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Brunei: First Impressions

Without any sleep and with tequila in my veins, I stepped out of the plane and met the glaring sun. It was a sunshiny Sunday when I first set foot in this little country located southwest of the Philippines. 

It took around 30 minutes to get from the aiport to the hotel and the ride reminded me of the trip from KLIA to Kuala Lumpur with long freeways eventually leading to the bustling city. The difference was that the long freeways ended in Bandar Seri Begawan, a city that was the complete opposite of bustling... it was calm and quiet, not a single street looked busy.

I could see the sky in all its blueness, without obstructions. The absence of skyscrapers make it extremely lovely to look at the vast horizon. A few minutes after arriving at the hotel, a colleague invited me for a trip to Muara beach. The bed was very tempting, but between sleeping and going to the beach, I knew sleeping could wait. ;)

The group went to Muara Beach, an hour's drive from BSB, located at the eastern tip of Brunei facing the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea, depends on which country you stand for). The beach is a kilometer-long stretch of light brown sand lined with pine trees on the beach front. Located a few meters away are cottages and grilling areas, pavements for walking, jogging, biking, and skateboarding, a playground for children, and an area for beach volleyball. The best thing about this is that everything can be used for free!

We spent the entire afternoon grilling chicken, hotdogs, fish, and shrimp. After hours in front of the grill, I now believe that barbecuing is a skill and unfortunately, it seems that none of us mastered the art ;) It took a couple of hours for the food to cook and by the time we sat down to eat, we were exhausted. Next time we go 'barbecuing', let's bring cooked food and reheat it on the grill!

On my way back to the hotel I got to see more of the city that I shall call home in the next couple of days. The thoughts running in my mind were "Old rich" and "Hello 80's!". The mall I went to resembled Isetann Recto except that it had Audis and Mini Coopers parked outside. 

At 7 PM, I walked from the mall back to the hotel for 10 minutes and I did not come across a single soul walking on the street. Walking at night is safe as I've read in forums, it just weirdly felt like walking in a ghost town (except for the cars). Public transportation is sporadic and even taxis are hard to find. Everybody is on the road, driving. I'm actually starting to feel that maybe I should really learn how to drive?

In the 2-days that I have spent here, I realized that Brunei is not for people-watching (there is no one to watch) and definitely not for partying (with alcohol). This place is perfect for shutting up and listening to the world, and for immersing in the quietness that you most often seek for when you're in a busy city. In the next few days, these are exactly the things that I will do. It will probably take some time to settle and get used to this unhurried lifestyle. I have yet to come up with an itinerary for the weekend but first I will probably have to ask someone to agree to drive and take me around. 

Lastly, Brunei seems like a perfect rehab/exile for alcoholics and partyphiles. This country still has a few days left to prove me otherwise. ;) Oh, and I hope to see the Sultan strolling around in one of his 7000-cars collection.

Have you been to Brunei? How was your experience?


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