So there we were…staring at billboards all over town with the face of the Sultan of Brunei, one of the world’s richest men.
It felt strange arriving at the airport in Kuching instead of going to the bus station, but in Borneo flights end up costing about the same as bus transport. We took a plane further north to the town of Miri, located just south of the country of Brunei. From Miri, we had hoped to be able to visit Mulu National Park and do some hiking, but due to us not pre-planning the trip, accommodation at the park was full and we were not able to go. Instead we decided to just head further up through Brunei and continue on to the northern section of Borneo.
Brunei is a small country squeezed into the western coast of Borneo. Rich with money from the oil in the country, the Sultan of Brunei was named the richest man in the world in 1997 with a net worth of $38 Billion. It is a very muslim society with a very conservation population. The capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan is the only place we visited and we spent a day walking through its clean, but scorching hot, streets. To get a break from the sun, we visited one of the Sultan’s (air-conditioned) museums where he houses a collection of personal gifts from leaders of other countries from around the world. After that, down on the river front, we hired a boat to take us through some of the floating villages surrounding the city. Expecting Brunei to have a high standard of living for most of its residents, we were surprised to see so many shacks built along the water front on stilts over the water. These families have created their own community with floating schools and even a fire station armed with fire boats instead of trucks. It is easy to notice how even though the country is rich with wealth, that money is not always filtering back down to its people.
With not much else to do in the city, we only spent one day in Brunei and then continued north back into Malaysia. The best way to leave Brunei is by boat to Pulau Labuan. They call Labuan the Vegas of Borneo, armed with casinos and duty free shopping, but we didn’t see any casinos the whole time we were there. We did take advantage of the duty free shopping though. Liquor and beer were extremely cheap on the island so we didn’t mind spending a few days enjoying ourselves with some drinks at night around the food markets. We also both picked up a bottle of liquor, Jack Daniel’s for Jason and Absolute Mango for Becky, both cheaper than we could buy them in the US!
Finally, after several days, we made our way to Kota Kinabalu, Borneo’s “capital” city. Now in the northern, or Sabah, section, we tried to make a plan for the remaining weeks left in the country. First on our agenda was a trip to climb Mt. Kinabalu, Asia’s largest mountain. But before heading to the mountain, we decided to take a day trip to Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TARP), a small island off the coast of KK to do some more diving. We had been quite spoiled diving in Indonesia where all the sites we visited had beautiful coral and big fish. The diving at TARP was not quite the same with a lot of dead coral and hardly any big fish at all, but the islands above water were picture perfect, which was a wonderful way to spend some time during our breaks between dives. Coming back to KK, we made plans to head to the mountain and took off the following day to see what we could arrange.
- Getting some bottles of liquor duty-free for ridiculously low prices
- Even though we were only there a day, checking out the small country of Brunei. A gallon of gasoline goes for $0.40 – $0.50 per gallon there!
- Not being able to go hiking in Mulu National Park since we didn’t plan ahead
- Having some boring days of travel up to KK with not many things to see along the way