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Published: June 22nd 2009
(Day 439 on the road)
Bandar Seri Begawan is a strange place. It is the capital of the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, by far smallest country in South-East Asia, which is in turn by far the richest country here due to its abundant oil reserves. In fact, the Sulatn of Brunei is one of the richest men in the world. What Bandar (as the locals call it) lacks completely however, is atmosphere. It is difficult to imagine that a country enveloped by vivid Malaysia can feel so boring. Even sterile and policed Singapore has a much nicer feel to it.
We arrived on the day of Karen's birthday, and had a seriously difficult time to find a restaurant that was just a little more upmarket than the typical Chinese or Indian corner-restaurant with their plastic chairs and tables (and that was actually open). In conservative Islamic Brunei, everything (including all restaurants) closes at 22:00h at the latest, and apparently you get to spend one and a half years in prison if caught drinking alcohol in public (it is impossible to buy it here, you have to go into Malaysia if you are desperate).
So, with a complete lack of nightlife
options (no nice restaurants, very few normal restaurants, no bars, not even a karaoke place), the city feels very strange in the evening. Having said that, it also feels strange during the day; the whole place just seems deserted. Walking through downtown Bandar is an almost surreal experience, with extremely few people out and about. Not very Asian at all!
But not all was lost. Lacking other options, we stumbled into the five star Sheraton hotel in search of a nice chocolate cake to celebrate Karen's birthday and were positively surprised to find that walk-in guests were welcome to use their nice pool as long as they consumed drinks or food. With temperatures of over 35 degrees in the boiling sun, this was a very welcome offer indeed, and with a great range of affordable cakes on offer we spent a relaxed afternoon eating cake, cooling down in the pool, and reading our books.
We actually went back to the Sheraton twice after that, the reason being that they also offered free wireless Internet access. This, up to now, was of course of no concern to me at all, but in Brunei I finally made the decision to
treat myself to a tiny laptop. I had been toying with the idea for awhile, being completely fed up with smoky Internet cafes with noisy teens playing shooter games and virus-infested PCs. So having my own notebook now with all my software and no viruses is like heaven. And with free wireless Internet available in so many hostels, restaurants and other places, I am sure to recoup my investment pretty soon by not having to pay for Internet anymore.
Apart from that, we also spent some time taking a crazy speedboat from Bandar to a small town called Bangar. The small boat was equipped with a massive 200 horsepower engine and the mad captain sped through a maze of rivers at an incredible speed. On some corners we seriously thought the boat would topple, but of course as you are reading these lines there was no major accident with our boat.
On our last afternoon in Brunei we took another boat to see the elusive proboscis monkeys
, of which there are only about 1.000 left in the world. And we were lucky to see them pretty close-up by the river shore! I had seen them once before (in Bako National Park in the west of Borneo), but at quite a distance, so I was pleased to observe these chubby (not to say fat) monkeys with their long funny noses.
Next stop: Sipadan Island (Borneo, Malaysia).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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