Saturday, May 17, 2008

Thursday 15th May - Last Day :o(

Paid a last visit to Bandar this morning, just to check I hadn't missed any shops or photo opportunities!

Steve stopped in a barbers to get his hair cut. As part of the service they give you a massage, which includes pulling your fingers to make them 'crack' - yuk! And all for B$4 (£1.50)

Also had a last swim at the RBRC. I thought I would try to spend half an hour in the sun, just to get the tan (or what there was of it) topped up. I laid there for about 15 minutes, and just as I was thinking it was getting too hot, the sun came out!! I thought I was going to fry to a crisp, it was so hot! I made a run for the shade and gave up on the tan.

All too soon, it was time to go to the airport. I've had a wonderful time in Brunei, and hope to be able to visit again. The country and its people are very peaceful and gentle, and I've never had such a relaxing time. I was very sad to leave, but take some great memories with me. Thank you Brunei (and Steve, of course!!)

Wednesday 14th May - Recovering

I woke up expecting to be aching all over today after yesterday's exertions, but felt suprisingly OK. Even so, we decided to take it easy - after all, we deserved a rest!!

We went to have a look at Muara beach. Another beautiful beach, but as with all the other beaches, it was deserted, but this appeared to be more family friendly as there is a park behind it with picnic facilities, and there appeared to be some improvements going on as well.

Steve decided to try his hand at fishing again, and as the spot we went to before, at Kota Batu, was so lovely we went back there again. Unfortunately Steve didn't manage to catch anything (again!) There were a lot of helicopters flying around, and we wondered if they were searching for someone, but we later found out it was all part of an army exercise for the Prince of Jordan who was visiting Brunei for a few days.

As the day went on, I could feel my calf muscles seizing up, and by the end of the day, I could hardly walk downstairs - and I thought I'd got away with it, no such luck!

We popped into Gadong in the evening, and before visiting the market for our dinner, we stopped in a coffee bar - big mistake! While we were in there, it absolutely poured with rain, so we were facing the prospect of yet another visit to the market in the rain!

When we got there, most of the stalls were packing up, but we still managed to find something delicious to take home!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tuesday 13th May - Rainforest Adventure!

An early start today as we had to pick up the river bus (known locally as 'flying coffins'!) at 8.00 in Bandar. They really do fly as well, although the morning journey was pretty sedate compared to the return journey in the evening - more of that later. The trip to Bangar, in the Temburong District, takes about 45 minutes and for most of the journey you are travelling through the mangroves, with nothing to see but wildness! The journey takes you down the Brunei River, across Brunei Bay then up the Temburong River. The only way to get to the Temburong district, is by boat, via Brunei Bay, or by car, via Malaysia. The National Park, where we were going, is only accessibly by river.

We were met at Bangar by David, our tour guide, and were taken by minibus to a guest house near Batang Duri for breakfast (spring rolls, banana fritters and hot chocolate for me - heaven knows why I wanted hot chocolate in that weather) and to collect our life jackets for the next leg of our journey. We got back in the minibus and headed off to where we would pick up the longboat (Temaui) to take us further up the Temburong River, stopping to pick up our lunch at a local school on the way.

The longboat holds about 6 or 7 people and is a bit like an overgrown canoe, with an engine on. Getting in was a bit of an art as they wobble from side to side a lot!! They go pretty fast, when the river allows, and the driver must know the river like the back of his hand as it seemed quite shallow in places (David was helping us along every now and again using a big stick!) and at times we seemed to be squeezing in between rocks and old tree trunks that were sticking out of the river. The scenery was absolutely amazing, just trees and plants reaching up high on both sides of the river. We also saw a hornbill flying way up above us. After about 45 minutes we stopped at the National Park Information Centre - a lovely wooden building - to register, then had to get back in the longboat (oh joy, more wobbling!) for the 2 minute journey to the staffhouse, which is at the place where the Temburong and Belalong Rivers meet.
We had a couple of minutes to gather our thoughts, and grab some water, and then it was into the jungle. The first part of the journey takes you up about 50 steps, then onto a swaying rope bridge over the river, which was a bit scary. You then have to go up another 970 steps to get to the canopy walkway. We stopped at various points along the way and David was telling us about the trees and plants, and we saw some termites nests and a couple of lizards as well. I was pretty relieved each time we stopped as I found the climb really hard work in the heat and humidity, and being unfit didn't help much either. I've never sweated so much in my life, and thought I was going to be sick a couple of times too!

