Friday, March 06, 2009


We picked up Jake in Kota Kinabalu the night we arrived there from Sandakan. We stayed that night and the following morning jumped on a ferry to Brunei. To get to Brunei we had to take a fast ferry to a small island called Labuan. It's still part of Malaysia but a special duty-free zone. We had a 2 hour wait and then another ferry to Brunei. Brunei is arguably the most expensive country in south east Asia so we were only planning on visiting the capital for a couple days and then moving on.
Brunei is interesting for me to visit because growing up I remember hearing that the richest guy in the world was the Sultan of Brunei. The Sultan is also the world's currently longest reigning family monarchy line (he's the 28th) and he rules over the last absolute monarchy in Asia. It is a wealthy country because it's such a small one (even though historically it was much bigger and included all of Borneo and parts of the Philippines) and has lots of oil. The citizens of the country have a high standard of living, pay no taxes, have free health-care, schooling and a number of other nice perks. The problem? Well, the sultan is a bit vain, his brother has managed to unwisely spend billions on retarded things and the people can't vote, alcohol is banned and probably a few other things I didn't find out too.
Overall though, I'd say the country was really nice and quite well run from the looks of things. The capital is really small so we spent the afternoon and evening of the day we arrived and all of the following day just wandering around checking out the place.
A few of our discoveries:
1. Despite being a conservative Muslim country, it was quite difficult to find a mosque. They don't have one on every corner like a lot of other countries do.
2. The people are really friendly and nice with the exception of the boat guys who hassle you for tours when you are near the water.
3. They have KFC, DQ and Jollibee (a Filipino fast-food place) but no McDonald's.
4. It was quite hard to find cheap street food because there is little on offer in most areas.
5. The best thing we did was wander through the stilt villages. (story to follow)
6. The US embassy guards royally suck. (story to follow)
7. It is pretty expensive but with Jake to help us, we did it cheaper than most people would and the youth hostel is quite nice and clean despite what the LP might say.

Ok, stilt villages. Very cool. Beside the central mosque (the most famous landmark in the country and very picturesque on it's own little artificial lagoon) is the beginning of something like 28 villages (housing ~30,000 people) over the water. The capital has 2 rivers running through it and although most of the stilt villages are across the river, we had a good time walking through the ones on our side. These villages are literally built on stilts and pylons out over the water and connected by wooden walkways a few feet above the water. Homes, schools, shops, everything. You might think it would be pretty ghetto and poor but most of the homes were huge and looked really nice inside. They have water and power (including some "streetlights") but we aren't sure about the waste plumbing.... The only problem is that there is a lot of garbage washed up on the shoreline with the tide. It was fun to just wander around and watch all the little motorboats zipping around at full speed from one village to another. So long as your wooden flooring holds, your newborn kids always wear a life jacket and you aren't prone to stumbling home drunk late at night, it could be an interesting place to live :)
Our other major story is that while Jake and mom went into a bank, to change some money for their collections, dad and I decided to stay outside and wait. We sat on the "curb" and I was watching the people walk by while dad was looking at the guide book. The US embassy was in the upper floors of a building across the street. After a while I noticed that one of the guards (which we hadn't noticed at all before) was sneaking photos of me from across the street and once I caught onto it, a pair of others came over and started to hassle us. "Who are you?", "Give us your ID", "Where are you staying?", "What are you reading?", etc. Totally uncalled for. Here we are, clearly non-threatening, western (clean cut I might add) tourists doing absolutely nothing, on the main street in the capital of Brunei and they come over and hassle us and tell us to move on. I think in the end there were about half a dozen guards involved and I didn't even say anything that might start something. Imagine if I lifted the wrong finger... If the US is going to start being that paranoid then they have serious problems. I might add that the French embassy was also across the street and we didn't see any sign of them. The US embassy in most countries is usually a huge fortified compound outside the city where they can do whatever they want. In this case it seemed like they were wielding a lot of power right in the centre. I should've told the Sultan someone was after his power....
Our other bit of tourism was a visit to the Royal Regalia Museum. Like all the museums it was free but this particular one was just about the current Sultan and all of his gifts from foreign heads of state or articles from his corronation and celebrations of himself. There were some interesting gifts but most were quite pointless. The strangest part I think was that we had to take our shoes off so we were walking around the museum in bare feet. Pretty sure that's a first for me.
The following day we left by bus heading west to Miri in Malaysian Borneo again (but the other state, Sarawak). On the way we passed through the main oil producing region and could see plenty of proof of the industry. Pumps and processing side by side.


At 4:03 PM , Blogger The Bear said...

I told ya, ya was shady and shiftless looking. Good thing they didn't cavity search you. I hate bullies!!!!!!


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