Riding the Rides in Bandar Seri Begawan

The other thing there is to do in Brunei is to go on all the rides that they have at the mall. I don’t know if this is the country’s only mall – it’s possible, it’s the only mall we saw, but who knows. But they have a lot of rides. Here are some of them, again in a numbered list. Brunei is an orderly place.

  1. Massage-chairs. One thing about Brunei is that it is absolutely full of massage-chairs. You put in a dollar and they massage you. They do howl unmercifully if you attempt to sit in them without giving them a dollar. This kind of ride is also available in the Kuala Lampur airport, which is crazy enough to deserve its own post which I will not write yet.
  2. Some kind of car in front of a shoe store. The poor child has clearly inherited my lack of interest in driving.
  3. A horse. Maybe a little gaudy, but decent enough. Note the air of resignation in the poor horse’s eyes.
  4. Some kind of train. The trend in rides seems to be to put a screen in the front of them, which is basically just admitting that the ride isn’t very good in its own right. Clearly not as good as the horse.
  5. A rocking bowl. I can’t actually tell what this one is supposed to be. It doesn’t seem like a car should rock from side to side. A car should go up and down or forward and backwards. Side to side is unnatural. Obviously this is a terrible ride.
  6. A Santa Claus. I think the Santa Claus is pushing his sleigh? Good enough. I do wonder what will happen to Santa Claus under Sharia law. Maybe he can be re-painted so that he isn’t so obviously an infidel.
  7. A Happy Deer. Harriet systematically went through all of the deer on this thing. It was far and away her favorite. Because she was riding this over and over again, I did not get a video of her riding it when it decided to start playing “Yankee Doodle,” so you will have to imagine that for yourself.

And those are the rides that you can ride on in Brunei. They kept us busy for a while.

What There Is to Do in Brunei

We went to Brunei last weekend, or, more specifically, the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. Brunei is a tiny county on the island of Borneo. You may be wondering: what is there to do in Brunei? Here is a helpfully numbered list, maybe with pictures.

  1. Don’t litter. Here is the thing about BSB: it’s really clean! Bangkok is basically constructed entirely of impacted trash, sometimes put together fetchingly, as is the case with Wat Arun. There is basically no trash in Brunei, which is because there are signs everywhere threatening a $1000 fine (that’s around $750 in U.S. dollars, but still) for your first offense littering. We were very careful not to litter.
  2. Drink Kickapoo Joy Juice. Kickapoo Joy Juice (see previously) appears to be Brunei’s national drink, so we had some more. There’s also a fine drink that has a rhinoceros on the can which I can only hope is not made of rhinoceroses. If you find this drink and your Malay is solid enough that you can ascertain that it is not made of rhinoceroses, you should try it, as it is delicious.
  3. Be careful what you say. Brunei is in the midst of changes, as the Sultan, faced with pressure from the lack of oil revenue, has decided to institute Sharia law, which takes hold in a month. The big excitement when we were there was that the limb-chopping machine had just arrived, which I guess you need to have is you’re going to punish thieves in a modern manner. The Borneo Bulletin on the day we arrived announced that certain words were forbidden to non-Muslims:

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    We were careful not to say any of them. The Borneo Bulletin, by the way, is an astonishing publication.

  4. Eat delicious food. Brunei is full of delicious food. We ate a lot of it. I didn’t take any pictures of it.
  5. Visit the stilt village.. BSB is a modern city, but most of the people in it live in a village across the river constructed on stilts, called Kampong Ayer. You can get a motorboat for $1 who will ferry you across the river and you can wander around the village. It’s supposedly been in the same place for 900 years, though most of the houses are newer. Here’s one edge of it, looking back across the river to the main city:
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  6. Attempt to visit the mosque. They have a fine mosque, which has its own lagoon and an enormous decorative boat in it:
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    Unfortunately we first tried to visit on Friday, when the mosque is not open to non-worshippers, and then we tried to visit on Sunday, when the Sultan was attending special services to prepare for National Day, which was on Sunday. So we couldn’t go in. The mosque looks very nice from outside, and it lights up green at night. We did our best.
  7. Admire the fish. The food courts have large numbers of live fish for the hungry visitor to admire. These ones – I think they’re snakeheads? – were the best:
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  8. Attempt to see the monkeys and crocodiles. You can get a boat to take you down river to see the colonies of proboscis monkeys and crocodiles that live there. The boats are small and fast so this is pretty exciting:
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    That said, you will note that there are no pictures of proboscis monkeys or crocodiles here. I did see one crocodile – a big one! – but he went underwater as soon as I saw him. Our poor guide kept stopping our boat at the places in the swamps where the monkeys live:

