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After stopping at three ports in Malaysia: Penang, Langkawi and Port Kelang (Kuala Lumpur) we returned to Singapore for a day whilst more passengers got onboard for the next leg of our cruise.
The third port in Malaysia, Port Kelang was a long way from Kuala Lumpur (around two hours by bus or taxi), so we decided to spend the day near the port at a shopping mall. As we have previously been to KL we weren’t at all disappointed.
Our day at Singapore was spent exploring Gardens by the Bay and then Chinatown which were both excellent. We returned to the cruise ship to meet up with our good friends Robyn and Steve and we had heaps to catch up on over a few drinks at the bar on the stern of the ship!
We set sail that evening and when we awoke next morning we were in Muara, Brunei. It is amazing how you leave one country and you are in another the next day!
Brunei is a tiny nation on the island of Borneo, in 2 distinct sections surrounded by Malaysia and the South China Sea. It is the fifth-richest nation in the world based on its petroleum and natural gas fields.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah imposed Sharia law in 2013 on the country’s Muslims, which take up roughly two thirds of the country’s population and making Brunei the first and only country in East Asia to introduce Sharia law into its penal code. This is evidenced in the large amount of mosques, which are seemingly everywhere.
The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah is head of state and resides in a massive palace in the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan. Named Istana Nurul Iman, meaning “Palace of the Light of Faith”, this official residence of the Sultan is the largest residential palace in the world. A very impressive sight, although you cannot get anywhere near it, except for glimpses from the river!
On arrival to Muara Port we caught a public bus into Bandar Seri Begawan which was around half an hour via the local roads into the city. We were told to wear modest clothing, so we wore knee length shorts and short sleeve blouses so that we weren’t exposing too much flesh in such a strict Sharia law city.
Once there we were whisked away by a small boy who led us to the river to enjoy a long boat cruise down the Brunei River to check out Kampong Ayer (the water villages), which are self-sufficient with their own schools, shops, cafes and mosques.
As we cruised down the river we spotted a fresh-water crocodile, much birdlife, monkeys swinging in the trees and mangrove forests.
We returned to the city to check out the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, Royal Regalia Museum and the Tamu Kianggeh markets. We walked around the city until 12pm and then all of a sudden the place became deserted.
Unfortunately we came to this city on the worst day of the week, a Friday! Every Friday at 12pm, Brunei’s capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan becomes a ghost town. Every business – from restaurants to entertainment outlets – must remain closed by Sharia law for two hours until prayers are finished. This literally left us twiddling our thumbs waiting for attractions to re-open!
We had a quick cup of coffee and a bite to eat and then got back aboard a local bus. The bus driver, sensing that the majority of his passengers were tourists, (I wonder what gave us away?), took us on a scenic tour of Muara beach and parklands. Such a nice little detour and his entrepreneurial skills did not go unnoticed when he received many generous tips when we all got off the bus!
Brunei was an education for me. I have previously travelled to muslim cities, for example Istanbul, and found it to be fascinating from a cultural perspective. The opulence and wealth of Brunei, as revealed in its spectacular mosques and government residences, is a sight to behold. However at the other end of the spectrum, the floating villages were also delightful.
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Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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raehilhorstApril 17, 2016
Hi Kathy, a very interesting read and what an experience. Don’t know that it would be a destination for me though. As they say respect the country you are in and their rules. The sultan has a nice home x
KathyApril 17, 2016
I certainly couldn’t live in a country under Sharia law. Much too restrictive for me. But it was an interesting place and a very wealthy one. Some of the homes and buildings were magnificent. :)
JohannaApril 18, 2016
What an interesting stop-off Kathy, and I am impressed with how much you took in during such a short time. I’ve never been to Brunei but I know friends who have worked there – the wealth must be mind blowing.
KathyApril 19, 2016
Brunei is a very wealthy country but also very strict under Sharia law. It was certainly an eye-opener and very educational. We always try to pack in as much as we can during our cruise stops. :)
FairlieApril 22, 2016
Very interested to read your impressions of Brunei. I was looking a cheap flight option once that required a day layover in Brunei and I was wondering at the time what there would be to do/see there. (I didn’t end up choosing it).
KathyApril 22, 2016
I hope I didn’t give Brunei too much of a negative review. It was a very beautiful place, but big contrasts between filthy rich and the poor (in the floating villages). I find most places interesting and enjoyable despite their religion or culture. I think that this is what makes travel so fascinating!
budgettraveltalkApril 22, 2016
We have been to Bandar Seri Begawan on a stop-over and went on a bus trip for a few hours. We went to the mosque, floating villages and the Royal Regalia museum. It was extremely hot and I possibly would have enjoyed it better if we had stayed overnight and had an extra day to explore on our own. The mosque was very impressive.
KathyApril 22, 2016
You were lucky to see the mosque as we couldn’t get near the place with Friday two hours of prayers happening. We really enjoyed the boat cruise down the Brunei River and the Floating Villages. It was certainly different to all the other places we visited in SE Asia. :)
IndraniApril 22, 2016
The mosques are GRAND! The richness shows! Good you got a detour, very thoughtful of the bus driver.
KathyApril 23, 2016
The mosques in Brunei were spectacular. It was a very interesting place to visit. :)