Chee, our host, arrived just fifteen minutes after we docked. After brief introductions, he informed us that he will be working in the afternoon so he could only give us a tour until 4:00 PM. We were content with it, for we intended to spend just one night in the country anyway. Shervin, an Aussie, paid US$20 for a one day visa. Filipinos get a 14-day "Visit Pass" for free.
Our Borneo trip thus far. View Pulau Labuan-Brunei in a larger map
We had a quick lunch at some open food court, with various stalls selling cheap eats. Chee introduced to us the nasi katok, a local meal that includes rice, chicken (sometimes beef) with sauce, and egg. It only costs B$1.
Chee explained that 'nasi' means rice and 'katok' means knock - like in Tagalog (Brunei people also speak Bahasa Melayu). Back in the days when Brunei didn't have fastfood outlets, late at night, hungry locals would head to a vendor's residence who sells nasi bungkus (rice wrapped in banana leaf). Just knock at the door, and you will be served a nasi bungkus. The name eventually evolved to nasi katok.
After lunch Chee took us to the Royal Regalia Museum or Bangunan Alat Kebesaran Diraja (free admission, open 8:30 AM-5:00 PM) near Bandar Seri Begawan's city center, where we roamed around barefoot to see an exhibit wholly devoted to the current sultan. An hour in this museum will do. In some areas, photography is prohibited. Cameras shall be surrendered at the front desk.
Then Chee drove us to Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque at Kampong Kiarong. I have read that the huge blocks of wood used for the mosque's doors were imported from the Philippines. I didn't rest my keen eyes on the doors though, as I was enthralled with the brilliant combination of white, blue and gold on the walls, minarets and domes.
We were allowed to go inside the prayer hall, but only within the barricaded space upon entrance - and in the condition that I wear an abaya (a black long-sleeved, floor length, loose garment worn by middle-eastern women). Headscarf not required.
After Shervin took photos and made fun of me (he's a born Muslim by the way), we left the mosque and walked back to the car to visit Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque next.
Chee said he likes this mosque more than the first one because of its white and gold simplicity. The mosque kinda reminds me of Taj Mahal (not that I've been there), minus the sparkling gold domes.
We circled the mosque's gates and wandered off to see some of the houses on stilts before going back to the car.
It was time for Chee to report for work, and he dropped us off Pusat Belia (Brunei Youth Centre). A dorm room costs B$10 per person, the cheapest in Bandar Seri Begawan. And since it's a youth hostel in a Muslim country, the male dorm is separate from the female's.
We were tired but thought it was too early to call it a day, so we hired a water taxi (B$40 for a tour) and cruised to Brunei's jungle by the river to watch proboscis monkeys feed at sundown.
I was more interested in proboscis monkeys than Borneo's famed orangutans. I was ecstatic we successfully found a group, if not a family, not far from the river.
On the way back, the boatman passed by near the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque so we could see its grandiose lighting at dusk. He did not take us to our initial pick-up point because it was 'low tide'. I have a feeling he just said so after he saw new passengers waiting at a shed nearby. It was alright though for he brought us to a place where we found cheap dinner (noodles, chicken satay and a drink B$4 for two!).
After eating, we walked to the mall hoping we could still change money. Unfortunately, the currency exchange stall was already closed - but I was able to buy a fridge magnet because the souvenir shop attendant accepted my Malaysian ringgits (RM10).
Back at the hostel, we proceeded to our respective dorms. It's been ages since Shervin and I slept apart. I could not wait to get out of Brunei.
News Flash: Cebu Pacific will begin flying to Negara Brunei Darussalam starting August 21, 2010. Regular fare at P3,699 (always watch out for promos!).
[This blog is part of the South East Asia in Six Weeks series which took place May-June 2009. Price of goods, transportation and so forth may already be different.]
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