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Brunei, the Abode of Peace ... shouldn't all country names be this serene?

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei


(Katie)

While making our way up the northeast coast of Borneo, Michael, James, Sebastian and I decided to make a two-day stop in Brunei. To be honest, we were as interested in the passport stamp as we were in any other aspect of this relatively-expensive, uber-moral country, but it turned out to be a really interesting, somewhat incongruous take on life in

Borneo and the benefits of oil.

Describing the Kingdom of Brunei requires a lot of superlatives. It's one of the planet's tiniest and richest countries, has (possibly) the most successful current monarchy and the longest currently-ruling dynasty, with a sultan who is one of the richest people in the world. His eleven-word title is also the longest title I've ever seen, and (total speculation here) he might hold some sort of world record for the number of times his picture can be viewed by one person standing in one place.

But, hey, if I lived in Brunei I'd be proud of him too. Every Brunesian gets free education, free medical care, low-interest loans, and lots of other perks like free access to sporting events and amusement parks. True, the Sultan has embarrassing amounts of money and all of these cost a pittance compared to what he gets from oil, but how many of the super-rich and powerful have used their money for such large-scale social improvement?

Unfortunately, with all the good comes suppression of freedoms and forced conformity, so I suppose their pride is actually a mixture of genuine admiration, naivety and fear of rocking the boat. There's always a downside, I suppose.

The four of us stayed in a youth hostel to save money, and unfortunately it was strictly separated by sex. That meant I had to stay in a 12 bed women's dorm room by myself while the guys stayed together. It seemed pretty funny to us to have a boys' side and a girls' side, like being back in school, but that's the way they do things. Alcohol is also illegal in the country. I suppose that's working out better there than it did in the US.

Anyway, we walked around the city, saw a beautiful mosque, had some great Indian food, took a boat tour of the floating villages on the edges of town, had some great satay, and went to a museum of all the opulent things foreign leaders have given the sultan as gifts. My personal favorites were the silver and gemstone bowls from Cambodia's king (a VERY poor country that really couldn't afford that sort of present) and two inlaid matching coffee tables with pictures of identical tigers made out of precious stones. Classy.

The kids at the floating village loved James' tatoos

On an unrelated note, here's a picture of one of the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen, taken in Miri, the city we stayed in just before going to Brunei. Enjoy!



permalink written by  katieandmichael on July 28, 2009 from Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
from the travel blog: Katie and Michael's Travel Blog
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Beautiful pictures! And great descriptions! Thanks! -from Mom & Dad in "the abode of Grapevine".

permalink written by  Mary Beth Barron on August 4, 2009

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