FLYING COFFIN ANYONE?
From snowy England to sunny Brunei
Last friday, I took my guests from Cambridge to do the canopy walk in Ulu Temburong. I have done it before but that was a very long time ago when I was still in uni. The things that I could remember about that trip were lots of trees, bugs and being afraid when I got on top. The rest of the memories were somehow deleted..period. It's like there's a mental block refraining me from retrieving tem. So when Brian, Roger, Marianne and Christine told me their request to do the canopy walk, I was determined to go with them and try to "reintroduce" that place to myself too.
I called up a travel agency called Travelhub (I heard about them from a friend who used to work with them) to book the trip.
They charged 120 brunei dollars for the whole trip which is not bad considering that the package includes the van from the hotel to the jetty, boat from the jetty to the other district, van again to take us to the other jetty and another boat that would take us deep in the rainforest. Breakfast and lunch are also included. Oh yeah, did I mention the tourguide as well. Yeah. Him too. Not bad aye. I heard from a friend today that it used to be cheaper than that when they did their trip in 2005. But I guess since they developed the place now, the price have been marked up as well.
The Flying coffin
We had to wake up very early though as our van that is going to take us to the jetty would be picking us up at 7am. We took the "Flying Coffin" to Temburong and the trip took us around 45 minutes.
Marianne and her sunblock
The "Flying Coffin" is a speedboat used to ferry commuters between Bandar Seri Begawan
and Temburong. It is dubbed as "Flying Coffin" due to its shape that looks like a coffin and the way it speeds as if it is flying. The boat could fit possibly around 10 to 12 people at one time. With us were three other european tourists and a group of firefighters. I told Christine that if we ever sink, we could just hang on to one these guys *wink* *wink*
Mangroves and more mangroves
The journey from Bandar Seri Begawan to Bangar, the town of Temburong was somewhat exhilirating. Our boat snaked its way along the meandering river on high speed.
Kampong Ayer Museum...another attraction waiting to be introduced.
At some points, the boat tipped to the side at 45 degree angle that all I could see was the great blue sky with cirrus scattering all over. Lucky I didn't have anything that morning ...if you know what I mean. I was aiming for the breakfast at the Trandie Marina, one of the checkpoints of our trip. Our boat cruised steadily passing lines of green mangrove trees intermittently cut by the shallow part of the river exposing the sandy riverbed. From time to time I could see other flying coffins passing us by, some were going to Temburong and other making their way back to the capital. I could also see a few small boats mooring at the bank among the mangrove trees, probably belong to some fishermen trying to make a catch for the day. Despite the adrenalin rush boat ride, the sceneries were absolutely calming.
Brian with his camera
The hidden city of the forest
We reached Bangar, the little town of Temburong almost an hour later. The view of the town from the boat as we were approaching the jetty was amazing. It is like seeing civilisation appearing in the middle of a jungle, kind of remind me of Shangri La. The atmosphere at the jetty was busy with commuters waiting for the boats to arrive and passengers disembarking from theirs. We quickly looked for our van as we got on land. "It's a white HIACE van and there will be a man looking for you" I remember our travel agent told me that before we left the jetty. It was assuring at first until I saw a few vans parking nearby! Then I remember the travel agent talking to someone over the phone to look for five people, four caucasians and one wearing dark top (me), so I told myself that who ever he was who was suppose to pick us up should be looking for us too.
So we took our sweet time admiring the little idyllic town. The last time I was in Bangar, the town looked so shabby I could not imagine why anyone would want to go there. But that place has transformed into a tourists-magnet. There was a new beautiful building standing right opposite to the jetty with beautiful carvings on its wooden wall and I could see that the place was purposely made as a tourist centre. Amazing. Our van driver eventually found us..or we found him, I can't remember how exactly. So we hopped into the van and made our way to our next stop - Trandie Marina for a quick breakfast.
The ride to Trandie was a smooth one and we took the time in the van absorbing the beautiful surrounding.
Trees shrouded by low clouds gave as the feeling like we were on a high altitude when infact we were only a few hundred feet above sea. The humidity is so high in the area that clouds hung low on the side of the hills that morning. We reached Trandie Marina a few minutes later. I must admit, the name gave me a wrong impression. In my mind I was visualising a big open water area with 20 white yachts mooring. But it was just a tiny place by a river with a house that functions as an office, dining area and I suppose staff-house too. Although simple, that place has its own unique attraction that could fascinate you. Its location alone gives you the feeling of serenity and when we had our breakfast in a hut built overlooking the fast flowing Belalong river, I only had one word in mind to describe it all - peace.
