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Brunei Day Trip (5 May 2007)

After coming back from Mulu, we are planning for the next destination. Gua Niah is in the list but our legs are too ache for another jungle trekking now. Two options. Either the almost free alcohol “country”, a.k.a Labuan or the free of alcohol country, a.k.a Brunei. Both of which I heard has nothing much to see and explore. A friend of mine just married to Brunei early this year, why not give her a visit.

No offence to Brunei people. 10 out of 10 people I encountered in Miri told me the following.

“Go to Brunei? Are you joking me?”
“It’s the most boring country in the world.”
“Even Brunei people come over to Miri during weekends.”

No planning, no schedule. Woke up 9am, breakfast at 10am, off we go. Another road trip with my brother.

Before I proceed, let’s have a short introduction to those who doesn’t know where and what is Brunei.

Brunei is a small country in the state of Sarawak, Malaysia, ruled by the ultimate Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. He was once the richest man in the world, thanks to the oil rich land, before surpasses by Bill Gates and many more.

Brunei gained independence from United Kingdom on 1 January 1984. Before this, the was Malaya invited Brunei to join Malaysia Federation, which was opt out due to refusal of the terms elected Yang di-Pertuan Agong system. I guess he made a “personal” wise choice. He is enjoying more wealth than any ruler in the world.

Geographically Brunei consists two parts, the larger western part and the mountainous eastern part, Temburong, separated by Sarawak Limbang district. Limbang was annexed by Rajah Brooke in 1890 from Brunei to become the fifth division of Sarawak. Until today this annexation has been strongly disputed by Brunei. This explain why Brunei land is separated into two. 97% of the population lives in the western part. Only 10,000 live in Temburong. You can imagine what is like over there.

Why Brunei is considered one of the most boring country in the world? Read this.

“The sale and public consumption of alcohol is banned, with foreigners and non-Muslims allowed to bring in twelve cans of beer and two bottles of spirits every time they enter the country. After the introduction of prohibition in the early 1990s, all pubs and nightclubs were forced to close.”

Almost everyone in oil and gas industry drinks. No wonder Brunei is the most boring country to them.  Cheers mate.

On the contrary, Brunei government provides for all medical, education expenses and subsidizes rice and housing. There’s no personal or corporate tax. No alcohol? No tax? Which is your choice?

From Miri, we drove down to Sg. Tujuh Custom. There we passed a stupid short bridge that charge us RM10 toll. After Brunei custom, we are confronted with another yet shorter bridge, SGD3 toll. Yup, Singapore dollar. Brunei ties its currency to Singapore. Thus Singapore currency is usable here. Not sure if the opposite applies.

Along the way to Kuala Belait, we are surrounded by forest, on a two way one lane road. Nothing much to see. After Kuala Belait, it expanded to two lanes highway. My friend and her husband live in Seria, the heart of oil industry in Brunei. Seria town center consists of two rows of shop lots, and a small shopping complex. You can find HSBC bank here. The coast line is full of oil refinery, storage, and other oil industry related factories and facilities. Even though oil is discovered here in 1929, some of the oil well on land is still in production. There are numerous nodding donkeys in and around the town and this has become the unofficial symbol of the town. No surprise, my friend’s husband is working in the oil industry too. When I met them for lunch, he still in his factory uniform.

After lunch, we left Seria and continue an hour drive to Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), the capital, and largest city in Brunei. The road shrinks back to one lane after Seria and continue so until Tutong. We stop by the famous Empire Hotel and Country Club and Jerudong Park, where the once free theme park is located. Non embrace me. Malaysia has better resort and theme park.

Rain falls when we left Empire. Brunei highway is well maintained, though not as good as Malaysia North South Highway. It’s free.  BSB resembles a very malay town. The design, decoration is very similar to Kuala Lumpur Sogo and Pertama area. Heavy use of colorful hanging light bulbs, wires crossing from one pole to another, ruining the scenery. Jawi words are on every shops sign board. Mosque are everywhere, and within the city, there are few side by side. There’s a chinese temple just few blocks away from the mosque. A lot of cars but did not encounter any traffic jam. Overall the city is clean but infrastructures and buildings are aging.

My entire trip in BSB is greeted with heavy rain. Aging buildings, dull color, and heavy down pours turn down my mood to take any photos. After visiting all the places listed in the postcard, i.e. all the big mosques, the main shopping mall (Miri has better shopping malls), we decided to leave after failing to locate the palace.

Few interesting things I encountered in Brunei.

  • There’s no standardization in sign boards. Some in English, some in Malay, and some in Jawi. Confusing.
  • Two-thirds of the population are Malays. But they prefer to speak English to foreigners.
  • Underground car park are lightened with dim warm light. It’s very hard to see the surroundings. Be alert when driving under this condition.
  • I only see Shell petrol stations. No other company.
  • All Brunei radio stations play the Quran during prayers time.
  • Important note to anyone planning to drive to Brunei from Sg Tujuh. The custom closes at 10pm. So plan your trip or you will find yourself in the splendid Empire hotel.
  • Goods are generally more expensive in Brunei, but petrol is super cheap. SGD0.53. Pump as much as you want before you return.

I concluded this boring one day road trip.

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