Venture outside the Brunei’s capital, Badar Seri Begawan, and experience a more relaxed travel experience in Brunei’s jungle. Interact with the Iban people, explore the lush nearly untouched jungles, maybe spot a monkey or two and walk amongst the tree tops during a sunrise canopy walk.
Staying at The Empire Hotel, Brunei’s best hotel, was a lavish experience but heading into the Borneo rainforest in hope of seeing monkeys and going on avia canopy walk was set to be the highlight of my trip to the country.
After picking up supplies – water, Eid-themed chocolate, insect repellant and a torch – my friend dropped me off at the boat terminal to meet my guide for the next few days, leaving me with the graces of any parent looking after a child – “have you got everything? Are you sure you don’t need anything else? Well, have fun! I’ll see you soon.“
After meeting the rest of the group – a couple from Austin, Texas and a family from the UK who now lived in Brunei – we clambered upon the red boat that sped us from the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, into the rainforest and the countries outlying villages.
Half-way through our trip into the rainforest we were jolted from our relaxed state as the boat stopped. The driver revved his engine but nothing happened. He tried again and said something in Malay and began clambering out of the boat, walking along the narrow edgings around the cabin to the motor at the back. Our small group looked at each other, unsure what to do, as locals expressed their frustration.
After a few minutes I could see the driver pulling lines of fishing net that must have been trapped around the propellers. He dumped it unceremoniously on the back of the boat – to stop it from happening to other boaters – and clambered back into the driver’s seat to continue our journey.
Meeting our enthusiastic guide, Richard, in Bangar we headed off on a bus ride through the villages as he excitedly explained what we were seeing, a little bit of information about Ulu Temburong National Park, Ulu Ulu Resort (the property we were staying at) and how the people of the area are Iban – once with a fearsome reputation – that don’t observe Ramadan so not to worry if we wanted to snack or drink, something we couldn’t do in the capital unless we wanted to face being fined.
Arriving at Batang Duri dock, Richard introduced us to the long-boats and drivers that would take us on the 30-minute ride to base camp. Settling onto the long boats, the wooden back rest harshly resting against the small of my back, I gripped the edge of the boat unsure what to expect for the coming minutes.
The jungles waterways were busy. Locals swam with their children, built houses, rode their own boats between villages or fished. From children to adults, we were waved at by many as we were taken down the river and didn’t see a single visitor (until our return trip).
Long boats are an important vehicle in the region where bigger boats can’t travel, but even the long boats struggled at times because of the low-level of rain fall that season. Through the wooden bases we could, at times, feel the base scrap over the rocks in places where the water was low and the driver at the front of the boat often used a long pole to steer the water around the rocky areas or jumped into the knee-high water to push the boat through the area. In other places of the local men could be seen diving as they moved rocks, creating deeper channels for the boats to go through.
Finally, we rounded the corner and the impressive structure that is Ulu Ulu Resort came into view. After a brief overview of the properties history – including stories about how the Sultan had once visited the property and about the food being, when possible, grown in the gardens – over a cool drink, we were shown to our rooms.
With just 17 rooms on the property in a variety of configurations, guests can be assured they will be well cared for by the staff during their visit.
I was in a twin single room which overlooked the gardens and durian trees; on the porch there was a day bed and hammock where I made myself comfortable for a few hours nap. Light bedding is on the bed due to the head and rooms come with air conditioning. Bathrooms are basic and include a shower, but it’s that connection to the jungle I was seeking and not a fancy shower.
One thing I noticed about the camp is that despite its grandeur and huge size parts of it – the office and far end of the property, away from the accommodation and dining areas – are falling into disrepair. After talking with the couple who were British Expats they explained that Brunei is very good at building but not at maintenance. For all the bravado about it being a wealthy country it is in fact only the Sultan and his extended family who have huge sums of money, the Government has little.
Activities at the camp are varied depending how many days you are staying. With just 2-days and 1-night we enjoyed a peaceful dinner as a group before heading back onto the long boats to go on a night walk to see the nocturnal creatures before an early bed time in preparation for the morning’s adventure.
Richard rallied us in the dark the next morning for our Canopy Walk – the highlight of a visit to Ulu Ulu. He said we should be able to make it to the top in about 30 minutes but told us that we could take our time as we ascended the 610 stairs along the jungle pathway. By the time we reached the second rest platform I was sweating and panting, cursing not going to the gym more over the past year, as we slowly continued our climb and Richard explaining the flora we saw as we went and searched for any sighting of the Borneo Gibbon monkeys hanging from the trees.
Finally, the metal structure came into sight and we were prepared for our climb into the tree tops just as sunrise was breaking over the park. At 42 metres high, the Ulu Ulu canopy walk offers a spectacular view; Mist hung over the tree tops, glimmers of water were on the horizon and the grand scale of Ulu Temburong National Park really comes into perspective.
All good things must come to an end but the day still held plenty of activities before we headed back to Bandar Seri Begawan. Tubing on the river, a ‘fish spa’ in the fishes natural environment beneath a waterfall, and the eventful journey back to the capital in the long boat.
It was a brief experience into Brunei’s rainforest but the canopy walk but it’s all you need to see some of the areas highlights. Unfortunately, we only saw one monkey – who made a quick and speedy getaway – during our jungle hikes, so coming back to Borneo to see more is a must!
Bandar Seri Begawan is a small city without big tourist highlights, like theme parks, so a trip into Ulu Temburong National Park is a perfect way to get out of the city for a few days and explore what the else the country has to offer visitors, see a beautiful sunrise and perhaps see a monkey or two!
Now it’s over to you
Where is the most interesting place that you’ve gone trekking?
Have you had any transport break downs during your travels?
Have you considered visiting Brunei?
My trip to Brunei was arranged by Royal Brunei Airlines and Boeing.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.