Looking out over
the canopy in Brunei’s Ulu
Temburong National Park, it is easy to believe you are standing at the top
of the world. Nothing obstructs the view from the park’s narrow, 50m-high canopy
walkway, and visitors who have not been deterred by a fear of heights can scour
the vast rainforest spreading out in every direction for sightings of Brunei’s varied
Located on the
west coast of the island of Borneo, Brunei is a small, oil rich nation; and the
Sultan’s wealth is on full display in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. But Ulu Temburong,
Brunei’s only national park, displays riches of another kind. With much of Borneo’s
rainforest being destroyed by logging and palm oil plantations, Ulu Temburong offers
an increasingly rare chance to experience the incredible diversity of flora and
fauna found in a virgin rainforest.
The adventure begins
as soon as you leave Bandar Seri Begawan, with a 40-minute water taxi ride from
the capital’s main jetty to Bangar, the only town in the Temburong district.
From here it is an 18km road journey to the tiny settlement of Batang Duri
where the road ends, and then onto a traditional longboat for the final
30-minute ride along the fast-flowing Temburong River to the Ulu Ulu Temburong Resort, the closest
hotel to the canopy trail.
Getting from the
banks of the Temburong to the canopy walkway is a hard slog, with a steady 1km climb
along a steep jungle path in conditions that are humid even in the darkness of
pre-dawn (the best time to experience the canopy walkway is at sunrise, when
the jungle’s wildlife is most active). Yet the toughest challenge is not a
At first sight,
the 50m-high metal cage appears to be little more than makeshift scaffolding,
and with only six discrete steel cables supporting the structure, the sway of
the platform is quite noticeable, even in a gentle breeze. It is no surprise
that around a third of those who reach the base of the canopy walkway decide
against climbing the metal ladders that loom overhead.
Those who do brave
the 20 ladders that reach to the top of the walkway are rewarded with a prime viewpoint
for observing Ulu Temburong’s rich variety of wildlife. Gibbons can
occasionally be seen swinging through the canopy and are often heard screeching
in the towering dipterocarp trees below, many of which are more than 100 years
old; and hornbills fly overhead, their long beaks and colourful horns standing
out against the surrounding jungle. Lucky visitors may even glimpse a flying
squirrel leaping from tree to tree. But despite the cacophony of animal sounds
coming from below, the canopy is dense and the view stretches for such a
distance that visitors may spend a couple of hours on the walkway and see very
While most people
visit Ulu Temburong to experience the view from the canopy walkway, the Ulu Ulu
Temburong Resort also offers jungle hikes to see the park’s tumbling waterfalls,
many of which offer the chance to have a refreshing swim in their natural pools.
Night treks are a memorable way to experience the sounds of the jungle at their
loudest, with frogs and cicadas competing for attention.
supervisor Mohammad Mutaqin is committed to making sure the resort plays an
important role in the park’s conservation. While trekking along a jungle trail,
he pointed out medicinal plants and described how locals have traditionally
harvested and sold the jungle’s flora and fauna with little regard for
conservation. Wild pigs have been hunted, while rare trees and plants such as
tongkat ali – known for its aphrodisiac qualities – have been cut down to make medicines
or for use in potions by those following indigenous belief systems.
to neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia as places where jungles have been destroyed
to harvest commercially lucrative resources, but due in part to Brunei’s modest
population, the scale of harvesting in Ulu Temburong has been small until now.
According to Mutaqin, if the resort can benefit the local community by offering
employment and bringing in tourism money, there is hope that people will learn
to appreciate the precious nature of the environment in which they live before
it is severely damaged.
Brunei may not
offer a ready-made luxury safari experience, and animal sightings do require a
lot of effort as well as a fair amount of luck. But while humans have already
encroached far into the wider Borneo jungle with devastating consequences,
Temburong still offers access to a largely untouched, virgin rainforest;
something that is becoming ever harder to find.
A permit is required to travel independently to Ulu Temburong. To avoid this
hassle and the very high cost of organising private transfers, the majority of
visitors make arrangements with one of the travel agencies based in Bandar Seri
Begawan. The only way to reach Ulu Temburong’s canopy walkway early enough to
see the sun rise is to stay overnight at the Ulu Ulu Temburong resort, where
the wake-up call is at 4:30 am. If pre-dawn starts do not appeal, Freme Travel offers an itinerary
that includes a mid-morning visit to the walkway. Their tours include transfers
from Bandar Seri Begawan and an overnight stay at their own Rainforest
Lodge, just outside the park.
will stop one night in Bandar Seri Begawan at the beginning or end of their Temburong
visit, with the luxurious Empire Hotel
and Country Club (owned by the Sultan himself and used to house Heads of State
when they visit) offering an affordable splash of glamour that may be welcome
after a night in the jungle. The Brunei
Hotel is a convenient business-style hotel in the city centre, across the
road from the colourful morning market. See the Brunei Tourism website for