Temburong is the forested finger of land set adrift from the rest of Brunei by the Malaysian district of Limbang, which was snatched from Brunei's control in 1890 by Raja Brooke of Sarawak. The population of Temburong is barely 10,000, with Malays living alongside a scattered population of Iban, Murut and Kadazan tribespeople. The whole district has a village atmosphere; wherever you go in Temburong, it seems that everybody knows one another.
Speedboats for Temburong leave regularly from the jetty on Jalan Residency in Bandar Seri Begawan. They roar downriver, passing briefly into Brunei Bay, before weaving through
the mangrove channels as far as Bangar, Temburong's main town. The journey itself is an adventure: look out for proboscis monkeys swimming across the narrow channels.
Ulu Temburong National Park
(not to be confused with Bandar) is a quiet place with a single row of shophouses and a sultry, sleepy air. There's a mosque, a few government offices, a resthouse and a few coffee shops for passing the time of day, otherwise there's no particular reason to linger. Most people carry straight on in the direction of the Ulu Temburong National Park, the principal attraction for visitors to the district.
The 50,000-ha Ulu Temburong National Park is the jewel in the crown of Brunei's eco- tourism push. It sits in the remote southern portion of Temburong, in the heart of the
. The region has never been settled or logged, so there are no roads, and access to the park is by
(traditional longboat). Getting there is half the fun; the journey begins at Bandar Seri Begawan with a ride in a 'flying coffin', a wooden speedboat so called because of its shape (though, when you see the speed with which these things hurtle through the mangroves, you may suspect the name is fitting for other reasons). The speedboat passes briefly into the Malaysian territory of Limbang, before turning into the
mouth of the Temburong and speeding upriver as far as Bangar. A short car journey follows,
passing a series of picturesque kampongs and longhouses, before the final leg by longboat from Batang Duri to the Park HQ, with towering dipterocarps climbing the river banks.
Despite being relatively unknown, Ulu Temburong compares favourably with the jungle reserves of neighbouring Malaysia. Work carried out at the
Belalong Rainforest Field Studies Centre
confirms that many new species have been found here; one scientist is reported to have identified more than 400 separate species of beetle on a single tree. The main attraction for visitors, however, is the towering canopy walkway, which stands 50 m tall and provides unbeatable views of the forest. The fact that few people visit is also part of the appeal - the park remains virtually unscathed by tourism, despite being easily accessible. There can't be many places in the world where you can leave the city mid-morning, have a picnic lunch deep in pristine rainforest and be back at your hotel by late afternoon. Most people use one of the Bandar-based tour operators.
If you prefer to visit independently, Bangar-bound speedboats leave from the jetty on Jalan Residency in Bandar Seri Begawan. From the Bangar jetty, there are taxis to take visitors south along a sealed road to
, a small settlement on the banks of Sungai Temburong. From here, visitors need to charter a longboat for the final leg of the journey upriver to the Park HQ. During the dry season (July and August) water levels can be low and passengers may have to get out and help push the boat.
Flora and fauna
At Park HQ, visitors need to sign a register and pay the entry fee before heading into the park proper. There's a small information centre with displays and a series of chalets and dormitories, linked by plankwalks.
Borneo's rainforests are among the most biodiverse places on Earth and Ulu Temburong is no exception. More species of tree can be found in a single hectare here than in the entirety of North America. Animal life is abundant too, though hard to spot. Some of the more conspicuous creatures include flying lizards, Wallace's flying frog, pygmy squirrels, wild boar, mousedeer, gibbons (more often heard than seen), various species of hornbill (the biggest being the majestic rhinoceros hornbill, frequently seen gliding across the river) and of course plenty of weird and wonderful insects, from the peculiar lantern beetle to the Rajah Brooke birdwing butterfly. The canopy walkway provides the opportunity to look directly down upon the jungle canopy, home to the greatest density of life. Notice the abundance of epiphytes, plants that survive at this height by clinging on to host trees. From the walkway, it is sometimes possible to see tiger orchids, one of the largest of their species.
With 7 km of wooden walkways, few visitors stray off the main trail, though there is unlimited scope for serious trekking (either using Park HQ as a base, or camping in the forest). The terrain here is steep and rugged and not suited to those without a moderate fitness level. Take plenty of water. Falling trees and landslides often lay waste to sections of the boardwalk, making it unlikely that the whole trail will be open at any one time.
The boardwalk begins at Park HQ and leads across Sungai Temburong via a footbridge to the foot of a towering hill, upon which stands the canopy walkway. The climb is steep and sweaty, with almost 1000 steps. Once you've conquered the hill, reaching the canopy walkway itself is no easy matter either; it is suspended in sections between 50-m-tall aluminium towers built around a seemingly endless series of step ladders. The views from the top are truly magnificent, though vertigo sufferers will find it living hell. You can see for many miles around, with the confluence of Sungai Temburong and Sungai Belalong at your feet. Gaze for long enough and you'll probably spot the black and white backs of hornbills as they glide from tree to tree along the riverbank.
From the walkway, the trail continues for several kilometres along a steeply descending boardwalk in the direction of a second suspension bridge. The boardwalk ends at Sungai Apan, a narrow stream. By following the course of the stream upriver, you soon come to a picturesque waterfall, with a plunge pool deep enough for swimming (outside dry season). A steep trail traverses the hillside with the aid of ropes to a second waterfall.
Most people make their way back to Park HQ by longboat from the confluence of Sungai Apan and Sungai Temburong (rather than retracing their steps along the boardwalk). You may cross tracks with local Iban, who fish this stretch of the river with traps and nets. They'll probably wave you over and offer you a swig of grog - rice wine, or more likely, Bacardi rum.
Elsewhere in Temburong
Those looking for the chance to explore largely uncharted rainforest may be interested in tackling the strenuous week-long trek to the summit of
(1843 m), which is situated near the border with Sarawak in the southernmost corner of Temburong. Contact the tourist office, or one of the Bandar-based tour operators, for help with arrangements.
If time is very limited, you may consider skipping Ulu Temburong and heading instead for the
, which is just 20 minutes east of Bangar by road. Within the reserve is a small forest recreation park with picnic tables and trails, one of which climbs to the summit of
(310 m), passing caves along the way. The summit of the hill is a bare patch of stone, allowing wide views across the forest north to Brunei Bay and east to Sarawak. A tougher and less distinct trail continues from here to the summit of
Though the majority of Temburong's indigenous inhabitants have moved into detached homes, plenty still live in longhouses. In theory, unannounced visits are welcome but some have formal arrangements with tour operators for receiving guests. The largest is a 16-door I
ban longhouse (home to 16 families) situated along the road to Batang Duri, at
. Guides will stop off here, allowing visitors to meet the inhabitants and try a glass of
(rice wine). If it's daytime, there won't be many people around, but you'll get a chance to see inside a modern Iban longhouse, complete with satellite TV and parking spaces for cars. Another longhouse offering homestays is the curiously named five-door
, just north of
itself. Guests are set up with mattresses on the
(communal veranda) and guided treks along hunting trails can be arranged.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF