10 years.

‘It is a big place, it is easy to get lost without a guide,’ he said.

He suggested that those unfamiliar with the jungle’s terrain should not venture more than 2km, and noted that there are animals like tigers and black panthers there.

Despite the ordeal, both women said they will not stop trekking. Ms Neo said she will invest in proper trekking gear and will not go on long treks guideless.

Ms Zhao, an addiction counsellor, will be trekking in New Zealand in two weeks’ time.

Both women agree on one thing.

‘We are very grateful to be alive,’ they said.

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