Thursday, 10 February 2011

Brunei Darussalam

Brunei is a place that sounded so weird that I just had to go and see myself what it is like...

Main Mosque in Brunei
It is rather difficult to reach overland and so I took the ferry. Remembering how sea sick I got on the ferries in Japan I decided to travel as far as possible by bus and then change to ferry. Good thinking, but I forgot that ferry does not equal ferry... When I arrived at the ferry terminal I had the choice between the car ferry and a speed boat, the former taking about 1,5 hours and the later 20 minutes. I thought that it is better to be seasick for only 20 minutes and decided for the speedboat. Wrong decision!!! The speedboat turned out to be a small boat for just 14 passengers - and still it went across open sea at a breathtaking speed. When we hit the big waves the boat was bouncing up and down so badly that I nearly hit my head on the roof. I was clinging to anything I could get hold of in order not to be thrown out of the boat and my only consolation was the hope that the driver would know what he was doing... After 20 incredibly bumpy minutes we arrived on the Malaysian island of Labuan - all in one piece, the boat and I.

I had one day in Labuan to recover from the shock before I had to get onto another speedboat ferry to Brunei. This ferry was much bigger - but the waves were also much higher and I got terribly seasick. Luckily I met a British lady on the boat and she distracted me from my seasickness by talking to me...

Main Mosque in Brunei
Brunei is a sultanate or a Malay Muslim monarchy. The sultan of Brunei was one of the richest men on earth before Bill Gates and the like showed up. But apparently not much of his wealth has trickled down to his subjects. True, Brunei is a bit cleaner than Malaysia and much more expensive, but still it is a rather run down place. That is especially true for the guesthouse I was staying in....For a price that would get you a palace in Malaysia I ended up in a rather decrepit room with dirt on walls, noisy air condition and a bath room that would send any German house wife into a heart attack. I had to change rooms because the Indian family next to me was addicted to watching Indian TV at top volume. The next room had windows facing the street - but hey, there is not much traffic in Brunei, isn't it? Unfortunately, my guest house turned out to be right in the centre of the red light district in Brunei. I did not expect that such a thing existed in a Malay Muslim monarchy... but anyways, the customers apparently had a hard time choosing one of the working girls and kept cruising around the blog for hours on end. Seriously, I watched the same guy in a noisy tuned up Volkswagen cruise around the block every 2 minutes for 1,5 hours...

I had really looked forward to Brunei and had hoped for some decent museums, but my hopes did not come true. There is a Royal Museum, featuring the Sultan, the Sultan and then the Sultan again. In business outfit, traditional garb and mostly in uniform. Judging from the variety of uniforms Brunei must have quite an impressive army.
The Brunei Museum was not that much better. Beside a collection of Muslim art (donated of course, by the Sultan), it featured petrol production in Brunei (partly owned by the Sultan of course) and Brunei's history that was centred around.... the Sultan.

I would have really appreciated it if the Sultan had invested more money into the local bus system because it took me forever to get from one place to another - and I was intrigued to find out why. The reason for the delays in public transport was the German cruise ship AIDA. Whenever the AIDA docks in Brunei (every two months) half of the bus drivers are taken out of the local bus system and drive shuttle buses for German tourists instead. So buses were running only once per hour instead of every half hour. Nice!

I must admit that the biggest highlight of my visit to Brunei was the discovery of a donut shop with really good chocolate donuts. That says a lot about my cravings, but also a lot about Brunei as a tourist attraction. I had planned to stay at least 3 days but was determined to leave after only one.

So today I took the bus to Miri in Malaysia and was happy to escape Brunei. But another disappointment was waiting for me. I had planned to visit two more National Parks that do not require guides and was actually really looking forward to a little bit of jungle trekking again. But when I arrived at the visitor information centre in Miri I was told that BOTH are closed - due to damage by rain. I am getting really fed up with all my bad weather luck now!


Kavyansh said...

Hey Christine, thanks for such a lovely review. I am planning a trip to Brunei or rather its going to be business trip but to everyone's shock for 3 months. However, I was booking the hotel myself. So could you help me with some good names if you have seen any. Especially the locality where your hotel was located as I don't want to end up in working women area for 3 months!!

hamba yang lemah said...

im very sad after reading this review..however i do agreed that there arent that much to see in brunei..but unfortunately that was because u came there without a tour guide..if only u had one,it will be such an adventures trip..