Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

The shuttle bus drive to Brunei only ended up taking 3 hours from Miri instead of 4 hours. Brunei is a strict Muslim country and is completely dry aka it’s illegal for alcohol or cigarettes to be sold. However, you can bring a limited amount across the border with you, which we did.

We got off the shuttle bus at 11:30am and were then walking around downtown in our normal short and tank top outfits, carrying around 2 bags of liquor bottles and a 24 rack of beer. We got negative stares left and right for carrying around alcohol. We went to take out money at HSBC and the security guard liked the alcohol, but then when we tried to walk into a restaurant for lunch we got kicked out because we couldn’t have liquor on us. We ended up eating in a food court across the street from the Brunei Hotel. One of the workers provided us with plastic bags to cover the beer in but we still were being stared at for the next hour as we sat there.
We were invited to stay with friends of Gibraltar’s (a wife and husband) while in town at their house a little outside of downtown. The wife picked us up from downtown and drove us home. We spent the rest of the day just relaxing in their house and we enjoyed an amazing home cooked meal by the husband. He made Wagyu beef chili. 
We also learned that night that the fake Smirnoff, Semi-of, that we splurged on and brought is also Arak and not vodka. Arak is a local Malaysian/Indonesian alcohol that tastes like a mix between tequila, whiskey and sake. It has less alcohol than vodka and gives terrible hangovers.
The next morning Vermont and I woke up at 6am to go on a morning trek with the wife and a friend of hers. We drove out and trekked Tasek Lama Taman Peranginan, a public park in the city. The trek was proper with steep hills and beautiful forest views. From a distance we saw the Parliament building with the blue dome, and the Palace with the gold dome. We trekked almost 4km. 

  

After trekking we drove to Ricebowl for breakfast. The restaurant looks like a modern coffee shop with wood accents and marble tables and stools. I had the chicken curry with toast, which was recommended, and the stir fried vegetables. 

After breakfast we drove home and the wife rushed to work. Vermont, Gibraltar and I got ready and set out for the day. We walked down the street to the bus stop and waited almost half and hour for bus #23. It was about a thirty minute right to downtown, and we were dropped off right where we were the day before. We walked across river, over the mini pedestrian bridge, to the day market. The umbrellas were rainbow and there was enough action that we weren’t overwhelmed. Most of the vendors were respectful Muslims and they weren’t harassing us to buy things like we’re used to in other asian countries.

I was hoping to find good vegetables to snack on here but the locals were mostly selling eggplant, squash, potatoes, turnips, ginger, chilis, and various dried seafoods. There was nothing I wanted to buy but the market was very nice nonetheless. 

      Afterwards we checked out a Chinese temple across the street then boarded a small boat to take us to the Water Village. The boat driver had seen us before the market and was following us up and down the river as we walked it, hoping we’d ride with him. We thought he was a bit nuts but he ended up being very nice and helpful. He lives in the Water Village and was a great guide who kept making jokes about anacondas in the water.

The Water Village is just next to downtown. It’s a bunch of houses built on stilts in the water. About 30,000 people live here. There are multiple schools, a fire house, etc. The residents of the village have a great view of the skyline- downtown and the big mosque. 

   

  We drove down the river and went as close as possible to the Palace where the sultan lives. The palace is white and almost resembles a space ship, and has a gold dome. There are over 1,700 rooms in the palace and yet the sultan’s son lives in a separate palace. On Friday’s from 12-2pm the entire city shuts down for prayer. All businesses must close including schools, markets, etc. It was Friday and we were expecting this, and at 12:30pm when we were still on the boat we experienced what the city truly is like. We stopped in the water village right outside the two major mosques downtown and listened to the thousands of people praying. The sound echoed.

We had the driver drop us off at the pedestrian bridge leading to the major mosque, Sultan Omar Ali Saiffudien. The mosque modern Islamic architecture. It is white with a massive gold shiny dome. We are not allowed to enter the mosque at all on Fridays so we just walked around the outside. 

We still had an hour until the city came to life again so we decided to make our way back to the Coffee Bean where we had been before to use the wifi. Outside a mall and random shops and restaurants sat local Chinese workers who also seemed annoyed that the city shut down for two hours every Friday.

At 2pm we grabbed lunch at a Chinese restaurant that served pork, which is a rarity in this city. I had dry vermicelli noodles with barbecued pork and a sour mango and plum juice. 

Afterwards we wandered around and ended up at a super market. I bought veggies to snack on. Afterwards we made our way to the bus stations and made our way back home. That night our hosts had some friends over for dinner and we did a big Indian take-out meal. The food was delicious, the company was fun, and in general I’ve loved being in a home for a meal and taking a break from the travel life.

The next morning we woke up for a afternoon of relaxation. Our host made us homemade breakfast wraps filled with Canadian bacon, a sunny side up egg, a roasted sun-dried tomato and cheese. 

At 4:30pm we were back at the big Mosque this time to go inside. We put on the robes and hijab’s and went inside. We weren’t aloud to walk past the main entrance bit but we could see the whole thing from there. It was pretty plain with white walls and gold details, but the colorful carpet lightened it it. After on of the workers there walked us into the boat on the lake attached to the mosque. Along the way he told me that this is the only place on be complex that he can smoke cigarettes. Also that he illegally imports and sells cigarettes. Last week he brought in 600 cartons, which if he was caught would mean jail and a $16,000 Brunei dollar fine.

We mentioned to him that we wanted to hire a boat to go to see the monkeys down the river and he rang up his cousin to take us. We drove all the way down the Brunei river, past the palace and past the new palace that’s being built. We saw about thirty proboscis monkeys in the trees; they are a lot smaller than I expected them to be.   On the drive home we watched the sky turn as the sun began to set. We went through the Water Village again then parked in town which gave us a nice skyline view.   The wife picked us up and we drove out of town to a Excapade sushi restaurant for my birthday dinner- my birthday is tomorrow but we’re splitting up then. I had 15 pieces of salmon sashimi for 15 Brunei dollars, $11. I also had sliced avocado and tuna maki. The salmon was fresh and the tuna is locally caught. The meal was fantastic.

After dinner we can home and had a beer and a Magnum ice cream. 

It was my birthday and I ended up traveling almost the whole day. Vermont and I took an 8am bus back to Kota Kinabulu in Sabah. The bus from was 6 hours during which we passed through immigration 8 times. We left Brunei, entered Sarawak, left Sarawak, entered Brunei, left Brunei, entered Sarawak, left Sarawak, entered Sabah. I got a stamp for each check point, plus I already had stamps for Malaysia and Brunei. Luckily I have two extra booklets in my passport to accommodate this. 

  

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