Port of Call Brunei

The Sultanate of Brunei

Brunei is a tiny nation on the island of Borneo. It’s known for the opulent Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, adorned with chandeliers, stained glass and Italian marble, and surrounded by a lagoon. Nearby, the Royal Regalia Building showcases a gold carriage and lavish gifts presented to the sultan. To the northwest is the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, with 29 golden domes.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The country is modern, clean and the people friendly and welcoming to visitors.

Where Your Ship Docks

The port

The Brunei seaport is Muara located 20 miles away from the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, Most visiting cruise ships will provide shuttle busses to the capital.

 

 

 

New water-village

Transportation

Bandar Seri Begawan is a very walkable city and water taxis are easy to locate for trips and tours. While there is a good bus system, Brunei now boasts their own ride share service called Dart Brunei with apps available on on the Apple App Store and Google Play. Reports are that the system is safe and easy to use and fairly priced.

Downtown shopping mall

Currency

Brunei has its own dollar with an exchange rate of one Brunei Dollar equal to US 75¢. Major credit cards are widely accepted.

Brunei In General

The Sultan’s Palace on the hill
Bandar Seri Begawan

There has been some controversy recently involving the Sultan and “his” nations strict interpretation of Islam and Sharia Law. In Hollywood there was a call to boycott the Salton’s five luxury hotels that included The Beverly Hills Hotel. If anything this sheds a light on just how wealthy Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is (his full name is Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam).

The countries wealth is based on oil. There are huge offshore deposits controlled by the Sultan and his companies. While the Sultan controls every facet of the economy and government he is a very benevolent ruler. Currently the average income in the country is US$40,000 and most everyone that wants to work has a job. He provides free college education and government subsidized housing.

The modern outdoor market
Bandar Seri Begawan

This area of the world is famous for what are called water-villages and Brunei is home to some large water communities. A serious issue with these villages is sanitation where waste is simply flushed into the sea. To fix this problem the Sultan has been building new, modern water-villages with proper plumbing and has systematically been relocating his people into these new facilities. Generally, the people love and support their Sultan and he invests heavily to provide for his people.

 

A conversation overheard on a bus in Brunei:

  • Canadian tourist – What form of government do you have here in Brunei?
  • Local young man – We have the Sultan and the Legislative Council.
  • Canadian tourist – So the Sultan is the head of government?
  • Local young man – Yes, he takes the role of Prime Minister
  • Canadian – How often do you have elections and are there a number of political parties?
  • Local young man – Oh, we don’t have parties or elections. The Sultan appoints each member of the council.
  • Canadian tourist– Does that much power concern you? Don’t you fear corruption?
  • Local young man – No. The Sultan would remove anyone that was corrupt.
  • Canadian tourist – But don’t the people want a say in what the country does?
  • Local young man – Why? We have the Sultan. He takes very good care of us…

 

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A Day In Brunei

Royal Palace and new Water village

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Brunei is beautiful and modern. This is a small country (Sultanate) located on the north coast of Borneo and fueled by energy – oil (black gold) and natural gas. Bandar Seri Begawan, is the capital of the Sultanate of Brunei. It is also the location of the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. The mosque is considered one of the most beautiful in the Asia-Pacific region. It is a place of worship, a major historical site and the most famous tourist attraction of the country.

A conversation overheard on a bus in Brunei:

  • Canadian tourist – What form of government do you have here in Brunei?
  • Local young man – We have the Sultan and the Legislative Council.
  • Canadian tourist – So the Sultan is the head of government?
  • Local young man – Yes, he takes the role of Prime Minister
  • Canadian – How often do you have elections and are there a number of political parties?
  • Local young man – Oh, we don’t have parties or elections. The Sultan appoints each member of the council.
  • Canadian tourist– Does that much power concern you? Don’t you fear corruption?
  • Local young man – No. The Sultan would remove anyone that was corrupt.
  • Canadian tourist – But don’t the people want a say in what the country does?
  • Local young man – Why? We have the Sultan. He takes very good care of us…
Bandar Seri Begawan Mall

What makes this thinking possible is an average per capita income of over US$40,000. The government makes sizable amounts of money from oil, which it solely controls, along with large investments from that oil money worldwide.

Kampon Ayer water village

The Sultan does take care of his people. At one time a part of housing in Bandar Seri Begawan was in ramshackle water villages. But those picturesque houses on stilts standing out over the water had major problems. Sanitation was a serious issue so the Sultan has been replacing them with new water villages with modern sewage treatment and solid supports. He has also been providing virtually everyone in Brunei with a free education, health care and a guaranteed job. Also attractive free public housing is popping up all around the country.

New water village housing

Walking around in Bandar Seri Begawan is a pleasure. It is very safe. The city has a lot to see and the people are friendly. Although Standard Malay is the official language, English is widely spoken and understood.

 

There is a modern open-air market where a large gang of monkeys hang out looking for treats. There is a garden called the Eco-Corridor and, of course, the Grand Mosque. There are also boat trips out to the water village, Kampon Ayer. The city architecture is modern and boasts a large shopping mall. Interestingly, the mall is the first place where we ran into a store dedicated completely to Lego figures – you can find the likes of Darth Vader standing next to Homer and Marge Simpson and others.

Cruising the South China Sea

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A First Visit to Southeast Asia

We spent all of February cruising with Celebrity’s Constellation in the South China Sea on back-to-back itineraries. We visited twelve ports with only one repeat (Ho Chi Min City). If you are going to fly twelve thousand miles you probably should make the most of the trip. We flew into Singapore and with the return for the second cruise and the extra day in port at the end we had five days to explore the city and all we could say was wow! The ship also spent two days in the port for Bangkok and we spent that night in a Bangkok hotel and booked a private tour (more about that at another time ;-).

Beyond the usual reasons for cruising there was an additional advantage on this trip. If you are not into a diet of noodles with dried fish flakes or hot curries, the ship gives you the opportunity to return to a Western style menu. The ship also takes care of visas and immigration ahead of each port.

Besides our time in Singapore our trip included four stops in Vietnam, Hong Kong, two stops in the Philippines which included Manila, two stops in Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Brunei and two stops in Thailand. We had an opportunity to see a lot as well as try a number of cuisines. Many of the destinations were studies in extreme contrasts but it was also obvious that things are greatly improving economically. It is also interesting to switch from Muslim to Buddhist to Western cultures as we went from one port to the next. On board there were a number of excellent in-depth lectures on the history and culture of the various countries which provided a good perspective on the ways the region developed.

Over the last number of years we have found cruising gives us an opportunity to sample a number of places and than we decide where we want to come back to for extended stays. Southeast Asia is no exception to this and we certainly have a few we will add to our return list.


Phone Service: We were traveling on this trip with an iPhone 5 on Verizon service ($80 for 250 international minutes)and with a Blu 5.5 phone with a prepaid international plan from One Sim Card service. Vietnam and Brunei were not part of the Verizon international service so we switched use to OneSimCard. Phone calls with Verizon worked well everywhere else but there were problems getting text messages out on a few days. The only reliable data that we found on the Verizon service was in Singapore (didn’t attempt in Hong Kong) most other places indicated “Data Service Failed”. The One Sim Card service worked as expected except in Vietnam. There we connected with the recommended service provider (Viettel) but instead of text messages costing the expected 25¢ they were charged at a couple of dollars. One Sim Card did send a text message warning of high costs on this service recommending we switch networks, even though Viettel was their recommended provider.


In the near future look for posts covering each of these countries with pointers on must do things, food, transportation and hotels.