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    He would expertly call the monkeys – I wish I’d recorded his hooting, it sounded extremely authentic – but the monkeys did not seem to want to be bothered. Perhaps this is because every other tourist to Brunei is also in a boat going to see the monkeys, and the novelty has worn off for them. Who could blame them? That said, the river was extremely pleasant. We did see some water monitors, so it wasn’t a complete write-off. Also that crocodile.

  9. Visit the Royal Regalia Building. The Royal Regalia Building is a museum consisting of all the things that have been given to the Sultan, as well as the various paraphernalia involved in being in charge of a small state – swords, coaches, umbrellas. They don’t let you take photos in there, so you can’t see what we saw. The best thing they have there is a display of how the agreement with the British that made Brunei a country was done – they have the actual table and pictures of the people involved, and if you press the right buttons their faces light up. It is maybe an underwhelming museum.
  10. Other monkeys. We did see a monkey at the market, and some up in the jungle when we climbed a hill behind our hotel. They were not proboscis monkeys, so we were a little disappointed in them. But still: monkeys.
  11. Inspect the cats. Brunei is full of cats. Some of them live in the stilt village:
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    In general, they are friendlier than the cats of Bangkok.

So yes. That’s what there is to do in Brunei. I hope this list has been helpful to you.

Important Cat Café Update

It turns out that there is a brand new cat café right down the street from us, maybe a twenty minute walk. They are building an enormous and insane shopping complex (this is what they do in Bangkok) on Chan Road; it is still heavily under construction though they claimed it would open in December. The complex is named (in English) Vanilla Moon, and I cannot for the life of me imagine what that is meant to convey except perhaps a perfume ad.

But Vanilla Moon is not important. The only establishment in Vanilla Moon that is open is the cat café, which is named Cara Meow Cat Cafe. As you can tell from the name, it is Italian themed. It has a slogan, which is “All About ‘Meow'”. This makes slightly more sense than Vanilla Moon, so I won’t worry about it.

Since we are exciting people leading exciting lives, we went to visit Cara Meow on Saturday night. Well. The first thing about this cat café is that it’s in the basement, which maybe makes sense? The cats aren’t tempted by birds, as was the case at the other place. The second thing about this cat café is that it’s smaller and generally less splendid than the other cat café. It is extremely difficult to count up the number of cats they have at a cat café, but they seemed to have about a dozen, maybe half what they have at the other place. Also less cat paraphernalia but who cares about that.

What matters, of course, is the quality of the cats. The cats here are considerably less fluffy than the cats at the other place, being as they are mostly of the short-haired persuasion. Some are of the variety that have stubby ears. I was not sure about the pedigrees of the cats but I was assured they were very fancy indeed. I am not an expert. These cats did generally seem smaller. They were also a bit more skittish: probably because being cats at a cat café is new to them and it takes time to grow into the position. Harriet seemed reasonably pleased with them. There were not threats of thousand-baht fines for picking the cats up, which made me worry less.

The distinguishing feature of this cat café would appear to be that it allows you to bring your own cats. Wikipedia has nothing to say about this, but I expect if someone were to subscribe us to Cat Fancy we would learn that all the up and coming cat cafés are doing this. Some people brought in a pair of astonishing beasts. One was a gray long-haired cat who had been given a lion cut with a fluffy tail – I’m sure there’s a technical name for this haircut but I am not a cat groomer so I don’t know – and the other was white and with a roughly similar haircut, though it was wearing a Christmas sweater and may in fact have been a ferret. They appeared to get along with the other cats. I was not quite sure of the ethics of taking pictures of someone else’s cat in a cat café but here is a picture of one of them:

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The cat in the foreground is one of the regular cats. And here is a picture of the rest of the cat café:

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Also they serve Italian food because it is an Italian cat café. Harriet was extremely pleased with her spaghetti carbonara, which the cats did not appear to be interested in.

