One of the highlights of the trip to Brunei was to be able to explore the incredible pristine rainforest that Brunei has preserved.
We left our luggages behind in the city and each prepared only a small daypack for our stay in the rainforest.
After our breakfast at the hotel, we headed off to the jetty to begin our long journey to Ulu Temburong National Park Rainforest with our guides, Anthony and Tom. The sun was shinning high and bright that day even though it was only 9am. In Brunei, the sun rises an hour earlier than Singapore even though we’re in the same time zone so it took a little getting used to. I kept thinking it was much later in the day.
Before long, our first transport arrived and we got on together with the locals. We were heading to the best preserved tropical rainforest in Borneo; where the rainforest is pristine and the trees are hundreds of years old.
Despite being warned that it was going to be quite a long trip to the resort, I really didn’t mind it at all as part of the fun comes from the journey itself. I could see the lovely Kampong Ayer (Water Village) from across the jetty we boarded.
As we moved out I saw new unoccupied water homes and found out from our guide, Tom, that these were specially built by the government for relocating some of the existing Kampong Ayer residents so as to upgrade them to better facilites and living conditions.
You can see a gradual shift of scenery as we moved out of the city center and into the the embrace of Temburong. It’s such a pleasure to be travelling on this small boat with the wind in my face. The air is beautifully unpolluted and I was feeling both excited and refreshed to be on this journey. Even though the boats was nicknamed “Flying Coffins” (because of its shape and the speed in which they fly through the waters), it was a amazingly comfortable ride.
The scenery keeps changing as the boat weaves through various river channels. Once in awhile, you’ll spot fishermen at the banks of the river and the boat captain would slow down and glide through these areas so as not to disturb their fishing waters too much. How naturally considerate. I was hoping to be able to catch some proboscis monkeys swimming across the river as they are known to do but it just wasn’t our lucky day.
As Temburong, the second largest district in Brunei Darussalam, is separated from the other districts of Brunei by the Limbang river which belongs to Malaysia, at some point we had to go through Malaysian territory. Thankfully both Malaysia and Brunei came to an friendly agreement and even though our boat had to go pass the customs office (next to the green ferry landing), we didn’t need to get off the boat or even get our passports checked. The transition was so smooth that it’s possible to miss it entirely. However, the main tell tale sign signaling our entry into Malaysian territories were welcome messages from our mobile service provides asking us to have a nice stay in Malaysia.
The 45 mins journey passed in a flash and we arrived at the small town of Bandar. We were told that this is the last place we would get any mobile phone reception so everyone Twittered/FaceBook/Instagram/Whatsapp their last goodbyes to the rest of the world. I was more than happy to let go of technology and begin my digital detox. I was already getting swayed by the sleepy old town feel that Bandar exudes with the quiet streets and old one-storey shophouses. Time seems to move even slower in Temburong and it was just the right moment to let go of tomorrow and enjoy the present.
While waiting for the mini van to pick us for the second leg of the journey, most of us got distracted by the yoga posture cats and kittens that were hanging out at the Bandar Jetty. During the briefing from Tom about what we should expect and prepare for our hikes, he told the group that our shoes were bound to get wet and muddy. I was really glad I followed my instincts and brought along sports sandals instead of sports shoes. The rest of the group didn’t need to fret because Anthony, made a special detour to a local store for them to pick up some “kampung addidas”, full rubber shoes.
On the van journey they prepared some local snacks for us to try. This was rice with palm sugar, wrapped in leaves. I had tried a version of this in the Gadong Night Market but the ones found in Bandar were much nicer because it uses a special fine grain local rice that you can only get at the markets here. It was so yummy I had a 2nd helping!
Our mini van journey dropped us off at yet another jetty and I spotted the unique temuai (traditional longboats) of Brunei. This is the only way to access the park as this region has never been logged, so there are no roads . I’m finally at the “Green Jewel of Brunei” that I’ve specially traveled to experience. The 50,000-ha Ulu Temburong National Park, sits in the remote southern portion of Temburong, in the heart of the Batu Apoi Forest Reserve.
We strapped on our safety jackets and off we went! The boatmen are all born and bred in this area which explains their stunning skill in maneuvering the longboats through the river rapids and avoiding the shallow areas of water.
The 40 mins upstream long boat ride was so very relaxing! I love being surrounded by greenery and immediately noticed the difference between the primary rainforest here compared to the secondary rainforest seen in the Brunei city area. The primary rainforest here is a lot more densely packed with tall trees providing a continuous canopy and a tight undergrowth. Every part of the forest was filled with trees, plants and other greenery so that the sunlight is heavily filtered, leaving the forest grounds only in full shade.
Finally we arrived at our destination, The Ulu Ulu National Park Resort. Ulu Ulu Resort was established in November 2008 with the privatization of the facilities in the National Park under the authority of the Forestry Department. This is a historical milestone in Brunei tourism as this is the first Public-Private Partnership (PPP) between a private sector and the Government of Brunei.
We were warmly welcomed with cold towels, fresh lemongrass tea and snacks. How thoughtful and perfect!
The specially ordered local homemade snacks were a big hit with everyone especially the very popular Pulut Panggang.
Pulut Panggang is made with the special local rice and prawn filling, wrapped in banana leaves and then grilled to perfection. It was sooooo sooooo good! Poor me could only risk taking 2 bites of this yummy snack (due to my shellfish allergy) while the rest of the group rushed to finish the whole plate.
We were each assigned our very own Ulu Ulu Resort refillable water bottles to fill up and carry around (Reuse, Recycle and Reduce!). The water at Ulu Ulu Resort comes directly from the clean river. Although the water is clean and safe to drink, however, in preparation that our city stomachs are not as strong as the locals, the water in the resort has gone through the resorts’ own filtration system.
Then we were off to check out our rooms. With a name like Ulu Ulu (remote and far), I had half expected we might have to pitch tents and rough it out. Surprisingly, the rooms were super nice! Here are a couple of photos of my room.
I had a lovely patio with seating and a comfy daybed overlooking the river.
Inside the room also looked really nice and comfortable. I even had a choice of fan or air-con.
Shower, toilet, sink and even a full bath tub! This is probably the most luxurious nature trekking holiday I’ve ever done. Really impressive.
With daybeds and hammocks found everywhere in the resort, Ulu Ulu Resort is absolutely perfect for any nature lover. Bask in the shade of the the virgin rainforest and watch the flowing river as you heal your body, mind and spirit. The place has everything and yet it maintains an eco integrity and doesn’t feel overly commercialized at all.
This post chronicles my journey to Ulu Ulu Resort and already it feels like an adventure. Look out for my next post on Brunei as I share with you more about my digital detox experiences and the magnificent discoveries nature taught me. Thank you OMY, Brunei Tourism and Royal Brunei Airlines for making this trip possible.
If you would like to know Brunei better or check out more Royal Brunei Airlines promotions, check out their Facebook page.
PS: I have a couple of photos that I’ve put up in this post without my usual watermark as these photos are used courtesy of Malcolm Sunny and Andy Storm.