For my flight from Darwin to Bangkok, I had chosen Brunei Airlines. As a sneaky way of getting tourists to their tiny country, they had a two-day layover in their capitol: Bandar Seri Begawan. I have no objections to such “layovers.”
I also enjoy flying over islands. I’m not sure which island this is; it could be part of Sulawesi.
Here’s another aerial view of that same island.
If you’d never heard of Brunei, don’t feel too bad; you’re in the company of many others. However, I lived in Las Vegas for a while, and the Sultan of Brunei (one of the richest men in the world) had a palace there for many years.
Brunei is a constitutional Islamic monarchy. Since it’s a Muslim country, many people use Arabic script. But the primary language of Brunei is Malay, which is normally written in Roman characters. Brunei has a large Chinese minority, so Chinese script is frequently seen as well. Sometimes, all three scripts are displayed together.
Dominating the skyline of Bandar Seri Begawan is the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. It’s one of the grandest mosques in the world, with its main dome being plated in pure gold.
Brunei is divided, by water, into two parts. So the most practical mode of transportation, across the country, is by boat.
There was some sort of festival, in honor of a prince, when I was there. The festivities were on the other side of the country, so the boat was crowded. I’d be willing to wager that people drown regularly; the boats go very fast, and they’re often rickety.
I took a tour of the water village.
Here’s a view of the mosque from the water village.
A school in the water village.
And possibly one of its pupils doing homework. I guess Sesame Street is popular even in Brunei.
This house looks like it’s been neglected, and the owners are simply waiting for it to collapse into the sea.
A Shell gas station.
Borneo, the island where Brunei is located (along with Malaysia and Indonesia, which also share the island), is home to proboscis monkeys. So I took a proboscis monkey tour in the jungle. There were two or three other tourists with me, along with our guide.
Here’s the view as we traveled down the river to search for monkeys.
We searched for what seemed like a long time, with no luck. Finally, I turned to our guide and said, “Looks like it’s time for ‘plan B.’ That’s when you get your buddies to dress up in monkey outfits and climb the trees!” He laughed and said there is no “plan B,” and that I was the funniest American he’d ever met 🙂 Eventually, we did see some proboscis monkeys. They’re huge, and they swing from the vines. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any good-quality photos of these monkeys; this is the best I could do with that camera.
I had better luck with monitor lizards.
I also took a canopy tour of the rain forest. There’s a very high aluminum structure with steps. When you get to the top, you can walk along an aluminum path high up in the trees. There were three of us on this tour. One of the guys was afraid of heights, so only two of us went up.
We didn’t spot any wildlife on this tour, but we did get some nice views of the rain forest below. This was right next to the border with Malaysia, and some of what you see here is actually in Malaysia. The people of Malaysia are exactly the same as the people of Brunei. They speak the same language, follow the same religion and look the same. So I asked our guide what would happen if somebody decided to walk across the border in the jungle. He said that person would be shot on sight.
To console myself for not having spotted any wildlife on this tour, I took a photo of this lizard.
Here are some more scenes from Bandar Seri Begawan.
As I was leaving the country, they wanted to charge me an exit tax at the airport. I told the receptionist that since there’s no distinction between the national airline of Brunei, and the government of Brunei – and that it was the airline’s decision to include this “layover” in my flight, I should not have to pay any exit tax. After speaking with her supervisor, she came back to tell me they would waive the tax.
This reasonable gesture concluded an interesting, and very friendly, visit to the small kingdom of Brunei.