Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Exploring Micro Brunei

We had a short stop in this micro-nation, taking in mosques, a billion dollar country club and a stilted village! I am writing this blog as if it was up to Stephi, she’d simply say don’t bother with Brunei!

After seeing the amazing Orang-utans in Sepilok, we returned to Kota Kinabalu. We caught two ferries out of Malaysia (via the tax-free island of Labuan where we stocked up on duty-free chocolate) and into another Singapore-like country; Brunei Darussalam. Brunei isn’t known for its tourism, but as we were so close, we (but mostly I) wanted to pop in and see what it had to offer.

Brunei and the UK share a special relationship, formed from when the Sultanate was a under the protection of the British (but remaining an independent country) from 1906 to 198, with the UK still coming to Brunei’s defence if invaded now.

Due to its naval strength, at its height the Sultan of Brunei controlled most of the island of Borneo, as well as some of the present day Philippines.

However with the emergence of Singapore as a key trading port and the increase in land attacks from Bornean tribes and Filipinos, Brunei was weakening and had to give away land to those who came to its military aid.

It ceded the Western state of Sarawak to James Brooke, a British explorer, and the Eastern state of Sabah to the East India Trading Company, a British funded outfit that brought Asian riches back to the homeland.

Later both Sarawak and Sabah joined with mainland Malaya to become present day Malaysia, leaving a very small Brunei.

Stephi arranged us a homestay via Airbnb with a young Bruneian man named Aziz.

Located around 10km outside the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan, we had a spacious room, complete with TV, wi-fi and air-con, which was a real necessity considering the 33c heat!

Brunei is a very rich country due to its oil and gas reserves; leading to very cheap petrol (just 15p a litre) and nearly everyone owning a car.

When combined with very low tourism, it removes the need for public transport or even swathes of taxis (there are less than 50 in the whole country and you can’t book them in advance).
Thankfully Aziz and his friend Azrin were happy to take us places during our brief stay.

On our first morning, Azrin dropped us off in Bandar, home to most of the country’s tourist attractions.

Brunei is a deeply Islamic country, much more so than Malaysia or even Indonesia, so its greatest mosques were a must-see.

The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque was built for the country’s 28th Sultan (father of current Sultan).

With the bright sunshine, its huge golden dome and pristine white walls made it an impressive sight.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Exploring Micro Brunei