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Travelers in Brunei

  • Joel Baldwin
    Day 96: Brunei! 5w
    Traveled in 12 countries
  • Tibor Dudas
    Bandar Seri Begawan 9w
    Traveled in 104 countries
  • Milky and Schoki
    Wo Aladdin zu Hause ist 9w
    Traveled in 6 countries
  • Tim Ko
    Temburong 29w
    Traveled in 28 countries

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  • Unfortunately our plans for getting some shut-eye were fairly short-lived. Since we didn't actually have a door to our capsule, just a thin blind, we were constantly getting noise. People coming in and out of the quiet area, water pumps every time a nearby toilet flushed, people talking in their own capsules, a guy nearby that sounded like he was going to cough up a lung. There was even a child yelling at some point! In this kind of environment I was also a bit worried about my snoring keeping a lot of people awake, plus I tend to have difficulty sleeping when an early but important alarm has been set (mainly for fear of sleeping through I guess).

    So I didn't get much sleep. The last time I looked at my clock it was 11:30, and I definitely woke up at 4am as well as at several other points. So I was extremely bleary when our alarms finally went off at 5am. We quickly changed, packed and walked over to the terminal where they were already calling people on our flight as check-ins were closing soon. But we self-checked-in and skipped the line, so no problems. Again a long walk through the enormous terminal, and arrived at the gate 15 minutes before the scheduled boarding time. Shandos hunted down a small bakery with some pre-packaged pastries which we devoured.

    As usual the flight was a bit late but only about 15 minutes or so. We had a nice moment as well of sitting on the runway in complete darkness - the cabin lights are out, and it's 6:40am so not really any sunlight from outside either, and the only noise was the dull whine of turbines from outside the aircraft. For a few moments all was still, before the engines screamed into life and we charged down the runway for our twelfth flight of the trip, this time heading east back to Borneo, and to Brunei.

    We touched down at the very modern terminal building around 9am local time, where I finally used my UK passport! Citizens of the UK don't need a 20 USD visa on arrival while Australian citizens do, so I took advantage of that fact and saved us a few dollars. Still well behind the several hundred pounds it cost to renew, but I'll make it up I'm sure!

    Brunei is a very small country and the capital only has around 50,000 residents. One consequence of this is that there are surprisingly few taxis in the city, apparently less than 50! Our hotel had arranged a pickup and he was waiting right at the exit, but we also had to wait for a Mr Edward who was supposedly on our flight as well. We waited for nearly an hour (I had a second breakfast of KFC nuggets in the meantime) but Mr Edward never showed up; eventually our driver got the shits and we were off into the city.

    In this case, "city" is a bit of a misnomer as it's the smallest capital city I can remember visiting. It has the large majestic buildings and sweeping boulevards like Canberra and other purpose-built capitals, but the downtown area is only a few blocks, and the tallest building is about 12 stories or so. Sort of halfway between Bathurst and Canberra I guess.

    It's surprisingly wealthy too - there isn't rubbish everywhere like in Thailand, the cars are newer and better maintained, the houses look neat and trim, and there seems to be a sense of civic pride. Manicured lawns, fountains, gardens, that sort of thing. It reminded us a lot of the less-built-up areas of Singapore, or the older parts of Dubai.

    Our hotel is definitely a 1970s relic, with some fairly classic furnishings. The intro blurb in the guest info booklet says that it's a downtown budget hotel, and the word budget is underlined and bolded for emphasis which made me chuckle! But again, it's cheap, it's air conditioned, it's clean, walking distance to everywhere we need, and the wifi is mostly working. Plus breakfast and airport transfers - good deal!

    After checking in we headed out, first stop was the large mosque right on the river front. Very impressive with its white walls and glittering golden domes; we went inside but as usual with mosques there isn't much to see on the inside. Religious idols being haram and all that, plus non-Muslims were only allowed access to a small section right near the entrance, so we couldn't see up into the enormous dome.

