Thursday, 19 June 2014

Boring Brunei

After a rather extensive three month stay in Malaysia our visa was due to expire so we had to do a visa run. We chose to head to Brunei for a few days before heading into Sarawak to continue our Malaysian tour.

We took the ferry from Kota Kinabalu to Labaun and caught a connecting ferry to Serasa port in Brunei. All went well until we reached Brunei immigration and the dozens of immigration officials (with nothing better to do) started to question Chris' passport which had a torn inside front page (due the carelessness of guest house owner back in February in Myanmar). After much deliberation amongst themselves they turned back to us and politely told Chris he couldn't enter Brunei because of his damaged passport. After 15 minutes of questioning, pleading and remonstrating we got nowhere and asked to speak to the British Embassy, or High Commission as it's called here. So we went with the immigration officers to their staff room and watched them stuff their faces with biscuits and cakes (I always wondered why they were so fat) whilst we called the embassy. The consulate staff were very helpful and spoke to the Head of Immigration persuading them to let Chris through on condition that he got an emergency passport from the consulate the next day! What a palaver!!

So after a short few hours we eventually entered Brunei and headed to our hotel. The country is immaculate, no litter anywhere, new cars, no bangers churning out black fumes, everybody looks smart, has a job, a house. Such a difference from the three Asian countries we have visited so far. Crime is almost zero due to very harsh penalties for even the most minor offences. They have also retained the majority of their primary rainforest, thanks to their offshore oil wealth there is little or no deforestation. However these forests are expensive to visit and you can't go there on your own. Scientists are queuing up to get permission to explore the more remote areas of Brunei's jungles.

There are no bars, alcohol is illegal but as a foreigner you can bring in one bottle. There are secret bars, some hotels even have them in hidden basement rooms. Our hotel unfortunately did not, but we didn't care, we were just happy to have a big bed, a hot shower and air conditioning for the first time in over 6 weeks! We were both still full of infections and cuts from our volunteering and on antibiotics, so revelled in the relative luxury of a hotel.

We didn't think much of Brunei, it's an expensive, dull place, even the locals stream out of the country every weekend to Kota Kinabalu or Miri to relax and to party. We did visit the Royal Regalia museum containing an archive of gifts the Sultanate had received over the years from visiting dignitaries. There were a large range of gifts on display. Our favourite was the mother of all crystal beer tankards from Queen Elizabeth II with her ER motif etched on the side - how ironic!

After a morning of hanging around the British High Commission, who were so friendly and helpful (thank you Linda) followed by an afternoon sitting and queuing around immigration (again) to get a visa stamp on my new passport, we'd had enough of Brunei and were desperate to exit, so we headed into Sarawak for some more jungle adventures.

The wooden stilted village within Brunei's capital Bandar Seri Begawan

The mall containing the British High Commission with the Grand Mosque in the background

The Grand Mosque

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed your post. If you're interested, here's a visual comparison of Bandar Seri Begawan (capital of Brunei) with other major cities of the world: Bandar Seri Begawan vs World Cities Good day!