Fit for a Sultan? Then it's fit for us!

Trip Start Sep 26, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Brunei  ,
Friday, October 19, 2012

At 7:45am we arrived by taxi at Pujut Corner Bus Terminal to catch the 8:15 coach to Brunei. The tickets cost 40RM each and once we had given in our passport details we boarded the coach and filled in our Brunei entry visas. We made a few little stops along the way to pick up more people and drop some off until finally reaching our destination: Bandar Seri Begawan (the capital city!). As we drove through, we could instantly see the difference between Brunei & the parts of Malaysia we had already visited. Everything looked so clean and well organised!

We were dropped off by the side of a pretty busy road & were greeted by Danny, the local tourism expert & all round friendly chap! He gave us directions to our hotel, a map of the city and even solved the problem of how to get from here to Kota Kinabalu in a couple of days! Apparently he is mentioned in many of the travel guides for Brunei & deservedly so!

Following Danny's directions, we made the short walk up to our hotel. The first time we had carried our rucksacks any distance and I instantly felt the strain of carrying 25kg! It made us all take another moment to reflect on the guy we had seen the previous day carrying 100kg!! Our first impressions of Brunei were only made even better when we tried to cross the road, within seconds the cars stopped and let us cross! Zebra crossings actually mean something here!!! We found our hotel easily and checked in before heading up to our room (the porter brought our bags - another luxury we weren't used to!)

Our room was amazing!!! In fact it's wrong to call it a room as it was more like an apartment with 2 double bedrooms (with built in wardrobes), 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and lounge/diner!! At 160 Brunei dollars (about 90), it was a bit pricier than our usual budget places but there was very little other options! Also included in the price of the room was breakfast and a 45 minute sightseeing tour of the city, so we couldn't really grumble!

After dropping our bags off and freshening up, we ventured out in the city to have a walk about. We had been warned there wasn't an awful lot to see but we were still very surprised at just how small it was and how easily you could walk round and see pretty much everything. We had also been warned that in the evening it becomes a 'dead city' as there are no pubs or clubs (you can't buy alcohol anywhere!!) and very few restaurants. Still, we were quite surprised at how deserted it seemed even at 6pm! We walked down to the harbour where you can see the 'floating village'. There are taxi boats who will take you on a tour for about $3 dollars each & they are very keen to get your business, some following us pretty much the entire length of the water's edge!! We found the Chinese Temple first which was lovely looking and had some beautiful art work, we found it strange as one picture was of a Buddha clearing his nose quite forcefully, why this is interesting or even important enough to get drawn on the wall I do not know?! There was a different picture of a Buddha that appeared to be praying but we had some fun laughing at the other stuff he could be doing.

Following this we saw the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque which was built in 1958 by the 28th Sultan (the current Sultan's Dad) and the main park where celebrations are held on special occasions. We stopped for dinner in a little restaurant on the main road (Jalan Sultan). At first it seemed as though they were surprised we wanted to eat there but they were very friendly in the end. We ordered 3 curries, 2 rice, 2 naan breads, some pakoras and drinks (soft drinks of course!!). It was delicious!!!! And to our amazement only cost $15!!!! That's about 2.50 each!!! Madness!!!

Feeling very full and pretty tired after so many early starts and so much travelling, we headed back to the hotel where the boys watched a film (Battle of LA) while I finished my 2nd book of the trip (Tell No One by Harlan Coben - absolutely brilliant!) and then on to bed!

The next morning we had a little lay in before heading down to try breakfast! It was lovely! They offered a much wider selection of food and we all left feeling very full! At 10:45, we were picked up by the concierge to go on our driving tour. At first, we were all a little concerned he was going to drive round in silence for the whole trip but, after some gentle persuasion from a slightly narked Matt, he did start to tell us some information about the sights we were seeing (albeit contradictory to what the guide book said!!). He also broke the rules slightly by stopping the car and letting us go and take pictures of some of the sights (it said on the website that they would be strictly no stopping the car!!!). It was a really good way to see the whole city and gave us the opportunity to decide where we wanted to head to and how to get there! One of the most impressive things we saw was the Istana Nur-ul-Iman palace which was built in 1984 by the current Sultan. It is the world's largest palace sitting on over 300 acres of land and housing 5 swimming pools!! Apparently the Sultan is on his 3rd wife and has 12 children in total, all of whom live in the palace! The Sultan opens the palace to the public for 3 days every year at the end of Ramadan where locals and tourists can have a look round, meet the Sultan & his Queen and you are given a goodie bag containing cake! No wonder the people here like him so much, he really is a warm & caring ruler.

