Friday, February 24, 2012
It’s not every day that I wake up in time to see the sunrise. And it’s not every week that I wake up in time to see it twice. But after the spectacular pink sky I saw at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to see the sunrise over the rainforest in Borneo. Standing atop a 60-meter platform in the middle of the jungle, I was awed by the beauty of the golden disc over the misty mountains in Brunei’s Ulu Temburong National Park.
I arrived in Brunei on a flight from Bangkok after traveling to Siem Reap and Luang Prabang on my Southeast Asia trip. The small sultanate in Borneo was country number 85 on my 90 under 30 Travel Project list.
Before heading into the rainforest, I spent the morning exploring the pint-size capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. The small city was home to one of the largest mosques I’ve ever seen, as well as an impressive collection of state treasures in the Royal Regalia Museum.
Nearby was a large food market, and across the wide river sat Kampong Ayer, the famous floating village that locals referred to as the Venice of the East.
It was from near the river that I met the guides that took me by speed boat to Bangar, a small city from where we drove overland to a second river. There we boarded a motorized longboat for an adventurous journey upstream. Shooting across rapids and navigating narrow passages, we soon found ourselves at a remote resort in the middle of Ulu Temburong National Park.
We spent the rest of the day enjoying afternoon snacks and inner tubing down the river. In the evening we took a longboat ride under the stars and went on a night walk. During the walk we saw everything from green frogs to yellow snakes, giant spiders, enormous snails, and big bats.
The next morning we woke up at 4:30am to climb a massive hill that led to the rainforest canopy walkway. Five towers rose 60 meters into the air, rising up over the treetops. At first I couldn’t figure out how we were supposed to get to the top. Then my guides pointed out the ladders.
I am afraid of heights at the best of times, but climbing 60 meters worth of wet ladders in the pitch dark with only a flashlight to guide me was one of the scariest things I have ever done.
It was worth it, though. After getting to the top, we spent 30 minutes watching the stars disappear before the sun gently illuminated the mist over the trees. All the while we heard the calls of baboons, the squawks of hornbills, and the chirping of so many birds. It was a magical scene.
Back on the ground, we went hiking to some waterfalls. Our path was a shallow river that was lined with thick green foliage, and our reward was two beautiful natural falls at the base of which were clear pools.
In the afternoon we took the longboat back down the river and drove to Bangar. There we caught the speedboat back to Bandar Seri Begawan, which reminded me a lot of the river cruises I took in Senegal. When we arrived in the capital I was driven to the airport to await my flight home.
Short as my time in Borneo had been, I thoroughly enjoyed Brunei and was glad to have ended my Southeast Asia trip on a high note. As I flew back to London, I wished I could have spent more time in the region, but I don’t think I will mind sleeping later than the sunrise for awhile.