What a royal to do
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

The island of Borneo is made up of three countries – Malaysia (states of Sabah and Sarawak), Indonesia (Kalimantan) and Brunei. Brunei sits between Sabah and Sarawak and to pass between the two, you can either fly (done quite a lot of that recently), or travel overland, through Brunei – so that’s what I’m going to attempt to do!

Getting a shared car was the same price as the bus, so I found myself sharing a brand new Toyota 4×4 with 2 Indonesians, 2 Malays and 1 Philippino! I even managed to join in some discussions in Malay/Indonesian, I was quite impressed I was able to follow the conversations (my learning is paying off…a little).

Miri is very close to the border, so it only took 30 minutes to the end of Malaysia. Immigration was nothing like the African ones I have passed through recently! We didn’t even have to step out of the car. We very casually drove up to one of around 20 booths (a bit like road toll booths), no queue and were stamped out! How easy was that! Goodbye Malaysia, until tomorrow!

Selamat pagi Brunei!

Country number – 10

Brunei’s entry immigration was also a quick road-toll style. Africa could learn a lot!

Brunei is a small nation of just 400,000 people and an oil rich country. On arrival, it looked very much like England, driving down a dual carriageway (complete with road periphery), with very very similar trees and grass! Only the odd palm tree would signify otherwise. The only difference from Malaysia is that instead of dual English/Chinese shop signs, they are now in Arabic. We popped into the petrol station, only 15p per litre! Wow.

Staying in Brunei does not come cheap. The only hostel is currently closed. So the next cheapest option is £17 a night for an old ****** box room with shared squat toilets!! It’s only redeeming feature is the hot shower (singular, shared between about 30 rooms). Bearing in mind, to date, I have spent no more than £4 per night to live in relative luxury (with free wifi, free breakfast, brand new rooms, brand new nice bathrooms, aircon and I’ve only had to share my room once). No value for money here. Although I did get a free bottle of water after having to wait until 5pm for my room to be ready.

A bit like the US, there are flags everywhere. I saw more flags than people! They also like gold, there’s a lot of that around too! After some lunch at the large Yasayan shopping mall, I went to the mosque. The Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, named after 28th Sultan (the current one is the 29th) sits in its own artificial lagoon. The minaret is the tallest building in Bandar Seri Begawan (at 44m high). Apparently the Islamic bank of Brunei nearly exceeded this height and the Sultan ordered the top floor to be removed! It is a really pretty building, with a large golden dome. Also sitting in the lagoon is an elaborate boat.
Outside of prayer time, the mosque is open to the general public. To be allowed in, you must dress up in a long robe (mine being a whole foot too long for me!) and a head scarf. Even then, you’re only allowed on a 4 meter squared rug in the entrance. It was pretty large inside and just as ornate as the outside.

The Royal Regalia museum contains a collection celebrating the Sultan. The top floor is filled with elaborate grand gifts to the Sultan. Various countries have sent paintings, murals, bowls, plates, statues and models. Bahrain had sent a solid gold mosque! The funniest gift was probably a china plate from Vietnam that had what looked like a child’s drawings of lions around the edge!

But today, Royal had a whole new meaning. Some of the Brunei Royal family were there (a son of the Sultan). I had been following these rather well dressed people around the museum, wondering why they needed a security guard and why they were having photos taken at various places/signing a prominent visitors book. I had to ask one of their vast numbers of security guards who they were! Obviously no one else knew either as no one was taking much notice of them. I left when they left – there was a car for each separate person, each with its own police escort!

Kampung Ayer is the water village spread around the Western and Southern parts of the city. It is home to around 30,000 people. Complete with over-water police station, fire station, mosques and schools! It is thought to be the biggest water village in the world. The only way to see the village is by boat, so I went on a water taxi for a tour around! From the water it was possible to see the Istana Nurul Iman – the Sultan’s 1,788 room palace! It was pretty cool nipping through the narrow water ‘streets’.

Later in the evening, I went to watch the sunset at the mosque. Sadly not much of a sunset as it was too cloudy, but it was really pretty as the mosque gradually began to light up. I couldn’t find any of the food markets which was a shame, one I did find was closed.


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