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Getting around

Part 8: Labuan, Brunei, Ulu Temburong

25-26.6: Munich -> Dubai -> KL
27.6: KL
28.6: KL
29.6: KL -> Miri
30.6: Miri -> Mulu
1.7: Mulu -> Camp 5
2.7: Pinnacles
3.7: Camp 5 -> Miri -> Kuching
4.7: Kuching -> Singapore
5.7: Singapore
6.7: Singapore
7.7: Singapore -> KL
8.7: KL -> Merang
9.7: Merang -> Lang Tengah
10.7: Lang Tengah
11.7: Lang Tengah -> Kuala Terengganu -> Pulau Kapas
12.7: Pulau Kapas -> KL -> Teluk Intan

13.7: Teluk Intan
14.7: Teluk Intan, Ipoh, Kuala Kangsar, Taiping
15.7: Teluk Intan -> KL -> Kuching
16.7: Kuching, Kubah NP, Matang wildlife reserve
17.7: Semenggoh, Kuching wetlands NP, Kota Kinabalu
18.7: Kota Kinabalu -> Labuan
19.7: Labuan -> Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei)
20.7: Ulu Temburong NP -> BSB
21.7: BSB -> Seria -> Tasek Merimbun -> KL
22.7: KL
23.7: KL
24.7: KL -> Dubai
25.7: Dubai -> Munich

18.7: Kota Kinabalu -> Labuan
Global Hotel, Labuan. RM 80 for a small, but functional room. There is a TV, phone, adjustable A/C, fridge, table+chair, cupboard for the clothes, bathroom with shower. Close to the centre of Victoria. Fast WLAN in the room. Good shower with plenty of hot water.

Weather: sunny in the morning in KK until about 11am, then overcast, then it's a mix of overcast and sunny. In Labuan sunny until 3pm, then overcast. Rain in the evening after 6pm and at night.

I have a combination of breakfast and lunch at 11am in a KFC restaurant, then check out of the hotel and take a taxi (RM 25) to the airport. Nice new airport terminal. Long waiting time at the Malaysian airways counter - a guy needs almost half an hour to check in a group of girls, the lady at the other counter is also painfully slow.

The flight leaves early and arrives early in Labuan at 1:20pm. I call a couple of hotels, book a room, take a taxi to the hotel (RM 12.50) and check in. By 2pm I'm already exploring Victoria, the main city of Labuan. Taxis can be chartered for RM 40/hour.

Victoria is small and cute. No old buildings, because of the destruction of WW II. There is one big mall in the east of the city centre. Victoria is quite laid back and I only see a few tourists.

There are a few islands off the west tip of Labuan. To get there you need to charter a boat, but when I ask for the price of a two hours trip I get ridiculous answers (RM 500-1200, depending on the size of the boat). A bit strange since the islands are very close. 

At 2:30pm I buy a ticket for the ferry to Brunei for tomorrow (4pm, price is RM 43 for a first class ticket). In the afternoon the sky gets overcast.

19.7: Labuan -> Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei)
Hotel Jubilee, Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei). 70 Brunei $ for a room with adjustable A/C, attached bath with bathtub and shower, lots of furniture incl. a table+chair and a big cupboard, fridge, TV, phone. Big toilet. Corridor connecting door with actual sleeping room. No WLAN neither in the room, nor in the lobby (but available in the adjacent Thai restaurant). The hotel has seen better days and definitely needs renovation, but everything still works and is functional. Noisy road outside.

Weather: typical tropical pattern with a sunny morning, followed by a gradual clouds buildup, overcast sky starting from 2pm, rain later in the afternoon. In Brunei it rains from 5pm until after 9pm.

I skip breakfast in the morning to save time, then at 9am I call the taxi, the same one which brought me here yesterday. For RM 40/hour the driver will show me the interesting places on the island.

The first stop is at the Labuan mosque, in modern style, quite nice. Then we drive to the Sikh temple nearby, white with golden domes. Easily accessible, no controls.

At 9:15am we already make our third stop at the botanical gardens. Beautiful gardens with many tropical plants, where one could spend a couple of hours or more strolling around. I'm there for just about 10 minutes then get back to the taxi.

We now drive to the WW II cemetery and memorial, where many allied soldiers, mostly Australian, are buried. Beautiful cemetery, with a perfectly maintained, immaculate lawn and neatly laid out gravestones. A very peaceful place.

At 9:45am we drive to the chimney in the north of the island, sort of a huge chimney built with bricks shipped here from England. This was probably used in combination with coal mining activities on Labuan (adjacent museum showing coal mining on Labuan).

We then continue driving along the northern coast. Some beaches which however are not nice. In fact I can't see a single nice beach on the entire northern coast.

At 10:37am we arrive at the surrender point, where in 1945 the Japanese Borneo army surrendered to Australian forces. This island has a lot of WW II history on it. No overwhelming sights, but lots of history for those who fought or have/had relatives who fought here. The driver tells me that many Japanese tourists come here.

