Thursday, September 3, 2009

SE Asia Trip, Part 11 - The Green Jewel of Brunei

17/03/09 - 18/03/09

As I travelled to SE Asia with Royal Brunei Airlines, this meant that in both directions I flew through Brunei. In a bit of spontaneity whilst booking my flights, I opted for a free stopover on the way back. I'd never really considered Brunei as a holiday destination before, and indeed knew very little about it. So after booking my flights I did a bit of research into this tiny country.

Negara Brunei Darussalam, or the Abode of Peace, is a tiny country on the north coast of Borneo, which gained independence from the UK in 1984. It used to be a much larger and more powerful Sultanate several hundred years ago, but a war with Spain, and loss of territory to Sarawak ended the Empire. There are currently around 400,000 people living in Brunei, 67% of which are Muslim. Alcohol is banned, although non-Muslims and foreigners are allowed to bring in a small amount.

I only had two days in Brunei and because it is not really a country set up for the independent traveller, I'd pre booked a hotel and a day trip to make my short time there more hassle-free. I was picked up at the airport by the hotel - one of the few budget ones, but they still pick you up. It was evening, so the city was quiet. It was strange to see signs in English everywhere after a month in Laos. After settling in I wandered out to find something to eat. The town was dead. There really is not a lot to do here at night - all the pubs and nightclubs were forced to close after prohibition, so aside from a cinema, a mall and a couple of restaurants there aren't many places to go at night. I guess people here are the early-to-bed-early-to-rise type!

I did chat to a security guard and his friend who seemed a bit bemused to see me out and about, but I explained I was looking for food and they helped me out. I also got a couple of offers of lifts from men driving by, which I firmly refused. They were probably only trying to help out the silly foreign girl, but hey, you never know. I don't accept lifts from strangers at home (not that I'm ever offered any) so why would I abroad?

The next day I had booked an excursion into the Temburong district to visit the jungle. This involved taking a speedboat to Bangar, the capital of Temburong. Then a bus to Batang Duri and a long boat to the Ulu Ulu Resort in Ulu Temburong National Park. From here I would be going on a trek and a canopy walk. I found this tour on the Internet, there were a few around that I could find but not many, and they were all pretty expensive.

Kampong Ayer - otherwise known as the Venice of the East.

This water village is found in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei. Roughly 39,000 people live here (10% of the population) and as well as houses there are mosques, shops, schools and a hospital.

We sped past the floating village on our way up river to Bandar.

The ferry pier in Bandar.

This was a pleasant town, although there were smelly durian fruit lurking on the pier!

The longboats we took into the jungle!

View from the longboat.

Lovely jungle scenery!

Gorgeous day!

Ulu Ulu Temburong National Park Resort.

The National Park covers about 550 square kilometres of pristine jungle. Brunei has always made it's money from oil, so they've had very little need to desecrate their forests, unlike many other countries. A lot of this national park is pretty unreachable, but there is a little bit you are allowed access to, with a tour group.

After being shown around the Eco-resort, we were boated across to the start of the track.

Climbing up the muddy track to the canopy walk.

Luckily there were steps some of the way! A lot of steps...

Eventually we reached the canopy walk. The only other people in my group were a middle-aged Thai couple, who had struggled with the trek so far. They didn't want to climb any more, so it was just me and the guide who climbed the scaffold up to the canopy walk.

The canopy walk!

Views from the canopy.

Disappointingly I saw very little wildlife on the trip. I was hoping for some monkeys, or at least some horn bills. I think that the timing of the trip was wrong - as we didn't reach the canopy until mid morning. Earlier would have been better to catch the wildlife. Still, it was a gorgeous day and after the walk we were treated to a great meal and I got to go swimming in the river!

The resort was a lovely place but pretty empty. This seemed to be a bit of an ongoing theme with places in Brunei - lots of places to go, but hardly anyone there. I rarely saw anyone else in my hotel either. The country has an air of ageing decadence about it - a lot of money has been spent on elegant buildings, but they are collecting dust around the edges from lack of use. For example there was a big theme park built for the Sultan, which was once well-used but now most of the rides are broken down or closed. It's like wandering around a ghost town.

Only one post left on my SE Asia trip, my last day in Brunei exploring the capital city. Almost home!

No comments: