Join us on a scientific expedition to one of the world’s last untouched areas of wilderness—the tropical rainforests of Borneo. Guided by an international team of seasoned scientists, we’ll explore the Ulu Temburong National Park in Brunei. Each day we’ll learn new skills and gain scientific knowledge during hands-on workshops and demonstrations. Whether we’re collecting ferns on a jungle hike, ascending into the canopy to set butterfly traps, or getting a crash course in DNA analysis, these 10 days will be an adventure in every sense of the word. To top it all off, our discoveries might even be immortalized in the scientific record as we help to describe and name new species.
Our partner, Taxon Expeditions: To offer this unique experience, we’re collaborating with Taxon Expeditions, a Netherlands-based organization that focuses on education and biodiversity discovery. Their team of international experts will be on hand to guide participants through all the steps of the scientific research process.
Hiking and field work in the tropical rainforest can be physically taxing. Inside the forest, relative humidity can be close to 100%, and with temperatures around 86°F / 30°C, you can easily become exhausted and dehydrated. Although most of our activities are not very strenuous, you’ll want to pay attention to your energy levels, drink plenty of water, and let the field leaders and/or your fellow participants know if you feel tired or unwell.
Most of our activities take place around the field center, which is in the lowlands and therefore hot. However, one or more hikes will go a bit further and uphill (up to 2,000 feet in elevation), where it will be (a little bit) cooler. The main danger of being in the forest is, in fact, getting lost. Stay on the trail and in earshot and/or view of other participants. Also, be prepared for your clothes and footwear to get consistently wet and difficult to dry out for the duration of the trip. Make use of morning sunshine to dry clothes, but bring them back in before rain or nightfall.
We’ll be staying all but one night at Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre (KBFSC), located in the Ulu Temburong National Park in the northeast of Brunei Darussalam (in the district Temburong, an enclave of Brunei in the Malaysian state of Sarawak). KBFSC was built in 1992 and is nestled in a steep-sided valley in one of the bends of the Belalong River. Trip participants have the option to stay in basic but comfortable rooms with one or two beds, or a dormitory-style room (separated by gender).
KBFSC has a washing machine and refrigerator for participant use, as well as hot water. KBFSC has no wi-fi, but from certain nearby locations there is mobile phone coverage (provider DST). For emergencies only, KBFSC has a satellite phone. The electricity only runs from 6:00–8:00 a.m. and 4:30–11:00 p.m., although we’ll have a small generator to power the laboratory during the afternoon. There is no shop at KBFSC, so any snacks, toiletries, and other personal supplies must be brought with you.
Sourced from the river, tap water at KBFSC undergoes filtration and UV treatments before being supplied to all buildings. However, it is not suitable for drinking. Boiled drinking water is supplied at the canteen and at our accommodations. Smoking and the consumption of alcohol are not allowed in the field station (and neither tobacco nor alcoholic drinks can be purchased in Brunei).
We advise you to visit your own tropical disease specialist for advice regarding vaccination and disease prevention. Mosquitoes are present all year round but not in large numbers. We recommend you bring insect repellent (DEET) along with appropriate clothing to wear at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are the most active. If you’re particularly sensitive to insect bites, please bring your own antihistamine cream and tablets. You could also be bitten by land leeches, which while annoying, are harmless. You may also wish to bring your own medicines for common ailments such as diarrhea, colds, skin irritation, etc. There is no pharmacy at KBFSC, and the pharmacy in the nearest town is poorly stocked.
You should plan to arrive in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, September 15, 2020 and depart in the evening on Thursday, September 24. Brunei International Airport (BWN), the country’s primary airport, is located 10 minutes from the city center and has connections to a number of key flight hubs across Asia and Australia.
At Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre, three buffet-style meals will be provided each day. Breakfast will be continental-style, with both bread and cereal as well as Malaysian-style fried noodles or porridge, in addition to coffee, tea, and juice. Lunch and dinner will be in the form of a Malaysian-style buffet, typically including several meat, local fish, and vegetable dishes with rice or noodles, and fruit for dessert. Packed lunch (“nasi bungkus”) can also be provided. Throughout the day, water, tea, and coffee are provided free of charge.
Borneo benefits from year-round temperatures averaging between 80–90°F (27–32°C), with a relative humidity of around 80% for much of the year. As with all tropical islands, climates are unpredictable and rainfall can occur at any time of year, with weather conditions often changing very quickly. Peak rainfall occurs between November and March, although even in these months rainfall can be sporadic, and it’s difficult to pre-determine which will be the wet weeks and which will be the dry. However, even during wet periods, there will usually be sunshine in the mornings. Due to unpredictable weather, the workshop schedule within our program is subject to change.
You do indeed need a visa! Participants will be registered as non-graduating students of Universiti Brunei Darussalam. This means that you’ll receive a student visa for Brunei. You’ll receive a letter from us that needs to be shown to the immigration officer upon arrival, after which you will receive a temporary annotation in your passport. The cost for this is 20 Brunei or Singapore dollars (about $12 USD), which needs to be paid in cash. (In Brunei, Singapore dollars can also be used; the exchange rates are linked and identical.)
Participants can choose one day in advance which workshops they want to attend the following day. Unless otherwise indicated, the standard daily schedule is:
Breakfast: 7–8:30 a.m.Morning workshop in the field: 9 a.m.–12 p.m.Lunch: 12–2 p.m.Afternoon workshop (lab or field): 2–4 p.m.Lecture or afternoon walk: 5–6 p.m.Dinner and next-day preview: 7–8:30 p.m.Evening activity: 8:30 p.m.
The jungle is certainly home to lots of critters. That being said, we won’t encounter many creatures actively trying to bite us, other than mosquitoes, leeches, and the occasional tabanid fly. (Bug spray and leech socks will help protect us). Just like in most places, inadvertent encounters with stinging insects (wasps, bees, ants) and biting insects (large beetles, large crickets) can sometimes occur. There are no dangerous venomous spiders in Ulu Temburong, but do be prepared for meeting the occasional scorpion or a giant centipede. Most snake species in Ulu Temburong are relatively harmless, except cobras and pit vipers (which are rarely encountered). A briefing on the potential hazards of the forest will be given upon our arrival.