Labuan - Brunei - Darwin
Trip Start Apr 30, 2004
88Trip End Jan 28, 2005
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We spent the morning at the Labuan War cemetry, paying our respects to the nearly 4000 Commonwealth Servicemen who lost their lives in Borneo during the Second World War. Mostly Australian nad British the row upon neat row of headstones also contains those men who died on the Sandakan to Ranu death marches.
The vast manuicured lawns have beds of beautiful flowers and shrubs between the rows of white headstones. All the headstones house a small bronze plate bearing an epitaph. Actually only about half contained epitaphs, the others were memorials to unknown soldiers. Needless to say its a very moving place.
Lunchtime saw us taking another speedboat, this time to Brunei, just an hour away. Half an hour on the bus took us from the Port of Muara into Brunei's capital Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB).
Brunei is one of the smallest countries in the world, but also one of the wealthiest due to its offshore oil reserves. The oil is estimated to run dry in 2020, so the sultan and his cohorts are desperately trying to figure out Plan B.
Our plans have changed again as well. Our intention had been to travel down through Sarawak to Kuching and then catch a flight to Australia. But, after much deliberation, we've decided to fly to Darwin from Brunei. Borneo is a stunning place, a vast solar powered natural theme park and it would be easy to spend months exploring it all. But viewing wildlife is expensive on our budget and we can't afford to repeat the trips we made in Sabah in Sarawak. So we won't.
At the Royal Brunei Airlines office we learn there's a flight to Darwin on tuesday leaving at 11am. At 3 hours 20 minutes duration its the shortest flight we could get to Australia. The friendly staff were also kind enough to tell us it would be cheaper to buy our tickets from a travel agent.
It's way too hot to walk about with our rucksacks on, but due to a complete lack of buses and taxis that's what we do. BSB has a dearth of central accomodation, this is no tourist hotspot and hotels are large, expensive and out of town. A 1km stretch of our mountain strengthened legs and we discover the Terrace hotel. In recent weeks and months we'd have been paying the equivalent of about 5-8 pound a night for a standard 2 person room with an en-suite and maybe a TV, but here in Brunei the prices have skyrocketed to 65 Brunei Dollars (22 pound).
The hotel is typical of Malaysia where you are drawn in by by the huge marbled floored looby and granite reception desk only to find the rest of the hotel is weary and worn out.
Hawker food is still cheap though, and we find a hawker food court nearby where we fill up on vegetable fried rice.
Later, party animals that we are, we fell asleep watching some low quality comedy, then having forced myself awake for football at midnight, another low quality comedy in the form of West Brom v Fulham soon had me properly sedated.
Expenses (Malaysian Ringit RM7/pound): Bfast 15, boat tickets 48, dep tax 1
Expenses (Brunei Dollar B$3/Pound): Accom 65, lunch 22.80, dinner 5, phone 2, internet 1
Convert RM49 to BS20
Sunday Sep 19th - Day 146
Today is the half way day of our travels.
For the price, the Terrace Hotel was a dive so following a tip off we book into the Apek Hotel, about 2km from the centre. It's basic, but very clean and $30 a night.
One of the fast and frequent river taxis took us back to central BSB where we spent the the day sightseeing half heartedly. It was abnormally hot, even for Brunei. But despite the heat, the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque looked mighty impressive. Named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei it's one of the tallest buildings in BSB. It stands like a vast all white castle, bejewelled with golden domed minarets and surrounded by a lrage man made lagoon. With an electric blue sky backdrop and the sun blazing overhead it was difficult to look at the mosque too long for fear of snow blindness.
In the afternoon we took a boat across the river to Kampung Ayer. Built entirely on wooden stilts, Kampung Ayer is amde up of 28 adjoining villages, home to 30,000 people. It's an amazing place, a city on stilts. The buildings are all solidly built, and as you walk along the interconnecting wooden plankways the small wooden taxi boats pass beneath your feet. Apparently it's often referred to as the Venice of the East.
Dark heavy clouds were slowly gathering as we sat on the river bank and watched the sun slowly sink behind the miranet punctuated, silhouetted skyline of BSB.
The thunder, lightening and monsson rain began about 7pm and lasted deep into the night.
