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September 2, 2015

Exploring Brunei to Renew Visas

Tom McLaughlin

Brunei – This is the richest country on the planet. Oil and gas gush from its pores. The nation has no income tax, everybody has free health care and education.


There are three regiments of British troops, paid for by the Sultan for defense. Sharia law is now the law of the land. You need four trusted people to receive the death penalty of stoning for adultery or sodomy. I have always wondered where you find four people to watch you while you committed adultery or sodomy. Maybe in a tent in 6th Century Arabia yes, but in modern times? I doubt it.


We crossed the border into the country on a visa run. A visa run is where I have to leave Malaysia every three months and go to another country. Then you re-enter the country for another three months. I know it sounds absurd, but that's the way things are done in most nations. I have been doing it for seven years. Suriani, Dzul and I usually travel locally during this period seeing the wonderful sights of Indonesia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. We haven't run out of places yet. This was our first trip to Brunei, although it is the closest exit point.


I had made reservations at hotel in Bandar Seri Begannan, the capital. I knew it would be expensive, but it turned out to be only about $140 a day, well beyond my budget, but I thought a nice abode would be good for the soul. I usually book through and receive a good discount and a free night after 10 stays.


We decided to take the bus from Malaysia to Brunei via Miri. We had to fly to Miri where we found four bookstores to take on my book "Borneo Boys." This was a pleasant surprise because it usually took four or five visits to a store before we were even considered. We had placed the books on a bus to avoid the costly air travel. We placed 150 books in each of the stores.


We crossed the border and I half expected the highway to be made of gold, the houses of silver and all Rolls Royce cars. That was not the case. It was an extension of Malaysia except the houses were well built, not the shoddy new shacks that they are building in Kuching. The cars were the same as old Toyotas and other brands seen everywhere.


After a four-hour drive, stopping at every small town along the way, we arrived at the Radisson Hotel in the capitol. It was small place and the desk clerk placed us in a small room with a double bed. This was the first double bed we have seen since all hotels were either queen or king. With Dzul along, we all could not squeeze into one and we were promptly moved.


The capital was also very small. We explored the Mosque which was built in 1958 and had a dome of solid gold. The tops of the minarets were also covered in this precious metal. It was absolutely stunning to see the setting sun reflect off of this edifice.


Kampong Ayer (water village) was also maintained. It was on stilts above the bay and had modern housing, coupled with old houses for a tourist attraction. The houses (except for the new ones) dated back to the early days of the 1300s.


There was a parliament which was a cross between the Lincoln Memorial with a dome on top and painted blue and white. It also had wings attached to it in the same motif. It was huge for such a small country.


We visited a professor at the Historical Center and tried to explain the tombstone we had found in Lidah Tannah. We had forgotten to bring pictures, so our pantomime antics probably confused him even more. We will e-mail him a picture.


We hopped on a bus after two days and proceeded back to Miri and then a flight back to Kuching, which was less than an hour, but 14 hours by car.


...Life is good. . . . .


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