After obtaining written permission from customs to take our bottle of vodka in, we headed to Bandar, Brunei's capital city. Contemporary Bandar is an attractive, clean and modern waterfront city thanks to the wealth generated from the oil industry. The magnificent Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque dominates the skyline of Bandar and what is most surprising is the sense of space here which is a rare thing in comparison to other Asian cities we've seen so far.
Unfortunately, we just missed the two days a year the Sultan of Brunei opens the Astana Nural Iman, his official residential palace, during Hari Raya to the public. You can at all other times only see the palace partially from the water, but from quite a distance.
We got our glimpse of the palace during a late afternoon trip up the river to see their proboscis monkies, first passing the water village of Kempung Ayer. The village is made of wooden structures on stilts and is home to around 20 000 people. Much of Brunei is wealthy, and at first glance these seem to show the opposite end of the scale, until you notice the power and phone lines and the cable TV. Until you realise that their village actually has its own clinics, mosques, schools, and emergency services and piped clean water. Seems they are only here because they want to be, and have even turned down modern housing offers on dry land fro the government.
Our visit to the monkies was a strange one, the guides that took us seemingly having far more fun, and not exactly the professionals we thought we had paid for. We saw plenty of the monkies but again they were very shy, strange because they live so close to the humans here they are virtually touching one another.
After two days in Brunei, we had seen the sights, and so headed off to Miri in Sarawak.