We left the hotel about 7:20am. Brunei is divided into two separate parts with a slice of Malaysia in between so we needed to go by boat across the bay to the eastern portion of the country, drive down country for a half hour then down the Temburong river by open longboat (some 40-50 feet long and carved out of a single tree) to get to the Ulu Ulu resort located in the National Park at the junction of the Temburong and Belalong rivers. The whole journey took about 4 hours. A Filipino couple were on the day trip and we picked a Dutch family; Japp Erik, Hanneke and their 7 year old daughter Jasmijn who were also staying overnight and with whom we had all our adventures. Our tour guide was Eric who is Malaysian.
Ulu Temburong National Park is a 50,000 hectare (ecoTourism) site that was set aside by the Sultan to preserve one of the few remaining examples of the Borneo rain forests which used to cover the whole island. Much of the Malay and Indonesian parts of Borneo have already been devastated by the loggers. Much of the park is only open to the Brunei Forestry service and the University.
The first afternoon was a hike to a waterfall. Our guides had tipped us off on the drive up that we would need extra shoes since we would be wading up river to the falls so we stopped at a shop on the way to the longboat and I bought a pair of rubber shoes for about US$6 (a very worthwhile investment it turned out). First a longboat ride up river (although at one point we had to get out and push because it was too shallow) to where a small tributary emptied into the Temburong river. From there we hiked, sometimes in the water of the creek and sometime climbing around fast running areas by pulling ourselves up on ropes along dirt paths. It was a steady uphill journey. But on the way up the unthinkable happened: my camera died, so alas there are only a few photos. DRAT!!!. At the end we found a 50 ft high waterfall spilling into a deep crystal clear pool of cool refreshing water. One guide had brought along a life jacket for Jasmijn and in she went, followed my many of the adults. Even though it was hot, we were shielded from the sun by the trees, but still were all hot and sweaty after the fairly strenuous climb.
The chef proudly informed us at dinner that he had made all local dishes and most of the food was grown locally. It was quite good. Our night walk in the jungle was called off when it started to rain.
The alarm went off at 4:30am. I dragged my now stiff body out of bed, showered and dressed for coffee by 5:15am and departure in the dark at 5:30am. We took a longboat across the river for the climb to the canopy. Part of the way was wooden stairs but plenty of it was the now familiar muddy paths with ropes to hang on to. It was a steady and steep climb that took close to 45 minutes. Upon emerging from the woods I was greeted by a steel scaffold rising up into the sky. There were four towers linked together by walkways at different levels and ladders inside the towers at each end.
I left the group and headed for the far tower alone. Japp estimates it was about 40 meters tall or about the height of a 12 story building. You just keep on climbing and don't look down until you get to the top. But it was totally worth the effort. The topmost platform is above the treetops and I was there alone looking out over a 360 degree panorama of the virgin rainforest. It was now turning lighter and the treetops poked out of the swirling mist like green islands in a sea of white. The jungle was starting to awaken and I could hear sounds of monkeys and birds rising out of the mist. Jasmijn reported seeing two monkeys, but otherwise we did not see any wildlife, but we heard them.
I stood for a long while before seeing Jaap and Malcolm on the walkways below. Then I climbed down to the walkway and made my way across to the last tower and climbed to the top there where Hannake and I watched the sun break through the clouds. I didn't want to leave but all things must come to an end.
The trip back down the mountainside on muddy paths proved just as difficult as climbing up. We arrived back at the lodge and enjoyed the breakfast that awaited us. Then for a rest before kayaking.
The walk from our room to the restaurant just above the kayaks took me about 10-15 minutes and I counted 110 steps up and 130 steps down. Of course we had prepared for the rigors of the weekend by sitting in meetings all week. The kayaking looked interesting but I was hesitant after the kayaking adventure my dear wife had sprung on me for our anniversary, but I decided to give it a go anyway. We strapped on life jackets and donned helmets and started paddling upstream. There were times when I paddled away but did not seem to make any progress against the current. The water was clear and trees hung over the river and my head. By the time I finally beached the kayak I was soaked in sweat and very ready for the lunch that was ready a mere 20 steps above the shore.
The best part was the hot shower before climbing back into the longboat and heading back downstream. An hour or so later we boarded the speedboat for the return to Bandar and as we did the sky opened up and rain drenched everything in sight. But for us the timing was perfect.
Yes, the beauty of nature is still there, protected and appreciated, but for how long?