An exploration into Ulu Temburong National Park, Brunei’s largest rainforest
Deciding to holiday in Brunei isn’t one of those countries that would usually appear in the top 10 of your travel bucket list. Most probably because many of you don’t know where it actually is and also because there isn’t that much publicity about it as a holiday destination.
However, if you are a lover of both nature and adventure, Brunei is one of those places to experience those two passions, in an authentic and eco-conscious way. The tourism is pretty small in numbers, so it really is pleasurable to travel around the country without being branded as a “tourist”. My previous travel stories from Brunei covered some interesting tours around the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan. In this article, I go further afield to the Temburong district, an area home to 50,000 hectares of untouched, pristine rainforest and wildlife.
Exploring the rainforest with an organised walking tour
Brunei is situated on the north-western coast on the island of Borneo, bordered by the Malaysian state of Sarawak and the South China sea. The country is strangely made up of two unconnected swathes of territory, with Temburong situated on the easternmost district.
The most easiest and shortest way to reach Ulu Temburong National Park is by water taxi, which you can take from the jetty in Bandar. The 1 hour journey is fast and furious as it speeds along the Brunei River, into Brunei Bay and then southbound along the Sungai Temburong River.
On arrival in Bangar, there is a 15-minute coach journey, which takes you to the forest lodge. The atmosphere totally changes. Fewer cars, less people, and an unbelievable amount of lush green in every nook and cranny that your eyes are able to gaze upon.
To get to the accessible part of the national park, the only way is by going on a longboat. This by far was my favourite part of the trip. As the boat was weaving in and out upstream amongst the small rapids, the sun glistening in the blue sky, the breeze blowing on my face, I couldn’t help but feel in awe of what was around me. I couldn’t control my excitement and feel like I was on an exhilarating quest with Indiana Jones – without the worry of villains chasing me of course. Imagine that it’s just you and a few other people in a place where you are hugely outnumbered by unspoiled exotic flora and fauna. I felt so small in comparison, engulfed by the vastness of it all.
The ascent to reach the top
The uphill journey, albeit a little sweaty, was a great opportunity to see the smaller inhabitants of the rainforest. I use the word “smaller” loosely as I did gasp when I saw an army of the gigantic ants marching double my pace. I also had to watch out not to head butt a low-hanging spider’s web. I’m not sure how poisonous those dangly legged creatures were, but I wasn’t so keen to find one of them on top of my head.
Finally reaching the top, I had the same feeling as when I saw the finishing line after running 26 miles in the London marathon – emotional and delusional. There was just one more final climb up the canopy walk towers and it would be all over. To see the sweeping views of endless rainforest was the perfect prize for all my exertions and also a good opportunity to catch my breath. I tried to look at 360-degree panorama piece by piece, focussing on capturing all the fine details.
Climbing down wasn’t so bad on the way back and being back in the longboat was perfect to rest those tired legs of mine. Before returning to the lodge, we stopped along the way to visit a special waterfall where we were able to treat our feet to a pedicure. Tiny Garra Rufa fish would swim up to your feet and nibble away (without teeth) any dead and hardened skin. It was a strange experience that to be honest, I’m not sure whether I enjoyed, but my feet did feel more relaxed and definitely softer afterwards.
Lunch back at the lodge was welcomed with opened arms. A buffet selection of freshly cooked fish and vegetables was a wonderful end to a very active day.
Unearthing a chest of precious jewels or the Holy Grail granting eternal life would be the usual ending to an Indiana Jones adventure. However in my case, my ending was just a simple memory of an enjoyable experience in a Bruneian rainforest.
I booked my day tour to Temburong, at my own expense with Freme Travel, a registered tour operator in Brunei who has permission to access the park. Accessing the park on your own is forbidden.
To make the most of this neighbourhood, stay at the boutique hotel, Brunei Boutique Hotel, Brunei Darussalam