A Travellerspoint blog

Brunei

The Quiet Capital

mosques, kites & a rainbow

sunny

As we set off at dawn we were still hopeful of making it to Brunei today, it would just require all the connections to run smoothly. The David's had informed us there was no bus until much later and we would have to get a mini cab but ideally share it with a few others to keep costs down. As we waited on the highway there didn't seem to be any around. When one did show up we were the only ones wanting to go so the price was a little too high, we made the decision to see if any other people showed up. Thankfully about half an hour later there were now five of us and the price was justifiable.

It was much more satisfying to be in the mini cab than on a bus because you knew it was taking a direct route and it was only going to stop a maximum of four stops. We speeded along and it took about an hour and a half to get to the ferry port. We hurried in to buy our ticket Labuan which is a small, duty free island of the coast of Malaysia, from here we would have to get another boat to Brunei. Drunken David thought we should go here because (and he directed this comment at Adam) “there are lots of bars and women!” It would seem that luck was not on our side and we had just missed a boat and the next one was not for about four more hours and there was no way that we would then make a connecting boat to Brunei. We resigned ourselves to a night on Labuan and then sat down to think about how we were going to fill the next few hours.

Thankfully the time went quite quickly and we managed to get some internet research done into where we could stay in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) the capital of Brunei. As it is a fairly expensive country we wanted to find the cheapest place possible. A little more clued up we headed back to the ferry and were soon enroute to Labuan. Once there we searched for a hostel we had read about but it seemed to have disappeared, if it had ever existed, so we ended up at a hotel which despite being in a fairly bleak looking building was quite new and had nice views of the boats out the window.
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Labuan itself seemed a fairly sad place to me, there were duty free shops every where selling cheap alcohol, cigarettes, perfume etc but they were empty and we weren't enticed to venture in. We simply had a nice dinner sitting outside on the pavement and then returned to the hotel for an early night.

Next morning we were up early to catch the ferry but when we got to the port we found out it had been cancelled and the next one was not for a few hours. Again we made the best of a bad situation and utilised the free wifi to search for a cheap campervan to rent in Australia, although this unfortunately does not seem to exist. Finally we were passing through Malaysia immigration and boarding a very claustrophobic boat to Brunei. Thankfully the crossing was shorter than I'd expected and suddenly every one was standing up, eager to get off even though it was another 15 minutes or so before we finally docked.

As we climbed on to land we had now reached our fifth country and we were eager to find out for ourselves whether Brunei was boring. Our time here was going to be short as we needed to move on the next day so we really only had an afternoon to soak up all that BSB had to offer. Although we initially got the taxi to take us to the bus stop it didn't appear that one would be leaving any time soon so we decided to pay a bit more for him to take us into the city.

The first thing that you notice about BSB is that it is quiet, almost eerily so.
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It is hard to actually believe that this is a capital city. Although there are cars on the road, there are not many but there are not really any people on the street either. There are only 40 taxis in the whole country. Based on our internet research we had decided to stay at a youth hostel which is attached to a local youth centre. It would mean that we would have to sleep in different dorms as boys and girls are separated, but it made the most sense money-wise. It took a little bit of time to find and then we hung around while we waited for someone to show up but after we'd filled in the necessary paperwork and stowed our bags away in our rooms we were ready to explore.

The main things we'd read that we should see in Brunei were the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and the water village. As we walked out of the hostel we were still taken aback by how quiet it was, but that was what made it so interesting. Everything is very clean, modern and there is a deliberate and well thought out order to the layout. It is clearly a new city in global terms and there doesn't seem that there is the population to inflict too much wear and tear.

The mosque sits right in the heart of the city and there is a small lake in front of it where a boat has been placed. It is quite beautiful with its golden dome which glistens in the sun light.
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That is another thing we noticed about Brunei, it does seem to be quite a bit hotter than Borneo. The mosque seems untouched, as if it just sits there more as a symbol, although we could go inside we decided that we did not really have the time to.