There was also a small aviary with a few different species of birds that were natural habitants of the rainforest. One of the workers there showed us a small raindeer that was also in the aviary. I felt a little guilty for the birds, personally, I think birds should be left flying freely in the open air. Our breakfast was a simple but filling one. Doughnuts, bananas and some cakes and to wash all those downs, tea and coffee were also served. Having breakfast outdoor, in a hut with canvas roof, under a tree over a river surrounded by the sound of the rustling trees, the flowing river and an orchestra of hooting and chirping by the animals in the rainforest...tranquility, tranquility, tranquility...
After breakfast, we were given life jackets to wear before getting on the boat that would take us to another checkpoint - The Ulu Temburong National Park.
The boat that we were going to use was a special one that is normally used by the local indigenous people there. Its called Temuai (Te-moo-I). It is long and flat-bottomed so that it is easy to move during low-tide. I heard that sometimes when the tide gets very low, you need to get off the boat and help push it through. Roger was excited to hear that and was actually hoping for the tide to be low (LOL).
As our Temuai started to move, so was I with my camera. Have you ever been in this situation before when everything around you seems to be amazingly breathtaking that you just need to freeze the moments and capture every second of it all with your camera. That was what I was doing... I was always ready with my camera on waiting for every perfect angle to shoot.
inside the coffin.. uhmm i mean boat.
..and I believe I took over 50 shots in less than an hour. We were going against the current so every now and then I could hear the engine wallowing trying to fight the current. And everytime the engine did that, I just kept on praying that the boat wont capsize - you see I can't swim, thank goodness for the life jacket. Christine was saying that if I found that scary I should try white water rafting!
5-star resort in the middle of the rainforest.
I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it at first but it was there. A complex of resort right in the heart of Temburong rainforest. I thought The Empire hotel was impressive but that resort gave "get away" a whole new meaning. Unlike The Empire, the resort is made of wood and with its green roof, it blends well with the trees.
The Ulu-ulu Temburong Resort is the latest edition in the Temburong tourism plan. For only 220 brunei dollars (thats less than 200USD) you can stay there over night and enjoy a 5 star treatment by the staff there (transportation included) I need to do that one of these days. The resort has a few chalets of different class, souvenir shops, cafe, cinema theatre and lobby. When we got there, the place was still doing some improvement on its facilities like streaming power supply and water supply, so that should be good in the future. Sadly we didn't plan to stay overnight there, so we ended up touring the place and took some photos. After signing up there, we got back to our Temuai boat and continued our last leg of the journey which is the National Park. This is where we will be doing the canopy walk.
"Okay, how many steps did the brochure say?" In order to get to the tower where we were are going to ascend and do the canopy, we first had to go up the steep hill. The way to the top was only a narrow route made of mud. Yes, it was muddy and slippery. Luckily the people there provided ropes that work as a railing to help us support ourselves. Lucky for us too, it didn't rain, I can't imagine if we had to climb that hill in the rain. Personally, I admire these English people's spirit, they seem to be able to see the humor behind every downside. Roger was the strongest climber, he didn't climb..he walked! Marianne called him mountain goat haha. Christine was the oldest among them but her spirit to get up to the tower was something to be envied.
She panted but she didn't give up. Brian was the typical British gentleman, offering to help Christine whenever she stopped to rest. He even cracked some jokes to let us forget that we were in the middle of millions-year-old rainforest. "Me Tarzan You Nikie" lame it may sound now but it made me laugh then anyway. The buttress roots of the trees was the irony of the walk, they helped us get our footings, but take the wrong step you bound to trip.
It was not until half an hour later that we got to the some flights of staircases. So this was where the 1,226 steps lay. Marianne, a physicist by trade, actually counted the staircases just to confirm the figure. Unbelievable. The staircases helped ease the climb a bit but the steps were not the same height so it was tiresome on the legs too in the end.
Surrounding us were trees of different shape of leaves, different colours, and sizes. Some had trunks as big as a car! and height as tall as a towering building! so one can wonder how old that tree must be. There were also creepy crawlies that were very unique, some very vibrant and colourful and some moved very fast like they were late for an important meeting. I remember seeing millions and millions of black ants crawling over a root of a tree and Marianne said plainly "That reminds me of the motorway in England."
The Tale of the Five Towers
When we reached to the top, it sun was already high and getting stronger by the minute. The rest of the group were already here except for Christine who was still trying to finish her stair climb.
I was getting worried for her so I went down until I could see her and shouted some words of encouragement. She just gave me a faint smile, I knew she was really tired. So I told her to take her time and we still need to take turn to get up the tower. Yes it's true. The towers only allow two people at a time. We were not the only group there, there were also other visitors waiting to climb up.
There were five towers altogether and each one connected by a bridge. Everything were made of aluminium steel to prevent rust. To stabilise the whole structure, it was hooked by taut wires which were grounded (probably to earth lightning too). To do the canopy walk, you have walk across the bridges connecting the five towers. The bridge could support two people at one time and it is narrow too.
