Trip Start Dec 29, 2007
Trip End Dec 12, 2008

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Friday 25th July

We had a long lazy breakfast at the hostel this morning (mmm, kaya toast... however will I live without it), and generally wasted the morning drinking coffee and using the internet.  Then after lunch we set off for Brunei, having arranged a lift in a private car as it wasn't too expensive, and the bus journey sounded like a bit of a mission.  Our driver, Alex, was a particularly nasty, rude and disgusting man who reminded me in every way of an Asian version of my old music teacher, Mr Robinson (or 'the poison dwarf' as my Mum used to refer to him), so the journey really couldn't be over quickly enough.

Anyway, poison dwarves aside, several hours later we found ourselves in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), the capital city of Brunei.  As accommodation goes it's quite expensive here so we have opted to stay in the crappy little youth hostel, along with a large proportion of Brunei's ants and cockroaches, to save some money.

My best friend Jo lived in Brunei as a child, and one of my earliest memories from our friendship is walking around the playing field at Heatherside School, it must have been quite soon after she moved from Brunei to England.  She was telling me about Brunei and her life and friends there.  She obviously missed it a lot, and try as I might I simply could not begin to imagine what such an exotic-sounding, far-away place might actually be like.  It feels quite surreal for me to be here now, and reminds me how unlikely this whole trip would have sounded to me not so very long ago.

We spent our first evening dodging from cafe to shopping centre, avoiding the heavy rain and promising ourselves that we'd me more active tomorrow, whatever the weather.

Saturday 26th July

Last night, every time I turned on the air-con in our obscenely hot, stuffy room, our Japanese room-mate would promptly turn it off again.  This polite but stubborn battle raged all night so I don't think either of us got much sleep.

We had a lazy breakfast at our new favourite cafe, the De Royalle, and then went to see the Brunei Arts and Crafts Centre, which was quite rubbish but you have to give these things a chance.  Then we went for a walk at Bukit Subok, a wasteland restoration project just outside the city centre with nice forests on a hillside overlooking BSB and the water villages on the river.

In the afternoon we took the bus to Gadong, which is the main shopping area here.  We had a massage, which was lovely and saw off the last little aches that remained from the Pinnacles (I do know that I really shouldn't still have been aching, and I think there's quite a high chance that Mount Kinabalu will actually leave me crippled for life).  We had some good old chicken rice for dinner at a food court, and then headed back into the centre of BSB to watch the Sultan's birthday celebrations.  

I've honestly never seen anything quite like the Sultan of Brunei's birthday before, and I doubt I ever will again.  The crowds were of course full of children and on seeing the approaching floats I naively expected some sort of family-friendly carnival.  Oh, how wrong could I have been.  Of the 20-odd floats there was one that may have appealed to the average child, an underwater-themed affair with bubbles, twirling dolphins and bored-looking men dressed as jellyfish.  This was my comfort zone, this is what carnival processions are all about.  Then came the rest.  The e-marketing float and the World of Internet Banking float were just plain dull.  The giant vegetable one was harmless if a bit surreal.  The one with little children dressed as soldiers, re-enacting battle scenes behind a smoke machine, was quite frightening.  My favourite by far was the Ghostbusters-style Pest Control Float, complete with giant mosquito.

After the procession and fireworks, we managed to find seats in a crowded cafe and spent the rest of the evening there.  We then headed back to the hostel and were a bit alarmed to find people asleep in our beds and all our luggage gone.  We searched around but there were no staff, our bags were nowhere to be seen, and there weren't any empty beds we could sleep in.  I consoled myself with the thought that had our bags been stolen, they would have left all the junk that was lying on our beds, and I felt certain that this was all some idiocy on the part of the hostel management and that our bags would be safe.

We had no choice but to leave and find a different hostel for the night, sleeping in the clothes we had worn all day.  I felt too worried and angry to sleep, and lay there for quite a while swearing silently in my head that if anything had happened to my stuff, if I had managed to have a SECOND bag stolen whilst travelling, there would be hell to pay.  Fortunately I had my mp3 player in my day bag - if Dave Grohl can't calm me down, nobody can.

Sunday 27th July

We headed back to the hostel as soon as we woke up this morning (a lack of morning shower in a tropical climate is a truly hideous thing) to find out what had happened to our bags.  The man at reception greeted us cheerfully, and laughingly explained that he had moved us to a different room.  Well he could have bloody told us!  Apparently it was OUR fault that we didn't know that we had been moved to a different room, a locked room, the key to which was hidden in a box.  I thought I was staying in a youth hostel, not the Crystal Maze.  Fortunately for us he generously conceded that we could have last night for free, and only pay for our first night there.  At this point all I could do was laugh.

Once we retrieved our backpacks we checked nothing was missing and took them back to the hostel we stayed in last night, which is nicer anyway.  I've never been so glad to feel the reassuring weight of a heavy backpack.

We spent the late morning and afternoon walking in the Tasek park, which was nice enough despite the rain.  We were going to do a water taxi tour in the evening but it carried on raining so we decided to save that for the morning.  We saw our friend Stephen at the De Royalle so spent the evening there with him.

Monday 28th July

This morning Rikke, Stephen and I took a boat tour of Kampung Ayer, BSB's water village on the Sungai (River) Brunei.  All weekend, boat drivers have literally been chasing us every time we have walked near the waterfront, and over the course of the three days our polite 'no thankyou's have turned into 'quick, the boat-men are coming, cross the road and put on your sunglasses so that they can't make eye contact'.  I thought our chosen boat-man, Tommy, was going to pass out with the excitement of it all when we accepted his offer of a tour.

The tour of the water-village was really interesting.  It's huge, about 30,000 people live here.  It was sad to see the after-effects of the fire they had a few days ago though.  Nobody was hurt, but three houses were destroyed.  The people who lived there have been put into Government housing (some of the Government housing is on the water too) but they won't ever be able to move back to Kampung Ayer because nobody is allowed to build here any more.

We were a bit disappointed not to be able to get a good view of the Sultan's Palace, so Tommy decided to take us for a visit to his own palace in the Kampung Ayer.  His house is lovely and spacious, and absolutely plastered with pictures of the Sultan, as I would imagine are most of the houses here.  We met Tommy's wife Sweet, who spoke no English but was just as sweet as her name would imply, and his cat Milo.  Sweet gave us some noodles and tea before we left.

After the tour and the visit to Tommy's house, we walked over to the mosque in the centre of town.  There are specific times when non-Muslims are allowed inside and this was one of them.  We always dress modestly here, but as a matter of course all sightseers are given big black robes to ensure that you are covered from the neck down.  We were restricted to a brown carpet leading into the centre of the main hall, but that was enough to be able to admire the ornate architecture. 

Next the three of us took a bus to the ferry port, and from there a boat to Pulau Labuan, a nearby island in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.  We were supposed to be able to catch a mid-afternoon boat from there to Kota Kinabalu, but we had been given the wrong information by the tourist information office and our hostel, and actually there was no boat leaving for KK until the following morning.  So we found a cheap hotel along with Vicky, an English girl we had just met, and the four of us spent a fairly uneventful evening on the fairly uneventful island of Pulau Labuan.
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abi1982 on

Can't wait to hear all about the cool new foods you have been trying, what is the toast like? Am sure there will be attempts at recreating some dishes too! Miss you lots, glad you are getting some massages in.

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