Brunei is not an obvious choice of holiday destination, but it is certainly one of the best places in the world to visit unspoilt, virgin rain forest. It is easy to visit the island of Borneo on a short detour on a trip to mainland South East Asia. The Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, as well as the unassuming, oil-rich sultanate of Brunei, are only a short flight of less than three hours from the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Brunei is rarely thought of as a typical tourist destination, but can easily be combined with a trip to the famous Orangutan rehabilitation center of Sepilok in Sabah, and it is an ideal place to spot Proboscis monkeys on the Brunei River or to explore some of the worlds least developed and most pristine rainforest.
Ulu Temburong National Park is perhaps Brunei’s best tourist attraction, and it is not well advertised. The only way to see this park is with a guide, such as Haddy, an Iban local, originally from the neighbouring Malaysian state of Sarawak, who now lives in the Bruneian state of Temburong. A self proclaimed, ‘Man of the Jungle,’ Haddy leads daily trips into the heart of the Borneo rain forest as well as other locations in the region.
Mangrove Forests and Iban Longboats
Starting in the Bruneian capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan, visitors first take a ‘flying coffin’ boat, (no need to be too put off by the name – it refers to the shape of the boat rather than its history,) to the stranded district of Temburong, cut off from mainland Brunei by a finger of Malaysia. After motoring swiftly through mangrove forests, the boat stops after about fifty minutes at the brand new dock in the only town of any size in Temburong district, Bangar. Haddy then leads the group on a short car trip to the point at which the road runs out, where the next mode of transport is a traditional Iban long boat, quite like a long, over sized canoe. This part of the trip is a real highlight, as the boat motors along barely above the water level and visitors have a chance to see the rainforest from the ground up.
Hornbills, Gibbons and Exotic Insects
After disembarking to sign in at park headquarters, the trip continues up a steep and slippery walkway of 350 meters to the base of the canopy walkway, another vertical climb of 40 meters up a steel structure. The main attraction of this trip soon becomes obvious, and the benefits for even the most nervous climbers make the effort worth it. The views from the top of the walkway are nothing short of stunning, clear, uninterrupted views of the roof of the rain forest to the soundtrack of the ever present cicadas and, for the lucky few, the elusive Hornbills. Other wildlife that may be spotted on this trip includes the pygmy squirrel, gibbons, crocodiles, super-sized ants and other assorted jungle insects. A swim in the surprisingly cool river below, followed by a riverside picnic, makes a refreshing way to cool down and wrap up the day in the Temburong rain forest, before heading back to the Bruneian mainland on the ‘flying coffins.’ Haddy can be contacted at his website, borneotrekking.com/blog/