There was no safety harness to hook you to the railing so you need to make sure that you cling to the railings all the time. I guess the scariest part of the climb was the small steps. I just kept try to make sure that my footing was right so that I don't slip. Roger and Brian already started their climb and a few minutes later they were not visible anymore from the ground, submerged by the thick lush of branches and leaves. Christine finally made it to the top, she was panting and sweating profusely, so I told her to just sit and rest. She told me that she gave up on climbing the tower, I was a little disappointed when I heard that, but I could understand how she felt.
Marianne and I followed Brian and Roger and started climbing up the tower. There were probably around 16 landings and each level had around 20 steps.
Climbing up the spiraling staircases can be a headache, so I made sure I kept my eyes forward and not down. Five to seven minutes later, Marianne and I reached the peak of Tower One. Tower one was the shortest of the five towers..but then that is also relative. We were at the same height of the trees around us, so we had a good view of the canopy. Wild orchids clasping its creeping roots on the giant trees and bees and butterflies flying here and there. On top of the tower, there were two arrows pointing to different directions - One to Mount Kinabalu and the other to Bandar Seri Begawan. We walked across the first bridge to get to the second tower, climbed a few levels higher on tower two and then three and then finally, the tallest of all, Tower 5. Brian and Roger seemed to be taking their time up there so the view there must be amazing.
A few minutes later, they finally went down and we started our ascend to the last tower. The tower was creaking a bit probably from the weight we exerted on it. Step by step we finally reached the pinnacle of our journey - The Ulu Temburong National Rainforest in its full glory. Magnificent. Simply magnificent. This is where our oxygen comes from and mother nature has never look more breathtaking and amazing from up there. We just stood there, and for once we felt in unison with nature.
Cinderella lost her shoe
Getting down the tower was a lot easier but we still need to do it slowly as the spiraling staircases could give you a dizzy head. By the time we reached the bottom of Tower 1, we noticed that Christine was not there anymore. The guide there told us she climbed up the tower.
Way to go Christine - I was happy that she did. She didn't finish the whole canopy walk though but reaching the top of the tower was worth it enough. When she finally joined us on the ground, and after letting her get some breather, we continued our journey down the hill. Roger the 'mountain goat' chemist practically ran down the stairs as if having a walk in the park while the rest of us walked slowly down. The muddy part of the hill proved to be the hardest one to do. Trying not to slip, I hang on to the ropes and reminding myself not to step on the orange coloured rocks which were made of clay. Brake, brake, slide, brake and then suddenly broke! one of my sandals' sole detached itself and it looked like it suddenly grow a tongue! I felt really silly then. By the time I reach the bottom of the hill where our boat was waiting, my sandal fell apart.
christine and roger
Fortunately, the front part was still attach so I had to limp to make sure it stayed on my foot.
Sungai Apan Waterfall
I refused to let my broken sandal ruin the day and continued the journey with smile on my face, cherishing my recent lifetime accomplishment of climbing up the canopy. I almost forgot that we had one more stop to do - The Sungai Apan Waterfall. It is located before the resort so we went pass the resort and stopped at one part of the river which was covered with pebbles of different sizes and shapes. There was a small shallow stream jutting out from the forest to join the main river. To get to the waterfall, we had to walk up the stream. The water there was so clean and clear you could see the bottom of the stream. I only got one shot there then my battery ran out - perfect timing!! I was so frustrated to see the beautiful waterfall.
hey wheres the water?
It was not as big as the water fall at Tasek Lama, probably standing one storey high. The lake was also a small one and not deep too. I wanted to take a dip there but I remember that I didnt have any towel with me. Another time perhaps. While standing there, something nibbled on my feet. I jumped as it tickled. Our guide told us that there were tiny fishes in the shallow lake, and if you keep still enough, it would nibble on your feet to eat your dead skins. That was fabulous - a natural beauty treatment.
After spending like 20 minutes there, we journeyed back to Trandie Marina. The cloud slowly turning to grey and slowly tiny droplets of rain started to fall. What is a rainforest without the rain? so that was actually perfect!! Our guide gave us complimentary raincoats to wear which we didn't bother to as it didn't rain heavy enough.
Sometime around four we were back at Trandie Marina. Feeling a little tired but not wornout, we removed our lifejackets and made our way to the dinner hall where lunch was already waiting for us. For lunch, they served us with rice, chicken curry, soya sauce beef (both I couldn't eat) and pineapple stew (that I can eat). We were really hungry then that we almost finished everything. Rain already started to fall but not for long and I started to feel sleepy, apparently, the rest of us too.
We got back to our van, cruised smoothly back into the town, made a 10 minutes tour around the shopping area and then got back on the flying coffin. Everything was done in less than 15 minutes. And then one boat ride later we were back to where we started.