Just a short distance from the mosque we stumbled across the water village of Kampung Ayer.
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We had both been under the impression that this would be out of town but it actually sits just on the fringes of city, stretching out into the sea by about 500m. It is a maze of over 29,000 metres of wooden walkways which link together houses, restaurants, schools, mosques and a hospital, all of which are built on stilts.
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Although it also seemed to be fairly deserted it showed much more signs of life, and we passed one school where the class were being taught the Qu'ran. We could have felt quite out of place, or almost like we were intruding but any people that we did bump into gave us nice, warm smiles. This place has a long history, people have lived here for over 1300 years and they have all the modern conveniences. It is the largest and most famous water settlement in Southeast Asia.
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Instead of walking back to the centre we decided to get one of the many water taxis that stop at the little concrete jetties which have been built. The speedboat quickly cut across the water and within minutes we were back in the modern hub of BSB.
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We wandered around a little bit more but apart from just soaking up the strangely peaceful atmosphere there wasn't a lot more that we could do. In the end we decided to catch a bus to another mosque which was just a little way out of the centre. Continuing the theme the buses were the quietest we had been on and they slowly chugged along, nothing here is done in a rush. It truly must be the most laid back capital city in the world.

We jumped off when we were told we had reached our destination and walked up to the mosque. It covers a very large area, sitting in beautifully maintained grounds, with flowers and fountains. The mosque itself is covered in mosaic and the patterns vary from being very ornate and elaborate to quite uniform.
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We walked round the perimeter and gazed up the large domed spires, architecturally it really was impressive and was great to photograph.
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Afterward we sat by one of the fountains and contemplated what we should do next, it was early evening now and we were worried the buses wouldn't run late so decided it was best to head back into the city.

Once back in the centre we had a really lovely dinner which was definitely welcomed by me as I hadn't been enjoying food that much of late. Our tummies now full we went back to the wooden walkways of Kampong Ayer and saw that a rainbow was arching across the sky, and as the evening drew on the children of the water village now free from school came out to fly their kites.
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At one point I counted 25 kites in the sky and it was so perfect in its simplicity. I think it was one of the most enjoyable moments I've had on this whole trip because it was so natural and uncomplicated, this place felt so untouched by the outside world and we were just quiet bystanders.
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Full of a nice warm, fuzzy feeling we walked back towards the hostel and now the sun had set the city had begun to twinkle with thousands of multi-coloured lights.
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They are strung above all the roads, around all the buildings and also they light up the face of the Sultan himself who is a ever present in many pictures around BSB.
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Again we had to be up at about 5:30am to catch the first bus of many to make it back to Borneo. Adam and I parted ways and agreed to meet back at the same spot in the morning, it was the first night we'd spent apart in 4 months so it was a little strange for both of us.

Once in my dorm I met up with my room mate for the night, a Chinese girl and although she told me her name I didn't quite pick it up. She was very sweet though and we chatted for a little while about her time in Brunei and the short trip she was making around Malaysia. I think she too was of the opinion that Brunei was boring but I know that both Adam and I were very pleased that we had made the effort to come here. It was definitely worth a visit, if only to see how different it is. BSB that is I couldn't extend that to the rest of the country. One day I might like to find out though.

I did not have a very restful night. I was relying on my slightly unpredictable watch to wake me up and I didn't trust it, so never got off to sleep properly. The morning soon arrived and Adam and I met at our rendezvous before trudging down to the bus station fairly bleary eyed. We had to wait about 50mins for the first bus as we'd never really been able to establish what time it left. Once on there it took about an hour and a half, on the journey we saw for the first time the oil plants and pumps which make Brunei the rich country it is.
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We then took another bus which we were only on for about half an hour, we were hoping it would take us past the Billionth (oil) Barrel monument but unfortunately it didn't. We then hopped on the bus which would take us to the border and soon enough we would once again be in Malaysia.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 00:57 Archived in Brunei Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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