One thing I really like to do, which may sound ridiculous, is to look at maps. Even when I was in elementary school and was tasked with learning all of the US capitals, I still enjoyed it. I knew one day I’d make it to Baton Rouge or Tallahassee and I sort of planned it all out in my head. Living in South East Asia is no different. The longer I live here, the more I find myself staring at a map trying to figure out where to go next. And one place I’ve always been fascinated with is Brunei. But when my coworkers talked about where they were headed for vacation there were always the usual suspects…Bali, Phuket…or even more off the beaten path places like Myanmar, Sri Lanka or Bhutan. I could only recall one person ever saying Brunei and it was around the time I had already set my sights on booking a ticket. So I decided to go see for myself and what I found was this-Brunei is the new black.
Brunei is located on the island of Borneo, long famous for its lush rainforest, and shares the island with Indonesia and Malaysia. But it’s the only country entirely on the island of Borneo and for a small country it has 500sq km of virgin rainforest. When researching I found a few companies that had tour packages, but then I stumbled on a game changer. Ulu Temburong, the rainforest of Brunei, only has one resort located within it’s borders; the Ulu Ulu Resort. So I contacted the tour company Sunshine Borneo and they put together a whole weekend jam-packed with adventure, nature and culture. They took care of everything, making this trip stress free and completely enjoyable. Here’s what I experienced and why it’s different, and definitely worth a trip.
From Singapore, there are daily non-stop flights to Brunei, making travel easy. I was able to leave Friday evening well after work, which meant I had plenty of time to go home, pack and even have dinner beforehand. I flew Royal Brunei Airlines which was inexpensive but without having to compromise the basics like a meal or check-in baggage. I even had the option of a vegetarian meal without having to ask more than once to request it in advance. Singapore Airlines and Silk Air also fly there from Singapore with plenty of flights also being offered from Kuala Lumpur. Flying some of the budget airlines can often make the trip a burden just because of the crap you have to put up with, so I was happy to have a drama free flight, which might I add was only two hours.
This was hands down the best part. Ulu Temburong Rainforest is simply pristine. The deep green of the forest and the calm flow of the river made for instant relaxation and fresh air. As soon as I stepped onto the boat that transported me to the resort, I was immediately more at ease. It’s not a secret that South East Asia is known for its beautiful surroundings, but often with the crowd of tourists also come trash, noise pollution, lines and congestion even on the beaches. But this was unspoiled in a way I’ve rarely seen. There was no plastic, no garbage, not even remnants of past visitors. It was truly untouched and the sounds of crickets, birds and the flowing river were pretty much the only noise I heard my entire trip. It was fantastsic to see the forest, but I didn’t just see it and leave. I had many opportunitites to bask in the environment. In addition to having delicious, fresh-cooked local style meals overlooking the river, I also got the opportunity to kayak, tube, hike, and swim. Over my two day stay I was able to hike until my heart was content, including at night to see some of the nocturnal species and at dawn to take in the beautiful sunrise over the rainforest canopy. I have never seen anything like the sun rising over the majestic tree covered hills, with the fog moving ever so gently through its path. I should also add that although I was traveling solo, there were plenty of opportunites to make friends and talk with others. It was a great mix of interacting with others and having time to relax on my own. By the end of the two days I was sad to leave, but also excited to see what else the country had to offer.
Zero Hustle and Bustle
Once back in the city the relaxation continued. While some may like being on the go all of the time, being in the smaller capital city was refreshing and devoid of some of the ususal sights of South East Asia. Again there was no traffic, no noise pollution, no crazy night life and no seedy area. I got to see daily life, for example the world’s largest water village or the night market, and I had the safety and freedom to walk alone – at night included. In the village I had the opportunity to roam the canals and even had tea and cakes in one of the homes. The night market was a treat as well. There were some of the usual suspects, durian and red hot dogs, but also lots of other fresh fruits and veggies as well as cooked meats, desserts, and local drinks. It was a great place to walk around for a while and interact with people or try new things.
Have a royal family obsession? Well then you will enjoy the Regalia Museum, the Sultan’s Mosque and the Royal Palace. I went during a Muslim holiday so I wasn’t able to access everything, but just standing in front of the palace and seeing the ceremony of a member of the royal family coming or going was facinating. And the gold encrusted mosque was a site to behold, even from afar.
I had a great time…to say the least…and would like to return, especially once some of new tourist attractions are rolled out, such as ATVing and other ecotourism activities. A big thanks to Sunshine Borneo for a fantastic fun filled weekend! If you are interested in going, you must check them out.