An adventure to remember

Aziz Idris

Brunei Darussalam has vast potential to become a tourist hotspot, especially when it comes to community-based eco-tourism.

This was highlighted by two media representatives from the Philippines during a three-day excursion in the Sultanate recently.

Their visit – upon invitation from the Brunei Tourism Development Department – saw the duo experience the pristine jungle of Temburong as well as the tourist hotspots in Tutong.

“Brunei gave me this sense of peace and calm. I come from a country with a very crowded and stressful metropolis, so even the capital city of Brunei is new to me,” said Jonathan Espiña, who writes for an online travel blog, Jon to the World.

“The people are nice and warm, just like Filipinos,” he said.

Aside from learning about Brunei culture, Jon also had the chance to hear the stories of fellow Filipinos and how they started building their careers in the country.

The highlight of the trip was the rainforest trek in Temburong with BorneoGuide, the operator for Sumbiling Eco-Village.

ATV adventure at Katimahar Agri Park. PHOTOS: AZIZ IDRIS
ABOVE & BELOW: Glen Santillan enjoys the wilderness; and Jonathan Espiña extracts fresh honey at Tasbee Meliponiculture

Jon explained that back home in the Philippines there are also thick jungles and forests, but it is the conscious effort of the Bruneian government to protect the environment that really stuck with him.

“It’s something that I can take back to my country and I believe every country should follow what Brunei is doing in terms of environment protection and sustainable tourism,” he affirmed.

More than two-thirds of Brunei is covered in pristine rainforests which provide a sanctuary to different types of primates native to the island of Borneo along with hundreds of bird species as well.

“Imagine, more than 70 per cent of Brunei is made up of rainforest. That’s truly admirable,” said Jon.

Sharing the same sentiment was a writer for escapemanila.com Glen Santillan from Davao City, Philippines, who was on his second visit to Brunei.

Previously, Glen visited Brunei via Miri, Sarawak to get a glimpse of what the oil town has to offer.

“I enjoyed the trip to Temburong because it was my first time. The journey was scenic and the experience was amazing,” he said.

Glen admitted that the hiking trek at Peradayan Forest Reserve, which took about three-hours, was tiring but he learnt a lot from experienced guide Apai, a local Iban native.

It’s one of the tourism products offered at the Sumbiling Eco-Village under the Rainforest Discovery Trek package and it took them through secondary rainforest which features a diverse range of plants with multiple benefits such as wild ginseng. The trek brought them deeper into the primary forest where they marvelled at the towering trees and enjoyed the cool shade cast by the imposing canopy foliage above.

Upon returning to Sumbiling Eco-Village, the smell of delicious food prepared by local staff was delightful, especially with a treat of wild vegetables foraged from nearby.

“The food served was sumptuous and interesting, especially the bamboo chicken. It’s definitely a must-try when visiting Brunei!”

The duo also tried Brunei’s national dish, Ambuyat, experienced farm-to-table dining at Eco-Ponies Garden, extracted fresh honey at Tasbee Meliponiculture and went off-roading on quad bikes at Katimahar Agri Park.

The programme lined-up was part of the recently launched Brunei Sports and Adventure activity brochure, initiated by the Tourism Development Department to showcase the tourism products available in the country to entice not only tourists, but locals too.

It offers insight into 15 recreational sports and adventure activities – ranging from mountain biking to abseiling, hiking and camping, water sports and diving, archery, golfing and birdwatching.

Founder of BorneoGuide Leslie Chiang said the latest initiatives are a positive move to attract more locals to visit Temburong. This year, he received over 1,000 visitors, of whom 30 per cent are local.

Between February to April, during the hot season, Leslie recorded the highest number of visitors, which reached up to 300 per month. He hopes to continue to push for their hiking and cultural activities with the newly launched brochure.

He also believes that with the near completion of the 30-km bridge connecting Temburong with the rest of Brunei, tourism for the district will be boosted with the shorter travel time.

On their last day, Jon and Glen tried Brunei’s first ride-hailing mobile application, Dart, to explore the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan.

Jon said he was impressed with the magnificent mosques of Brunei, saying, “Its grandeur depicts the deep faith of its people to Islam. Indeed, Brunei is truly the abode of peace,” he added.