Expenses: Accom 30, bus 6, water taxis 6, bfast 6.40, internet 1.60, book 3, lunch 10, water 1, dinner 5
Mon Sep 20th - Day 138
Another change of accomodation lands us at a place called Voctech International. We got the name out of the Lonely Planet, and it seems to be some sort of teaching / conference centre that also takes a few tourists. It's close to the airport, which is handy for tomorrows flight and the rooms have battered old TVs, showing amongst other channels ESPN sports, which is handy for tomorrows match. Man United v Liverpool, kick off 3am. not a sniff of the Ryder Cup over here, but World Service told us all we needed to know, a stunning European victory. Marvellous.
A very lazy day of doing very little ended with another fierce and prolonged thunderstorm.
The alarm woke me at 2.30am, I switched on the TV and watched in silence what I presumed to be the last few minutes of an American Football game. Only it wasn't, it was still in the first quarter, and it caried on. I knew the program showng the Liverpool match started at 2.30 so having checked all 8 channels up to 2.45 I knew it wasn't going to be seen on our TV. There was however another TV down by reception, so I tiptoed my way there. Three night security? men were lying fast asleep on the floor by the huge TV which was showing a Kung Fu film with the sound turned down. All three were snoring gently as I quietly picked up the control and started flicking through the channels. I eventually found the football on star sports, and silently watched Liverpool put in an insipid performance. We were lucky to lose 2 - 1. The security men snored right the way through, I could of loaded the TV into a van along with everything else in the place and they wouldn't have woken up. I switched the channel back and slunk back to bed for a couple of hours, restless losing to Man United sleep.
Expenses: Accom 50, water taxi 2, bfast 6.40, bus 2, internet 4.50, dinner 14.70
Tues Sep 21st - Day 147
BSB has clean uncrowded streets, orderly traffic, a high standard of living and no visible poverty. The buildings seem to be all modern apartment or office blocks, shopping malls or mosques. It's like a toytown and is a complete contrast to Kampung Ayer across the river.
The airport is also small and perfectly formed, straight out of the Fisher Price catalogue.
There were no crowds of queing passengers or harassed staff. The whole place oozed calm and efficiency. There were only 4 departing flights scheduled and all planes were visible from the passenger lounge. They were all small airbus jets sporting the yellow and white livery of Royal Brunei Airlines.
I was determined not to get freaked out (like I usually do) on this flight to Darwin and the airport certainly helped.
The flight was fine, the sky was completely clear and even the meal was good. After about 3 1/4 hours we caught our first glimpse of Australia and 10 minutes later we touched down smoothly in Darwin.
On filling out our quarantine cards we realised w hadn't touched our bagged solomon trainers since climbing Kinabalu. They had to be inspected and any dirt washed off. So our first contact with an Australian was with a man who had to delve deep into the depths of my rucksack and retrieve two pairs of rancid shoes from a carrier bag. We had genuinely forgotten about them, but I'm sure none of those in the vicinity of the inspection will forget that somethings long dead aroma.
It was a lovely sunny, breezy late afternoon in Darwin. 32C but nowhere near the oppressive heat of Brunei.
The airport shuttle bus dropped us right at the door of the Darwin City YHA, a recommended budget option. The place is heaving and with no double rooms available we settle for a 4 bed dorm. It's a tiny room with 2 sets of bunkbeds, a small sink and not much else. Not our idea of fun, with 4 adults and their rucksacks tip toing round each other. It didn't help that the other couple, who were already in the room and couldn't have looked more irritated if they'd tried when we turned up, barely said a word despite our jovial hello's and how are you's. So when they went out we rifled through their bags and shat in their shoes. Well Rene did.
The YHA is situated on the busiest road in the centre of Darwin and at night Mitchell Street has plenty to offer the weary traveler. With numerous bars, cafes and restaurants in a small area its a doddle finding a meal and a drink.
Back at the YHA I was forced to sleep with another woman and Rene with another man. Our mute room mates had commandeered the bottom two bunks, so we had little choice. I slept well, despite the girl below moving round a fair bit. She was bigger than your average bear so every time she adjusted her position the bunk bed wobbled and creaked and I feared I may land beside her any second.
Rene slept as normal.
Expenses B$3/pound: bfast 8.50, dep tax 24
convert B$5 - A$1.40
Expenses A$2.50 / Pound: dinner 38.30, accom 46, drinks 6.50, internet 5