So different to Sarawak!

Trip Start Feb 01, 2011
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Trip End Mar 31, 2011


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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

23 and 24th March....

I arrived back to the hustle and bustle of Miri on the afternoon of 23rd March.    I decided to spend a night in Brunei as I was so near and also had exhausted things to do in Miri.  My host, Mrs Lee, arranged a taxi and driver to pick me up at 9 am on 23rd - the drive took 3 hours including going through immigration, where they asked me if I had any alcohol with me!!  Brunei is a dry country - as far as alcohol is concerned, but I understand this does not apply to home consumption - only to public places.  This tiny country is owned by the Sultan of Brunei who happens to be the 2nd richest man in the world - he gets ALL  the revenue from oil and gas exploration and gives hand-outs to the people from his enormous wealth.  The people there have free medical, housing, tax-free income, free education - all at the behest of the Sultan.

However, for tourists, it is an expensive place - roughly 3 times more than Sarawak.  It is pristine clean everywhere you go and the fine for littering the streets is $1000 for first offence and $3000 for 2nd offence - that is a good deterrent!

I found the people to be very helpful and friendly in all my dealings with them. 

Things to do there:

Two mosques - one in the town of Bandar (the capital) and the other larger one about 15 minutes outside the town.  Unfortunately, I was only able to go inside one of them as I waited until Thursday to visit the other and it was closed all day for preparation for the next day, which is their Holy Day.  That was a bit of a disappointment - wrong info from my hotel, who told me it was only closed in the afternoon of Thursday - I went in the morning, to be told it was closed ALL DAY.  These mosques are hugely ornate on the outside but, on the inside they would remind you of a huge empty warehouse!  All you can see is a great big expanse of flooring where the Muslims prostrate themselves on the floor, facing a big wooden altar-type place.  At night, they are lit up and the colours keep changing with the floodlights.  When you go inside you have to wear a full-length black robe, walk on a designated strip of carpet and nowhere else - there is strictly no photography of the inside of the building and the security is very watchful.

The Regalia Museum - this building is also in Bandar and houses all the gifts received by the Sultan, from the heads of State around the world, on the occasion of his Coronation and on his Silver Jubilee.  You can also see the coach used for his Coronation and all the pomp that went with it.  The building has been well-designed and laid out.  Again, before you can enter you must put all your belongings into a locker, take the key with you and collect them on the way out, before returning the key - no photographs allowed.  I spent about 2 hours there.

The Royal Palace - this is situated outside the town and is a huge edifice in gold - of course - but, you cannot go inside the imposing gates at the entrance, without invitation.  Of course, I did not come into the category of a VIP so no pics of that place for me!  While I was outside looking in, a big black Mercedes S600 drew up to the gates - the number plate read SPEAKER - so I assume he was the Speaker of the House of Parliament - of course, he was allowed in.

The Fishing Village - the only contrast to a seemingly rich state  - you get a water taxi across the river to see how the other half live - the poor, squalid, dirty conditions of the fishing families who obviously do not enjoy the same lifestyle as their neighbours across the river - what a contrast - the smells were also pretty pungent.

The Market - lots of lovely fruit, vegetables and fresh fish on sale here but no hard sell.  The people here seemed a happy bunch and had no problems with you taking photos.

Two days there was ample - unless you had time or wanted to go to the National Park, which was quite a distance away from the town of Bandar.

I am glad I went to see the place - if only for the differences.  You will see many white business men - mostly working for Shell etc - with British, American and Aussie accents - there is also a 5* resort and country club on the outskirts of the city where many of these people are club members.  It sort of goes with the territory!

My driver and taxi picked me up Thursday afternoon and we headed back to Miri by 6 pm.

Next stop - Kuching on Friday night.
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