Brunei River & Proboscis Monkeys


Most visitors to Brunei never get far out of the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan or Seria—the next biggest city.  But a visit to these sea & river-faring Malays is not complete without a trip up the Brunei River on a traditional Malay wooden perahu. 

Interestingly, the Bruneians—who are per capita the richest Malay Muslims in SE Asia—have an allergy to boats built of more modern materials like fiberglass or metal.  They insist that boats built the old way from their traditional hardwoods last longer.  And, hey, you’ve got to admit that they’re pretty cool.


As soon as you get in a boat at one of the jetty taxi-stands jutting out into the river, you’ll see a vital part of the Malay life roaring by before you as children head to school & old grandmothers head home from the market on high speed river boats.  Their homes stand on stilts over the river—never far from the neighborhood mosque which is often nearby land.

As you head upriver from the city you pass the Istana Nurul Iman Palace—home to the Sultan of Brunei.  When you’re reigning over a 600 year-old dynasty & worth over $20 billion, it’s not easy to hide your house behind a line of trees.  The palace reflects in the Brunei river as it peaks over the rainforest.


Not much further up the river a good guide* & his boatman--full of local knowledge--will stop you by a small group of rainforest trees at a good time to see some of Brunei’s most interesting fauna in the wild—proboscis monkeys. 



Park the boat by the mangroves, find a good stance where you can hold your camera & telephoto zoom steady against some tree branch without tumbling into he brackish water, & wait.  At first the monkeys hide in the cover having heard you arrive.  But in time, if you’re quite & can stay still enough, they’ll come out again.  Watch for movement in the upper tree branches that could not have been caused by mere wind.  Amazingly, because they're proboscis monkeys, often the first thing you see as they peek from behind a tree is their formidable nose!


If your fortunate, the monkeys may get close enough for some "intimate" compositions at 200mm.



It helps to have your local guide standing at your shoulder spotting in case a better view offers itself in a direction where you’re not looking.  A whisper in your ear, “Up high in that tree at your 2 o’clock.”  Swivel, aim slowly, compose, focus & shoot. 


*I highly recommend Danny +67 38 801 180.  You’ll spot him long before he arrives at your meeting point coming in his goofy vest, red beret & brightly colored monster-feet "Crocs."  He’s the best guide around town!  At the end of the day you’ll not be sure who was the funnest to hang out with—the monkeys or Danny?

Not sure how to set up a trip to Brunei?  Contact EthnoTreks ( & tell them you want to engage the culture of Brunei.  They'll be happy to connect you with Danny too.