“The penalty for possession or trafficking in drugs in Brunei is death, welcome to Brunei.”
That announcement from our pilot as we landed in Brunei was also enforced by the same message on our Immigration forms.
Brunei is a small country, tucked into the edge of Borneo. For many years it had the highest per capita income in the world due to its oil and gas production.
A bus runs from the airport to downtown. We stayed in a small local guesthouse that was clean and a great location. The young gal at reception was so pleasant and always willing to answer our endless questions.
Coming from Bali, our first impression was how calm and quiet this place was. No traffic, no horns, very few motorbikes. Locals were so proud of the calm and quiet and often make a point of pointing it out to us.
This is a place where things close early. Cafes were not open after 8 pm. I was travelling with someone who is a smoker. She went to buy cigarettes and was told they did not sell them. She asked where she could buy some – and was told “Malaysia”. I was pretty sure being with a smoker who was forced to quit would not be a ton of fun. We took a water taxi to a stilt village just to see what it was like. I saw some young men fishing – and smoking – so had the boat driver go and ask them where they got the cigarettes – and they were able to direct us to a black market supplier on the island. We later heard that island was the centre for “unavailable” items (liquor). There is no liquor, no tobacco, and no dogs. Our reception gal told us the form of Islam practised there forbids touching dogs.
There was a huge mosque and decide to go and see it lit up. It was not open to visitors in the evening, but we were able to don abayas the next morning to see the inside. There was a sign saying “no photos” but as we were leaving one of the men told us we were welcome to go back in to take some photos.
People were pleasant, polite and helpful. On our flight in there were a number of men with very Indian features but black skin. We later learned they were from Bangladesh. We were also told there was a motion in Parliament to ban workers from India. The gal at our guest house said they “ lacked moral standards” and were often involved in crime. We met endless workers from the Philippines who all were so happy working living and working there.
We decided to do a half day tour offered from our guesthouse. First stop was the home of the Shah – very large and fancy. The guards were more than willing to pose for photos. More impressive than his home was the equestrian area he owned. There were 3 polo fields and we spoke to the young vet who was watching some of the polo ponies being exercised. He pointed to a large stable are and told us it was for retired horses.
We also got to tour a very large and classy hotel complex. It was outstanding for the number of guests it did not have. We asked our driver to drop us off at the night market as they are usually great places to eat and people watch. He was reluctant to leave us, but we convinced him we would be fine. After eating our way from one end of the market to the other we decided to take a local bus home. A bus stop was easily found, but no bus came. Finally someone told us there were no busses after 5 pm. We walked to a nearby mall and had someone call an Uber for us – not a problem.
I wanted to see the Billion Barrel Monument – needless to say it was erected to celebrate the billionth barrel of oil pumped in the country. I was erected in 1991 on the site of the first well, a couple of hours down the coast. Most locals do not know it exists. We paid $2 for the local bus and had a great ride. A woman at the bus terminal convinced another bus driver to drop us off at the road leading to the monument. It was lovely and right on the sea. We decided we would walk the beach back to town. Lovely soft sand but the water appeared to be dirty. As everywhere the beach was littered with plastic.
Our plan was to take the bus from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu. It was a memorable trip – for a very unique reason. It was the only time in my travels I have got 8 stamps in my passport in one day. First stamp, Brunei exit, then entry to Malaysia, exit Malaysia, enter Brunei, exit Brunei, enter Malaysia and an exit stamp for one province and an entry to another province – both within Malaysia. It was a long day of endless palm oil plantations.
We were stopping in Kota to break up the trip to Sandakan. While in Kota we found we could fly to Sandakan for less money than the bus would cost – so we made a very easy change in our plans.