Day 97: Brunei to KLSeptember 20, 2016 in Malaysia
Had a decent night's sleep, our hotel was extremely quiet as we seemed to be the only guests in the place! Downstairs for breakfast around 8:30 and there was a pair of girls at another table, so at least we knew we weren't alone! It's a very quiet hotel though; indeed the entire country is quiet.
Our flight back to Malaysia wasn't until 3:30pm, so we organised a 1:30pm shuttle with the hotel and checked out, leaving our bags in the luggage room. The main thing we wanted to see this morning was the royal regalia museum, which was essentially a shrine to the sultan. Some detail and artefacts about his early life, lots of relics from his coronation in 1967, and then the rest of the museum was taken up with gifts he'd received from various world leaders.
It was all very impressive but it's difficult to be too overawed by all this veneration of someone who hadn't accomplished much beyond being born into the right family. Although I guess he's been leader of Brunei for nearly 50 years and it's been stable, moderately prosperous and peaceful for the majority of that time. I don't know what kind of person he is but I guess that's something to be proud of at least.
After finishing up with the museum we wandered back into the "CBD" in search of lunch. We followed a stream of office workers heading into a food court and and had some Bruneian food for lunch. I did note however that the food court was on level 2 of an eight storey building, and none of the floors above us were accessible or in use.
As we wandered around downtown after lunch, it struck me that there seemed to be very little investment or new development going on. A lot of the buildings had an early 90s but unmaintained heritage look to them. I think Brunei's economy was hit pretty hard in the mid-90s Asian economic crisis and took a long time to recover. And since the majority of their money is in oil, and the oil price has been plunging for years....
Fast running out of time, we walked back to our hotel and arrived precisely at 1:30pm. We drove to the airport just as another deluge started, thankfully the departures unloading area was under shelter! We were very early for the flight so checked in and sat around for an hour leeching airport wifi and munching on snacks to spend our Brunei coins. Once we decided to head for the gate we set a new record for airport progress - no queue at emigration and no queue at security screening, and no duty free store since it's a dry country meant that we were at the gate within 2 minutes of leaving our seats near the check-in desk. For an actual airport, that's amazing.
Had a slight dispute with AirAsia ground staff who insisted that I wasn't allowed to take two bags onto the flight. Even though women are allowed a carry-on bag and a handbag (and all of the women near us had comically large handbags, some even nearly the size of their carry-on bag), my small laptop bag was Against The Rules. I'd just seen them force another man to check one of his bags (admittedly much larger than mine) and it cost him $100, so I was ready for a serious fight. But I insisted politely that I was allowed a carry-on bag and a laptop bag, and eventually they relented (it's true for some low-cost carriers but not others, I'm not sure about AirAsia). Amazing that this is our 11th flight with AirAsia in 3 months and it's the first time they've even checked the weight.
And with that it was so long Brunei. It's an interesting little place and I'm glad we came - I even think we spent about the right amount of time, clocking in around 36 hours! Longer than that and I think we would've been struggling for things to do unless we started doing jungle tours, and we had plenty of that in nearby Sarawak.
The flight was quite bumpy as afternoon flights in the tropics tend to be, and we arrived in KL pretty much on time despite leaving late. Only thing of note was that the lady in the seat behind me was mashing on a mechanical counter, making a constant clicking sound. After a couple of minutes I turned around and glared and the noise stopped. I felt bad but holy shit that sound drives me up the wall.
Not to report from our first evening in KL - we got a taxi for the long ride into the city and settled into our small but arty room. Dinner at a local Muslim restaurant of tandoori chicken, naan and briyani rice. Had a quick look around Berjaya Times Square shopping mall, but got cut short as the shops were closing - 10pm!Read more