Beautiful, but which way is up?
Yup, I officially have a cold. Ugh! When the alarm went off I was buried up to my eye balls in the fluffy duvet, warm and cozy. I was trying to stuff the same duvet into my carry on about 30 minutes later ….. James caught me. I don’t think it was so much the stealing it as the carrying it that bothered him. Oh well. We grabbed a quick breakfast before getting into our pre-booked cab to the jetty – that of course headed off in the opposite direction to the airport.
Now that we are comfortably settled (like sardines crammed in a tin can) onto our ferry boat I am supposed to be blogging, I promised Jude I’d to try to post more often, but can’t – just can’t. I can’t tear my eyes off the hair band karaoke video playing and stop giggling at James repeating the lyrics, “outside the gates of heaven lives a unicorn”…”Our love will never die or a little cloud will cry”. Oh yeah, that’s the stuff. Should be a fun 3.5 hours. Lol
A few minutes into the ride I had to get my puke bag out. I don’t get sea sick but am very sensitive to smells and the boat smells horribly like diesel fuel. James has fallen into a dead sleep; he does get sea sick and on purpose stayed up late so he’d sleep through most of the day. I’m worried I might puke on the computer……
I now must interrupt the blogging in progress – I half dozed through the movie that came on after karaoke and woke up fully for the second movie. Titanic 2! Really? On a rolling, bouncing, older than a Myanmar bus, ferry boat you play a movie about sinking?!?
We had to transfer and do immigration in Palau Labuan before catching another ferry for a short trip to Brunei. We were both able to let our stomachs settle, eat last night’s left over pizza and buy duty free wine and chocolate.
Sunset at the mosque
On the second ferry a lady approached us about getting into town from the ferry port. We mentioned we planned on catching a bus and she explained she lived in Brunei and thought the public bus system was unpredictable and would we like a ride? Ahhh yeah! As it turned out she was amazingly friendly. It is honestly people like this who reassure my faith in mankind. I think James and I are friendly like this (we’ve both separately and together helped people with rides, directions, places to stay etc.) so when we come across it lessens the bad feelings we have towards scammers. She was on a three year contract at the University in Brunei and her sister was a teacher from the US visiting on her summer holidays. She agreed that the Youth Hostel was the cheapest but it was a first come – first get – if there is anyone at the desk kind of place so she insisted on stopping at the two reasonable priced hotels so I could jump out and get prices. She also gave us a quick run down on the city and suggested a few places we should see. She eventually dropped us at the Youth Hostel, wow what a treat!
We had heard good things about the Youth Hostel but I was a bit sceptical. As it turned out it was fairly clean and, although it had a funky smell, to our surprise they gave us a room to ourselves. Usually they only have separate male and female dorms which we don’t like but at $15 /night compared to the next best priced hotel of $65 / night we’d make due. I felt sick and tired anyways, so who really cared as long as I had a bed. The Youth Hostel also had a huge, sparkling clean pool that was only $0.80 per person to use. A great deal!
We dropped our bags and I resisted the temptation to crawl into my bunk and followed James on a walk of the city. How cute! Brunei is very tiny, and the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan (where we were) is even tinier. Brunei is a tiny oil rich country with a total population of about 258,000. It is a definitely a Muslim country, but very laid back and friendly to visitors of all nationalities. It was clear as soon as we stepped off the ferry that Brunei has money, the country seemed cleaner than it Malaysian neighbour and the residents dressed just a little better.
We walked toward the waterfront and slowly made our way along the shore and to one of the many villages on stilts. It was sad to see. A few hundred feet away was a huge beautiful mall filled with designer shops, a gorgeous mosque, fancy hotels….and then the wooded shacks on stilts over the very dirty water. From what I understand most of the less fortunate in Brunei are the immigrants’ workers from Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia. There was clearly an upper class and a lower class here.
We walked toward the mosque (with a stop in the grocery store that seemed to cater to the many expats in the area, whoo hooo!) and sat and watched the sun set behind it. Absolutely beautiful.
The Youth Hostel didn’t include anything so we went to the Coffee Bean for tea and the free wifi. Even the steep price of tea for internet made the Youth Hostel worth it, not to mention the place had big comfy chairs – something I miss by not having a home. James sat and looked up travel stuff while I sat, sniffled and sipped tea. Being sick sucks!
