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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Water Water Everywhere But Not A drop To Drink In Brunei

BRUNEI DARUSSALAM | Tuesday, 19 January 2010 | Views [536]

When you mention Brunei to people, they usually come up with something about a mega rich sultan and that they have loads of oil, correct. Then they say it’s in the Middle East, wrong! It’s actually a small country on the island of Borneo lodged between the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. So, instead of deserts they have rain forests and proboscis monkeys, therefore when Air Asia had free seats up for grabs we thought we’d check it out, any mention of monkeys and Emma is there!

We flew into the main city, Bandar Seri Begawan, or BSB as the locals call it but we couldn’t see much as the area was blanketed in grey cloud and rain. We tried to bargain down a taxi driver to no avail and headed into town to the Terrace Hotel. They had our reservation and we marched up to our room. Emma was soon heading back to the reception to explain that the world smoking championship had only just finished in our room and could we change. They found us a less foggy room and it was perfectly fine. I was very pleased to find out we had ESPN on the TV so we could watch the footy as Brunei is not really a night owl’s mecca due to its strong Islamic rule. We dumped our bags and walked into the centre of this small town, which was only about a 15 minute walk. As we were heading into town the heavens opened and it bounced it down. We took shelter in the Port View Cafe, which had been turned into an Italian restaurant since our guide book was produced and had a brew while we sat out the rain. The cafe is in a great location right on the waterfront opposite the famous Kampung Ayer water village. Unfortunately, it was so grey and wet we couldn’t see a thing! We could hear the water taxis zipping about but only saw them once they came to the jetty, it was quite ghostly really, but Emma was getting cold ( and believe me you don’t want Emma to be cold if possible) so we moved away from the river front to get some cheap and cheerful Indian grub. Well it was cheerful but not cheap, the prices are the same as in Malaysia but then you remember that A Brunei Dollar is 2.5 Ringgit! Back to the hotel for an early night and to try and dry our clothes out!

Up early the next day for sightseeing in BSB. First stop was the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque which was built in 1958 and is a very grand building. We had hoped to climb the minaret for a view of the city, but despite going at the appropriate non-muslim time we weren’t allowed in, I guess they had a special service going on. Never mind, we had a good look around before venturing into Kampung Ayer for a quick gander. It is quite bizarre that Brunei is such an oil-rich country and people are living in shanty towns built on stilts over the rivers. Also, most people who have cars are driving round in quite old bangers. Obviously the Sultan must be doing alright out of the discovery of oil! We were starting to find that Brunei would contradict our perceptions quite a lot. It has such a strong Islamic rule but we didn’t see many women wearing ‘tudung’ (headscarves) and in fact, there was a wide mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian citizens in the city. We decided to go and see where all the money was by visiting the Royal Regalia Museum, which just happened to be on the way back to our hotel. The museum contained history about the various sultans and the grand gold dragon chariots used for celebrations were on display, and quite impressive I must say. However, we mostly enjoyed looking at all the gifts that visiting foreign dignitaries had given the sultan over the years, of course the competition was to see who had given the tackiest one! Our guide book credited Colin Powell with the honour, but it must have been so bad that they have chucked it out as we couldn’t find it. To be honest there were so many crap ones it was hard to judge. All the middle eastern top brass seemed to think they had to bring a life size model of their best mosque with them!

Only so much fun could be had playing that game so we went back to the hotel for lunch by the pool. The rain had let up but it was still over cast, but at least we could sit outside. As soon as we had sat down the waitress came over to see if we wanted Tiger beer! Now, hang on a minute, this is supposed to be a dry do. We thought coming in January would be a good plan as we trying to have a healthy non-alcoholic month to counteract the excesses of The Philippines at Christmas, and we are being badgered to booze! We were very strong and politely declined her kind offer. Mind you if it had been another type of beer other than Tiger, and not 5 quid a tin we may not have been so righteous. The hotel rustled up a surprisingly good lunch and the fresh veggie spring rolls were a hit and fitted in well with our ‘body is a temple’ lifestyle we were leading.

The rain was just about keeping off, so, after lunch we headed for the Bukit Subok Recreational Park. It’s only 15 mins from the town centre and we spent an hour walking the trail up the hill which afforded great views of the city and over to the water village. We even saw a small troop of silver languars and some had the cute orange babies. However, they seemed very wary of people and they soon swung their way off through the trees. Next on our list of ‘must dos’ was a boat trip on Sungai Brunei. We negotiated (badly) a fare to take us on a trip up the river to see the royal palace, into the mangrove to try to see the proboscis monkeys and back through the water village. It was expensive at about $40 but Emma loses all sense of money when there is a possibility of wildlife. So we were soon off heading up the river and the boatman pointed out the palace in the distance, so that was 1 thing done. Silly me thought we may go up to it and have a proper look, oh well. We were soon out of the city and into mangrove and jungle. It is amazing that this habitat is so close to the city and we saw plenty of birdlife along the route. The chief stopped at one point to telephone his mate to enquire where the big nose fellas may be hangin’ out and as he talked we spotted some in the trees. They were a way of and they didn’t hang around long but it was a good start. It wasn’t long before we spotted another troop down a side tributary and we were able to get very close and observe then for a long time crashing through the canopy. There was even a big-nosed, fat-bellied male with his harem, and it was fantastic to see them again even though we have seen them several times in Sabah and Sarawak. Apparently, you can’t have too many wildlife experiences according to Emma. It turned out that the boatman had never seen proboscis monkeys before and he was fascinated by them, so we have opened up a whole new area of business for him as he can say he is a real wildlife guide now. We spotted and watched another troop on the way back and then we zoomed through the water village. This was interesting to see but the monkeys were the highlight. A quiet pious night was spent at the hotel watching football, the usual rubbish performance from City and Liverpool.

The weather hadn’t picked up the next morning but we decided to go for a walk in another small rain forest area called Taman Peranginan Tasek. The entrance was only a short walk from our hotel and we followed the Sunday morning crowds to the falls which are the main attractions. We soon lost the crowds by taking a steep muddy jungle track somewhere. Apparently, there are a lot of trails but with no map and no information centre, we didn’t have a clue where we were going or how long the trails went on for or if they looped back. We carried on regardless and explored some of the park and Emma glimpsed a snake. By now the clouds had really come in and we thought we better turn round, of course we got soaked again heading back out of the forest. A quick change at the hotel before heading out to the airport and back to KL.

All in all it was an interesting and healthy weekend away. BSB has got enough to keep you occupied for a couple of days and we would like to explore the interior more and visit Ulu Temburong national park next time, that’s if Air Asia give us free flights, it stops raining  and we are on another health kick!

Travel Information

We stayed at the Terrace Hotel, good location, ok rooms, nice small pool and garden area to eat in. Not bad price at B$ 65 nett.


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