Friday, 22 September 2017
I consider the past weekend’s activity a mix of opportunity and luck. For one, it was a relatively free long holiday weekend for me as I only had one news shift to attend to. And the rest of my personal commitments were minimal as everyone was in holiday mode. Sur, who had for a long time always invited me to join her on her backyard adventures, was also available and almost didn’t believe me when I suggested we go to Wasai Teraja (loosely translate as Teraja Waterhole/fall). I don’t blame her. In the past, the plan would usually fall apart way before execution stage.
To ensure that we didn’t over plan and lose that touch of spontaneity, I only made sure of the time I was going to depart from Bandar the night before and requested rough directions to our meet-up point. Sure I lugged change of clothes, towel and some food, but it all remained very impromptu by my standards.
My good friend Jonie was also free and just as enthusiastic, so I had company on the 1.5 hour ride to Belait. Actually it morphed to 2 hours as I highly underestimated how much further Teraja is from the entrance into Labi (30-45 minutes). From thereon I had branded myself as highly ignorant of my own country’s rarities.
Prior to the trip, all I knew of Labi was that it’s in Belait and occupies a large area on its own. My grandma (who resides in Mumong, Belait) used to mention how there are residents deep within Labi itself and takes a considerable amount of travel to the end. At the time, it was just a name and didn’t really register in my consciousness.
I’m not sure what I was really expecting but perhaps there was a part of me that was anticipating a bit of the village feel. Instead, we drove in from the highway to find a well-finished road, beautiful houses and industrial establishments spotting the area. Really we only got lost ‘cos I was relying too much on the location tracker Sur sent minutes earlier and ended up passing our meet-up point by kilometers as it wasn’t registered on the map. Parts of Labi does not have telco signal, but that’s within the deeper pockets of the area.
When I managed to get a hold of Sur again, we waited another half hour by the entrance of Wasai Wong Kadir Recreational Park, which is about a 10 minutes drive away from our final destination of Teraja. Time wasn’t of the essence for me then as I was enamored by the surrounding greenery and discernible serenity. I will admit that I have a tendency to lose my patience easily, but it was easy for me to let it all go as I was enjoying being a tourist in my own country.
When Sur finally met us by car, she took us to her cousin’s place where we waited another half hour or so before we finally made our way to the longhouse at the end of the Labi asphalt with Jen. Jen was our tour guide for the day and thank goodness for that as we were able to navigate through the administrative requirements at the longhouse quickly and she guided us all the way to the coveted Wasai Teraja.
To backtrack a bit, Teraja is an area that sits at the very end of the Labi sub-district of Belait. While Belait is known for being the black gold producing district of the country, Labi does not seem to share the same economic and topographical stature of its administrative district powerhouse. It’s clean, expansive and well-managed, but that’s where the resemblance stops. It’s valued for its high biodiversity, eco-tourism potential and preservation of traditions and heritage of the settler people. A significant population of the Iban people reside here and maintain part of their customs and traditions, evidenced by the long-standing longhouse at the end of the Labi stretch. The longhouse is essentially an elongated wooden complex that houses a number of families in private quarters and has one large communal area within, unique to the Iban.
The Iban people are known to be very much in tune with the surrounding flora and fauna, previously relying on the land they live in for subsistence. There are traditional rules and customs that also govern residents in the longhouse, though a majority have assimilated into mainstream society. Iban people are also known for living by rivers and streams, where they conduct a number of their daily activities such as bathing, washing and traveling. There is a reason why good swimmers or water babies are often nicknamed “bajau” or “Sea Dayak” after the other names of the Iban as the Iban people are infamous for their skills in the water. It’s a term taken on with pride or as a compliment by anyone who gets labelled as such.
Sur and Jen are Iban and like their friends and family members, they work and live in the major towns around Brunei for their livelihood. Their ties to their kin are very strong, however, as visiting relatives at the longhouse is customary on the weekend, upping the resident number to over 100 from the countable 5-10 people on the weekdays.
But I digress…
After Sur and Jen got us through the brief registration at the Longhouse, we instantly made our way to the back trails. I would consider the hike to be a bit of a feat as signage towards the wasai is very minimal and you would have to rely on the knowledge of your guide and your own survival skills to get you through. Rain from the previous days had left part of the trails slightly muddy and slippery so Jonie and I had to carefully keep up with the quick pace of the ladies in front of us.
After roughing through a mix of heavy forest foliage, small clearings and fresh water streams, we greeted the distant noise with some apprehension. Turns out we weren’t alone as there was another group enjoying the water hole but only our clothes were dampened and not our spirits.
The strong swimmers Jen, Sur and I immediately jumped into the water while Jonie acclimatized herself to the surroundings by taking lots of photos of our antics. In less than an hour we had the wasai all to ourselves. I was relieved that the group did not leave any damage or mess to the area as it would otherwise be very easy for most visitors to leave their trash behind. There’s no facility for dumping trash and maintaining the area so patrons really have to be accountable for what they bring to and from the wasai.
Sur and Jen kept lamenting how the water is murkier than usual. I wasn’t complaining, being a first-timer to the place, and the colour contrast and coolness of the spring was cajoling enough for me to stay a while. We swam, jumped from the tree, ate lunch, photographed and modelled our way in the 2-3 hours we were there. I had practically enjoyed myself to exhaustion that the walk back towards the longhouse was just as much emotionally trying (having to part) as it was a physical one.
When we arrived back at the longhouse, I summoned every last bit of my vigour to ask the residents on their tourist packages. Sur mentioned in passing that there is an adventure operator, Sakam Adventure, that can offer visitation and stay packages (food and lodging) in the longhouse with ceremonial shows, in addition to the hike to the waterfall. Sutera, a Brunei-based online publication, also wrote about Teraja and offers a good overview of the Teraja experience. Jen also stated that there are independent guides that can assist as long as there is advanced notice (at least one week) for booking.
Whatever avenue you decide to approach this concealed gem, I highly recommend paying it a visit. While the much more famed Temburong district has its merits, do consider the Labi area as it is just as accessible on land and you get to experience another side (tradition and heritage-wise) of Brunei. If you can muster the energy, drop by the closer Wasai Wong Kadir or the picturesque Luagan Lalak (Lalak Lake) just minutes away on the same road. There’s so much to take in that one stretch of road! I mean take me as example: I can’t stop gushing about Teraja and I can safely say it has to be one of my favourite memories in and of Brunei so thus far.
How to get to Teraja (from Bandar Seri Begawan): Drive on the Muara-Tutong highway towards Seria or Kuala Belait. Expect a good 1 to 1.5 hour drive. Turn in (left) at the Labi road sign and keep driving straight. Do not turn into any other roads. If you pass by the Wasai Wong Kadir signboard, you’re headed the right direction. Keep going straight to the very end of the asphalt where you’ll be greeted by the Teraja Police Station on your left and eventually a long wooden structure after (the longhouse).
What to do when you reach there: Register at the police station for security purposes. It works to your advantage as there has been a missing person’s case in the past from entering the jungle unaccompanied. You also register and pay a $3 entrance fee at the longhouse. It’s a small amount to fork up considering you’ll be passing through the residents’ backyard. It is safe to leave your car parked in front of the long house.
Things to bring: Packed lunch, water, change of clothes and waterproof camera. Bring some money too as there are traditional souvenirs you can purchase or you may need that extra dosh pay for use of the inner longhouse facilities, e.g. bathroom. It’s also recommended you bring mosquito repellent and wear long sleeve shirts, slacks and shoes with good treads as the terrain can get quite slippery and rough.
I’ll be posting up the visit to Teraja on my YouTube vlog channel – Mell Says. Stay tuned!