Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei) - Day 157

Trip Start Jan 31, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Pusat Belia Hostel

Flag of Brunei  ,
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Most complicated day of travel so far on my trip. 5 buses, 2 taxis, a boat and 2 immigration offices to reach the capital of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan. Or BSB for short.

As you enter Brunei, what the country is famous for becomes apparent. Oil fields dotted around with oil wells, pipelines beside the roads, refineries and the Shell oil company logo displayed everywhere. Also, nice European cars and houses, great roads and infrastructure. Very different to Sarawak where I've spend the last week. The wealth of this place is blatantly obvious.

Staying at the Youth Hostel in the city centre, I have my own four room dorm because no-one else is here except for an American guy who also has his own dorm. There's even a swimming pool downstairs. Arrived at around 3pm and went for a walk around this small city. Everywhere is spotlessly clean and tidy. The people are really friendly and polite, the locals smile and say "Hi" and shout "Welcome to Brunei". Really like this place so far.

The people here get a free education and healthcare, government workers get free trips to Mecca and nobody pays Tax. I wonder how this will change when the oil runs out?

It was the Sultans birthday on the 15th July, the celebrations last for 16 days and nights. The roads are lit with colourful lights and banners in celebration of his 62nd year. Apparently I missed an amazing two hour firework display a couple of nights ago. There was a big party in the city which was part of the huge celebrations.

Visited the beautiful Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque which was build in 1957 by the current Sultan's father, the 28th Sultan of Brunei. The building cost $5 million (US) to construct which is an awful lot of money now, and in 1957 was an astonishing sum. The mosque has a beautiful real gold dome and several minarets towering above the main building surrounded by water on three sides.

The famous floating villages in the Sungei Kedayan river sit behind the mosque, which I'll explore in more depth tomorrow. The village consists of very basic wooden houses and looks a bit like a shanty town. The Sultan offered the people permanent more modern homes but they refused saying that they wanted to continue to live like their ancestors did. The place has a real charm about it.

I met a really nice Bruneian guy tonight who drove me around the city to see the main sights by night. We first visited a park where you can see the Sultans palace, it's the biggest Royal palace in the world. 500 metres in length, 1778 rooms, 257 toilets, a royal banquet hall which can sit 4000 people. Makes Buckingham Palace look like a small terraced house. Then we moved onto the Jame 'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, another extremely impressive mosque just outside the city centre which was build in 1994 by the current Sultan. Golden domes and beautiful minarets. Both buildings are beautifully lit and suppose to be best viewed at night. Such a generous guy to drive me round the city. What a nice chap!
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