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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
We were careful not to say any of them. The Borneo Bulletin, by the way, is an astonishing publication.
- Eat delicious food. Brunei is full of delicious food. We ate a lot of it. I didn’t take any pictures of it.
- 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:
- Attempt to visit the mosque. They have a fine mosque, which has its own lagoon and an enormous decorative boat in it:
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.
- 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:
- 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:
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:
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Inspect the cats. Brunei is full of cats. Some of them live in the stilt village:
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.