This is... Brunei - The Abode of Peace
What?! What's "Brew Night?" You mean night brew, right? No, I mean neither. I meant "Bru-nei." What's that? You may ask, well, let's locate it first. Brunei is a small country facing the South China Sea in Southeast Asia. The South China Sea is to its north, and Malaysia surrounds the entire non-coastline part of the country. Pretty simple, right? Wrong. In fact, I've barely seen more geographically complex micronations than Brunei! For starters, it is split into two parts connected by a bridge (the 3rd longest in the world). The larger, more populated, and more developed region takes up 3 of the country's four districts, 97% of the population, and houses its capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan, located on the northeastern tip of Western Brunei.
It's July 2023, and half a year has passed since I last left home to travel the world. This time, I decided to do an ultimate Southeast Asian tour, starting with Brunei on Borneo. Royal Brunei Airlines is minor for a flag carrier (14 aircraft) but more than enough for this country. Service in the skies and the effort put into building this aerial mode of transportation from this remote island isn't easy! We started our unforgettable journey by receiving a prayer from when the Prophet Muhammad travelled, and just like that, we were off, flying towards the South China Sea. I named an islet after myself, and before I knew it, we were there. And already, I could see 9/14 of the aircraft parked in the smallest terminal I've ever seen. Obviously, we took the prime landing gate, exchanged for some Bruneian Dollars, and left the building.
Right off the bat, I can already see traditional Southeast Asian brands popping up left, right and centre. Jollibee is a giant Southeast Asian fast-food chain that can rival McDonalds! That is unheard of, with only 13 Jolibees in the Toronto, Mississauga, metro area vs. the 20 McDonalds just down Avenue Road! But, apparently, upon further research, it's a Filippino brand! Well, that explains a lot, as does the 'Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, ' which doesn't even have a shop in Canada. Also, upon further research, I found a few "Coffee bean & tea leaves" in the US! Two permanently closed ones in NYC, one in Baltimore, Portland, San Diego and Bakersfield and quite a few in LA. Heck, there's even one in Hawaii. But when it comes to Southeast Asia, especially a less international place, e.g. Brunei, the only coffee shop I see is the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. We saw a taxi stand, hopped on a taxi, and zoomed off. It turns out he's been to China and speaks a little Chinese! But seriously, he gave us his business card and said we could call anytime, and he'd be there. Unfortunately, though, we never got to see him again :(. And I am unsure where that business card went after meeting with my brother and dad in Vietnam. (Stay tuned, Vietnam will come out shortly!)
We arrived at our hotel and were greeted by a friendly concierge named Najib, who introduced us to a guided hotel private day tour. I drank refreshing, welcoming drinks, ate dinner, and went to the clubhouse for basketball, badminton, ping pong, squash, and pool before diving into one for a swim. What a day!
The sun was up, the weather was clear, and it was time for the tour. We met our driver, who drove an excellent minivan to pick only the two of us up, and drove to our first destination, Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the new one out of the two major touristic mosques in Brunei (Unfortunately, that day was Friday, so mosques aren't open for public visitors due to praying). We got a few good shots and left.
Marching on, the Royal Regalia Museum! (Also closed. :( We only had one day, so we had to keep moving.) got a few quick shots of it and its surroundings, as we are now situated in the heart of the city centre of Bandar Seri Begawan and trooped to the next (3rd) destination - Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque (Older Mosque out of the 2, which was also closed) Unluckily, it has also started raining this time around. But that didn't stop us. We went to the designated photo spot (a giant 6-metre-tall photo frame) and also got a few good shots. But to save your daily mood, I decided to photoshop...
We hopped back into the minivan and drove off because after crossing one of the most magnificent bridges I've ever seen, we arrived at the "Venice of Southeast Asia" Kampong Ayer. A water village downstream of the royal palace has existed for thousands of years. First, we visited the tourism gallery, where we learned about its history and traditions, then took a water taxi (roofed boats with motors) on a tour of the jungles of Borneo, where we were promised monkeys (which we saw) and possibly crocodiles!
However, this oasis in the middle of a river also poses enormous problems. Although the land is cheaper here than nearby downtown, the stilts on which the land is built are also unstable and can easily succumb to natural disasters, as our taxi driver/temporary guide introduced. Structures need sturdy stilts to support their weight and stand on water. However, the stilts in Kampong Ayer are rarely sturdy at all! Why not repair them? You ask, well, that would cost money that most fishermen and other jobs residents take in Kampong Ayer can't afford. Which eventually leads to one of two things. First, the stilts collapse over time, the whole house drops into the water and second, a natural disaster, e.g. a wildfire or flood, destroys your home.
Moving on to a happier note, we travelled deep into rivers and waterways within the jungles of Brunei and saw Probiscus monkeys (Long-nosed monkeys) and Silvered-leaf monkeys. Unfortunately, no crocodiles were to be seen due to high tides, but not only did we develop a strong bond with the driver, but he didn't scam us like some genuine-seeming humans did (Looking at you, kinda... Najib, for not telling us beforehand that everything was closed and lying about this being an official hotel tour, though we enjoyed it, so we didn't make a fuss, and you taxi driver and waitress we met in Malaysia, read the Malaysia article for comparisons:). )
Proboscis Monkey (Not our photo)
Silvered Leaf Monkey (Also not our photo)
After saying goodbye to the driver, we returned to the hotel, rested for a bit, and went to a food market and a mall to experience Bruneian shopping, where we ate some scam sausages made out of fake pork meat that made me sick (you know a scam was brewing) and ate some actual quality foods at the food court in the mall. Sizzling beef with/ rice, in particular, made by a local food stand. The portion was generous, and it was perfect apart from the appearance (I mean, it's not gourmet, so who cares about looks). A blend of sweet and sour sauces was poured on the sizzling local Bruneian buffalo rib, paired with peppers, and served on a stone plate with TWO rice bowls. Who can eat this much? After tasting it, I realized the other downside of this meal was the tenderness of the buffalo ribs. The meat was understandably tense, probably due to being local farm buffalos and not fancy A5 Wagyu, which isn't bad. Gotta support the local business, am I right?!
We took goodbye selfies with our guide at the hotel, went to the clubhouse to play evening tennis (yes, we brought our tennis rackets), and nearly beat my mom (a billiard master) at pool! And finally, went back to our room. Brunei was a true "Abode of Peace," let's see how our next stop, Manila, Philippines, can compare! See you in the next one!