After we said a cheery (and teary) goodbye to The Rasa Ria (they make breakfast WITH hot coffee for your journey if you have to leave early) we took a short flight back to Bandar Seri Begawan (or BSB) which is the capital of Brunei Darussalam (meaning Abode of Peace)
|we were upgraded on the 30 minute flight....why does that never happen on the 17hr ones!!!|
It's a VERY conservative country, strictly Muslim (no alcohol) and governed under Sharia Law. So homosexuality is illegal and Women's rights are limited (to say the least). The country has a Parliament but is ruled by the current Sultan (the 29th) who is pretty much Head of everything and has every title going from President to Defender of the Faith.
History lesson over - more on the intersting bits of the Sultan's life later!!
|First glimpse of Brunei from the plane|
The first thing I noticed was how incredibly tidy it is. There are groups of people edging the lawns (and I mean the ones in between dual carriageways, not front gardens) and trimming the hedges, people wearing the traditional conical hats and carrying baskets working in front of the most modern of office blocks.
The second thing was just how many Brunei flags. They are literally everywhere. EVERYwhere. When we traveled further away from the city later in the week we discovered every single building, be it mansion or shed, has a flag!
We were staying at The Radisson hotel in the city centre for 2 short days so decided we needed to get going in order to see as much of the place as we could. That said we were all knackered and ended up transfixed by 'Sleeping Beauty'!! (I don't think the boys had ever seen it all the way through)
Eventually we rounded them up and went for a walk. It was a Sunday afternoon and eeerily quiet. It was almost like being in a deserted city.
We wandered round the outside of the nearest mosque - which happened to be Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, considered one of the most beautiful in Asia. It is stunning - especially the main dome, made of real gold.
That was in contrast to the main shopping mall - which was about as tacky as you could find! Full of cheap tat - so a haven for my boys and their remaining holiday spends. At least it was air conditioned - the weather was a balmy 34 degrees with 94% humidity.
|Surely all this acrylic is a fire risk?|
We were only about 20 minutes away from the hotel and as we walked the storm followed. Every now and again the sun shone too - creating a weird bright darkness
As we approached the lobby the rain started -massive drops that hurt your head!
|View from the hotel|
And it continued to pour for the rest of the day.
|hard to believe it's still 30°|
So Cleggy had a snooze, the boys enjoyed some screen time
and I found a lovely spot for some crochet.
Followed by delicious room service
Brunei is not a touristy place. I quite liked that about it. It's not putting on a show, it doesn't want or need to. You don't have to dig deep to find the 'real Brunei.
Mohammed picked us up at 9am and gave us a wonderful tour around his beloved home city.
We started at The Royal Regalia Building - shoes left at the door we had a good look round this museum, devoted to the current sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
The main gallery displays the coronation and Silver Jubilee Chariots, along with all the parasols, swords, shields etc used during the ceremony.
It also houses all the gifts from the rest of the world to the Sultan on his marriage to the current Queen. It's fascinating what countries gave - everything from huuuuge elaborate to-scale recreations of mosques made in crystal and gold, hunting swords and Tigers teeth from far away tribes...and a lovely glass vase from our Queen!!
The Museum also houses the clothes worn at various ceremonies (made with gold thread, natch) and pictures of the Sultan made out of everything from gemstones to tapestry. There's the crown jewels (behind glass and under armed guard) along with a solid gold replica arm and hand used as a chin rest to support the Sultan's head when wearing the incredibly heavy crown! Brilliant.
Unfortunately cameras weren't allowed in the main museum so no photos.
To say the Bruneians love this man would be an understatement. His framed photograph is everywhere, from the hotel lobby to the supermarket, to the KFC!
In the museum there are also family photos of the heir apparent, the current Sultan's son. When I commented on him not inheriting his fathers good looks I got a dig in the back from Cleggy and a proper mortified look from Mohammed (Ok, I may have used the word ugly)
We then visited the Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the largest in Brunei. It's stunning - with 29 domes made out of 24 carat gold, representing the current 29th Sultan. The gold against the tiled turquiose roof was wonderful.Inside we weren't allowed to take photos but the stained glass dome was really pretty (here's someone else's photo)
It is amazingly elaborate - with chandeliers from Britain, carpets from Saudi Arabia,granite from shanghai and marble from Italy.
It can accommodate 4000 people praying at once, all on individual prayer mats, each with the image of the mosque on. Every detail was ornate and most of them symbolic.
|Escalator for Royal family (not slide!)|
Alfie and I had to don a black robe before entering -
not a look I work well!!
