In the early 2000s, a stretch of road, next to the Pandaruan river in Temburong – within the little-known Kampong Belais & Buda-Buda – gave way to erosion.
To resolve the situation, the government built a large retaining wall along the river bank, which left the village’s residents – who only number in the few hundreds – soon pondering: could they build some sort of huts on the wall, so they could enjoy one of their favourite pastimes: fishing?
Hj Yusof Hj Mohd (pictured above), a retired Mathematics teacher and member of the village’s consultative council (MPK) joined in with the other villagers in propositioning to the Temburong District Office to build the huts – which would also serve as a tourist attraction.
Central to their initial pitch was to fish for wild, highly sought after udang galah – carrying the scientific name Macrobrachium Rosenbergii and known more generally as the giant river prawn.
“Initially we thought we could just build it (the huts) collectively,” said Hj Gapor Hj Mohd, a retired civil servant, who servers as advisor in the MPK. “Soon we realized that this would take too long. So we privately decided that whoever could afford or would be willing, would spend their own money to build up their own hut.”
The bare bone huts, made from bamboo or wood, served their purpose to provide shelter from the rain or shine as one fished. The villagers charged a dollar or two an hour as rent for the public to use.
“Alhamdulillah we had a good response from fishing enthusiasts and visitors,” said Yusof. “But their feedback was that there wasn’t running water, toilets and electricity.”
One of the MPK’s veterans Hj Ali Hj Akil, who now owns the chalet Sulap Udang Galah, took matters into his own hands, building a toilet at his pondok, and a few years later installed pre-paid electricity meters.
Seeing the growing interest from visitors, the hut owners – who compose mostly of retired citizens – began to contemplate turning their humble shacks into some form of a homestay. 10 successfully transformed their huts into lodges, investing tens of thousands in the process, and introduced fees for a night’s stay from $55 to $85.
“It’s our way of giving a little slice of Temburong, to people in and out of the country,” said Yusof, whose striking, dark brown wooden chalet (pictured above and below) is amongst the most popular. It has a full kitchen, two bathrooms, a living room and a master bedroom with air conditioning. The panels also have a curious geometric pattern, perhaps a nod to Yusof’s old job.
Over the years, especially during school holidays, the chalets have been enjoying high occupancy, and a portion of the accommodation’s earnings are given back to the MPK’s funds which are utilized for hosting community events and the welfare of special needs residents.
The shortage of young adults however, is a challenge to the tiny village’s aspirations of growing the business further. With the standard preference for those growing up in Temburong to find work in the capital, Belais & Buda-Buda’s hiking trails and heritage park, near to the chalet, have gone largely unattended as of recent.
“Most of the youth go to school or work in Bandar, coming back only during the weekends or holidays,” said the village head of Belais and Buda-Buda, Hj Ahmad Hj Husain, resulting in a labour shortage for the huts and surrounding attractions.
For now, the seniors have managed to pull it off. For the future, Hj Ahmad echoes the sentiment of his village who are patiently waiting for the Temburong Bridge, scheduled for completion by the end of 2019, hoping that it will facilitate further visitors to the village, and maybe even draw younger people to consider working in Temburong.
The access the chalets, enter Jalan Labu and drive a few kilometers down. If you’re traveling from Limbang into Temburong, Jalan Labu is located on the right, just a few hundred meters after Brunei’s Immigration Checkpoint.
To rent a chalet, contact the owner directly with the details below. You can also contact the Village Head Hj Ahmad at +6735230134 or +6738992235. Prices range from $55 to $85.