23 hours in Brunei Darussalam (Brunei, the Adobe of Peace)

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Asia » Brunei » Bandar Seri Begawan
June 1st 2011
Published: June 4th 2011
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5:40 AM, the alarm on my mobile phone starts beeping. Another early morning wake up call. Again!? In the last 10 days or so, this is at least the fifth time we got up around six in the morning. How can this be considered a holiday if I have to get up so early, so many times? Back in London I was getting out of bed after 8am and now, that I am on holiday, I am suffering through yet another mid-night wake up call? Polona has no problem with this, being a "morning person" (how I hate these "people").

We had to get up this early in order to catch the bus to Brunei. The bus is supposed to leave the station at 8 am, but we were warned that it can show up and leave much sooner than that. Just a day before it got the station just after 7 am and left about 15 minutes later. So, we arrived at the bus station at 6:30. I was hardly functional.

We waited and waited and the bus didn't show up. It didn't really boost our confidence that even the women at the information counter couldn't agree when
Omar Ali Saifuddien MosqueOmar Ali Saifuddien MosqueOmar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

View from the River
the bus is suppose to show up. One said at 7 am, the other at 7:30, while two days before we were told 8 am. Great!

At around 7:45 we got an offer from a local taxi driver to take us to Kuala Belait (first town, once across the border), as he was picking up some people there at 9 am. He offered us a good price, as it was all just a bonus to him, covering his cost by picking somebody up. It took a while but we agreed, as we didn't want to sit there and wait for the 4PM bus.

Once we sat in the taxi the fun began. First, the driver told us he needs to go buy a battery for his car remote key, as he lost the original one?!? So we drove back to the city center bus stop is a few kilometers outside), to the actual street where our hostel was, to get the batteries. Then we drove to the drivers house to swap cars, as it's a taxi car is not allowed
to cross the border. When unlocking the doors, the car alarm went off and to stop it the guy just opened the hood and pulled out the alarm speaker. Well weird, but if somebody wanted to rob you, would he really bring you to his own home?! We didn't really enjoy all this, but weren't particularly worried either. Even if the alarm was no longer on, the "side-effect" was that all four blinkers were on and you couldn't turn them off. Regardless of that the taxi man asked us to wait for a few minutes so that he can have his morning coffee. Geeez!

Once finally on the move, we had to make another stop at his friend's house who fixed the issues of the flashing blinkers. I was asked before if I know how to fix it? As if. What am I, a car mechanic?

After three stops and an hour after siting in the car, full three hours since we got up, we were finally on the move. In less than an hour we arrived to the border and crossed it without any problems. And very quickly we got to XKB where we had to switch to a bus to proceed to our destination, the Brunei capital Bandar Seri Begawan.

But first we had to find an ATM to get some Brunei dollars. We found one easily and withdrew 100$, and got it all in one bill. Its advisiable to have exact change for the bus (first one cost 1$) so we needed to break the hundred dollar bill. Polona jumped to a kiosk and bought two cans of 100 plus. I loved watching the kiosk owner's face when she paid him with a hundred bill. "Smaller?", he asked, Polona just shook her head and took most of the change the poor guy had. Finally we were on a bus to Seria, where we would then change to yet another bus. This was probably the shittiest bus we used so far - no air-con - all buses in Malaysia have it, we don't expect it to be the case in the rest of SE Asia. We got spoiled.

While on the bus we saw a few interesting things. Tony Soprano's type villas next to wooden shacks, oil pumps on lawns in-front of schools and a development of a 2.000 house village, where all the houses were exactly the same, built in straight lines.

At 12 o'clock we finally arrived at our destination after taking two taxis, a car and two buses. This was all supposed to be so easy, get taxi to the station in Miri get on a bus and get all the way to Bandar Seri Bagawan.

Bandar Seri Bagawan is one of the smallest capitals in the world with 140.000 people (194th "biggest capital according to wiki), half the size of Ljubljana (148th).Population of the whole country is 400.000 (172nd, vs Slovenia 145th) and it's even four times smaller than Slovenia. Have to love these facts 😊.

But it is one of the richest countries as it has huge oil reserves. Because of this every citizen can get a goverment loan when buying a house or a car. There is no income tax. The country is run by a Sultan (more about him later on) who is also a prime minister,
defence secretary and a finance minister. Just in case he doesn't have enough control, he also has the "privilege" to hand pick two-thirds of the parliament, while the rest of the "people's representatives" are directly elected by the people.

