Nobody goes to Brunei. Why? Because there’s nothing to do there. In fact, in all of my 6 months throughout South East Asia, I only met one backpacker who had been. His opinion on the place? “There’s nothing to do in Brunei.” BUT me being the curious cat that I am (did I really just say that?), I decided to pay the place a visit.
Fresh out of the jungle (too fresh, I still had not showered), I took the first plane out of the Highlands and hopped straight onto the bus from Miri to Brunei.
Brunei was…different. It is a teeny tiny country in the middle of Borneo yet it is the fifth richest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita. They have oil. And they have money. Lots of it.
The place is run by a Sultan (legit. It was all very Aladdin-esque) and it is very, very Muslim. Alcohol is illegal (my liver sends its thanks), as is homosexuality and adultery. The punishment for such “sins”? Death by stoning (…). Oh, and women must, at all times, keep covered. I had actually been pre-warned by my Miri taxi driver that my post-jungle outfit was indecent. He took one look at me and muttered, “They will not let you in the country dressed like that girly.” I guess the man is not a fan of rompers.
It took about 5 hours to get to my destination and I spent that time reading Lonely Planet. I learned that there was only one hostel in the entire country and the cheapest hotel was over 6x my budget. Le. Sigh.
Lucky for me, the two other foreigners on the bus (a rather strange Belgian couple) decided to befriend the lone white girl (that’s me) and offered to split a cab from the bus stop to the country’s singular hostel when we arrived that evening. They knew the address. We were set.
Unfortunately, catching a cab was easier said than done. Apparently Brunei only has plus or minus 40 cabs for the entire country and 0/40 of them hang out near the bus stop. We wandered for awhile, pondering what to do when some guy in a mini van pulled up asking us if we needed a ride. All public service commercials from my childhood taught me not to trust strangers (especially strangers in vans), but I figured I had my Belgian couple for backup if things went awry so we hopped in.
The van was full of mannequins (no comment) and the driver was just a bit too eager but he WAS super friendly so we decided he was trustworthy. As it turned out, the youth hostel was closed. Now, I would rather sleep on a park bench than spend $60 for one night’s accommodation so when Mr. Minivan offered us his place for the night (for free) we hesitantly agreed. Was this too good to be true? Maybe. But Lonely Planet told me that Bruneians are a friendly bunch and Mr. Minivan had confirmed his place did, in fact, have a shower so I was sold.
Mr. Minivan’s place was fairly close and turned out to be a 3 bedroom apartment that he rented to a bunch of Filipinos. He, himself, did not actually live there. He showed us to our room (a teeny tiny bedroom with one lone mattress on the floor and a broken fan in the corner), gave us a key, and told us to lock up after we left in the morning.
The night in the apartment was…trying. Three of us shared the mattress on the floor, the number of Filipinos coming and going was alarming, and the shower turned out to be a knee level tap and a bucket (I would like to remind you that I had not showered in 7 days and was still jungle fresh. I needed a lot more than a bucket).
To top off the evening, after venturing out to drop off my leech-filled laundry, I had some Bruneian guy follow me home whilst “pleasuring” himself. Great night.
BUT ANYWAY. Let’s talk about Bruneian tourist attractions.
There is a jungle, two museums, three mosques, a stilt water village and some fancy hotel. That’s about it. For the entire country.
I immediately ruled out the jungle because, well, I was kind of over jungles at this point and it required you to take a supremely overpriced tour. Instead I started with the museums which turned out to be just one museum since the other was closed for reno’s. The museum was actually really good, displaying all of the Sultan’s royal regalia and other items demonstrating the country’s excessive wealth but I was in and out in under an hour. I needed more to do.
I decided to head to the mosques. I’d read the interiors were beautiful. Except I would never see said interiors because it was Friday and women aren’t allowed in mosques on Friday’s (go figure). You know what else happens on Friday’s? The entire country shuts down. Literally. From 12 to 2 p.m. every. single. thing. in the country shuts down. Businesses, buses, everything. Women go home and men go to mosque.
It’s a very bizarre situation when you aren’t pre-aware of it. I was kicked out of my restaurant mid-lunch, Islamic chanting started playing over a loudspeaker heard across the country, and herds (literally herds) of men pooled into the street on their way to say their prayers, all staring at the idiotic white girl standing all confused on the sidewalk. I really need to start researching these things beforehand.
For two hours, I had nothing to do. I sat on a bench and stared at the waterfront. For two hours. At precisely 2 pm I hired a boat to take me to the water village, which is the world’s largest village on stilts. It was neat, though pretty run down (especially in comparison to anything to do with the Sultan), and I had seen it all in half an hour.
I was bored. Again. I decided to check out the famed Empire Hotel. It was as extravagant as advertised but so not worth the effort. I spent an hour on a bus to get there and was misinformed about returning bus times so had to fork over the cash for a taxi ride back.
Overall, Brunei was supremely boring. While I spent only one day, a day was still too much. You can do the country in a few hours. I am glad that I went because the whole Aladdin thing it has going on was fascinating but in all honesty…
There’s nothing to do in Brunei.