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Published: November 8th 2009
Feeling bored in (tiny) Singapore and having withdrawal symptoms from my "travel-addiction", I decided to take a short trip to Brunei and collect another stamp in my passport.
Since direct flights between Singapore and BSB (Bandar Seri Begawan) were ridiculously expensive, I chose to fly on AirAsia and transit at Kuala Lumpur. Upon arrival at BSB airport, it was already 8pm and there were no more buses. (Buses stop running after 7pm.) So I had no choice but to take a B$25 cab to my hotel. Along the way, I had a sense of deja-vu. The streets of BSB looked like and felt like the streets of Singapore. Road signs in BSB use white fonts in green background, just like Singapore. And the streets of BSB are clean and spotless, just like Singapore. Even the driving direction, traffic lights, road junctions, vehicle licence plates, buildings along the streets, etc look so Singaporean. Somemore, Brunei dollars and Singapore dollars are of equal value and can be used interchangeably. I could basically close my eyes in Brunei and imagine myself being in Singapore...
However, the sense of deja-vu disappeared when I reached downtown BSB. Everything is just so quiet. It was
not even 9pm yet, and the whole downtown already felt like Singapore at 3am. After checking into my hotel and putting down my bags, I went out to have a walk. Downtown BSB was small. So small that I managed to walk from one end of the town (Brunei Hotel) to the other end of the town (Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque) in just 15 minutes. And the streets were so eerily quiet... and the dim street lights didn't help much... Things are better (and brighter) near the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. The mosque looked impressive at night, and the view of the mosque from the Yayasan Shopping Complex was unforgettable. (This is perhaps the only sight worth seeing in downtown BSB at night.)
On the next day, after having a hearty breakfast in my hotel, I went to explore the major sights in BSB as listed in my Lonely Planet book - namely, the Brunei Museum (plus the Malay Technology Museum), the Royal Regalia Museum, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, and Kampung Ayer. Initially I also wanted to visit the Empire Hotel and Jerudong Park, but since I only have one day in BSB (I didn't want
to use up my leave) I decided to concentrate on the sights in downtown BSB.
The Brunei Museum and the Malay Technology Museum were okay, with decent display on the biodiversity, geography, culture and technology of Brunei. Unfortunately, the oil and gas gallery (to which I looked forward the most) was closed for renovation. In comparison, the Royal Regalia Museum was much more impressive. The Royal Regalia Museum displays everything related to the sultan of Brunei (one of the richest man in the world), from royal transport to royal clothes to royal gifts... The list of gifts from other countries to the sultan of Brunei was highly fascinating, but somehow, Singapore's choice of gifts was a bit.... erm... abstract.... (Singapore's gifts include an abstract painting, a funny-looking vase, and a series of "interesting" drawings.) I personally loved the gift from Cambodia (a model of Angkor Wat) and UAE (a model of a mosque).
It was raining heavily in the afternoon, so I spent some time in the general post office, looking at the exhibits in the stamp gallery. When the rain stopped, I went over to the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. It was prayer time when I
arrived, so I only explored the outside. Then I went over to the Yayasan Shopping Complex, a new complex consisting of 2 buildings - one housing numerous shops and eateries, and the other one housing a huge department store. The 2 buildings were linked by an underground supermarket and underground car-park. Prices in Brunei are more or less similar to prices in Singapore, meaning things are actually not very cheap. Nevertheless, I bought 2 shirts in a sports shop, as there was a sale with 50% discount.
In the late afternoon, I took a walk around Kampung Ayer, a water village besides downtown BSB. The place reminded me of Venice, with houses built over water and people travelling around in water taxis, but minus the crowds of tourists (thankfully). In the evening, I went to the bus station to catch one of the last buses to the airport. And so... my one-day trip to Brunei came to an end....
I arrived at Kuala Lumpur LCC Terminal at 11pm, stayed overnight in the terminal (which reminded me of Luton Airport in UK), and then took the earliest flight back to Singapore on the next day. (Come to think of
it, I'm used to this kind of short "touch-and-go" trips... Back in the good old days when I worked in the UK, I made numerous short trips to numerous places in Europe. Now, I'm planning to make numerous short trips to numerous places in Asia & Oceania...)
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