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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless credited to others.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2024







  Ulu Temburong National Park  
    ... untouched rainforest of Brunei  

Sungei Belalong - this tributary to the Temburong River can rise many metres after a tropical storm.


The easternmost part of Brunei is the Temburong District, which is separated from the capital and the three other Bruneian provinces by the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The Temburong District is rich in unspoiled natural heritage, including the Ulu Temburong National Park (formerly the Batu Apoi Forest Reserve). Here the magnificence of Borneo's lowland rainforests can be truly experienced. Botanically the area is possessed of astounding diversity, however the casual visitor in search of birds or mammals is likely to be disappointed by the apparent lack of fauna. In fact the forests teem with wildlife, but these creatures are invariably shy and are quick to avoid human contact.

Getting There

Ulu Temburong is only accessible by boat. From the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan water taxis take about one hour to ply the route to the main town of Bangar in Temburong District. This allows the visitor a glimpse of the mangrove forests which line the muddy delta of the Limbang River flowing out of Sarawak into Brunei Bay. With luck, Proboscis Monkeys may be sighted along this route, however these are more likely to be seen in early morning or late afternoon.  


Water Taxis takes you from the Brunei capital to the Temburong District


From Bangar, a 30 minute bus ride is needed to reach Batang Duri which is the base for Brunei's Outward Bound School and the embarkation point for Temuai longboats which carry visitors up the Temburong River. These craft are steered by Iban men and women who, with remarkable ability, manage to avoid sand bars, boulders and submerged logs. Beware though, when water levels are low passengers are expected to climb out of the craft and help push the boat to deeper water. After two hours passengers should have arrived safely, but not necessarily dry, at their accommodation in the National Park Headquarters near the confluence with Sungei Belalong. See Where To Stay


Atop the well-constructed
 Canopy Walkway


Boardwalks and Suspension Bridges

From the National Park headquarters an extensive network of wooden boardwalks leads to the surrounding forests. It would be possible for the visitor to spend some days in Ulu Temburong without actually letting their feet touch the forest floor ! However, in places the wooden planking has lost the battle against termites, beetles and fungus so care must be taken. Thankfully the suspension bridges which criss-cross the rivers are in better condition !

Canopy Walkway

A birds-eye view of the surrounding forests can be had from the not-to-be-missed Canopy Walkway. This steel structure rises some 50 metres from the forest floor to the level of the highest trees, and from here can be seen tiger orchids and other epiphytes clinging to the branches, as well as Bukit Belalong (Bukit=Hill) in the distance. The observant may even glimpse snakes in the treetops, such as the strikingly coloured Wagler's Pit Viper.


Wagler's Pit Viper Tropidolaemus wagleri - this specimen was seen from the Canopy Walkway


Denizens of the Rainforest

The Wagler's Pit Viper is also called the Temple Viper (in some parts of S.E. Asia they bring good luck to Buddhist temples). The picture at left is of a juvenile, with it's distinctive yellow and pale green colour and coloured crossbars. The 'pits' or heat-sensitive organs which lie between the eye and the nostril are used to detect prey. This is a venomous species, with powerful haemotoxins, however bites are rarely fatal.

Lizards are perhaps easier to find than snakes, and with luck one may get glimpses of species with such unlikely sounding names as the Five-lined Flying Lizard Draco quinquefasciatus and Peter's Bent-toed Gecko Gonydactylus consobrinus


Black-spotted Rock Frog
Staurois guttatus


It is worth searching quietly for Ulu Temburong's shy amphibians, both by day and by night. These include the common Kuhl's Creek Frog Limnonectes kuhli, the Smooth Guardian Frog Rana palavanensis easily identified by the black chevron marking on it's back, the Painted Tree Frog Nyctixalus pictus which lays it's eggs in tree holes, and the striking Wallace's Flying Frog Rhacophorus nigropalmatus which has the ability to glide from tree to tree using its webbed fingers and toes.

The Black Spotted Rock Frog Staurois guttatus (right) is a handsome species which can be found in the water-filled gullies or small waterfalls. The frog in the photograph was just two inches in length.

