On our way through northern Borneo we pass the country of Brunei. It’s a small sultanate surrounded by Malaysia except it’s coastline in the north and has a population of around 415.000 inhabitants. Brunei’s development is highly based on oil and natural gas production especially since the late 20th century. As a result a remarkable and also visible wealth was reached within the country. Two third of Brunei’s people are Muslim and Islam is the official religion within the country. Since an announcement in October 2013 the Sharia is imposed on the country’s Muslim population within three phases and the last one will be implemented in 2017. After reading about that we don’t know what to expect and what this really means for people’s daily life. So let’s see…
Brunei is not the typical backpacker destination. One reason seems to be the prices and possibilities for accommodation. We decide to go with Airbnb again and book a room in Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan. Coming from Kuching with the bus we change into a minivan at the bus stop of Miri, a city in Malaysia close to Brunei. A strange ride with unexplainable stops, a confused looking driver and some curiosities follow. Nevertheless we reach our destination, Sasha’s home. It’s still morning and the day has just began so we are lucky to have a lot of time left to explore the city. Completely unexpected our host Sasha offers us to bring us to all must see places with her car. Public transport seems to be not that useful and taxi is very expensive so we are more than happy to get that possibility….and of course, she is a local and knows about the places and sights. First she takes us to a local restaurant to introduce us to an interesting Brunei dish, called “Ambuyat”. It’s kind of a starchy substance and does not taste very intense. It’s eaten by rolling it around bamboo forks and dipping it into different sauces and chutneys. To be honest, I really don’t like it and Sasha tells us, that there has been no Europeans so far, who did. But it’s fun to try these things and Sasha is such a nice company. Seven likes it more and finishes his portion. We enjoy chatting with her a lot and she can provide so many interesting facts about Brunei and it’s people.
After having lunch and drawing out some Brunei dollar we start for the first sight, one of the country’s beautiful mosques, Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. It’s a quite new one and opened in 1994. As Sasha tells us, even the Sultan himself thought the building was too expensive, so you might imagine how pompous it looks. Really impressive.
The sightseeing tour goes on with stopping at the royal polo field and stud and range for the horses. We are lucky, cause it seems, they are preparing for a polo game. The prince and princess usually attend so maybe we get a short look on them. But time passes, preparation goes on but the royals don’t show up.
Another too expensive building, the Empire Hotel, is our next destination. It’s so huge but very empty. There are just to less tourists for this 1.5 billion dollar complex. There is luxury everywhere, from the Piano in the lounge to the big swimming pools outside.
Next stop is BSB’s (Bandar Seri Begawan) beach beach (yes, double). Brunei’s capital doesn’t have so many public beaches and the only one used by locals is the so called “beach beach”, where people come for barbecue and chill out.
Let’s go on. Time to see the floating village, “Kampung Ayer”. It’s almost 40000 people living in that water village, what means 10% of Brunei’s whole population. It has all facilities needed in daily life like schools, hospital and shops. We just pass it and have a look from the other side of the river close to a new bridge, that’s actually under construction. But still, it’s amazing.
After having some food again, we finished the day by visiting the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and checking out the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque again in the night time. The special light makes these places even more impressive and beautiful.
Sasha’s room is nice and cozy and we have a relaxing night before we go on the boat to Labuan, a Malaysian island, where we have to change boat to reach Kota Kinabalu our last destination on Borneo. But first we need to say goodbye to Sasha. She was an amazing host. Lovely, helpful and also entertaining. It was a pleasure to spend time with you. You made our stay in Brunei so special. Thank you!….and remember, no “Juergen” again :-)!
And hey guys! no thiefs hands get cutted here, when responsibility is taken for what has been done. There is Sharia law, but the country is developed and seemed open-minded to us. We felt welcome all the time and the atmosphere especially at the mosques was always very inviting.