Boating the Backwaters of Brunei

Even among the extremely well-traveled people of the world, the Temburong District of Brunei is considered remote.

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It is, in fact, the least-visited region on the island of Borneo. A part of the earth which is, itself, synonymous with vast, uncharted jungles and aboriginal wilderness. If you rent a car in the Brunei capital of Bandar Seri Begawan, the rental company will allow you to drive across the international border to the Malaysian state of Sarawak, but they won’t let you cross into Temburong.

“Too wild,” they said to me when I asked at the rental counter. “Cars that go there never come back.”

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Angela on the fast ferry with some intrepid locals venturing to Temburong

In fact, most citizens of Brunei have never made the one-hour boat ride into the remote district. It is a world apart for them. A backwater full of leopards, mammoth crocodiles, and orangutan families who have never seen humans.

Plus, snakes. Lots and lots of snakes.

With over 160 different species of snakes, including king cobras, coral snakes, pit vipers, poisonous kraits, sea snakes, and reticulated pythons that can reach over 10 meters (30 feet) in length, Borneo is not a place for casual camping.

Angela and I need not have worried, however. Our journey into this most overgrown portion of Borneo was relatively tame, consisting of multiple boat rides and a casual stroll about the small town of Bangar, with uniformed schoolchildren politely nodding as we passed them on the street.

We also experienced a wonderful lunch with locals who, in broken fits of English, Malay, and French, claimed that we were the first Americans they had ever met.

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With the jungle pressing in on all sides and the landscape dominated by the low, green hills of the Peradayan Forest Reserve, Bangar is the last civilized town in this part of the world. The lonely outposts further upriver mere fishing villages with only basic infrastructure to support local rainforest research and a fledgling ecotourism business.

I wish we could have ventured on, traveling to where the Sungai Temburong River becomes but a stream, the overhanging palms drooping into the muddy water, the dark depths of the jungle a close tangle of roots and rare orchids.

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A place where mankind is unwelcome and time has not yet been invented.

But, like so many destinations on this trip, that jungle would have to wait for our return. A deeper dive in the future. A longer trek. A traveler turned explorer.

The snakes of the forest are waiting. Like shadows.

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