Insects - essential to Rainforest ecology


The Jewel Of The Rainforest - the beautiful Rajah Brooke's Birdwing Troides brookiana


By some estimates there may be as many as 400 species of butterfly in the Ulu Temburong National Park, however many of these are rare and occur in areas not accessible to the casual visitor. Arguably the most beautiful butterfly in the world is the Rajah Brooke's Birdwing (named after the 'White Rajah' James Brooke who ruled Sarawak as his private kingdom in the colonial era.) With it's jet black wing colour and emerald green banding the males of this most glorious of species can be found searching for salt and other minerals near human habitation - in particular it favours sewage outfalls ! 

Another butterfly species of note is the Tree Nymph Idea stolli. This white and black spotted species glides on it's gossamer wings around sunlit areas, seeming to float in the air with no effort at all. 

  Termite nest on a Boardwalk   Forest Centipede guarding her eggs   Giant Forest Ant  Campanotus gigas

Other insects to look for include forest centipedes, sometimes found guarding their eggs, the Giant Forest Ant Campanotus gigas which, at one inch long, looks formidable but will not bite humans, and Lantern Bugs with their bizarre elongated heads. Take some time to observe the activities of termites; these social insects quickly break down dead plant or tree matter (or wooden boardwalks !) and return the nutrients to the soil for absorption by the next generation of plants and trees.

Birds and Mammals


A cauliflory of fruits of
Baccaurea sp. 


Higher vertebrates are hard to spot in these forests. The Bushy Crested Hornbill Anorrhinus galeritus may sometimes be seen near the accommodation but other dramatic species, such as the Rhinoceros Hornbill Buceros rhinoceros are more likely to be heard flying overhead than actually be seen. Broadbills, such as the Black-and-yellow Broadbill Eurylaimus ochromalus, may be found foraging for food, and along the rivers fast-flying Swiftlets will be seen hunting for insects.  

The 'primate king' of Borneo, the Bornean Orang Utan, is not found in Ulu Temburong. The king in Ulu Temburong is the Bornean Gibbon Hylobates muelleri whose loud call may be heard ringing from the trees early each morning. This grey-brown, tail-less species is completely arboreal, living in the forest canopy and only occasionally descending to mid-canopy. Squirrels, however, will be seen at ground level, including the tiny Plain Pygmy Squirrel Exilisciurus exilis which can be found near human habitation.

Botanical Treasure Trove

For the botanist, the Ulu Temburong National Park contains an abundance of species for study. As is common in tropical lowland forests, the canopy is dominated by giants of the Shorea, Dryobalanops and Dipterocarpus genera. At ground level the forest floor is a wealth of gingers, begonias, gesneriads and aroids, and blooms of the Ixora genus are easily found. Rattan species are numerous - these often take advantage of the bright sunlight reaching the forest floor through breaks in the canopy.  


Spiked stem and fruits of Daemonorops sp.
- a type of Rattan


Palms, ferns, mosses and lichens are to be found along the river's edge and in the quiet rocky gullies. Many of these species may be fully submerged when the rivers are swollen by flash floods, but somehow they manage to cling to the rocky substrate and survive. 

Fruiting figs, an essential food source for many mammals and birds in the rainforest ecosystem, are common, but keep an eye out for geocarpic figs, whose fruits grow from ground shoots rather than from the trunks and branches.

One does not have to be a botanist to appreciate the diversity of Ulu Temburong's flora - all that is needed is e keen eye, and an appreciation of the wonderful forms and structures which have evolved over many millennia in these wonderful forests.

Where To Stay


Nature Society (Singapore) at the Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre


Accommodation is available at the Ulu Temburong National Park Headquarters. Booking of accommodation is best made through travel agents in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. Some of these agents can be found online. A package booking through an agent should also cover boat and road transfers.

Scientific groups, natural history societies and school groups can stay at the Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre, just one kilometre upriver from the park headquarters. Bookings should be made through : The Coordinator, Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre, Department of Biology, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Gadong 3186, Negara Brunei Darussalam.

References : J. Payne & C. M. Francis, 1998. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo. The Sabah Society.
P. Engbers & M.Storey, 1997. Wildlife Watch in Brunei Darussalam. Panaga Natural History Society.
K.M. Wong & A.S. Kamariah, 1999. Forests and Trees of Brunei Darussalam. Universiti Brunei Darussalam.
  Photographs and some text of this article first appeared in Volume 9, Number 1 of Nature Watch, published by the Nature Society (Singapore), January 2001