Read my published article on Bandar Seri Begawan for Cebu Pacific Air here.
Brunei is often overlooked as it is dwarfed by neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia on the island of Borneo. However, the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam is a unique treasure for those adventurous enough to visit and its waterways provide exciting adventures.
Big Nose Monkey
For those who like the game Cluedo, then play detective and locate the most famed monkey in Brunei, the Proboscis monkey.
The monkey, also nicknamed ‘Dutch monkey’ due to its overly large nose resides in the trees of Bandar Seri Begawan. However, they are elusive so timing, a keen eye and a sprinkle of luck will be needed. To see the monkeys, hire a local boatman at any jetty at the water’s edge in the city centre. Finding a driver will be easy because as soon as you are in a one hundred metre radius the boatmen will be vying for your business.
Some boatmen are friendly and others definitely not! Born with white skin? Then expect to pay inflated prices. I got on the boat and was quoted 30 BND but I recoiled in shock knowing that was extremely overpriced. I immediately jumped off the boat, much to the annoyance of the young driver. I know how to haggle and I won’t be treated like a fool. I then got into a neighbouring boat where I paid $20 Brunei dollar instead for a one hour round trip, agreeing on the price beforehand. The boat then made its way to vibrant green foliage and mangroves. The best chance to see the monkeys are at 7am or 5pm due to the weather being cooler and the tide being low.
Follow that advice as I tried 3 times before finally spotting the elusive monkey. Even the local boatmen will differ in telling you the best times but my best experience occurred at 5pm.
Whilst whizzing past dense forest keep a look out for rattling tree tops. This is a sign that a monkey is in the tree. Your driver will be highly experienced at monkey spotting and will do their upmost to make it a fruitful trip. Hiring you own boatman is far more beneficial than joining a tour as the boats are smaller and can enter tiny crevices that edge deep into the mangroves; providing you with a higher probability of seeing our primate cousins.
Most boats will take the same route and you will soon become familiar with the locations that are most lucrative. However, my luck in seeing the monkeys all occurred in an area less looked upon. On my third trip outing to see the monkeys, it was 5pm when we set off (having just come back from Ulu Temburong Nation Park). I was hopeful but throughout my trip my driver was having no luck. However, he was trying his best and he even took me down small inlets where no one had looked before. At several points my driver got out of the boat in search of monkeys, leaving me abandoned on a small boat.
We were having no luck, but then suddenly, he steered to the opposite side of the river and spotted something. Pointing in the area I could see nothing. These monkeys are well camouflaged. Then I saw a monkey jumping from one tree to another. He wasn’t alone and my driver edged forward as far as we could. The mangroves and branches were straddling the front of the boat but then I saw a whole family of Proboscis monkeys. They were quite far into the trees so it was hard to take a decent picture. Their tails drooped below the branches and their noses big and bulging. I was thrilled, especially as we were returning back to the city centre when we stumbled across the primates. I rewarded my driver with a generous tip as he certainly went out of his way to let me see the monkey.
Things that go Bump in the Night
When the sun descends in Brunei it isn’t just the moon that comes out to play.
Having annoyed a boat driver early on in my stay in Brunei by refusing him as boatman due to his price, it just so happened to be my luck that the man who had formerly sworn at me (yes he raised his middle finger at me and my new driver) would now become my boatman for the night. Thank goodness he doesn’t hold grudges.
Paying around $15 Brunei dollar I went on a search, seeking out two creatures of the night. Thundering through the Sungai Brunei River in the dark is an exhilarating experience. You will feel like Indiana Jones as the wind thrashes your face as ominous shadows morph in the night. Slowly, you will edge to the embankment. Your boatman will drift along until flickering lights prance around, twinkling like fairy lights. These glows are from fireflies, hovering around the vegetation next to the river.
I have always wanted to see fireflies because they are such curious and unique things. Animals that can glow sounds pretty darn cool to me. The fireflies are not in big groups in Brunei so don’t expect to see more than 10 in a group hovering about the plants. However, the sight is definitely worth seeing for those who have never seen fireflies. Being on a speeding boat in the middle of the night is also crazily enjoyable. It has a much more ominous feeling and you will feel transported to the Amazon.
Your journey won’t be over as the driver scans the waters with a bright light looking for the reflections of crocodile eyes. The waters are infested with the small reptiles and finding these fearsome predators will set the heart racing. Be careful not to dip your toes into the water!
If you opt to see monkeys in the morning as well, the drivers will take you to marshy and muddy areas where crocodiles can be seen much easier as they bathe.
During one of my unsuccessful trips to see monkeys, my driver detoured and took me around Kampong Ayer, the stilted village that floats on the water. The floating village hosts a giant floating billboard, a mosque, schools and homes for thousands of locals. Water taxis ferry people around and it was nice to weave in between the stilted postcodes. Going further you will pass a gigantic bridge that is being completed and the views are beautiful.
The waterways are the heart of Brunei and there is a lot of fun to be had on the water. Even if you don’t see any wildlife the experience will be something you won’t forget.
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