Brunei, as you can see from this map, is a country of two parts. Two small sections nibbled out of the north coast of Borneo, and surrounded by Sarawak which is part of Malaysia.
We live on the coast, almost due north of the capital Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB). Last month we decided to visit the other, smaller part of Brunei, more specifically Ulu Temburong National Park, to the south of Bangar. This is a popular day-trip from BSB so 4 of us - Rob, me, Kerry and Simon - booked a trip with Haddy the tour guide who was recommended by some of my friends from school.
We set off early to catch the boat to Bangar from BSB. This was a 45-minute ride at hair-raising speed on one of the boats known as a 'Flying Coffin'! Once we got used to it it was amazing to be racing through the mangroves up the river then across the Bay of Brunei. This photo isn't wonky, it's just the boat tilting dramatically as it sped round the bends in the river!
On arrival in Bangar we were met by Haddy and - first things first - went for breakfast! It was our favourite - Roti. However, we had never had roti served with this selection of dips - from left to right: sweet chili sauce, chicken and potato curry and... condensed milk! All delicious.
I'm not entirely sure what the bowl of eggs was doing on the table though...?
We then drove south until we were into the jungle. Here we exchanged the car for a longboat - the only way to enter Ulu Temburong National Park.
This boat trip was equally exciting as we negotiated several sections of rapids on our way to the park boundary, again at quite some speed. We stopped to sign in to the park and then headed further up-river in the boat where we stopped to climb a rather large hill...
Thankfully much of it was ascended using these wooden steps, but there were many very muddy areas where we found ourselves clambering over tree roots and picking our way through sticky mud! Luckily there was plenty to look at on the way, and Haddy let us stop lots of times in order to tell us about the flora and fauna (while we got our breath back!).
These vast trees with their buttress-like roots were stunning.
As we reached the top of the hill we were faced with... more steps!
This is the 60 metre high canopy walkway for which Ulu Temburong is famous. This vertigo-inducing walk is an amazing way of reaching the very top level of the rainforest otherwise only inhabited by birds, insects and monkeys!
Despite my terror of the height, the views were of course incredible. It's at times like this when you realise just how little space in Brunei mankind actually inhabits - the rainforest covers vast areas here.
I was pleased to be heading down though, once we had climbed all of the towers!
As we descended, so did the rain... My camera got put away fast at this point (into its case and then a well-sealed dry-bag) but luckily Simon and Kerry have a waterproof casing for their camera so were able to get some shots of the rest of the day.
Instead of getting back into the longboat we were each given an inner-tube and, ignoring the crocodile-rumours, we leapt into the not-particularly-enticing brown water! Amazingly it was really quite cold - the first time we had felt chilled since our arrival in Brunei 6 weeks earlier. Still, we soon warmed up as we kicked and paddled our way down the river - easy (and hilarious - cue much shrieking) when being swept down the rapids, but pretty difficult to fight against the current when trying to get to shore!
We stopped at one point and walked up a stream to a beautiful waterfall. Soaked to the skin already we all walked straight in... only to run straight out again as the pool was full of those weird fish that nibble the skin off your feet! (No, not piranhas... the kind of fish you see in spas). It's meant to be good for you, but I can tell you now, it's the strangest feeling, and not strange in a good way either! I think the spa-fish are smaller though looking at the picture in that link, these were waaaaay bigger and perhaps therefore nibbled a little harder?!
We leapt back in the tubes and carried on down the river until we stopped for a very welcome hot lunch of rice, chicken, vegetables and eggs, cooked by Haddy's wife.
We also took the opportunity to change into some dry clothes as by now we were a little cold and uncomfortable.
By now it was only a short trip back in the longboat (having tubed down much of the river) and then a drive back to Bangar to catch the Flying Coffin back to BSB. It says a lot that 2 of our party actually dozed off during the boat-trip back to BSB - just shows what an exhausting but exciting day it was!