We made it up the 1200 steps (Steve did it without any problem - like a gazelle!!) only to be faced with the climb up to the canopy walkway. It's 40 metres up, above the trees, and to get to it, you have to climb up what looks like a scaffold tower. There was no way on earth I could get up there - even if I hadn't done the previous marathon up all those steps - I really don't like heights!! Steve was happy to go up and took my camera with him to get some great photos, while I sat in the shade and got some energy back for the walk down.

The walk back was much, much easier and we got to the staff house to be greeted by lunch - various curries and rice. I hadn't realised how hungry I was and the meal was delicious! We had a wander around and David pointed out a chilli plant (Steve picked one and I licked it briefly - it was the hottest chilli I'd ever tasted!!) and a papaya tree.
David is an Iban, which is Bruneian who isn't a muslim. They appear to be very superstitious people - he was talking about food that he eats and said he wouldn't eat crocodile, because they believe when old people die, they turn into crocodiles. They also don't eat monkeys, because they believe that if you eat one, your children (or future generations) will be ill.

We then set off down the river in the longboat, back to the minibus. We stopped at a small zoo with with some very unusual animals. One of them was a binturun, which is a sort of cross between a bear and a cat. David told us that it was related to a tiger, and it would kill you, but even if you shot it, it wouldn't die - another Iban superstition presumably!

There are deer running around in a large field, and every year on his birthday in July, the Sultan comes to kill 2 of them. A lot of the cages were much too small for the animals, especially the birds, and it was particularly upsetting to see eagle owls and hornbills in small cages.

After the zoo we stopped at an Iban Longhouse. The house has a long veranda type area with doors leading off it to the living quarters for each of the families living there. The veranda is the communal area where the families sit, although they own TVs etc. Hanging from the ceiling of the veranda were 2 babies, in cloth 'hammocks' attached to the ceiling by a stretchy cord. They looked very comfortable!!

We then went back to Bangar in the minibus, to wait for our river bus. The driver of the bus was obviously in a hurry to get home as we flew along. The boat was really leaning over as he turned round some very sharp bends - he obviously knew what he was doing as we made it back in one piece.

The first thing we did when we got back to the apartment (after putting the air conditioning on to its lowest temperature) was to have a lovely cool shower - probably the most welcome one I've ever had!

It was a fantastic day, and extremely tiring, but we had just about enough energy to visit the market at Gadong for some takeaway food!

Monday 12th May - A Quiet Day

We had a quiet day today, going to Bandar in the morning to book our trip to Ulu Temburong, and having the usual coffee, then swimming at the RBRC.

We wanted to save some energy for the trip into the jungle!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sunday 11th May - Wild Weather

We had decided to get up early and go for a swim at either Muara or Meragang beach. Unfortunately Steve couldn't get the car out, thanks to some dodgy parking by one of his neighbours. Luckily a while later someome else moved their car and we were able to get on our way. Muara was pretty busy as it was Sunday, so we tried Meragang beach instead. The sea was pretty rough, but we still went in for a refreshing dip.

After a shower, we drove into Bandar for a coffee, then tried to find the Sultan's Mausoleum as we'd read about in in a book we'd bought. We found it down a quiet road, in a tranquil settng next to the Brunei river. We didn't go in as we weren't sure if we were allowed to, but we were pleased we'd seen it.

We drove up to the Sultan's palace, to see if we could get a good photo of it, but the best we could manage was one of the entrance - better than nothing though.

The next stop was the Jame'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque, which is the most beautiful mosque I've ever seen, and the biggest in Brunei. It is covered in tiles and has 29 golden domes, and is set in lovely gardens.

I'd wanted to visit Jerudong Park, as the guide books said it was a 'must see' but Steve had heard it was deserted. I wanted to make my own mind up about it, so off we went. When we arrived, we took a wrong turn and ended up at the Jerudong Park Polo fields. Alongside the road in fenced off paddocks were at least 100 polo ponies (presumably the Sultan's). They were magnificent looking animals, and probably worth a fortune. There didn't appear to be any security, but who would steal one of the Sultan's ponies anyway? We eventually found our way to the Park and it was almost completely deserted. It was very sad to see all the empty rides. Apparently it used to be busy when it was free to get in, but once they started charging an entry fee (B$5 per person, less than £2) the Bruneians stopped going.