Protest Update

Some people have been wondering about what the political situation is like in Bangkok. There were elections last week, but they didn’t seem to achieve anything; official results have not been released, and anyway everyone knows what there will be. There are still a lot of protesters in the city; they’re camped out in a handful of sites. Here, for example, is the National Stadium last week:

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The people camping out in all of the tents are probably from the south of the country; people from the south are upset about the ongoing war in that region. This morning, the number of tents seemed to have thinned out a bit:

(This is from a slightly different angle; both are from the Skytrain station. It’s nice that it’s the Sport Science Bureau that’s the site of the occupation.) But: the protests continue, and there’s no obvious stopping point. It’s a minor annoyance if you want to go to things near the sites, and the traffic in the city has been even worse than usual, but our lives really haven’t been impacted that much.

Tuesday at the Cat Café

Oi, our nanny, is upcountry on business, which means that I am once again in charge of Harriet’s entertainment during the day. After running some errands, we went off to visit the Purr Cat Cafe Club, which is exactly what the name suggests, a café full of cats. I had assumed that cat cafés were a Japanese invention, but Wikipedia insists they are Taiwanese and goes on to theorize that they are forms of pet rental, which is illegal in Boston. This is not actually the case at the Purr Cat Cafe Club, as they don’t charge you anything to go in, though you are expected to buy drinks. It was maybe not so much a café as their coffee machine is broken but this is a quibble and honestly no one goes to a cat café for the coffee. Wikipedia also claims that cat cafés are heavily licensed, which seems unlikely in Bangkok, where anyone could presumably charge admission to a houseful of cats (and fireworks, if so desired) as long as you were paying off the police.

Harriet is of the opinion that it is one of the finest establishments in Bangkok and is aggrieved that we have not been visiting regularly since we’ve arrived. We can make up for lost time, I guess. The café has a large number of cats, twenty or so, which are reasonably friendly and more fluffy than is usual for cats. I suspect they were not found on the street, though it is interesting to imagine what kind of a Bangkok cat café could be staffed that way. There is the difficult rule that the cats may not be picked up, which is always Harriet’s first impulse; but she did an admirable job of restraining herself and we were not thrown out. Here are a bunch of pictures.

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Further Adventures in Khao Yai

Okay, we’re back from Khao Yai. Khao Yai is a national park that’s to the northeast of Bangkok (see this helpful map). It’s mountainous and still full of jungle. As is customary when we leave Bangkok, I forgot to take any photos, especially good ones. But here is some of what happened.

The national park is big and full of a lot of things, though we didn’t see many of them. First we went on a little trail that had fine lookouts over a vertiginous drop:

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Then we had lunch at a place which had a nice sign reading “Khao Yai Welfare” which I failed to photograph. We were visited by this garbage deer who was busying herself eating the welfare refuse:

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Shortly after this picture was taken, all the dishes did fall off the bench and the staff shooed the deer away, though she didn’t go very far. The deer are extremely large, more like low-slung elk than white-tailed deer. Maybe this is what happens when deer are fed on meat scraps. They don’t seem like deer that one would want to trifle with.

After that we went to attempt to find a waterfall because that is what you do in Khao Yai. Along the trail were threatening signs like this:

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But we did not see any crocodiles, maybe because there is only one of them. Khao Yai is also full of wild elephants; we didn’t see any of them either. We did see signs of them:

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There were fresher signs of them, but I have your delicate sensibilities in mind, dear reader. What we’d forgotten in all of this, of course, was that it was the dry season and not the wet season, so that the waterfalls were not so much waterfalls as small trickles:

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They were still very pleasant. Probably in the wet season the river would have deluged the path and the crocodile would have eaten us.

At the trail head we were confronted with inscrutable pictograms:

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And a relative of the previous garbage deer, this one who seemed to have developed a taste for campers, or at least tents:

At this point, we decided to leave for our own safety. Back at the resort, Harriet demonstrated some promise in pig-training:

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Also we saw this fine lizard:

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Some other things happened, who can even remember. The area around Khao Yai is chock-full of faux-Italian villages for some reason, which basically seem to exist so that Thai tourists can take pictures of each other in them. This sounds like it would be entertaining but it is not. Basically it’s like this:

After that we went to the Chokchai Cowboy Farm which is basically false advertising as though don’t grow any cowboys there. But Harriet got to ride a pony:

So it wasn’t entirely a waste. And after that we went home, the end.