Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

What used to be a sovereignty covering all of Borneo and the southwest Phillipines is now the 4th smallest country in continental Asia...

...This tiny country has been ranked the 5th wealthiest country in the world because of the major oil fields it possesses but as a tourist attraction it may not be so prosperous. People tend to forget that as Brunei makes most of it's income from its underground assets, it has managed to spare most of it's resources above-ground. The country boasts some of the most untouched rainforest in all of Borneo. This unexploited beauty begs to be explored.

Ulu Temburong National Park is in the Temburong District, the eastern part of Brunei. The park contains unmarked jungle with Temburong and Belalong Rivers running through it. The flora and fauna of this rainforest/jungle provides a very vital part of the ecotourism in Brunei.

Ulu Temburong can only be reached by boat. A water taxi from Bandar Seri Begawan takes about an hour to get to Bangar (the capital of Temburong District). Along the route of the water taxi visitors will see the mangrove forests that line the Limbang River. Sometimes in the early morning or late afternoon Proboscis Monkeys may be seen as well.

Once in Bangar, a 30 minute bus ride will take visitors to Batang Duri which is the leaving point for Temual longboats that will take visitors up the Temburong River. These boats are operated by the Iban people (an indigenous tribe that occupied Borneo before it was colonised) who have a strong knowledge of the river. If the river is low in certain areas passenger are expected to climb out and help push the boat to deeper water. This boat ride will take approximately 2 hours but is all part of the experience of this trip. At the end of the 2 hours travellers will arrive at the headquarters.

There is an extensive network of wooden bridges, boardwalks and stairways that lead to the surrounding the forests from the National Park Headquarters. These bridges are so extensive that one can spend days in this jungle and never step foot onto the rainforest soil. There are information boards along the way for visitors. The Canopy Walkway is a steel structure that is 50m from the forest ground level and provides a unobstructed view of the forest and surroundings.

There are day tours and night tours available where you can do a trek and also go on a boat trip with a tour coordinator guiding the group.

On your way back from the National Park, exploring the Temburong District is recommended. The area is has a small population of about 10,000 and it is a mixture of Malays alongside Iban, Murut and Kadazan tribe people. This area is like a village, people know each other, things move at a slower pace. The Iban people traditionally live in longhouses and in this area it is still possible to visit their residence. Unannounced visits are welcome but some go through tour operators. There is a 16-door Iban longhouse, which houses 16 families, another longhouse offers home stays for travellers, where guided treks along hunting trails can also be arranged.

20 minutes east of Bangar by car is a small forest recreation park within Peradayan Forest Reserve. In the park, picnic tables, trails and caves can be found.

Southwest of the capital city is the second largest town in Brunei is also the home of the oil industry of the country.

Kuala Belait means mouth of the Belait River so this town is by the ocean and has a decent beach. To understand how this nation creates wealth, visit Seria's Oil & Gas Discovery Centre, an interactive museum. You can also hire a boat to for a trip up the river to Kuala Balai. In this small river village you will find the remains of what used to be the largest settlement in the Belait region, before it was deserted for jobs in the oil industry. The few locals residing in the village keep a traditional longhouse for tourists. The 45 minute river trip will pass through luscious rainforest/jungle.

Bandar Seri Begawan will likely be an inevitable stop when coming into Brunei. The capital of the 5th wealthiest country in the world presents much modesty and peace, more than many expect to find in this country of oil. BSB is the centre of the countries commerce, finance and international growth as well as the home of many of nations landmarks, which include mosques, museums and malls. Buildings are vibrant and adorned yet timeless and the vibe of the city, whilst growing economically maintains a great sense of traditional respect. Generally speaking visitor accommodation in Brunei doesn't emanate lavish ostentation, there are a small number of international standard hotels in the capital city where international business people can often be found.


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Paul Monteath
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