There are very strong links between Brunei & Britain going way back in history and the Sultan & our Queen have a good relationship. So quite often, Princes Charles, Andrew & Edward will fly over to Brunei and play polo at his palace! There is also a British palace for them to stay in (Palace of Edinburgh) and a road named after our Queen (Jalan Elizabeth 2). The Sultan flies himself over to the UK (he is a pilot too!!) from time to time including for the Royal Wedding of William & Kate and to see 2 of his sons graduate from military training at Sandhurst!

After the tour, we walked through the market near our hotel. they had every kind of fruit and vegetable you can think of for sale but the most fascinating thing was the ladies making the little mengkuang parcels out of lengths of screwpine leaves. We stood and watched completely entranced by a lady as she wrapped it round her hands a few times before twisting and turning it and eventually looping it through itself to create a little box! Initially embarrassed by our interest, she soon warmed to us and made one a little slower so we could take photos and try to understand how she does it and then gave it to me a souvenir!

After that, we headed towards the main park, stopping at a little shop to pick up souvenirs and then continued on to the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. There were prayers taking place when we arrived so we spent some time walking around the grounds. Once prayers were finished, we were allowed to go in. As Matt & I were wearing shorts, we had to wear the robes that they provide. I also had to cover my head & shoulders so was given a purple hijab to wear. Once inside, it was an impressive sight with white walls and a beautiful coloured glass interior to the dome. Its amazing to see there the time and effort that they put into there mosques. We spent some time calmly reflecting then headed back out to derobe!

During our hunt for somewhere to eat lunch, we came across a place that did intriguing sundaes. The boys have become a little obsessed with Banana Boats (banana splits back home!!) and here they sold Banana Love Boats so they were sold! I opted for a Three's Company!! All were huge & delicious!! Feeling refuelled, we continued our walk up to the Royal Regalia Museum which houses the Sultan's personal collections, including the gifts he was given for his Silver Jubilee and the medals & honours he has been awarded by other countries. It also displays the chariot and armour used during both his Coronation & Silver Jubilee parades. It really was an impressive sight and it was lovely to see another country that clearly knows how to put on a show during a special occasion and understands pomp and ceremony!! The striking difference being that our Royals require bulletproof vehicles and maintain a much greater distance from us than here in Brunei where his chariot is open on all sides and the people were within touching distance of him! We loved walking around this museum and felt like we learnt a lot! Gareth decided to test how tight their security was though as we were told on entering that all our bags, cameras & phones had to be locked away as there was to be strictly no photography. We, of course, did as we were asked but to our annoyance pretty much everyone else in the museum was posing for photos next to the exhibits and not getting told off! Feeling a sense of injustice here, off Gareth went to retrieve his camera and starting snapping away! He made it all the way round the main room, into a smaller exhibition room & halfway round the reconstruction of the jubilee procession before he was gently reminded of the no photos rule! Well done Gareth!!

Filled with information, we headed back out into the city. We stopped by the restaurant we had eaten at the previous night to pick up some take away pakoras & samosas for our long coach journey in the morning and then found another little restaurant to have dinner. Not quite as tasty or cheap as last night but still good! And then headed back to our apartment to begin the arduous task of packing (again!!) and getting ready to leave early the next morning.

All 3 of us really enjoyed our time in Brunei. It's a place we would definitely recommend others to visit and would be happy to come back to. Matt says he wouldn't want to live there because it's a dry country!!!! But if that's the only issue, it's clearly a brilliant place to spend some time!
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