IMAGINE witnessing the sunrise from the tallest tower of the rainforest canopy walk at Ulu Temburong National Park, watching daylight slowly spreading across the jungle valley, and the morning mist dancing to where the wind is blowing, on your birthday.
I have to admit that I am actually acrophobic, which means having extreme or irrational fear of heights. However the decision to take a few days off work during my birthday week was rather impulsive, as I came across this quote on the Internet: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”.
As soon as my leave application was approved by my supervisor, I immediately looked for cheap airfares and at travel blogs for destination ideas. It was when I came across a link titled “Five underrated countries that should be your next destination” and saw that Brunei was listed number five after Faroe Islands, Swaziland, Guernsey and Jersey, and French Guiana.
It then hit me that being Bruneian, I have yet to discover Temburong which is dubbed the ‘Green Jewel Of Brunei’. The Ulu-Ulu Resort’s website was among the first results in the Google search.
It felt like a calling. I browsed through the tour packages and rates and I eventually made up my mind to stay overnight. So I contacted the tour agent, Sunshine Borneo Tour and Travel, which operates the Ulu-Ulu Resort and the next thing I remember was meeting my tour guide at the Kianggeh Jetty in the capital to catch the 9am public speedboat to Bangar town in Temburong.
The boat ride, which took approximately 45 minutes, is one of the three ways to get to Ulu Temburong National Park. One can enjoy long stretches of mangrove forests, but my guide reminded us that the best was yet to come.
Upon reaching Bangar, we quickly transferred to a mini-van for a 25-minutes overland journey to Batang Duri. It was then the highlight of the trip as we hopped onto a temuai or long boat and journeyed upstream and past the rapids, before arriving at the club lounge of the Ulu-Ulu Resort to check-in.
My guide gave me a quick tour on the facilities available at the resort. According to him, the resort is set within the 50,000 hectares of Ulu Temburong National Park, a pristine rainforest with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world.
Thus the 17-room resort embraces green practices such as practicing low water usage and energy saving habits which results in low-density, environmentally conscious accommodation, enabling the resort to be awarded the ASEAN Green Hotel Standard Award from 2010 to 2016.
While waiting for the afternoon activity on the first day, I had the chance to unwind on a hammock on my villa patio, while enjoying the beautiful and therapeutic scenery that overlooks the Temburong river.
The rest of the afternoon was spent water tubing and trekking to a mini waterfall before having dinner and a night walk to see some wildlife around the resort grounds.
The next day was D-day. I woke up at 4.30am to hike to the base of the canopy walk – which took 30 to 40 minutes from the resort. Armed with my flashlight and accompanied by my guide, we braved the dark trail and walked across a suspended bridge – all to catch the break of dawn across the rainforest canopy.
My guide told me that the trail and the suspended bridge was only opened this year. Previously, visitors had to do some jungle trekking before reaching the stairs of the watch tower.
We arrived at the base at approximately 5.45am and I took some time to catch my breath before climbing up the steel ladders of the canopy walk.
My acrophobia kicked in and I could feel my heart pounding fast and my feet started to jiggle as I was climbing the 42m high tower – equivalent to 21 floors.
As I reached the top of the firs tower of the canopy walk, the breathtaking sunrise and the morning call of gibbons greeted me. Breathing the fresh cool air, I immediately felt a wave of overwhelming emotion and almost burst into tears. It felt surreal. I finally overcame my fear of heights. I finally did it.
The picturesque landscape was exactly the same as I had seen in local magazines, postcards and ‘Visit Brunei’ posters.
Like Jack and Rose in the movie Titanic, I held out my arms and said to myself, “Achievement unlocked! Well done and a very happy birthday to you, Billah.”