The official religion is Muslim and because of this sales of alcohol is illegal. You are allowed to bring some in across the border for personal use. I can only imagine that the religion is the reason that the hostel we stayed at had a strict policy about separation between women and men in the dorms. I had to stay in a Male dorm, while Polona stayed in the Female dorm! Finally, some peace and quiet 😉.

We ran into Chris and Kay (this time we agreed to meet) who left Miri a day before we did. They told us that there isn't that much to see and that we can do all the sight-seeing in a an afternoon. Polona decided we will do that and move again the next morning, meaning I will have to get up at 6AM again. This has to be some kind of an evil plan on her behalf.

Our first stop was the floating village, on the sea-front of the capital. It is suppose to be the biggest floating village in the world, with around 20.000 inhabitants. Funny enough, the goverment is trying to move the people to land, even if this is the number one tourist attraction (the only one besides the national park) in the country, and increasing tourism is one of the main objectives of the govermant. No new buildings are allowed to be build and
becaouse of fires the population of the village has been decreasing as people are not allowed to re-build their homes.

We hired a water taxi to take us around the village (it should have been called a town considering the total population), which has everything a "non-floating town" would have. Their own schools, fire houses, hospitals, restaurants, electricity, post office (and post men) running water and so on and so on.

We got to see the Mosque and the Sultans palace from the river. The Sultans palace is a 350 million USD building, consisting of almost 2000 rooms and its open to the public twice a year. Why does somebody need 2000 rooms is beyond me?!? MTV could shoot a whole season of Cribs in this place!

Before going back we stopped at the gas station (floating, of course) to fill up the tank. A liter of petrol costs 40c (20c£)!?! Fair enough for a country that is self-suficient in oil.

Following a recommendation from our Southampton friends we went to visit The Royal
Cost of oil Cost of oil Cost of oil

0.403 Brunei $
Regalia Museum, a musuem celebrating the greatness of the Sultan. Its a tribute to his life so far, showing photographs of his early life and more. All the photo descriptions start with: "His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Brunei Darussalam"....for example:
"His Mayesty ...learned very quickly, in a short time", "His Majesty...was very cordial with his brothers and sisters" and so on a and so forth. We were very amused reading it. Other musuem exhibits were presents that His Majesty received from other countries, the worst one (our pick) was a plate from South Korea, while Thailand's
gifts were really impressive. The highlight of the musuem had to be a life size exhibit of the royal procession with the actual chariot used in the procession, with 50 or so dolls representing the people moving the chariot along the streets, dressed in traditional clothing, decorated spears and shields. Cameras are not allowed in the musuem so I could not take any pictures but you can get the idea here.

After the musuem we met up again with Chris and Kay and visited the night market where we
Way to payWay to payWay to pay

Drop down a can, wait for the money, pull up the can, take the money and return change in the can, drop down the can...pull up the can. Simple!
got some food (in Chris' case it's more like: got all the different food available). Won't bore you with the details, as this markets are similar but I will add they had the yummy peanut pancakes, mmm.

When we got back to the city Polona and I went to check out the Mosque, to see it during the night, had a short walk by the water-front and went to bed.

Next morning I over slept and Chris had to come and wake me up (as Polona was not allowed to come to male dorm). I still got up at 6:10 AM, which is just way to early. We caught the bus to the peer and took a boat back to Malaysia, after we spent less than a day in Brunei. To be honest, it was enough. We arrived at Kota Kinabalu, a city on the east side of Borneo, where we stayed for two nights, waiting for our flight to Manila, Philippines.

The only thing worth mentioning in KK was our dinner with Chris, Kay and our Sandra who we seen again after the ladies' night in Perhentians. We are all going our separate ways after this, the two of us to Manila, Chris and Kay to Jakarta and Sandra to Sumatra. You guys were a big part of our Malaysia trip and it's a shame we won't bump into eachother again while in Asia, but will surely see you in Škofja Loka / London / Southampton / Stuttgart. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

I wrote this blog on the plane to Philippines, and the last bit on the bus from the airport to the city. We are both, as Polona would say "super, super" (has to be said with a very posh accent) excited. Whale sharks, volcanoes, rice terraces, beaches and very, very cheap beer (FINALLY!) will be the things you will read about in our next blogs.

Till then!

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26th March 2013

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