After almost three months Malaysia (yes we spent so much time here) we travel to another country! To the unknown Brunei. We never heard anyone say ‘I’m going to Brunei’, did you? Every Malay person we spoke to tells us Brunei is such a boring country: you can’t even drink alcohol there! Those things make us SO curious about Brunei!
We know it’s a strict Islamic country: that we know. Curious what more we learn? Continue reading!
Many stamps on a long bus ride
From Kota Kinabalu we travel by bus to Brunei’s capital city Bandar. It’s probably the weirdest bus ride we ever had. We cross borders so many times and get SEVEN stamps in our passport. First we leave Sabah and drive into Sarawak, first stamp. Next we go out of Sarawak and drive into Brunei, two more stamps. Since Brunei consists of two parts we need to go out of Brunei again and into Malaysia, two more stamps. We drive for a while in Malaysia again before we enter Brunei for the second time, two extra stamps. Within 8 hours we get seven new stamps, crazy right? Our tip to get a full passport: just travel Brunei in and out a couple of times!
A whole new world
Brunei feels like a total different world, it’s nothing like the rest of Borneo. Funny how it’s on the same island and so close to each other, but still so different. In respect of the Islamic believes we dress properly and wear long pants and t-shirts. Being gay in Brunei is very illegal – we can be stoned to death – even as a tourist you are not safe. So obviously we keep a very very very low profile, for now we are just friends or sisters (already everybody thinks we are sisters so that’s easy).
After the long bus ride we wait in a coffee shop until our new couchsurfing host, Ibrahim, picks us up. He is a Turkish guy who lives in Brunei for two years now. He is a bit bored so he really likes to meet people from outside Brunei. We don’t mind not drinking or clubbing for a while, but we can imagine it feels different after two years living there. Ibrahim’s house is a bit outside the capital city and during our ride we see a little bit more of the country (almost all of it, it’s that small). We notice that it’s very quiet on the street, very clean and the buildings – especially mosques – are so pretty! Brunei is a rich country and it definitely shows.
Bandar Seri Begawan
At night we have dinner and the next day Ibrahim brings us to Bandar again, before he starts working. Let’s explore Bandar! We see a couple of mosques, take a boat tour on the main river to see all the highlights, we see Proboscis monkeys again and we visit the biggest village on water in the world – Kampong Ayer! People in Brunei are incredible kind, they always want to help us or just have a talk! There are not many tourists in Brunei, so we get why they are so interested.
When we sit in a coffee shop a girl starts to talk to us and before we know it we know whom to call if we want to go hiking or diving. We are curious about the diving part. Apparently, Brunei has one of the most undiscovered underwater worlds on earth. Only a few years ago people opened a few dive shops. So yesss we are curious about it! We decide to send a message to ‘Kimmie’ and make a dive appointment for two days later. We are going to do two dives in Brunei, exciting!
Alcohol in Brunei?!
After a long day in Bandar, Ibrahim picks us up again and he cooks a delicious meal for us. His friend joins us as well and after dinner we go the night out. A night out? In Brunei?! Nope, we go to Malaysia! The border is ‘only’ an hour away so by car we drive there. Immediately next to the border, where there are some street food restaurants where people go to have a drink. It is super crowded; clearly we are not the only ones who drive here to have a drink.
We have lots of fun together and before we know it we have to go back again – the border closes at midnight. Ibrahim and his friend didn’t really think about the way back and they both drank more than we did. So I drive back home! After an hour and four stamps in our passport later we arrive at home. The best thing of no alcohol in Brunei: they don’t check your alcohol levels anywhere.
The next day we sleep in and relax a bit at Ibrahim’s house. At night we see sunset at a super fancy 7 star hotel and afterwards we cook spaghetti with red sauce and meatballs. And then it’s diving time! Early in the morning Kimmie picks us up and together we go to the dive boat. Best part: we are just with the four of us on the boat and there is nobody else on the water. It’s so different than diving in ‘dive factory’ Mabul. We will do two wreck dives and as soon as we enter the water we see the water is really GREEN. A lot different than our other dive experiences.
The first wreck is cool, the fishes are even cooler and the best is when we save a fish that is stuck in a cage with its fins. Back on the boat we have second breakfast and rest for a while before we start our second dive. Our second dive is the best! The wreck is huge and there are SO many fishes. And we go inside the wreck (we are not allowed to do that with our Open Water PADI, so it’s our first time), it’s very awesome – and a little scary!
After the dives Kimmie brings us back to Ibrahim’s place again. During the evening we have dinner with the three of us. It’s our last night together so we see the last things we want to see and Ibrahim plays the guitar for us.
Time to travel back into Malaysia! Ibrahim drops us off in Bandar again and we sit in the same coffee shop as before. At noon we need to leave the coffee shop because of prayer time. Every Friday there are prayers from 12PM to 2PM and law does not allow people to work. We wait for our bus and then… Maartje needs to go to the toilet. But even the public toilets are closed! Luckily our bus driver stops for us as soon as possible so we can use the toilet. The drive to Miri is not that long, at the end of the afternoon we arrive there. We only stay overnight; the next morning we catch the early bus to Kuching.
Read about Kuching and the amazing Bako National Park in our next journal.