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What to do in Brunei


Brunei is proof that sometimes the destinations less travelled can offer the most in the way of unique and uplifting travel experiences, writes David Thorndike.

Think pristine rainforests, treetop experiences at sunrise, up-close encounters with gibbons and having your feet and legs meticulously groomed in a natural fish spa (which is in a canyon-like river tributary underneath one of the most beautiful waterfalls you are ever likely to see) and you will begin to get a picture of Brunei and what is on offer here. For one of the smallest countries in the world, this destination sure knows how to turn it on for adventure-seeking teenagers.

Luxury Accommodation

The starting point of our journey was the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. Royal Brunei flies here three times weekly out of Melbourne and its business class certainly makes us feel worthy of nobility. Arriving at our digs, The Empire Hotel & Country Club, we were overwhelmed by the sheer grandeur of the accommodation.

I thought I had stepped back in time to the turn of the century and accidentally wandered into the Sultan’s palace. From the marble floors and gold columns supporting the vaulted ceiling, to the classic furnishings within my suite, this is truly a place to be admired.

If your plan is to simply stay at the hotel and explore the capital, it would not be a wasted trip. With a country club that includes an indoor lap pool, billiards tables, squash courts and 10 pin bowling alley, an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus and regular visits from the eldest son of the Sultan (one of the club members), you will be in good company as you get your daily exercise. There are several outdoor swimming pools, including a shallow fenced-off toddlers’ pool complete with water slides, and a supervised kids’ club with a cubby house, toys, games and activities.

Cultural Experience

Travel into the city is easily arranged through the hotel, and booking an organised tour is highly recommended for those short on time as you are guaranteed to see the best of the best.

Highlights of ours included visiting the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, with its main dome covered in pure gold; the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the largest in Brunei; the Royal Regalia Museum, which celebrates the life and family history of the Sultan of Brunei; time spent looking through some of the local shops and malls; and, most notably, a water journey through the stilt village on the Brunei River, where we were welcomed into the home of a local family.

Ulu Temburong National Park

The next day, we journeyed into the unknown, first by speedboat taxi from the main wharf in the city to the town of Bangar, approximately an hour up river. From there it is a further half an hour by mini bus to Batang Duri and a longboat journey up the Temburong river to Ulu Ulu Resort and Ulu Temburong National Park – 50,000 hectares of rainforest and one of the best examples of biodiversity in the world – which takes approximately half an hour.

It is an exhilarating experience as your driver negotiates rapids and (depending on the time of your travel and the depth of the river) may even ask you to jump into the river and push if you become stranded!

Arriving at Ulu Ulu Resort, we were given afternoon tea and checked into our rooms. Depending on your requirements, there are single rooms with ensuites and dorm-style rooms with up to four beds. The setting is rustic, and there is no in-room television or bar fridge for drinks; simply a bed, table and chairs, a wardrobe and a set of drawers. The rest of the resort includes a cafe where all meals are served and a cinema upstairs for when the weather makes exploring impossible.

Jungle Adventure

The rainforest canopy hike aims to have you at the top of the mountain as the sun begins to rise to witness the incredible sight. It is a steep walk, with approximately 1200 steps to climb before you reach a steel scaffold-style tower, which takes you up above the treetops.

The view from the top is absolutely superb, as was the chance encounter with a family of gibbons only a short distance from where we were standing. The entire trek took nearly four hours and the rest of the morning was spent exploring the local area, floating down the river atop an inflatable tube, and being guided into amazing tributaries that lead to hidden waterfalls and even a fish spa. Here, the residents nibble away happily at your legs and feet, in undeniably five-star service.

The return journey back to civilisation the next day was no less exhilarating then the first time in the longboat, albeit with the realisation that we would within just a few hours be back on the plane to Melbourne and leaving this amazing destination.

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