It's almost 11am when we continue driving along the north coast. At 11:15am we stop at a newly built Chinese temple. Very nice temple.

At 11:20am we drive back to the hotel. I pay the driver (RM 100), pack my stuff and shortly before 12pm check out.

The boat to Brunei only leaves at 4pm, so I spend the next few hours walking around and having some lunch. At 2 something pm I'm back in the hotel. They call a taxi for me (actually it's a short distance to the ferry terminal, but walking it in the heat with the big suitcase is not that appealing).  

After about 10 minutes the taxi arrives and brings me to the ferry terminal. I'm surprised by the RM 10 this guy is charging for such a short distance, probably less than 500m. Maybe I should have walked, but I have a heavy suitcase.

It's still a bit early for the ferry, so I spend my time going through the photos and checking my emails (free WLAN hotspot available in the ferry terminal).

At 4pm the ferry leaves and arrives in Brunei at 5:30pm. We land in Muara, which is about 20-30km from BSB. A taxi is already waiting for me. For RM 40 he'll bring me to the hotel in BSB. A bit pricey, as I later find out.

At the moment the sultan is celebrating his birthday and the whole of BSB is decorated like a Christmas tree. Lots of activity on the street. In the evening the main mosque in Bandar is burning. Lots of smoke coming out of one minaret.

20.7: Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) -> Ulu Temburong NP -> BSB
Hotel Jubilee, Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei).

Weather: sunny morning, followed by a gradual clouds buildup, more or less overcast sky starting from 4pm, rain between 4 and 5pm and after 6pm.

The Sunshine Borneo Tours tour bus arrives late at 7:40am. We (there are another 8-10 people doing to Ulu Temburong today) drive to the jetty where at 8am we board a public boat to the city of Bangar in the Temburong district.

We actually leave Brunei, cross into Malaysian territorial waters and cross back into Brunei. The boat zips at high speed along the coast and then the rivers to the city of Bangar, reaching top speeds of 80km/h.

At 8:45am we arrive to the jetty of Bangar. We leave the boat and walk into two minibuses, one for the day trippers (me) and one for those staying overnight at the jungle resort.

At 9:15am we arrive at the second jetty on the river which goes into the Ulu Temburong national park. We all go into small longboats, each seating five tourists. These are open boats.

The river is surrounded by some quite impressive rainforest. Very tall trees are lining along the river. It's all primary rainforest, of which there is plenty in Brunei because Brunei has never had to start logging activities due to its oil wealth.

When I ask our guide if we'll see wildlife today, he tells me most likely not. We'd have to go much deeper into the national park, not doable on a short day trip. He also mentions that the Temburong district is surrounded by palm oil plantations in Malaysia and animals feed on the oil palm fruits and therefore leave the Ulu Temburong park. I wonder if this is true. 

More chit-chat with the tour guide. There is no shopping mall in Temburong, all people go to BSB for shopping. There are just 9000 people living in Temburong, which is an economically underdeveloped district. The economy here depends mainly on tourism and quarries where stone is extracted for the construction sector. Cutting trees requires an official permit, which costs 200 Brunei $ to obtain. Some illegal logging at the border to Malaysia.

At 9:50am we finally arrive at the Ulu Ulu rainforest resort, which lies inside the Ulu Temburong NP. Here it is possible to stay in luxury rooms with A/C. After a welcome drink and a brief presentation of the park, the overnighters now split from the day trippers.

Cost must be a bit less than 200 Brunei $/night, including all meals, because the daytrip costs 150 Brunei $, while the 2D/1N trip costs 350 Brunei $. The resort is operated by the Sunshine Borneo agency. Nearby there is a camp site, apparently used by other travel operators, so I'd guess that there must be a cheap option to visit Ulu Temburong.

The day trippers (that is a Korean couple, a Norwegian couple and me) will now take a boat for a short ride to the path leading to the canopy walkway. The path is not very long (I'm told 385m) but is quite steep. It's partly with staircases and partly muddy and slippery jungle path full of tree roots. Very muddy because it rained a lot yesterday.

It's 11:25am when we finally are at the base of the canopy walk. It consists of three metal towers, 42-45m high and above the tree level, linked by bridges. You walk up the first tower, enjoy the view, then continue to the second tower, then to the third, then down again and back to the base of the first tower where our guide waits for us.

We meet a family of Chinese tourists from Nanjing (couple of parents + two grown up daughters). There is an increasing number of tourists from mainland China in SE Asia, which shows that the Chinese are getting more and more affluent.

Cool view of the rainforest and the region from the top of the canopy walkway. We are there until 12pm, then walk back to the resort where we have some lunch at 12:40pm.

At 1:40pm we take the boat back. After 5 minutes we stop, get out of the boat and walk through a creek on the right side for about 5 minutes, reaching a nice waterfall, around 10m high. We have to walk through almost knee deep water, and the Norwegian guy gets his waterproof, high-tech goretex boots full of water, because the water level is higher than the boots and water comes in from above. Let's call this "defeat of the high-tech boots".