Rather than go in, we decided to pay another visit to the Empire Hotel & Country Club. While we were sitting in the lounge with our mocktails, we could see very black clouds in the distance. They were heading our way and getting nearer and nearer. Suddenly the wind started howling - the trees were swaying like mad. It looked pretty scary, but we were nice and cosy in our seats overlooking the 8 storey high windows, thankful that we'd made the decision not to go into Jerudong Park! The rain started lashing down as well - I've never seen anything like it! It calmed down after about 30 minutes and we made a run for the car, but we still got soaked

On the way back, we saw the market at Gadong was on again, so paid it another wet, rainy visit to get a takeaway for our dinner.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Saturday 10th May - Gone Fishing

We drove into Bandar this morning to visit the Chinese Taoist Temple - it looks quite out of place, surrounded by modern buildings. We then walked through the riverside market, which was mainly food, and full of many different smells - some nicer than others!

We walked from the market to the Royal Regalia Museum, most of the exhibits being gifts given to the Sultan by the people of Brunei, and from other countries. On display was the chariot used to carry the Sultan during his Silver Jubilee celebrations along with models of the 64 guards who carried it (well pushed it along, as it is on wheels) It must have been a fantastic sight.

After a coffee in DeRoyalle, we went back to the apartment to pick up Steve's fishing gear, then drove to Kota Batu. There are wooden jetties leading to little shelters overlooking Brunei Bay. The view was lovely, but the sky was black and we were sure we would get soaked. We could see the rain heading towards us down river, but luckily it stayed on the opposite side to us. Unfortunately Steve didn't catch any fish, although one or two ate the prawns he was using as bait!

Before going back home we stopped in Bandar for coffee and to have a look in a few shops - I bought some beads - as well as the 24 hour street market that's on every Saturday.

Friday 9th May - Massage, Malaysia and Market

I left early for my pampering session at the Empire. The session started with my feet being soaked in a bowl of warm water, and I was then taken into the changing room and given a robe, slippers and a very small pair of disposable knickers to change into! The second part of the session consisted of a massage with what felt like sand, but which was actually coconut flakes and salt in oil. I then had a shower - my skin felt lovely and soft. I was looking forward to a lovely gentle massage to end the session. Gentle???!!!!! She must have had thumbs of steel! She dug her thumbs into places I never knew I had! She started with my back, then my left arm and leg, and then right leg and arm. When she dug into my right calf, I nearly shot off the bed! Even though it was a hard massage, and pretty uncomfortable at times, once she'd finished, I felt very relaxed, and I was surprised to find I'd been there over 2 hours - the time had flown by. A very well spent B$230 (about £85)

Steve picked me up and set off to Kuala Lurah to pop over the border to Malaysia. We decided to walk over the border, as there was a lot of traffic. Apparently a lot of Bruneians go across the border on Fridays for a boozing session! The whole experience was very different from the civilised border crossing at Kuala Belait - this was completely mad!! Immediately after the border, there are loads of macan (food) stalls lining the street. There is smoke pouring from their barbecues, which smells lovely, but they all sell the same thing - skewered chicken wing, each skewer holding one very stretched wing, skewered chickens bums(!), fish cakes and very dodgy looking sausages - needless to say, we didn't try any of them!

We stopped for a couple of beers and just sat taking in the atmoshphere, before heading back to Brunei with some more beer.

We decided to go to Bandar for a walk, stopping in the DeRoyalle coffee bar. This is one of two 24 hour coffee bars in Bandar, and is full of character and very friendly. The whole city was very quiet though, bearing in mind it was Friday night.

There was a lot of lightning as we set off back home, and the guy on the radio said it was raining hard in the city - well not where we were, it wasn't!! No sooner had we heard that, than the heavens opened! Suddenly we spotted a big market as we passed Gadong, but couldn't get to it from the road we were on. After much searching in the torrential rain, we finally found a way to get to it - and it seemed half the population of Brunei had the same idea - so that's where they all spent their Friday nights! Most of the stalls were macan stalls and the smell was mouth-wateringly gorgeous. It was still raining, and we got soaked, but it didn't matter. We bought a parcel of rice with sauce and onions on top, wrapped up in a banana leaf - yum! We had a wander round and decided to get some food to take home. We bought 4 large vegetable rolls, 5 banana fritters, 7 prawn balls, and 2 different types of fried noodles, all for $6 - just over £2. There was more than enough for the 2 of us, and it was delicious!