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Published: April 7th 2015
Amazing virgin rainforest in Brunei
We return from our exciting jungle adventure to Kota Kinabalu in time to meet Ruth who has flown in from Singapore. We spend the next day in KK and have a celebratory lunch for my birthday and a goodbye lunch for Carole who is heading back to Tasmania.
Ruth and I are quick to start the next adventure. We decide to travel to Kuching in Sarawak taking in Brunei travelling on local buses, on boats up and down rivers and on ferries across bays of the South China Sea. A distance of about 1000 miles. Borneo is huge - the third largest island after Australia and Greenland, and this way of travelling help us to appreciate the scale of the island and get a feel for the landscapes, the peoples and the cultures.
We are heading to Ulu Temburong National Park in Brunei to see some of the only remaining virgin rainforest in Borneo. The Park is reached only by river and is only accessed by local longboats. Having the largest oil reserves in SE Asia Brunei is wealthy and does not need to rape its rainforests for oil palm plantations. Brunei is
proud of its forest heritage. The forestry department, established in 1933, is dedicated to effectively managing the Sultanate's forests towards "attaining excellence in tropical forests" and ensuring that Brunei has a permanent managed forest estate covering at least 55% of the total land area. On World Forestry Day, 21 March, special prayers were said by the nation to express hope that Brunei's green forest will continue to be pristine and protected from natural disasters and threats of illegal logging.
We try to book to stay in Sumbiling Eco village just down river from the park. Borneo Guide travel company require prepayment but after spending all evening prior to departure trying to pay both our credit and debit cards are refused under their pay on line scheme. They then demand cash in advance - even though we promise faithfully to pay when we reach their office in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital.
There are only a few banks in Lawas just before the border and we spend a whole hour of the bus break trying but all 3 banks refuse to give enough cash. We cross borders and we are met in Bandar, a small village, by Ummi the
guide at the Eco village. Her boss still demands prepayment but after another hour or so of trying (wifi-ing from her mobile to my iPad) Ruth's credit card is accepted. I am afraid our comments on TripAdviser will be very negative. (Even more annoying is that Nationwide credit card security stepped in and stopped my card as they considered all the failed attempts to be fraudulent!)
We stay in a wooden house on stilts to help keep the room cool on the banks of the Lambang River. Chicken and local green ferns from the forest for dinner. We wake at 5.15 to hear the dawn chorus and see the sunrise. Fish jump and skim the surface. Two hornbills fly over and the swiftlets fly low over the water to catch insects.
After breakfast we are punted across the river in a longboat for a jungle walk. Sounds good but really it is an old rubber plantation. Now part of the Forest Reserve it is a protected area and it is regenerating. The two local male Iban tribe guides are well experienced in rainforest living and jungle craft. They demonstrate traps for catching food and show us which trees
and plants were essential for food and medicine for rainforest living in the past. We explore the local traditional village with a five door Iban longhouse. It looks derelict but it is home to 42 people, some of whom work at the Eco village. There is a grand collection of fighting cocks all tethered just to keep them out of range of each other.
We are the only visitors. It is very peaceful. A lovely afternoon just sitting on the balcony overlooking the river watching the swiftlets and a squirrel in a nearby tree.
A misty morning but soon the sun is shining. Two young German gents arrive and we start today's adventure. An exciting 45 minute longboat trip deep into the National Park to visit some of the only remaining virgin tropical rainforest in Borneo. But the river is very low. The local Iban tribe guides know the river like the back of their hand as we swing from side to side following the current and negotiating sandbanks, logs and boulders. The guide in the front of the boat punts us through the stony rapids. The boat is fast. No time to spot wildlife but
we see a long tailed macaque monkey. We pass locals transporting their shopping and big bunches of rattan. Another longboat is heavily laden with plasterboard and double glazed windows for some construction work further up river.
We arrive at the National Park. Only 1 square km of the primary rainforest is accessible to the public to prevent damage and disturbance - but we are allowed to view the vast expanse of virgin forest from a very high tree canopy walk constructed by Shell from oil rig scaffolding. We scramble out of the boat and walk through the rainforest to a well managed trail of board walks and over 1000 steps. Now to reach the canopy walk. it is supported by 3 vertical towers over 50 meters high above the forest floor. It look daunting after the already strenuous climb. The towers are caged so it is impossible to fall out but climbing up the see-through zig zagging steps is rather challenging. Now at the top. Quite amazing. I must have been a bird in a past life as I love looking down from great heights. Tropical rainforest canopies always remind me of heads of broccoli - but here the
tree cover is more diverse in terms of tree height. Gigantic emergents extend beyond the general canopy and there are variations in species, colour and texture. Sadly it is late morning and there are no birds to see although we can hear birdsong. Sad also that I have no photos for you as I left my iPad behind as I needed both hands to hang on! (I do have lots on my camera if anyone would like to see them.)
Back just in time for lunch before we catch a super fast water taxi from Bangar to Bandar Seri Beriwan the capital of Brunei. 45 minutes of super fast speed sweeping across mangrove lined meanders and over large expanses of sea before heading up the river lined with mangroves and palms. Then passed Kampung Ayer the water village with 1000 year old history.
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