We then do all the way back, taking the sequence of boats and cars in reverse. While I am in Bangar, Raymond, from the car rental company calls and I reconfirm the car+driver for tomorrow. I'm back in the hotel at 3:40pm.

I wash myself quickly, and walk back into town for some more photos since the sun is shining. Not a chance, it gets overcast and starts raining for one hour. Looks like my day is already over. I have some snack in a KFC restaurant, then walk back to the hotel.

Later in the room I read in the newspaper that Brunei is experiencing some unusual weather conditions. More rain than ordinary, flooding problems. All this probably caused by La Nina.

21.7: BSB -> Seria -> Tasek Merimbun -> BSB -> KL
Flat of Sara in KL

Weather: almost sunny with some blue sky in the morning. Completely overcast after 11am in the interior, some sun and blue sky near the coast (BSB airport).  Clear sky and a nice sunset in KL.

For today I've booked a car+driver who will bring me around Brunei. Was originally thinking of taking the Sunshine Borneo tour to Seria, but there are not enough people. The guy at Sunshine Borneo suggested I rent a car and call Raymond (tel. 8757755). A small car is 80 Brunei $, Raymond suggests I take it with a driver, only 120 Brunei $ and save myself the hassle of finding the way which is not easy if you don't know Brunei. Not a bad deal - the price also includes the fuel, which would cost around 10 Brunei $ for the 250-300km we're going to do today (one litre of gasoline costs 53 cents).

Actually the driver is making very little. 40 Brunei $ for 6 hours is just 7 Brunei $/hour. Apparently despite the high GDP, it is still possible to find people willing to work for so little in Brunei. This may be an oil rich country, but it seems that either the average salaries are not that high or that there are huge income disparities.

So here I am at 8:30am in the lobby and the driver is already there waiting for me. The car is a Toyota Corolla, compact-medium size, and surprisingly luxury (leather seats, well accessorised, wooden or fake wooden interior). I notice later that almost all cars in Brunei are Japanese. I only spot one Korean car (KIA) and one Proton car today.

We drive at high speed on the motorway (well built motorway with not much traffic) towards Seria. At 9:35am we stop in Lumut and have a look at the BLNG plant. This is actually not a tourist attraction and in fact they don't allow tourists to get into the plant, so we have to drive to a spot along the beach from which there is a good view of the plant. Next to the plant is a long pier to which at the other end ships dock and load liquefied natural gas.

The beach next to the plant is surprisingly clean and the sea water, while far from crystal clear, is not black with oil.

At 9:45am we continue driving towards Seria, at the centre of the oil industry in Brunei.

At 10am we pass by the Seria crude oil terminal where there is a refinery from Shell. Adjacent to it there is a Shell petrol station, where you can buy freshly brewed, locally made, authentic Brunei gasoline. They could sell small bottles of locally made gasoline as souvenirs, although you might not be allowed to take that with you on a plane.

10 minutes later we are at the Billionth barrel monument, celebrating the production of the billionth barrel of crude oil in Seria in July 1991. The beach behind the monument has brownish sand, while the sea here is really black, well brownish-black to be more accurate. Perhaps oil production is not that clean here.

After that we drive to the Shell oil museum (entry ticket 5 Brunei $). I was hoping to see some exhibits showing the history of oil discovery and production in Seria. Well no, instead the museum is more or a science museum, showing some principles of physics, geology, how the earth is structured etc. Perhaps geared towards interesting kids for the topic. There is a 'build your own pipeline game', where you can connect plastic pipeline pieces and other similar games.

It's 11 something am when I get out of the museum. Brief discussion with the driver, apparently this is all that can be visited regarding the petrochemical sector in Brunei. So we decide to drive to the next place, Tasek Merimbun.

Tasek Merimbun is a lake in the interior of Brunei (Tutong district) with nice sceneries and bird spotting possibilities. It's an ASEAN national heritage site and in fact it is very, very nice. Beautiful setting, with nice vegetation, shores and natural setting. It's a pity the sky is not blue, otherwise the photos would have been even better.

We arrive there at 12:10pm and stay there until 1pm. The wooden bridge crossing the lake is closed and apparently is only open on Sundays. The lake probably is a weekend retreat for Bruneians because there are picnic tables on the other side of the lake.

While walking along the lake I hear something big in the trees. Cannot see it, but judging from the volume of tree branches moved it must be a big animal up there in the trees. Probably a big monkey.

At 1pm we start driving to the airport and arrive there at 2pm. I'm underwhelmed by this airport. Small and old-fashioned, it probably has been built ages ago and has never been renovated.

I feel like on another planet. This place is actually very close to Malaysia, but it feels so different. Or perhaps I'm so used to Malaysian airports.

12 Brunei $ airport tax which I have to pay at the check-in counter and apparently were not included in the ticket. Shame on Airasia for quoting an artificially low price.

Can't find a decent restaurant in the terminal. The Airasia plane arrives late and leaves with a small delay.

We land in the LCCT terminal with a small delay. I take a taxi (RM 85) to Sara's place.

Copyright 2010 Alfred Molon