What is going on at the zoo? The last time we tried to go to the zoo we ran into a protest and couldn’t actually get to the entrance. This time there was a protest, but the driver managed to drive around it. The zoo was full of people, and there were a lot of water monitors to be found, but you will be happy to know that the Dusit Zoo is still red in tooth and claw.
Also, they seem to have brought in the world’s most boring dog show:
This continued for about twenty minutes. Some of us were entranced, and others of us were not entranced. The moral of this is that different people like different types of dog show.
Then we took a tuk-tuk back to the express boat and Harriet had a cucumber:
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.
The ongoing protests have maybe been obscuring what this blog is really about, which is of course monitor lizards. The protesters have given up their senseless occupation of the zoo, so on Thursday we went to see how things were there: much the same as ever.
The best thing about the Dusit Park zoo is clearly the hippopotamuses. Actually I should be more specific: they have both regular and pygmy hippopotamuses, and the pygmy hippopotamus was not up to much. And the sign on the regular hippopotamus enclosure promised three hippopotamuses, but there were clearly only two. But we arrived right at feeding time, and if you give the good man twenty baht, he will give you as many bananas and long beans as you can toss into the gaping maws of the two hippopotamuses, who have clearly been eating well in this fashion for years:
They are fine and jolly beasts. A sign says that one of them came from the Netherlands in 1967, which seems impossible to believe; she has had 14 piglets (this term is almost certainly wrong) since then. Maybe she was the missing third hippo? One worries. But these ones were happily eating, and let themselves be patted on their bristly jaws, which feel like rubber.
The other nice thing at the zoo are the paddle boats, which can be rented for not very much money. They are, it has to be said, somewhat dangerous, especially if you are taking a baby on them – there are no guard rails, and our boat did list in my direction a great deal, though I only noticed that after I ran into the side of an island while trying to photograph a water monitor. The attendants do give out life preservers, which is heartening: the water teams with enormous swimming lizards, to say nothing of the carp and catfish maddened by being overfed, and one hesitates to think what unseen horrors might lurk under the nearly opaque waters.
The water monitors here don’t seem to be quite as big as those in Lumphini – the longest was maybe a little over four feet – nor as thuggish in nature but they do seem slightly more energetic. Wikipedia has a terrifying image of one in a tree, taken, it says, in Bangkok, so I kept checking the trees; I did not see any there. But the paddle boating! It’s pleasant, and the baby didn’t fall out, so that was fine.
The reptile house in general was frighteningly thorough – more snakes than anyone would know what to do with – a few Midwestern corn snakes looked a little lost amidst the cobras and kraits – as well as a pleasant selection of turtles and tortoises, and some fine crocodilians, including a gharial. Also a stuffed crocodile! who seemed to have been stuffed some time in the late nineteenth century and given a coat of lacquer every year since, leaving him with a fine finish indeed. Around the zoo are sculpted animals, some more fanciful than others; this one, in front of the puma cage, is either a puma or a hyena or a demon:
Some of these statues promise more than they deliver, like the dinosaurs in front of the reptile house. Oh well.
The seal show is also pretty good. There are only two seals, or only two were on view, but they do tricks and they have a hype man who explains things energetically in Thai, which I did not understand, though Harriet clapped and clapped. The trainers wear white boots, which seems suitably fashionable, and everyone came out to the strains of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”, though I didn’t manage to get that on camera.
The zoo also has an air raid shelter from WWII which you can go into, though it is not explained very well if you don’t read Thai.
What is not so nice at the park: the chimpanzee enclosure, which is not extremely small, though the chimps did look unhappy with their lot in life. There appeared to be only a single ostrich, which seems a little sad? Though it did have a single zebra for company. The map claimed penguins; we found no penguins, though that might have been my failure to understand the map.