From there we did a quick stop at the gates of the Sultan's palace.
He lives a lavish life - all inside a palace with over 1700 rooms and 2 million square meters of floorspace - the largest residence ever built. He has 257 bathrooms and a banqueting hall large enough to seat 5000 guests!
|As close as you can get - the front gates|
The whole of the ground floor is home to his collection of over 7000 cars, although he also has a fleet of aircraft, including a Boeing 747 which he pilots himeslf!
The Palace is open to Bruneians for 3 days a year after the festival at the end of Ramadan - each year over 100,000 people visit and shake his hand! (Mohammed told us with pride how he had been the year before)
To be fair to the Sultan he is generous to his people. There are no taxes in Brunei, health and education are all free, fuel and housing are heavily subsidised and people are well looked after (providing they stick to the rules!) It's often cited as one of the happiest countries in the world.
And he keeps himself pretty happy too..marrying three women! The first is still the current Queen, the second was an air hostess on Royal Brunei Airlines and the third was a TV presenter 33 years younger than him. He has since divorced the second and third wives and stripped them of all their titles (and monthly allowance!)
The Sultan and his wives have 12 children between them!
|uncomfortable family photo (us with our heirs!)|
Our tour then took us on to a boat for a trip around Kampong Ayer - the water village home to over 30,000 people, or 10% of the population. It's been here for 1300 years and was a crucial trading centre of old Brunei.
Of course it was fascinating. There are 42 villages in total, all linked by wooden footways, and including homes, schools, shops, restaurants, mosques, a hospital, a police station and fire station.
I love when you can see the Mosque behind the wooden houses -
or modern tower blocks...It looks pretty run down and poor in places - but it's deceptively so. There is air con, satellite TV, internet, running water and electricity.
It's touted as 'Venice of the East' which made me smile!
This is the school
And here are the bin men - looking like the water village mafia!
some of the coloured wood was so pretty
Here's the mosque in stilts
The boys laughed at the house belonging to an ardent
Manchester United fan:
(our 3 are Manchester City fans!)
As part of our tour we were treated to 'morning tea and cake at a real life home on stilts'. I was expecting to be sitting on a mat, drinking rough tea and talking through our interpritor guide (ha, how little I know)
Instead we were led into what looked like a regular home from the outside but on the inside was a grand room with ceiling roses, chandeliers, huge faux floral decorations and the usual shrine to the Sultan (apparently what many of them look like inside)
The family provide tea for lots of tours - so were amoung the American and Japanese tourists - all drinking out of bone china!! We were served traditional cake - which was more like a turkish delight type square in various flavours. It was, hmmm, interesting.
We also saw lots of caged cockerels - kept for cock fighting :(
We had another look at the Mosque we had visited the previous dayBefore being dropped back off. It was a perfect tour for us - just long enough (before the Teen requested his screen) and with just the right amount of facts and figures.
We had an interesting meal at the hotel
|baby Octopus curry!!|
and a little play in the hotel pool
in the sunshine....
before the afternoon rain started...!
and the screens came back out!!
For our last evening in Brunei we decided to visit the night market in Gadong - about 15 minutes outside the city.
The shuttle bus dropped us at the nearby shopping mall - which was like a weird mini Trafford CentreIt's quite hard to describe why it's all so strange - but one thing that just makes you laugh is the juxtaposition of goods. In one shop I stood in one place and photographed what I could see around me....
|nice plastic containers|
|Hooker shoes (near SpongeBob boxes)|
|and corned beef!!!!|
We found our way to the market by following the smell - it was absolutely deeeelicious.
It was amazing - with stall after stall selling
things I didn't recognise.
|these were deep fried potato sticks - sprinkled with flavour|
|BBQ'd everything. Literally.|
Everyone was REALLY friendly
and more than willing to let you try things
Everything seemed to cost 50p!
I tried cow lung....(nice than it looked and sounds!)
It was unfeasibly hot, even at 9pm.
and gluttonous rice wrapped in banana leavesAll in all a brilliant way to spend our only night out in Brunei's capital city. It's an interesting place - really slow paced and calm, maybe lacking in excitement but still full of delights. The people are really friendly and welcoming, the crime rate is low, the weather is hot and humid and it's so clean and tidy. I don't know that I'd want to spend more than a few days there but we had a lovely time.
When we got back to the hotel we had to pack up again - for the next part of the trip we were traveling further South...