It might be hard to believe that a small nation like Brunei boasts a significant sizable wilderness. Hidden in the vast green Borneo, lies “Ulu Temburong National Park”, a 500 square-kilometer expanse of pristine and unspoilt nature covering most of the southern Temburong region. It is so untouched that only less than a square kilometer is accessible for tourists through a handful of travel agents allowed to provide guided group tours. The rest is off-limits except for researchers and scientists permitted by the government.
The geographically odd Temburong is not linked by land to the rest of Brunei, but swarms with life and is home to as many as 400 different types of butterflies. The best times to see birds and animals during the day are at sunrise and sunset, along the riverbanks and in the rainforest. If you are visiting the park, you are more likely to hear the Bornean gibbons than seeing them. The great forests of Ulu Temburong will easily induce anyone, because we only get to see a bit of that greatness.
I did my tour of the Ulu Temburong National Park on Monday, May 15th. I was picked from my Bander Seri Begawan hotel at 0700hrs by Jose, a friendly Filipino who drove me in a mini-van to the Bumbungan jetty 12 where I managed to have a quick breakfast before the ticket counters opened. There were many tourists preparing for departure on different tours. Jose and I had a chat about the developments in Brunei until I was called to board the speedboat.
The speedboat began its journey, it had an enclosed cabin and I managed to find a seat near the window. We passed through various nipah palms and mature mangrove trees, I was very excited to see so much greenery and fertile lands. I captured several videos and still images, even created some stories for my Snapchat and Instagram.
We cruised an amazing 45 minutes and arrived at the Bangar town jetty where the tour guides were waiting to receive the clients who had tours booked with them. Someone yelled my name and I turned back to find my tour guide, Darryl. He instantly scanned me from my feet to my neck and looked very confused; he asked me if I brought any dry clothes and I promptly asked him if I will need any; and he said I will need it since we were going for a wet ride, but assured me not worry and that he will let me borrow some of his clothes. I explained him that I had my tour only confirmed the previous evening at about 2200hrs, so it was very last-minute and my travel agent was not able to share the details and the itinerary. There were another 6 or 7 Chinese tourists who were with Daryll, all of us got on to a van and took off to Trandie Marina Resort at Batang Duri.
Sitting on the banks of the Temburong river in the deep jungles of the Temburong district, Trandie Marina Resort is the nation’s longest-running eco-resort and are pioneers in team building activities. Daryll showed me to his cozy cabin where he lent me some of his dry clothes, I also left my belongings in his cabin until we get back from our day trip. We both sat at a separate table on the riverside platform which had an amazing view, to grab a quick coffee, it was very relaxing to hear the tranquil sounds of the river flowing by.
We had about 30 minutes to prepare ourselves for the long exciting day trip ahead, Daryll alerted us to descend down a staircase to get on to the longboats. Me and Daryll got on to one boat, he sat at the top in front of me, it was similar to be seated in the middle of a long, flat-bottomed canoe. Each had a capacity for eight people with an outboard motor installed to cruise the river.
The staff at the Trandie Marina Resorts helped us push the longboats upstream against the water currents and we were on our way, it was steered by skilled locals maneuvering passing several rapids. I quickly began capturing GoPro shots from different angles and forgot the temperature, soon sweat began running down my back and my tank top got drenched from the humidity.
A 30-minute journey brought us to the registration jetty at the Ulu Temburong National Park, we climb the steps to the wooden chalet-style building and signed a log book and got back in the boats to proceed the nature trek. Another 20-minute ride and our longboat dropped us at the starting point of the 1km hike through 1,226 steps to the chalet.
Daryll was already behind me along with the Chinese tourists, they had two elderly people and it made their hike slow. I was way ahead, and enjoyed my own time taking photos and videos, also frequent rest breaks, especially in that heat. At last, all of us arrived at the top of the canyon, I was out of breath and soaked. Towering above us was a spindly, 160ft metal structure, which had several stairways leading up and out of the rainforest’s canopy. If I wanted to see the view from the top I had to climb it. Daryll told me to wait until the first two climbers scaled the first two levels to balance the tower.
I had my phone on one hand and the GoPro on the other, I was wearing shorts which did not have any pockets. I slowly crawled and made my way to the first two levels, and felt the tower swaying with the wind. My heart jolts, “You don’t worry Ahmed” Daryll’s voice wafted down from the leafy heights. “It’s normal and supposed to be like that.” I paced myself, making sure that I held on to the right beams before I landed my next step. Eventually I reached the viewing platform at the top, my legs were feeling wobbly.
I saw greenery of many sorts, it was like a carpet, thousand years old virgin rainforest before my eyes. At first, it was fear, then the feeling turned more enthusiastic than afraid. I have quite never seen anything like it before, it was amazing we have so much of it and I was extremely pleased. Fluffy tree-tops waving in the wind and distant mountains loom majestically; fading into shades of greyish blue where the sky met. I began my slow descent, much more frightening than the climb, by the time I reached the ground my legs were like jelly.
We got back in our boats and took off to find the mini waterfall, it was a short ride to a muddy area, somewhere in the banks of the Temburong river, we had to wade through knee-length water and in the jungle. Soon we arrived at the base of the waterfall which had a “free fish spa” pool, tiny fish pecked at my feet and soon I got out of the water, it was more discomforting than I expected. We spent 15 minutes resting and capturing photos and got back in our boats to head back to the resort for lunch. On our way back, I asked Daryll if crocodiles live in the waters and he told me it does, I asked him how come they don’t attack tourists and why we trekked in an area where crocodiles could have potentially confronted us, he said there have never been such incidents, I told him they should be very tourist friendly crocs.
An hour’s ride and we arrived at the resort. Lunch was already prepared for everyone, I quickly headed to Daryll’s cabin to freshen up and collect my belongings. I waited for Daryll to join me since I sat alone, I enjoyed the meal not only because I was hungry but the food was so delicious – Brunei rice, beef, fish curry, vegetable salad and fruits. My legs continued shaking throughout the lunch from the ascent to the canopy.
After lunch, we departed back to the Bangar town jetty to catch the transfer boat to Bandar Seri Begawan. There was a half an hour delay with the transfer boat reaching to collect us, we explored the shops in the vicinity until the speedboat arrived. When we arrived at Bumbungan 12 Jetty, Jose was there to receive me and dropped me back to my hotel. I had one of the most exciting and adventurous days of my life in Brunei, and look forward visiting the Ulu Temburong rainforest someday again.