After using Bangkok as a base to visit all its neighboring countries and their neighboring countries I had run out of new countries to visit within say a three hour plane ride of Thailand (don’t get me wrong, there are many places I haven’t yet visited in the countries I’ve already been to). However I had not yet visited Brunei and with a non stop Royal Brunei flight from Bangkok lasting about 2.5 hours it was fairly easy to get here and spend a few days touring the capital, Bandar Seri Begewan as well as the surrounding countryside. I had been wanting to visit Brunei for several months but just bought the plane ticket 5 days before my flight, and started planning the trip about 2 days in advance. Throwing out a note on Twitter that I was coming to Brunei I was contacted by an English teacher who helped me setup a few of my upcoming tours. Talk about last minute planning!
I hooked up with Ross from New Zealand (apparently we were on the same flight and didn’t know it) at the Pusat Belia Hostel – what a place for like $7 us dollar/night! Huge pool, rooms mostly empty, Air Conditioning, and free WiFi. Most everything here shuts down in the early evening so we found ourselves to among very few people walking around downtown. Stopping in for a quick bite to eat at a Chinese restaurant we soon found ourselves the focus of attention by all the Indonesian employees. The giggling girls requested a photo which we obliged. After multiple fruit drinks, sour sop and durian (which the employees encouraged me not to have because of its strong smell), I waddled out of there with a sloshing stomach.
The downtown mosque at night is magical. Beautiful real gold coats giant domes lit by a golden light. Water reflects all of this and the royal barge floats nearby. In front of all this wealth, right next door is a complete contrast. The darkened shabby Water Village is composed of ramshackle wood and tin homes – some looking to be barely standing. The occupants stand on their wooden porches above the water and have an unparalleled view of the mosque; they look out onto its amazing golden splendor.