Fancy Brunei

Tiny Brunei is extremely friendly for visitors. During our short trip, many people came spontaneously to talk with us, cars stopped politely for us pedestrians, and in the market we got a bunch of bananas as a welcome gift.

It is easy to appreciate this wealthy, clean, and organized country. Sadly, it is just a stop-over for many tourists, including us. The capital Bandar Seri Begawan, BSB, has very little to offer. The city is easily walked around in an hour or two, and there is little to do except visit mosques or admire the old stilt houses of Kampong Ayer, the famous Water village. The country reminded us a little bit of Monaco in its wealth and quietness, although it is much less densely packed. It also bears some resemblance to Bhutan, except that Brunei is not arrogant and materialistic like Bhutan which only accepts rich tourists willing to spend a lot of money during their stay.

One of the most extreme things you can do in BSB is actually walking. Everybody seems to have at least one car and there are no walkways outside the city centre. We walked an off-the-beaten-track route from the airport to Gadong shopping area along a busy highway, some six or seven kilometres in the bush with snakes, but fortunately they were more scared of us than Päivi was of them. Some policemen smiled widely when they saw us trekking and crossing busy highways running like crazy.

Brunei has a great public transportation system. The small minibuses look exactly like Tanzanian dalla-dallas in Dar-es-Salam except that they are cleaner and less packed. They operate all over the city for 0.7 €/trip except for the ferry terminal Muara for which you have to pay doubly as Muara is located 21 kilometres outside the city. The traffic stops early. The last buses leave around 6.30 pm. After that, practically all the capital’s shops will also be closed and it’s time to retire to a hotel. We visited BSB during the Ramadan, but heard it had nothing to do with the quietness. “There’s nothing here,” an Indian businessman told us.

Hotels are expensive but there is always the good old, safe and sparkling clean Hotel Airport waiting for tired passengers! The only minus was the lack of free Internet connection. Most of the airports offer nowadays a free wifi.

Visa-Run from Malaysia to Brunei

We visited Brunei to renew our Malaysian entry permit. The trip was quick and cheap. From Menumbok, Sabah, we first took a ferry to Labuan Island (1.5 €; 1.5 hours), Sabah’s tax free paradise which abounds liquor shops, and from there a speedboat to Muara (9€; 1 hour) in Brunei. The whole visa-run from Sabah to Brunei and back cost us about 25 € per person and it can be managed in one day if in a hurry. A big plus for the ferry companies is that they offer a free wifi in both terminals, in Muara and Labuan. Some travel guides misleadingly claim that one gets only a 30-day entry stamp instead of the full 90 days in Labuan. You will get your full 90 days just like in West Malaysia.

Keywords: Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan, BSB, Kampong Ayer, Muara, Labuan, Menumbok, Malaysia.

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