Saturday, 11 May 2013

Temburong District Brunei

Ulu Temburong National Park map

Temburong is one of tourist attractions in Brunei Darussalam, 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 tribes people. 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.

Bangar (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.

Elsewhere in Temburong

If time is very limited, you may consider skipping Ulu Temburong and heading instead for the Peradayan Forest Reserve, which is just 20 minutes east of Bangar by road (taxis cost around B$15 one way). Within the reserve is a small forest recreation park with picnic tables and trails, one of which climbs to the summit of Bukit Patoi (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 Bukit Peradayan (410 m).

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 Iban longhouse (home to 16 families) situated along the road to Batang Duri, at Kampong Sembiling. Guides will stop off here, allowing visitors to meet the inhabitants and try a glass of tuak (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 Amo C, just north of Batang Duri itself. Guests are set up with mattresses on the ruai (communal veranda) and guided treks along hunting trails can be arranged.

Ulu Temburong National Park

(Entry B$5, B$2 child. Obtain an entry permit in advance from the Forestry Department Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources, Bandar Seri Begawan BB3910, T238 1687 or in Bangar T522 1839,

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 Batu Apoi Forest Reserve. The region has never been settled or logged, so there are no roads, and access to the park is by temuai (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 , who make all travel arrangements for you and provide guides and entry permits (with everything paid upfront – around B$250 for two nights).

If you prefer to visit independently, Bangar-bound speedboats leave from the jetty on Jalan Residency in Bandar Seri Begawan (every 30 minutes 0745-1600; 45 minute journey time; B$6 one way). From the Bangar jetty, there are taxis to take visitors south along a sealed road to Batang Duri, 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 (1½ hours, B$50-60 per boat). During the dry season (July and August) water levels can be low and passengers may have to get out and help push the boat.

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

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