Unfortunately my lasting memory of Brunei will be happening across a man clad in Islamic dress mass-debating (lets be civil) out of the window in the stairwell of the hostel. Nice image eh? Well now you’ve got it burned into your memory too, it’s nice to share isn’t it?
As we arrived at the Shell Oil rich country, the sign at Customs announced mater-of-factly something akin to “Drug trafficking is a serious offence and the punishment is death”. It doesn’t get much more serious than death! The weird thing about Brunei, especially compared to the hard lined Iran, is that here you can actually bring in a small quantity of alcohol into the country and drink it in your home. In addition, Chinese restaurants can serve pork - this only dawned on me after I’d ordered pork noodle soup mind you. I’m not the fastest knife in the forest.
As it was the Prophet Muhammed’s (p.b.u.h.) birthday on the 31st of March - which of course you remembered - the Sultan took a walk around the city centre with his entourage and with very little security visible. I was a stone’s throw away, but the man walks quickly so could only get a few snaps. All quite exciting though. It says something of the state of the country that the head can stroll about the place without fear of getting shot. But then again, anyone with any radical political views is probably in prison anyway.
I popped into a few museums whilst residing the squeaky clean capital city of Bandar, rarely spying any other tourists at all. I had the grand Raffalesia Museum all to myself for an hour or so, and I had more of the same medicine when wandering around the well-kept mausoleums and the manicured lush green parks. Empty. The best thing in the museum was the upright right arm made of pure gold that held the Sultans chin when he was crowned. And why not? Must be hard work holding your head upright and stuff…
However, there were no photos of the wonderful character Prince Jefri, the Sultans brother and ex-finance minister that attempted to ruin the country by financing his own fun – as a taster, he has, or had, a large yacht called Tits and two smaller vessels named Nipple 1 and Nipple 2. He also bought the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Empire Hotel and coveted Asprey’s. The man is a genius and, unsurprisingly, also in exile.
I met up with some friends and took the last bus out to the ex-royal theme park. It was apparntly created for the Sultan’s 48th birthday, but after a hundred and fifty six goes on every ride going, he bored of it and opened it up for the country. Naturally, being a country where the citizens receive free health and dental care, free sports and leisure facilities, free schooling and pensions for all, the theme park was free. The populace flocked to the park like Royal Navy Marines to Iran (topical) and many went there every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Eventually, after about 5 years apparently, they whacked the hefty charge of five Brunei-an dollars onto the entrance (£2.60) which even in oil rich Brunei, is a mere trifle. Strangely though, the citizens took umbrage and refused to go, so when we went we had every ride to ourselves – the log flume proved good fun even at the third time of asking.
On the way back from a day trip to the Brunei Museum, I hitched a ride from an ex-Lahorite now living in Brunei, but obviously thinking of leaving (he’s been here 20 years!) as it’s too damn boring. I met Malik after hitching back from the fantastic Brunei Musem, with an incredible collection of Islamic art and gold illustrated Quaran’s, and he was kind enough to buy me lunch and show me around a little. He took me to the opulent Jame’asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque that the security guard denied me entry to as I was an infidel – fortunately he only spotted me on my way out of the mosque, so I praised his vigilance and left with a spring in my step.
Getting out of the country was easy enough, or was supposed to be, but as the buses knock off early on every day ending with ‘y’, by 4pm I was stranded in the middle of some poor excuse for a town. A few taxi rides later and I was at the shite-hawk town of Miri in Sarawak, a real prostitute laden dung hole full of queers and beers. I ended up staying at the aptly named Fairyland Inn for a single night and left early next morning as fast as I could.
I popped into the fabulous Niah Caves on the way down to Kuching, desperately hoping to see the bats swarm out at sundown as they were too lazy in Sabah. I spent a good eleven hours wandering around pitch black caves, eventually finding the ancient drawings of the sun-lit Painted Cave. However, getting photos wasn’t easy as the paintings were behind some barbed wire, which in turn were a good thirty feet and a metal fence away from where I stood balancing on a stalagmite. The bats eventually came out, but the sods were tiny and hugged the roof of the cave as they flocked out straight into the trees. Bastards, the lot of them.