There are not many people who can say they share their birthday with the Sultan of Brunei but some special people do and that was me! They must have known I was coming as the streets were lined with flags and the day had been made a public holiday so everyone was enjoying themselves walking the streets and eating out at the local food markets. So what better than to join in the fun and mingle with the locals.
The stop over was a welcome breather between a fifteen hour flight and a further seven hours before arriving back in Brisbane and starting back at work the following day. We were able to find a hotel very central to the city centre and managed to crash for a couple of hours and enjoy a few hours sleep before venturing outside to do some exploring.
Brunei Darussalam is situated on the island of Borneo and is one of the smallest nations in ASEAN covering only 5,765 sq kilometers. The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan is dominated by the magnicant Omar Saifuddien Mosque and the residential palace Istana Nurul Iman which is the home for His Majesty the Sultan, one of the
richest men in the world.
So after a session of opening pressies and eating a complimentary birthday cake sent up from the hotel management to acknowledge my birthday along with the Sultan of Brunei we headed for the river and a boat trip to visit the Kampong Ayer, the capital's water village which has been described as the 'Venice of the East' and is home to 30,000 people and features stilt houses over the River Brunei. We negotiated a price for a water taxi from one of the many jet boats that were hailing us for their services and headed up river to explore the labyrinthine town on stilts displaying its traditional colourful atmosphere as people carried out their daily rituals and travelled from pontoon jetty to visit another precint along the river by water taxi. The buildings were quite run down in places with broken verandahs and missing steps and in some cases the buildings had completely collapsed into the water. We passed schools and mosques and shops selling every possible item from petrol and water vessels to beer and fresh fruit and vegetables. We were also able to enjoy views looking back along the river's edge towards
the gold dome of the mosque that called people to prayer from the tall minaret.
The white and gold of the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque dominates the city centre and is surrounded by water with walkways to floating pontoons and follies which looked back at the towering walls and golden domes with black wrought iron lanterns and blue mosaic tiles creating detailed patterns around the windows and doors, it was a welcome sanctuary amidst the city and a stark contrast from the open drains and uneven pavements that lined the streets and were a potential health hazard: a simple trip could be disastrous.
Wandering back through the streets after a refreshing drink we explored some of the not so charming shops and boutiques that sold fake designer clothing and rather gaudy lanterns, rugs, pictures and household goods. Men loitered on every street corner posing infront of water falls and statues to have their photo taken on their mobile phones all appearing to have very little to do and even less to talk about. What was interesting though was that there were no women about and my presence was a source of huge interest.
A stroll around the
city streets took us past some weird and wonderful buildings all with exaggerated detail and painted in bright colours all wrestling for recognition and interesting comments from Kevin who tutted and shook his head at some of the 'monstrosities' that lined the streets, each one trying to out do the next in size and granduer. The coloured lights and birthday banners that adorned the buildings too failed to improve their looks and instead helped to cover up some of the bright patterns and unusual details that bedecked the doors and windows.
We did however enjoy a locally cooked meal at a nearby open air eatery with the locals and sampled some of the traditional Malayan food which was delicious and then happily went to bed to catch up on some much needed sleep and adjust our body clocks to the jet lag from the flight.
The following day was spent having a leisurely breakfast and then we had a relaxing day by the swimming pool reading, dozing and drinking coffee before returing to the airport for the last part of of our journey back to Australia. It was a welcome break and an interesting place to stop for
a short time, no doubt there is plenty more to see if one ventures beyond the city to the rainforest and beaches but that will have to be saved for another day.
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