Proboscis monkeys

Trip Start May 18, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Pusat Belia Hostel

Flag of Brunei  ,
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Arrived in the capital of Brunei yesterday around midday, having made an early start from Miri at 6am. Fortunately almost all the connections and ferry crossings were back to back with minimum delays. Even so, the total journey time was about six hours and by the time I checked into the Pusat Belia Hostel (B$10 a night) I was pretty knackered. I'd advise anyone making the same journey to start as early as possible, the first buses and ferrys of the day seem to be the least busy.

There is not much choice for bugdet accommodation in Bandar Seri Begawan, there is only one hostel to speak of and it's styled on a YMCA. With no lounge or kitchen there is no common area to meet and talk to other travellers. The only things going for it (apart from costing less than a hotel) are the air-conditioned dorm rooms and a swimming pool next door (B$1 per entry).

The first thing you notice when you enter the capital city (apart from the Shell Petroleum marketing) are the impressive masjids that all have gilt domes. The Omar Ali Saifuddien masjid is magnificent indside and out, and the only masjid I have ever seen that has an escalator inside! The nearby YSHHB Complex is a stunning contruction consisting of two identical shopping malls that both look like very large traditional houses, due to the multiple angled roofs.

Today started with a quick trip to the handicraft centre followed by a walk that took us up to a vantage point from where we could see most of Kampung Ayer and the Bandar Seri Begawan waterfront. Kampung Ayer is a huge mass of wooden stilt villages just south of the waterfront. The contrast with the gleaming white marble masjids is quite striking.

Next stop was the Brunei Museum (with yet another exhibit sponsored by Shell) followed by the Malay Technology Museum. The former was much larger, you only need about forty minutes to see everything in the Technology Museum as it only consists of three large rooms containing mock ups of traditional rural scenes. The Brunei Museum could have done with better descriptions for the displays, but the artefacts themselves were excellent. Both museums are free so definately worth the trek out of the city. The 39 bus can take you there for B$1 but after waiting 30 muinutes we decided to walk it. Thankfully the three of us got a lift part way there from some friendly Brunei security forces in a military transport vehicle (complete with army green seat covers).

We had lunch back in Bandar (after finally catching a number 39 on the way back) at an excellent Kedai Kopi - probably the cheapest meal in the city at B$2 for Veg Dosai.

The highlight of today has been the early evening boat tour with Jungle Dave from the Visitors Information Centre. This tour was relatively pricey at B$38 but came with an 80% refund if you didn't see any Proboscis monkeys in the mangroves. Proboscis monkeys can only live in the wild and will starve themselves to death if kept in captivity. You wont see them in any zoos and they are only found in Borneo so I could not miss this opportunity to see the largest breed of monkey (one was found by Dave that weighed 85kg).

During the three hour boat tour on the Sungai Brunei we saw four different groups, each headed by a large male (only the males have the long noses). The Malay name for Proboscis monkey is Orang-belander. Aparantly 'Belander' means Dutchman - the local people thought the original Dutch settlers had rather large noses! Dave also took us into some well developed mangroves and we came across a two foot long lizard and large crocodile tracks. There have been no crocodile attacks in Brunei because their habitat has been preserved. Locals seem quite unphased by the odd crocodile swimming just metres in front of them.

The tour ended with a brilliant sunset and double rainbow as a back drop for the evening fly past of waves of white Egrets, flying about a foot above the river. Brunei may be a small country but the wildlife here is breathtaking - it would be so nice to stay longer but by the weekend I shall be in Sabah and back on Malaysian soil.
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