19.02.2007 31 °C
After travelling through both Sarawak & Sabah it seemed, well, impolite to overlook little Brunei sandwiched in the middle so I managed to find a few days in my hectic globetrotting schedule to drop by.
Negara Brunei Darussalam (or just Brunei to his mates) is one of the smallest countries in the world but also one of the wealthiest thanks to the oil industry. I opted to stay in the capital city of Bangar Seri Begawan (BSB) a compact place home to some 75,000. It's certainly very different to other Asian capital cities with orderly traffic, high standard of living and no real signs of poverty.
So how do you occupy yourself for 3 days in a country where alcohol is virtually unobtainable and nightlife non existent - well you sleep alot! Nah, I hit the cultural trail hard and spent alot of time walking around looking at big gold shiny buildings.
After finding and settling myself into some very satisfactory digs I set off to check out the Mosques. The hotel I was staying in was a few km's outside of the centre and the easiest not to mention quickest way to get around Brunei is by water taxi. There are hundreds of them all zipping back and forth from the water villages and dropping kids off at school. I am considering launching a similar initiative when I get back to London, how cool would it be to have a network of little taxi boats chauffeuring people up and down the Thames - surely it's a winning idea!
Water taxi anyone?
The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is located in the centre of BSB and stands in its own artificial lagoon. Named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei it is one of the tallest buildings in BSB. I took a trip up to top for an impressive panoramic view of the city. Then I got one of Brunei's cool little purple buses out to the J'ame'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque. This was built in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Sultans reign in 1992. After being asked to put on a full length robe type thing I was allowed to have a poke around this one as long as I didn't disturb the people praying.
The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
The J'ame'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque
I covered off the Brunei Museum, Malay Technology Museum and Royal Regalia Museum on my second day. I'd now consider myself pretty much up to speed on the oil industry, recent technological advancements and all things regal.
On my final day I visited Kampung Ayer which is made up of 28 water villages and houses a total of 30,000 people. This, I would say is the highlight of my trip to Brunei. I got dropped off by water taxi and started to explore the maze of wooden gangplanks connecting brightly painted shacks, shops, schools and workshops. The people were amazingly friendly especially the children and it wasn't long before I was invited in for a cup of tea and a chat about my travels and how I ended up in Brunei (I don't think they get many tourists so I was something of a novelty) Then one guy offered to take me for a cruise round the rest of the village's and up river to see the Proboscis monkeys (I didn't want to tell him I had already seen them at Bako & on the Kinabatangan) and on to the royal palace (Istana Nurul Iman) where the Sultan resides.
Local family at Kampung Ayer
Footie Fans - Kampung Ayer
All in all it was a good three days in Brunei. It's the evenings which are abit quiet as there really isn't anything much to do. The locals just seem to hang around on street corners like they are waiting for something to happen which never actually does.
Next stop - Hong Kong.