Brunei is a bizarre country, and we only really visited as it was en route for our overland journey to Sarawak, so we just spent a few nights in its capital, known locally as BSB. A weird capital, BSB felt like a ghost town, and we found out from locals that this was due largely to their previously playboy Sultan who’d grown old and conservative, and essentially made it illegal to stay out late, or make noise in public places. It’s illegal to drink there, and very conservative, and in the Youth Centre where we were staying (the hotels there are £40 or more per night!) we had to stay in segregated dorms, which was pretty bizarre!
Luckily we met a nice young French couple who were cycling around Africa and Asia, so we spent a lot of time chatting with them about travel stories, like their camping around Asia and staying in temples and churches with monks… and also chatting about how weird Brunei is! It has the feel of Singapore – sterile, un-Asia, soul-less – but much quieter, and even restaurants would be mostly shut by 9pm.
However, we did see a few cool things in our time in BSB. On our first night we witnessed a stunning sunset over the local mosque, which was uplit in green neon, and looked really beautiful. We tried to get into the mosque several times over our two days there, but there was always a ceremony going on (or wedding!) so unfortunately we didn’t get a look at the inside, but from the outside it was beautiful.
We also took a walk around the vast network of water villages built on wooden stilts and walkways, which house over 20,000 people who live a much simpler life than in modern BSB, with pared-back brightly coloured houses and limited technology. It was nice walking around the villages, although the locals eyed us a bit suspiciously, and we felt a little voyeuristic. There were hardly any tourists in town, so we felt a bit weird! Some locals welcomed us though, and some even offered to take us around on their boats.
After a couple of hours we’d grown unbearably hot and sweaty, and retired to the Youth Centre for a break before heading out in the afternoon to the Royal Regalia Museum, where we marvelled at hundreds of ‘gifts’ given to the Sultan from various countries across the world – from mini palaces made of diamonds, to tapestries, to golden daggers. They also had a lifesize version of a ceremonial procession, featuring some original chariots, and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to take a slightly offensive photo with it (you couldn’t take photos anywhere else in the museum):
We also tried local food ‘ayumbat’ whilst in town, which is a thick flavourless gluey goo made from a sapo plant, in which you dip various meats and veggies. Truly bizarre, I couldn’t manage much of the glutinous stuff, but Sam did his best to finish off our big bowl!
On our exit out of town, we met an adorable tour guide called Danny, who turned out to be Lucy (from Lucy’s homestay in Sabah)’s son! We had a nice chat with him whilst waiting for our bus, and he showed us loads of photos of his home-made waistcoasts that he stitches together from little flags! He was very sweet and obviously happy to have some tourists to talk to – he said their numbers have dropped over the last decade due to increased terrorist activity and people’s fear of their rather extreme approach to religion.
After a stopover in an oil town and a couple of buses, we arrived in our favourite town in Borneo, Kuching!!