Brunei is very green and clean and everywhere there are notices telling people to keep Brunei green and clean. The word “Darussalam” in Arabic means “abode of peace” and it is indeed a peaceful place. There is no litter, no graffiti, no smoking in public and of course no alcohol at all. By 10 p.m. the roads are quiet, and the streets are empty, even in the very centre of the city, Bandar Seri Begawan, where we are staying. They aren’t party people here! As well as the beautifully kept public gardens and immaculately clean streets in the city, most of the land is still covered by untouched rainforest. There are no palm plantations here. Thanks to the wealth generated by the off-shore oil fields, there has never been any need to plant palms for revenue. However, although we have enjoyed walking around this attractive little city, we find that it is lacking ambience and soul. The people are very courteous and polite, but they are not as gregarious as Malaysians. They do not smile at others in the street and we haven’t heard any laughter. It is all a bit serious. It is lovely to
see urban monkeys on the pavements, but we have not seen any cats or dogs at all! Not one! Where are they? It must be said that the Sultan has devoted the fifty years of his reign to improving his country economically, with remarkable success. We went to an exhibition about the relationship between Brunei and Singapore and the similarity of their small country success. What the exhibition highlighted for us was the dissimilarity of the two countries, the former (Brunei) governed by strict Islamic law and the latter (Singapore) delighting in its religious and colourful cultural diversity. So, Brunei, what do we think? It isn’t as friendly or as colourful as Malaysia, people are pleasant but pious worship, as well as getting a good bargain whilst shopping, seem to be the required keys to happiness and to living in an “abode of peace”. In this morning’s newspaper, the “Borneo Bulletin”, for example, an article promoting an upcoming “sales fiesta” in Brunei, claims that it will be “a much-awaited shopping fair for thousands who wish not only to make wonderful deals but also to contribute to nation building by supporting the local economy”. Religious worship and mass consumption is what
Brunei is all about, so for us, the jury is still out.
Our ferry trip from Labuan took just over an hour, weaving in and out through the numerous oil rigs, ships and drilling platforms that are dotted all over this narrow waterway. On arrival in Brunei, after clearing customs, a 25 km journey by highway, through pristine rainforest, brought us to Bandar Seri Begawan. We have a lovely hotel right by the small river Sungai Kianggeh, a tributary of the large Sungai Brunei. We can see monkeys running about from the bedroom window. There are whole villages of stilt houses on the Sungai Brunei, which seem quite incongruous amidst some very modern architecture, although some of the stilt houses are of modern construction. Bandar is a small city, surrounded by forest, so it has been easy over the course of two days to see most of it. Highlights have been the huge Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and the Royal Regalia Museum, both free entry.
Tomorrow we are going back in to Malaysia. We are getting the bus to Miri in Sarawak, a journey of just 170 km but one that will take about three hours, or longer
if customs decide to be tedious at the border. First thing John says he is going to do is find a 7eleven and buy some beer!
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