    We wandered along the riverfront for a while before deciding it was time for an early lunch since our breakfast was at 6am, so we found a small shopping mall with local restaurants and essentially picked at random. Good food, though very similar to Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine (fried noodles, chicken broth etc).

    After lunch we crossed the river in a tiny speedboat to the floating village. This is the historic area of town, and was known as the Venice of the East since it was literally thousands of houses built on stilts right out in the river. Entire suburbs and communities exist there with everything they need - shops, post offices, schools, mosques, restaurants, even police stations and fire brigades! This is the way they have traditionally lived in Brunei since about the 13th or 14th century when the area was first settled.

    There was a surprisingly good museum about the village which we spent some time in, before wandering around the village itself. Some parts were very modern with ultra modern glass and concrete houses, and other parts were just ramshackle tin, wood and fibro dwellings, but all joined together by bridges, causeways and boardwalks, everything a metre or so above the river. Reasonably clean too, though there were a couple of areas where masses of garbage had accumulated.

    The locals are extremely friendly and don't get many Westerners wandering around, so everyone was very quick to say hello and show us their houses, shops etc. Since it was just after lunch time there were a lot of school children heading back to the schoolhouse for afternoon lessons. After a couple of hours wandering, rain was threatening so we decided to head back across the river and find a cafe to relax for a bit.

    We found a boat pretty quickly, and from the dock we had a good view of the Sultan's palace. Apparently it's one of the largest purpose-built royal palaces in the world, but completely closed to the public sadly. He's one of the world's richest men thanks to Brunei's oil and gas reserves, and boasts a ridiculously impressive car collection (sadly said to be rotting away as nobody is interested in doing upkeep).

    Back across the river we found a cafe with reasonable coffee, and just in time too as a tropical downpour started not long after we entered. We ended up staying here for an hour or so, using the wifi and waiting for the rain to subside. Not quite out of sights, but running low on stamina after a long day, we decided we'd retreat to the hotel for a bit.

    I had a quick snooze while Shandos did a few things online, and we headed out again around 5:30pm. Back to the same mosque, where the sun sets directly behind it creating a beautiful vista perfect for Instagram photos. With the muezzins calling the faithful to sunset prayers, we set off to a nearby food market where we had a local special dish called nasi katok - basically just a piece of fried chicken with a serve of rice and some very hot chilli sauce.

