I would say the most interesting thing we saw in Brunei was two lizards up against each other, their claws scraping aggressively against their opponent’s scales, drawing small drips of blood.
We watched them intently for a full five minutes, our eyes following the action apprehensively while the duo wrestled to and fro. Several times it seemed as if it was the end, as one lizard would lie in the mud, their body still, but then they would rise up again, attacking ferociously.
I was anxious to stay and watch the whole fight but my parents insisted on carrying on. I wonder who won the battle in the end.
That scene occured in a patch of littered muddy land. Nearby was a water village, Kampong Ayer, in which we spent hours roaming about the stilts, surveying the settlement built upon the river. It was interesting to see run down houses standing on stilts attached to the main passage with a thin plank.
The village was massive – we took some small speedboats to transport us from one part of Kampong Ayer to another. Many boats charged a ridiculous price, so we walked some more across the passages until we found a boat with a reasonable fee.
Kampong Ayer is referred to as the “Venice of the East”, which we found hard to believe, since, it was so far off from the real thing. Moreover, we soon came to visit many more impressive water villages in Southeast Asia. I could see, though, why the nickname, as it was a massive water village – actually more of a mini-city comprehensive of mosques; in its gold times it was the center of the Bruneien Empire and it was the first water village in Asia.
It was difficult to believe that Brunei is the 4th richest country in the world by GDP per capita ($79,530): everything looked so run down.
Well, almost everything. We took a trip to see Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, a towering gold-studded infrastructure surrounded by a moat, which, incidentally, was right by the water village and where we saw the two lizards fighting.
That, right there, the run-down water village, the opulent mosque and two lizards fighting in between exemplifies a lot of what Brunei is about. Later, I did some research and I found out that not much is known of its history.
Brunei traded with China during the 6th century, fell under Hinduism influence, and under the Sultan Bolkiah, Brunei was the most powerful. Then during the 16th century, the country was torn apart by internal strife, and throughout the 19th century the power of Brunei declined… but not its riches. Indeed, the sultan of Brunei has 500 Rolls-Royces, goes for $20,000 haircuts and lives in a 1,788-room palace. Oh yes, and he is the one who attempted to ban homosexuality by introducing stoning to death as punishment.
And if you thought this guy was eccentric, take a look at his brother. He spent more money than the sultan himself, purchasing a 180 feet yatch which he called Tits. He even had two lifeboats on the yatch called Nipple 1 and Nipple 2. Funnily enough he wasn’t just the sultan’s brother but also his financial advisor. After the sultan heard of how irresponsible his sibling was, he fired him and named himself his own financial advisor. Nice move.
Wet season was approaching fast which meant rain accompaning us most of the time. We went to visit Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, and as we arrived earlier than opening time we had to wait under a light but cold drizzle for half an hour. This mosque was grand, dominated by four tiled minarets. Built to celebrate the 25th year of the sultan, it was adorned with 29 golden domes to reflect the fact that he was Brunei’s 29th ruler. After walking around inside the beautiful mosque, we left to find that the light drizzle had turned into an aggressive torrent. There were no Grabs available but the caretaker of the mosque offered to give us a lift to our hotel. He even went out of his way to find an umbrella. As we cowered, one by one, under the driver’s umbrella on the way to the car, I was thinking that the locals in Brunei are actually really nice. Yes, that was also what Brunei is really about, which surprises me now given everything I read about it.
Talking of our accommodation – a hostel/Airbnb – it was a cute, comfortable place. It had a kitchen with a very vintage feel. 👌
We weren’t the only guests – an Italian couple was staying there too. They had just recently been to Myanmar and the enthusiastic description of their trip eventually had an impact on our future plans…
And that’s all I have to say. Aren’t you relieved? You better be 😐