Plane ticket prices are one of those peculiarities that I will never understand. In my case, it cost about half as much to fly from Miri Hong Kong, via Kota Kinabalu, as it would to fly just the leg from Kota Kinabalu to Hong Kong. In other words, I could fly 50% further for half the price. A less odd occurrence was that it was much cheaper to fly back a few days after the end of Chinese New Year, so I went for that itinerary. Katie didn’t have the option to wait, though, so she returned to Hong Kong without me. In yet another odd occurrence, Courtney and John, who live in Beijing, got delayed in their return by the infamous corona virus. That’s all just a long way of saying that Katie went home and Courtney, John, and I traveled to Miri together.
There was just one obstacle blocking our path: the country of Brunei Darussalum. On a map of Borneo (the third biggest island in the world), Brunei looks tiny, but it is bigger than 30 other countries, and it’s about the same size as Delaware. In another geographical oddity, the country is split into two parts, with Malaysia in the middle. It’s possible to travel from Kota Kinabalu to Miri by land, but it’s pricey and because of all of the border crossings, it necessitates 10 (!) passport stamps. Instead, we opted to travel to Brunei by ferry, and to Miri by bus.
We ended up staying for two days in Brunei’s capital of Bandar Seri Bagawan (BSB). That was probably one day too many – there’s no alcohol or night life of any sort, and the streets were eerily quiet, even in the day. The country is quite wealthy, due to its large oil reserves. I was sure I had spotted the Sultan’s palace whenever I saw a mansion with a sprawling green lawn (which was often), until I learned how big the palace actually is (2 million square feet). But this is a strict Muslim country, so it’s about the last place you’d want to go to party.
We did do quite a bit of walking around after it cooled off, late in the afternoon and into the evenings. The highlights were walking through the stilted village of Kampong Ayer, walking around the city’s main mosque, and taking a boat to see the Sultan’s palace and the proboscis monkeys, which I’ll cover in a separate post.
For now, here are some of my pictures from Bandar Seri Bagawan:
On our first afternoon in Brunei we walked to the iconic RIPAS Bridge.
The stilted village of Kampong Ayer houses 30,000 people and might be considered the cultural center of Brunei.
Brunei’s capital is Bandar Seri Bagawan (BSB).
The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque at night.
Mahkota Jubli Emas Park is just outside of the mosque, in the heart of BSB. Surprisingly it was almost empty. There were just a few kids playing and people jogging next to the river.
The park included these baobab trees, lit by floodlights.
Unsurprisingly, we saw many, many mosques in this Muslim country.
The jungle was well-preserved, even just outside of the city.
Kampong Ayer was not done up for the tourists. Many of the buildings had fallen apart. Several planks in the sidewalks were either missing or wobbly. Living on top of this brackish water must necessitate constant upkeep to avoid this fate.
We saw an insane number of stray cats, much to Courtney’s delight.
We found this cool trail through a bamboo forest.
Walking home from school.
In addition to schools and police departments, Kampong Ayer also has fire departments. Obtaining water to fight fires probably isn’t much of an issue.
There may be a lot of money in Brunei, but not everyone’s rich.
A man takes it all in.
The RIPAS Bridge at a cloudy dusk.