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Archive for the ‘Brunei’ Category

Jul
14

Brunei

Posted by Mei on July 14, 2011 July 5-6, 2011. We rented a car to travel from Miri to Brunei. What a huge shock when we arrived at the border. We expected to have to buy a visa on the spot, but immigration accepted only Brunei or Singapore dollars; which we did not have. Fortunately placed were these guys who seemed to hang out there and changed the money for us at a rate that was not too outrageous. The Brunei dollar is on par with the Singapore dollar. The immigration ladies were very friendly and nice to us. They certainly made us feel welcomed.

Immigration Ladies

This is a big Shell Oil country too. We drove into BSB (Bandar Seri Bagawan). We had no maps and my GPS maps on my nokia phone did not have Brunei. But even if it had the call cost were so exorbitant (international roaming with DIGI), I couldn't used it. Instead we relied on the really good Brunei signage. A large scale google map and the lonely planet map of the city. Once we got into the city, no great feat, all city centres have the same look; we searched for a book shop. Nup! We bumped into Maria and Eric, a couple we met in Mulu. We all wanted to see the Sultan's palace and we offered to take them by car. Whilst figuring out how to get there with the tourist map they had, a tourist tout listening in to our conversation just gave me one. That was fortuitous. We drove a way round to get a view of the Istana but the walls were pretty damn high. We wondered onto an island that had a structure on it. We thought it was a restaurant; the sign had the word makam, which we thought meant food. We spoke to a guy throwing out some crab pots. Turned out that the structure was the mausoleum of the 16th sultan, we're up to 29 now. We went to the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque the biggest mosque in Brunei. It was awe inspiring.

Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque 1

We had to dress in a black gown and it made us feel like monks. Oddly they had no covering for woman's hair. We went inside and found the floors completely marbled. In the Prayer hall were specially made rugs, as most people were kneeling or kneeling with their foreheads on the ground. The alter area was very elaborate, and there appeared to be an area for someone to stand and preach. It was almost cold with the air conditioning, but must be wonderful when the hall is full. They had a completely separate prayer chamber for the women, complete with the white gowns they could borrow. Their alter area had television monitors, of the main male chamber, so they too could hear and watch the services. We were not allowed there during the prayer times but it appeared people went to pray whenever they had the time. We were surprised to see the crab fisherman there. He had completed his devotions and was off to pick up his crabs. That evening we had a lovely satay meal. We had parked our car next to the river. It was about 10pm when we saw a group of six men dressed in bright yellow plastic raincoats. They were using a high pressure water jet to clean the slime from the concrete steps that led down to the river. We got into our car fully expecting it to start. It did not. The group of yellow men came to our aid and for a while debated with Kevin how to fix the problem. They were all so helpful. Eventually we decided to jump start the car and one of them happen to have a four wheel drive and jumper leads. No worries. The next day we went to the Regalia museum. It contained all the gifts from foreign nations and local community groups to the sultan. What do you give a man who lacks for nothing? A truly tough call. Nice presents though. Didn't see anything from John Howard. Helen Clarke gave a handcrafted bowl. The best gifts were peeps from the Middle East and SE Asia. Norodom Sihanouk (King-Father of Cambodia) gave a pewter replica of Angkor Wat. Actually it was a nice way to preserve and display these rather unique gifts. The museum also housed the giant coronation sedan chair, the magnificent uniforms of the sedan chair bearers and guards. Today the sedan chair is on a platform with wheels and the bearers push instead of carry. Good thing too as it looked back-breaking heavy. We were very impressed by how well everything was being maintained. The Sultan’s 65th birthday on July 15th, may have something to do with this. The whole country seemed in a frenzy of spring clean. We visited the empire hotel. The main reception and eating areas were apparently part of the country beach house privately owned by Prince Jeffri.  When he fell into disfavour the house got turned into a hotel. I have never seen so many expensive cars in a car park. The marble inlay on the floor was exquisite.

Marble Inlay Floor

We visited the Kampong Ayer (water village). It was interesting to see wooden houses with galvanised roofs on concrete or metal piles, with a platform made from concrete bearers. There were ten schools, hospitals, clinics and an active fire department that patrolled all the time. Most of these services were on the water, some were on the bank of the river. All houses had water, electricity and phones; almost all of them had satellite TV. They were joined by walkways linking them together. The people in this community have lived on the water for 1000 years. The sultan lineage is directly traced to the community of water dwellers. The sultan’s lineage is 700 years old. We went to the Kampong Ayer gallery. There were sketches of the Kampong Ayer when the sultan used to live on the water. The roofs were magnificent thatched roofs. It looked several storeys high. It was really impressive unlike the shantytown on stilts today.

Kampong Ayer Mosque - It's 32 deg C

We decided to fuel up our rental in Brunei as the petrol costs $0.40 AUD/l. When we got to the Shell servo the manager ran up and told us firmly we could not fuel up because we had a Malaysian car. But we’re out we said, Kevin showed him the gauge. He reluctantly allowed us $5.00 worth enough to get to the special servo just before the border. When we got to the servo the workers there made us drive to the special world price bowser. There we paid 0.68  AUD/l. This was more expensive than the Malaysian price of 0.60 AUD/l. Oh well not really complaining. It’s tough eh!!!