Bukit Pagon (1850m) is the highest peak in Brunei and according to our guide Haddy, only 50 people have been to this summit, hence a pretty exclusive peak.
During the last couple of years, I have tried to hook up with others to share the steep cost for the jeep journey into the foot of Bukit Pagon. But not many people climb this mountain, so it was difficult to find and join a group. Surprisingly a guy from Germany (Olli) contacted me a couple of months before he was arriving Borneo to do Kinabalu and Bukit Pagon. I told him that I have not been to Bukit Pagon yet, and then he kindly invited me to join him and his girlfriend Annett. They had in fact been looking for more people to share the trip cost, so this was a perfect opportunity for all of us.
Three weeks before arrival we agreed the schedule and price with Haddy at Borneo Trekker. The total package cost 450 Brunei dollar per person. I immediately ordered a cheap flight from Manila to Brunei with Cebu Pacific Airlines.
Getting to Limbang Town
Feb 18 my flight arrived Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) in the middle of the night. I decided to sit around at the airport for a few hours to wait for the sunrise. Then I tried to catch a public bus from the airport to the bus terminal in BSB. After one hour of waiting I gave up, and took the fairly expensive taxi instead. At the bus terminal in BSB my plan was to get to Limbang Town in Malaysia, which was the agreed starting point for the expedition to Bukit Pagon. It was easy and cheap (1 Brunei dollar) to get a local bus to the border town Kuala Lurah.
I crossed the border on foot, checking out of Brunei and checking into Malaysia. After that I was stuck, because there is only a very limited number of buses a day from Kuala Lurah to Limbang Town. I was told I had to wait 4 hours for the next bus. The friendly border police of Malaysia just told me to sit down and wait because there would most likely be share-taxis to join anytime. But no taxis showed up for the next hour. The border police probably felt a bit sorry for me, because they offered to drive me in their car for the same price as the share-taxi would cost.
The border police dropped me off just outside Purnam Hotel, where I already had reserved a room for two nights. Olli and Annett would not arrive (from Kota Kinabalu) before the day after, so I had the afternoon and night for myself. Next day I met Haddy from Borneo Trekker, then Olli and Annett showed up in the afternoon. We went out eating and also enjoyed a few beers until it was time to get some sleep before tomorrows adventure.
A long drive to basecamp
Haddy and his team picked us up at the hotel around 9 am as agreed. We were really surprised that a team of five local guys was needed to get three European clients up Bukit Pagon, but later we understood why. They even carried a rifle to protect us. The drive from Limbang Town to the base camp of Bukit Pagon takes a lot of time (4-5 hours), because most of the drive is on bad logging roads. But our heavy loaded Toyota Hilux had no problems until the last few kilometers to base camp. This is a logging road, but totally abandoned for many years, so it is overgrown and some parts are washed out. Haddy's team of five was set into full action to cut down trees with a chainsaw and repair one of the broken bridges. We arrived base camp without too much problems, even though I felt a bit sorry for the fairly new Toyota Hilux.
Haddy's team was efficient putting up the camp, so we got shelter from the afternoon showers. The camp equipment was of good quality and the sleeping mattress was super comfortable (a 15-20 cm thick air mattress). The food was good too, Haddy had even brought a lot of vodka which we shared around the bonfire. Hence the overall price of this tour package started to look like good value. We got into bed before we had drunk too much vodka, after all we had to wake up early and climb the mountain.
Climbing Bukit Pagon
Olli had struggled with cold and fever since his failed attempt on Kinabalu a few days ago, so he decided that he would rest and make sure to be fit for his second attempt on Kinabalu. Annett and myself set off with two guides at 4:30am after a quick breakfast. We hiked for two hours in darkness on an abandoned logging road (not driveable). After sunrise we continued for another half hour before we left the road and started on the steep northwest ridge of Bukit Pagon. The trail had been established by Haddy a few years ago and was in fairly good condition. The steepest sections even contained fixed rope. We reached the summit at 9:30am and had excellent views of Borneo.
There is a border marker on the summit, hence there is no doubt that this is the highest point of Brunei. I could see another peak on the summit ridge, just a couple of hundred meters further south, which looks of similar height, maybe even a few meters higher. But that summit is entirely within Malaysia. However it would be interesting to know if that is the highest point of Bukit Pagon. It doesn't seem to be very difficult to reach it, because it's an easy ridge with minimal loss of elevation. The major problem is the jungle in between, so someone need to cut a trail first. Later Haddy told me that this was going to be his next project.
End of trip
It was a sunny day on the summit, so we sat there for a while before we started to descend. Four hours later we arrived back in camp where the rest of the team was waiting for us. I took a quick bath in the stream while Haddy's team was breaking up the camp. Then we started on the long drive back.
We decided there was no need to go back to Limbang Town, so we stayed in Kuala Lurah at the border. Haddy's driver even had a restaurant and bar in Kuala Lurah, and we could sleep in the hotel across the road. The driver told us about Brunei citizens coming in big numbers to the border every weekend to get drunk. Brunei is one of few countries in the world where alcohol is totally banned, so the easiest for them is to go to the border of Malaysia to party.
Next morning we crossed the border into Brunei on foot and took a bus into BSB.
Link to my GPS-track at EveryTrail (also possible to download)