James let me sleep in today, lol. We didn’t have much on the list to do. We had one last big invoice to pay and then we were going to visit the famous Empire Hotel. The invoice never got paid (after 6 different banks we gave up, we think there is a law in Brunei that you can’t do money transfers if you don’t have an account at the bank) but we eventually found the bus to the Empire Hotel.
Hotels aren’t usually on our list of sights to see but the story behind this one had us curious – oh and the high tea served in the afternoons. I have never been to high tea and thought I’d like a snack of nothing but sweets. The Empire Hotel is built on the same scale as a Las Vegas Hotel and was commissioned by Prince Jefri as lodging for his guests of the royal family. Prince Jefri was the ultimate bored little rich boy. He was appointed finance minister and by the time he was cut off had spent almost US$4 billion on himself (on top of his billions spent for the Amedo Develoment Corporation) , with personal possessions including 2000 cars, nine private jets, lavish residences and famous gold-plated toilet brushes. He now lives in London with his five wives and 35 children barely able to survive on his US$5000,000-a-year allowance. During his time as finance minister some US$16 billion went, and still is, missing. They are still trying to recoup some of his spending which is why the Empire hotel is now open for business.
Our local bus pulled up to a very elaborate entrance full of attendants in fancy uniforms and even fancier cars. Walking inside we wondered if our cleanest shirts and my skirt were going to cut it. It was quite striking. The lobby very ornate and rich looking and the front of the main building was about eight stories high and looked out to the ocean. Very impressive to say the least. We headed out back to see the sand pools I’d read about and were again shocked at the “over the top” everything. A few pools, 2 of which were sand bottomed, a juice bar, restaurants and an activity area complete with bikes and kayaks (for the pool – the pools were that big). Branching out on both sides from the main building were wings four stories high of meeting rooms, banquet rooms and hotel rooms. This place was huge. There were also a few beaches, nature trails, a cinema and a BMW dealership. It turned our stomachs to think one spoiled guy built this without any thought to the expense.
Once we picked our jaws up off the ground we went to the main lobby for high tea. There was an Arms Show going on and the place was packed with men in uniforms, not nearly as exciting as it sounds, they were all there to buy weapons of mass destruction. We spent an hour or so sipping tea and taking advantage of the breath taking views of the sea.
A few minutes before our bus was due we went out to the front again where a very snooty attendant in a fancy skirt looked down his nose at James and asked “Are you waiting for the bus?” Heheheheh. We plunked down on the expensive leather loungers and waited.
|Empire Hotel, High Tea and can you see me? |
We ended the night back at the Coffee Bean with more tea and free wifi.
Another sunset at the mosque
I slept in a bit today seeing as though I am still fighting this cold. Ugh! Then went for a quick swim in the beautiful pool before leaving for our bus. We stopped at the cyber café at the Youth Centre and James went in to print something and I waited with the bags. Some man walked up and sat beside me trying to pretend to be friendly but clearly wanted to sell me something. I was grumpy as can be and wanted none of it. He was soooo nosey. Where was I going? How was I getting there? How much did I pay? Kuching, bus, don’t know my husband booked while I was dying of this cold. So you are not alone? Where did you book it? And he went on….until finally he said he drove to Miri (where we catch the connecting bus to Kuching) and he only charged double the price (I really knew how much James paid) but he wasn’t going today. I took a deep breath…..so he finally asked “Has your husband discussed your plans with anyone?” Huh? WTF? Discussion? For taking the bus? And we are clearly leaving today – do see the stack of bags taller then you?. He then got so pissed at me and completely told me off, explaining I should have told him we had already booked. I very quickly recapped the conversation which seemed to piss him off even more. Just as I watched him turn the corner leaving James walked out. He hesitated a little at the scowl on my face. Yikes! Where oh where is my friendly teacher lady from the other day?
James made it safely onto the bus, which was almost empty so we each got our own set of seats. Perfect, my luck was changing already. We had a smooth border crossing and only arrived in Miri a few hours late but just in time to pee, grab a drink and hop on the overnight bus to Kuching. The last place I wanted to be was on the bumpiest bus ever with a cold but at least I wasn’t ruining any great plans or missing anything amazing. Again the bus was almost empty so I blew up my travel pillow and curled up in a set of seats and slept a bit, to be honest likely as much as I would have got in a bed and being sick.