A couple of hours journey outside of Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei is a former government scientific research station, turned rainforest retreat. The journey there is terrific, beginning in what is referred to locally as a flying coffin (gulp), a small covered boat that can fit approximately 20 people and whizzes at speed through the murky river waters. At one point through the open window, we spied the eyes of a crocodile, brown and shiny, as we sped by. A quick bus trip in between brought us to a smaller long boat, and my favourite part of the journey. The boat dashed in the open air and the water splashed as we soaked up the views of the lush rainforest and frequent small rapids in the warmth of the sun.
Ulu Ulu stretches along the river, all dark wood and low buildings nestled among the trees. A central restaurant area is surrounded by walkways and rooms (the rooms varying from luxury to more budget options). All rooms felt isolated and private, so after a quick arrival snack (sweet pandan pancake and rice with chicken in a leaf), I stole a few hours to relax. We finished the evening with dinner, which was traditional Brunei fare using local ingredients, some grown at Ulu Ulu itself.
Our next stop was the rainforest canopy. We were to rise at 4.30am and meet to begin our ascent, 850 steps to the top of the steps and to the canopy walk, which looms over the top of the rainforest, giving a perfect view of the rolling mist and (sometimes) sunrise below. We hopped in a boat to travel just a few minutes to our starting point. As we climbed into the rainforest, slippy with wet leaves and mud (it is a rainforest after all, and it had been raining quite heavily through the night). When we eventually got to the top, I was relieved. Until I looked up and thought, what fresh hell is that?!
Looming above me was a 40 metre high scaffold with many ladders within, which allowed you to climb. It was so high, we couldn’t actually see the other towers, at the end of a narrow walkway reaching higher into the sky with yet more ladders, and then another walkway which led to another higher tower further down. I felt weak. I couldn’t help thinking of Fraggle Rock and the Doozers, and wondered if I really could try climbing it without freaking out.
I decided that I should confront my fears and try. It seemed it would be a spectacular experience, and so I waited until everyone else had started (only a few people could ascend at a time), and began to climb. After 3 ladders I started to worry (I am terrible with heights and I am liable to panic), so I came back down. The view was still beautiful. I sat and watched the mists roll and listened to the family of gibbons ooh-ooh-ooh hidden in the top of the trees nearby.
One of my companions descended and stressed that I really should go up. Sure, it was frightening and it shook a bit and you are so very exposed. But is is worth it, and I would be ok and, really, really, I must. So, I tried again and this time got 20 metres up, then my breath started catching as I noticed the scaffold shake and my hearing started to go. 40 metres above the rainforest canopy did not seem the best place to freak out, so I turned, and slowly descended. I tried!
No regrets, it was wonderful to climb, and listen to the vibrant dawn chorus of the rainforest as the sun came up. On the way down, I saw my gibbon swing forcefully but elegantly through the tree tops above. They are shy, so once he saw us he was gone, but we could still hear him ooh-ooh-ooh-ing as he went about.
We descended and returned to Ulu Ulu for breakfast. I could at this point have gone tubing in the river or to a waterfall nearby that had those fish that give you pedicures by feasting on your skin (aaaiiii-eeeee!), but I chose to relax, as it was such a lovely place to do it, and I was soon about to board a long flight home.
We finished with lunch, a highlight of which was some local enormous fresh water prawns from the river next to which we ate, and I do love the chicken curry in Brunei. On the side was young papaya, steamed and served as a vegetable, with river ferns.
Less than 24 hours later, although it felt longer, we were on our way back. Speeding through the water first on our long open boat, and then our covered one. It was time to go home.
I visited Brunei on a stopover after the #TourMelbourne blog trip, created and managed by iambassador with Tourism Victoria, and Visit Melbourne in partnership with Royal Brunei Airlines. All content is of my choosing, and I retain all editorial control.