15 January 2015

Brunei and Bandar Seri Begawan

Brunei is a common weekend trip for Miri expats – many profess that the meat in Bruneian supermarkets is better quality than that available in Miri and families will often take a trip to buy food.  There is an alcohol shop in No Mans Land which sells wine and other alcohol at good prices. 

Omar Ali Saifudden Mosque with ceremonial (concrete) barge.
I have managed to find just about everything I need, bar the odd luxury, in the extremely well stocked supermarkets here in Miri and we rarely drink alcohol so the shopping aspects hold very little interest for us.  Indeed the prices in Brunei are high so it is not uncommon for families from there to come to Miri for their food shop – our supermarkets even accept Bruneian Dollars so it seems rather crazy to me to travel there to buy food.

Bandar Embankment Walk. 
There are good national parks in Temburong and now we have the big car we will probably take the children there for a long weekend once the girls’ passports are back.  We have, however, taken a few trips to the capital, Bandar.  It is an easy day trip from Miri and something different to do with visitors.  The roads are in good condition and not too busy so Bandar is only about 2-21/2  hours drive away although it can take longer if there are queues at the border. Sadly all our trips have been in the rainy season so the photographs we have are moody, overcast and a little dull.  

Bandar's central cemetery - surprisingly peaceful.
View of Kampung Ayer from the Omar Ali Saifudden Mosque

Bandar itself is a rather dry (in all senses of the word) capital.  It was destroyed in WW2 so is a new city.  The centre is compact and easy to navigate but rather dull.  The main sights are the Omar Ali Saifudden Mosque – the mosque itself I reasonably modern and not overwhelming but it sits on an island in a lagoon and is connected to a concrete replica of a traditional royal barge which is used for important religious occasions.  The Royal Regalia museum is also worth a visit – particularly if it is raining.  There are a few other museums but they are mostly not worth visiting, the exhibits are good but lack contextual information. The best bit of the city is, in my opinion, the rather pleasant embankment - you can walk along to get to the craft centre (which sells traditional cloth and silver work but is very overpriced) and take in views of the river and the rather beautiful and peaceful cemetery.

Kampung Ayer sits just across the river from Bandar - in the
background you can see some more modern, concrete,
 houses built by the government.
Most of the houses in the Kampung are more traditional and made
of wood.  
The main reasons to go to Bandar, however, are to see Kampung Ayer and proboscis monkeys.  Kampung Ayer is a water village that sits along the river.  It is a bustling metropolis in its own right with schools, police stations, mosques and even a fire station.  All buildings in the Kampung have piped clean water and electricity.  

The kampung is well organised with communal jettys for homes
that do not have their own steps to the water.
Kampung Ayer Fire Station

Kampung Ayer's Mosque with both water and land access
Just 20 minutes up the river it is also possible to put into the mangrove and see families of proboscis monkeys going about their business.  The monkeys live in small family groups and, if you are lucky, will come all the way down to the water near the boat.  When my husband took his mother to see them they got some very close up views.  A few weeks ago I drove over with some other visitors but a larger tour boat in the vicinity at the same time meant that the monkeys kept to the tops of the trees.  Nevertheless it was quite amazing to see the monkeys playing in the treetops – even mothers with their young.

A loud tour near us meant the monkeys did not get too close.
We still had a good view - the photos do not do it justice.
This large gentleman sat munching his mangrove for sometime and
allowed us to take several pictures.  He is wise to visitors, however
as he always stayed behind branches!
Both the Kampung and the monkeys can be seen on a river tour.  It is possible to arrange this through a formal tour operator – you will get a beautiful boat, life jackets and a rehearsed commentary in English.  These tours cost a lot of money so rather than shell out more than we needed we picked up a water taxi – the driver was happy to take us up the river, was very knowledgeable about the monkeys and cost less than half an organised tour.  The smaller boat and reduced number of people also meant that we were quieter so that the monkeys came closer to us.  On the way up river he took us past the Istana, the gigantic 1800 room palace of the sultan.  On the way back we went around Kampung Ayer before being dropped off at the centre of town. 

Water taxis are a common way to get between Kampung Ayer and Bandar
They are easy to hire and better value than a tourist
boat - and you have it to yourselves!

There are a number of decent restaurants in central Bandar, some fast food chains and some cafes so there are plenty of options to choose from before getting back to the border in time to cross back home.  

Click  on the picture for more posts on life in Borneo.

Ersatz Expat

1 comment:

  1. Very nice and informative article, thanks for this post..