Having booked ourselves in to Kota Kinabalu (KK for short), the capital of Sabah state in the Malaysian side of Borneo for a week, we quickly realised we have a spare few days before the trek and decided to tick another country off the list and go to Brunei. A country I didn’t know much about but research told me it was a country with one of the richest humans on earth, rich in oil and gas, nobody pays any tax, all services are free, sharia law was in effect and petrol is 30p a litre! I was intrigued and got the wheels in motion to get there.
We got a one-way ferry ticket from KK for around £11 which took about six hours and we left at 08:30 to arrive mid-afternoon in Brunei. On the same journey was someone we met at our hostel in KK called Naja from Australia who had booked the same ferry and hostel as us. After a stopover at Lebuan Island (which is a tax free and duty free Malaysian port) for nearly three hours we set off for the one-hour trip to Brunei.
Having got on the bus to Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) the capital of Brunei we reached the Burger King meet point arranged by our hostel host Bel in the centre of town. First impressions were that the capital was small but very clean, tidy and everyone drove nice cars. Bel had arranged to meet us around 5pm but was running late so having read that everything closes after last prayer at 6pm we were worried about getting some food after a long day. Bel reassured us that this wasn’t a problem and we got some Thai food near the apartment.
We stayed about 7km out of town and the road leading to the apartment entailed a hill steep enough to be respected. Luckily on the first day of exploring a local stopped by to give us a lift to the city after declaring that the public transport was hopeless in BSB. A very kind man who had lived in England and had studied at Liverpool University. He gave us a driving tour of the centre of town and picked out some landmarks for us before dropping us off to explore the water village.
The water village was a strange place, it was wooden huts connected by walkways above the water and you can access it by water taxi for 1BND from the mainland in the capital. Nothing was open and there was not a soul in sight and we couldn’t work it out. Self-proclaimed as the biggest water village in the world with around 37,000 people inhabited there, we saw only two. Maybe everyone was at work and school? Not to sound too disrespectful but clearly this was a place where people with less money lived, so I would assume people would be trying to sell something at their shop or restaurants for tourists. We just couldn’t work it out or maybe Thursday is a day off or prayer day, anyways we got a water taxi back to the mainland.
Next on our list was the people’s mosque in the centre of town called the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and this was an impressive building. Surrounded by a moat and covered in gold, this place was powerful. Daily prayers are called and visitors are not allowed to visit inside on a Thursday or Friday, shame as it was a Thursday we visited. As we walked around it the heat was beaming and starting to take a toll, I just wanted a swim in that moat. The white walls reflected the light on to you, so much so that sunglasses were essential. After encircling the mosque, we needed air con so went for a spot of lunch.
We realised that our list of sights and things to do were diminishing at an alarming rate and we had barely reached 12pm. The next two were the Regalla Museum and the History of Brunei Museum and these intrigued me. The Regalla Museum has every bit of item the Sultan has received over the years from monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and country officials. The impressive carts which are made of gold and are used for parades such as his birthday and anniversaries are stored there too. A very impressive display of memorabilia from all around the world.
Brunei was a mystery to me so the History of Brunei Museum was a must for me to learn about this country and it’s past. A timeline of history taught me the role of colonialism, religion and the royal family in this country as it battled with various nations to keep its sovereignty and freedom. An interesting fact about Brunei is that it was a state in Malaysia but refused to become independent from Britain in the 1980s instead remaining part of the UK. Much later they then became independent but as a new nation, a cunning plan by the Sultan.
Brunei in a nutshell is a hub for expats and businesses working in oil and for tourists like ourselves to nip in for a day or two and see most of the country. A population that is very wealthy and looked after but who remain very courteous and welcoming to tourists. Not very much to see and do but what is available is worth seeing. Another place on the bucket list which has been ticked off and with my travel tips and budget pages on my website you are able to see how much money you will need and how to get there.