A City Tour of BSB

Bandar Seri Begawan Travel Blog

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I spent the day looking around BSB and found my way to Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque (named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei) and its impressive golden-domed structure surrounded by an artificial lagoon.  I bumped into a guy here called Abdul.  He’d already met and spoken to Richard and Raul (tourists all visit the same places and stick out like sore thumbs here) and for $15B each, he had offered to show us several place close to BSB including the palace.  That would be starting at 5:30pm and seemed like a good deal to me, and it gave me enough time to have a look around the Royal Regalia Museum.


Annoyingly cameras weren’t permitted in the museum, so I stored mine in locker number 6 of 90.  I wasn’t sure if that was an indicator of the time of year or more simply the level of tourism Brunei actually receives.  I know the country was attempting to invest more into tourism for when the inevitable happens to their major resources of oil and gas.  Considering the popularity of Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, my best guess was the latter.


It’s a spotlessly clean museum, and you aren’t allowed to wear shoes in there.  It is comfortable though on the padded carpet.  One of the first things I noticed was the actual length of people’s names.  For instance, the Sultan’s wife is called Her Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Raja Isteri (for short, though it continues in full with:) Pengiron Anak Hajjah Saleha Binti Al-Marhum Pengiran Permancha Pengiram Anak Haji Mohammed Alan. 


The current sultan is the 29th Sultan of Brunei and he was made Sultan on 05/06/67.  The throne used during his coronation is still here as are his original clothes for the event.  The museum is also full of lavish gifts from across the globe, including an Olympic torch from South Korea, and this is just a smidgen of the stuff he mush have cluttering up the palace!  I couldn’t help but be grateful for the low expectations of my family.

  The last present I bought was a cuddly toy Nemo for my nephew!


The downstairs of the museum is set up like a scene characteristic of Jason and the Argonaughts with all the clothes and weapons upright as if being held by people.  It’s cool, and you keep finding more and more as you turn through the labyrinth of this museum.  It’s a great place to visit and it’s free too, but I guess it would take a gutsier person than me to visit the souvenir shop!


I walked back to the City Centre after the museum and stood still to count the number of faces of the Sultan I could see.  18 in total!  He’s everywhere, almost like Big Brother, but I can let him off.  He’s popular and the posters and propaganda are only there in celebration for his birthday (which was in just a couple of days time).  I found out that he is also the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance for Brunei.  It sounded more like a dictatorship, but by the fact that the people all seemed to have money and there wasn’t any real signs of poverty, I could see clearly why it worked that way. 


I went back to the hostel and met back up with Raul, Richard, and another guy, Ian, also from the UK.  Abdul turned up promptly at 5:30pm and took us straight to a huge mosque just outside of the city.  This had only recently been completed by the Sultan and is the most expensive mosque in SE Asia.  The dome is made of 24 karat gold and so are most of the fittings; the marble is imported from Italy; the stained glass is from the UK; and the crystal for the chandeliers is Austrian.  The Sultan does know how to spend his money frivolously, but when you have money for toilet paper, why not?  It was actually paid for out of his own pocket!


As part of his birthday celebrations, he’ll be visiting the mosque to pray and greet his fellow worshipers. 


The next stop was the night market for some food (cheap).  Whoa!  The smell hits you straight away.  The aroma is amazing with all the different foods being cooked there.  I was actually gutted I had already eaten earlier, but still found room for at least some of the cakes and smoothies.


Onto the Empire Hotel (6-star) where the rooms cost between $65 and $24,000.  It cost a mere $1.1 billion US to build and that just goes to show how much money this small country has, and how much they like to spend it!


Abdul took us past some of the houses of the Princes and Princesses, and they all seemed to be far too big for the size of the family that they contained, but that was nothing in comparison to the palace.  The palace is actually the biggest in the world with 1,788 rooms at it’s disposal.  The man’s wealth is just unfathomable, though I will say he seems very in touch with his people.  One the last two days of Ramadan for instance, the palace doors open up to all, locals and tourists alike, and the sultan will greet everyone personally and give them a small gift.  He’s obviously not intimidated by extremists as he’ll happily be in the public eye and easily approachable.  It’s quite refreshing for such approachability.  Hell, the princes and princesses are often seen jogging at night in the local parks!  It’s a much better way to be, not living in fear.


Our last stops of the tour were by an uninteresting theme park and a floating village where around one third of the population of BSB live.  These homes on the river do have a shabby appearance, but inside they all have air conditioning, hot showers, and colour TVs; most households own at least one car as well!  It’s nothing like the shanties in Laos or Cambodia, that is for sure.


Abdul’s last piece of advice was interesting as well.  Singapore dollars are exactly equivalent to Brunei dollars and so they are interchangeable – even the coins (all except the $1 SGD coin as no such coin exists in Brunei).  His final input was some advice on how to get to Miri via the buses.  All in all it was a great tour and certainly worth the $15B. I was quite proud of the former British colonies as so far what I’d seen all looked effectively ran with good infrastructure in place.  They seemed to be in a much better state than the French colonial empire, though I chose not to think about Burma (Myanmar)….

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