    Fairly exhausted after our long day, we headed back to the hotel. It's also worth mentioning that there is literally zero nightlife in Brunei, as it's a completely dry country. Non-Muslims are allowed to bring in up to 2L of spirits or 12 cans of beer every 48 hours, but you have to consume it in private as public displays of drunkenness can lead to imprisonment and caning. So with no beers to drink, we settled for a bottle of water and a block of Cadbury chocolate from the convenience store under the hotel. Off to bed for an early night.
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  • February 17th.
    Brunei was a very interesting stop. As we sailed near the coast, we were reminded of the economic base of Brunei – oil. There were dozens of drilling platforms and many boats affiliated with them.
    The city is extremely opulent while also being rather spare. Brunei is one of only two total monarchies in the world. It is a little hard to get a real feeling about the Sultan, but he does have some pretty specific rules that are to be followed. One is Sharia, which was instituted in May. We attended a dinner at the Brunei Polo Club that was very nice. We were offered an array of delicious fruit juices as there is no alcohol served in Brunei. That was a change!
    The third photo is of a “stilt village” that is on the waterfront in Brunei. It appears somewhat ramshackle at first, but it is actually quite nicely restored, with the owners having an interest in preserving the village as it had been.
    The second photo below is of the Mosque that was built by the current Sultan. The third photo is of the interior of the dining room where we had dinner. The musicians that greeted us played a very haunting and rather mystical song.
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  • The sultanate of Brunei was quite a place. The Sultan is one of the richest men in the world since her was able to keep all the oil in this oil rich country while the rest of the island of Bornea joined Malaysia when that country formed. He keeps people pretty happy with free health care and education but runs things without a parliament or council elected by the people. They do get part of the oil profits so they don't seem to complain too much. :-)
    The Muslims have Sharia law but those infidels like us just have the regular law to live by although when they instituted Sharia here they prohibited alcohol so you either have to bring your own or form a private social club on your own property to drink. The guide says the nightlife went way downhill after that was passed. :-) It reminded me of my college days in a "dry" county in Arkansas. We had to run to another county and they have to run to another country.
    We had a special dinner at the Prince's "over the top" Polo Club complete with local dance and singing. I am officially tired of the music of Indonesia. :-) The food is still okay though.
    Yes the 29 spheres on the top of the towers of that mosque are real gold leaf and the pinnacle on top is solid gold. Some 14 million of so from the guides estimate. There are jewels embedded in the tiles in walls of the mosque that according to the locals are yours if they fall off on their own and you find them. I suspect that if you found prying them out you could be killed so it is kind of a lottery system. :-)
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  • In Brunei, einem Sultanat und Zwergstaat mitten in Malaysia mit eigenem König (der noch mit 70 Jahren Dragonboat fährt und Rad fährt ^^) hatten wir einen Homestay bei Haji Muslim* und seiner Familie. Von seiner Frau und der Tochter hatten wir jedoch nicht viel mitbekommen. Dafür war das Haus zu groß und Haji zu viel mit uns unterwegs. xD Er war jedoch so freundlich und offen, dass er uns auch allein einen tollen Aufenthalt bescherte. Noch dazu war er ein super Tourguide, der uns an einem Tag gefühlt halb Brunei gezeigt hat. :-)

    * Kleine Islam-Kunde: 'Haji' ('Hadschi' ausgesprochen) bekommt jeder Moslem als Beinamen, wenn er nach Mekka gereist ist. Und wir dachten schon, die Bewohner Bruneis sind unkreativ, weil sie nur einen Vornamen haben...
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  • Um uns das kleine Land näher zu bringen, zeigte uns Haji nicht nur Museen (eines war nur über ihren geliebten König!), sondern auch die Moscheen. Zuerst waren wir bei der ältesten Moschee Bruneis. Um sie betreten zu dürfen, mussten wir mal kurz zum Islam konvertieren. ;-) Mir war das Kopftuch zwar nicht ganz geheuer, aber für ein paar "Fatih und Aische" - Bilder* ging die Verkleidung schon mal.
    Übrigens wurden wir schon mehrfach von Einheimischen gefragt, ob sie ein Bild mit uns machen dürfen. Wahrscheinlich sind sie von unserer Größe so fasziniert...

    * 'Fatih' und 'Aische' sind unsere Insider-Kunstnamen, wenn wir mal Lust haben, türkisches Deutsch zu sprechen. ^^
    -> "Aische hat voll schönes Kopftuch aaaan."
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  • Zum Abschluss unserer Tagestour besuchten wir die größte Moschee Bruneis, die uns sehr an "Aladdin" erinnerte. Dieses Mal mussten wir zum Glück keine Gewänder und Kopftücher anziehen, da wir wegen der Vorbereitung der Gebetsstunde nicht in das Gebäude rein konnten. Wir hatten allerdings genug damit zu tun, die riesige Moschee von außen zu bestaunen. Dabei fanden wir zwar leider keinen Parkplatz für fliegende Teppiche, dafür aber ein lustiges Hinweisschild. :-pRead more

  • Nach der Moschee fuhren wir mit dem Boot über den Fluss zum Water Village, das auch als Klein-Venedig bezeichnet wurde. In diesem Dorf gab es viele verrückte Sachen: eine Moschee auf Pfählen, stylische Boote (sogar mit Batman- oder Superman-Motiven), knallbunte Häuser und Greifvögel als Haustiere.
    Da mussten wir bei dem ganzen Staunen aufpassen, dass wir nicht vom Steg plumpsen. xD