Most people don’t take the time to visit the little country of Brunei during their time in Southeast Asia. Our 1,000-page tourbook on SE Asia only devotes ten pages to little Brunei. After spending a week there, I can see why. There’s really not much to do. Sure, the mosques are quite grand, and seeing virgin Borneo rainforest was quite enjoyable, but the place all-in-all is a tad boring.
With that being said, there were several highlights during our time there, though the last one is quite silly.
Kampong Ayer was quite the quirky neighborhood. And by quirky I mean it’s 30,000 people who have chosen to live on the water, raising their houses with wooden stilts. Wooden paths connecting the houses are numerous, and there are even doctors offices, stores, and even a school for the neighborhood. It’s easy to get there: $1 Brunei dollar ($0.74) and a 3–4 minute boat ride away.We spent some time wandering around the neighborhood, pestering the stray cats and waving hello to some of the children playing after school. I would have to say it was my favorite part of Brunei.
Ulu Temburong National Park
Our main reason for going to Brunei was to see Borneos’ virgin rainforest. Sadly, much of it has been burned to make way for palm oil or other agricultural purposes by Malaysia and Indonesia, but since Brunei is an oil state, they have been able to afford to preserve what rainforest they have.
(Sidenote: Brunei is actually two unconnected swathes of land. There is no land bridge connecting the two parts of the country; one must enter and exit Malaysia or take a boat like we did. However, the sultanate is building the 30km Temburong Bridge to connect them, and we were able to see the half-finished bridge way in the distance.)
Getting to the national park involved a boat ride from the capital to the town to Bangor, and taking a bus onwards to our eco village. The boat ride itself was captivating, blitzing through rainforest swampland, rich greens cascading on both sides, with still-water blues of the tributary and sky below and above us. It was quite the thrill, and truly felt like we were on a grand adventure (which, I guess, we are!).
On the other hand, I think our expectations were a bit high for the national park itself. We had a small tent-shaped cabin with a riverfront view— it felt quite like glamping- and we stayed in a modest eco-village with several other tourists. We participated in a jungle hike, learning about the herbal medicines that the indigenous peoples used (our tour guide proudly told us he has never been to the doctor), another night jungle hike to see the nocturnal animals, and a towering canopy walk.
The Canopy Walk
I would not advise you to do this canopy walk if you are afraid of heights. I’m afraid of heights. I still did the canopy walk. It was parts exhilarating, parts terrifying. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t know if I would ever do one again.
We took another lovely boat ride up the river, and then headed to the start of the trail.
We walked a bit, crossed a cool suspension bridge (which I originally thought was the canopy walk) and then went up about 15 to 20 stories of scaffolding complete with tiny ladders and thin metal sheet flooring. It was safe, but it sure didn’t look safe. We then walked about 200 meters and went up even more scaffolding before heading back down another set of scaffolding down.
I was shaking the whole time, hands on both railings, refusing to look down. The only reason I didn’t lose it was because the walkway was just above the canopy line, so I was able to trick myself into thinking that I was not so far above the ground. It’s something that pictures don’t quite do justice.
Somehow, a tiny country of 400,000 people scored it’s own country-exclusive flavor of Pizza Hut pizza. It’s honey garlic chicken, and it was delicious (accounting for the fact that it is still pizza hut).
(I don’t have a picture :( please forgive me)
I’m happy to have gone to Brunei, but I can’t say I’d recommend it for many people to go to. Whatever Brunei does, other countries in Southeast Asia do it better, whether it’s city life, adventure opportunities, or the food. Plus, Brunei has made being gay a death penalty crime, and I’m not a fan of that at all. If you’re headed to Borneo anyways, or like to rack up countries on your passport, go. Otherwise, spend your time elsewhere.