No we didn’t meet the Sultan. But I guess we could have as I inadvertently timed our trip at the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Hari Raya festivities (the only time the Sultan opens up his palace to his subjects and visitors).
We did one better — we hung with a local family from Kuala Belait. Even for the geography buffs reading who can point out where Brunei is on the map and even its capital Bandar Seri Begawan, I bet you don’t know where we stayed.
When I first envisioned going to the island of Borneo, I didn’t give much thought to visiting the Sultanate of Brunei. I figured we’d stay in the Malaysian part of Borneo and simply fly over the small oil rich country of Brunei (which is surrounded by the Malaysian state of Sarawak) on our way to the Malaysian state of Sabah. As our plans evolved, and it turned out we were going to end up close to the border, I figured why not drive through, stop for a few days and let the kids get their passport stamped over 10 times as we navigated the border crossings between Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah. Confused? It’s complicated, but rather than waste valuable blog space, you can click here and all will be revealed.
Then a funny thing happened – we learned our new friends back home (who are watching our house while we are away) are from Brunei. Shout out to Percival, Lorena and family! They connected us with their close friends here, and as a result, we’ve just spent two fabulous days with the most wonderful and generous hosts you could ever be blessed to encounter. Yu Wen and his wife Mel basically dropped everything to not only shuttle five strangers around to see the sights of Brunei, but let them invade their home as well.
For me it was a welcome break from having to think and plan what to do and see, and how to get there. Cate, Cen and Meskie got to play with their four kids (7 children in one house!), jump on a trampoline, watch TV and even play Wii! We had a great time, and got a real inside view and perspective on Brunei that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
For the past two months our contact with other people, with the exception of our new Tasi friends, has been fleeting. We’ve been an island of five. It was so wonderful to truly connect, have in-depth conversations and spend time in a family home.
After two days with Yu Wen, Mel and the kids, we spent two nights at the lovely Brunei Hotel in Bandar, the capital. It’s a beautiful city and, amazingly, traffic is very calm and civilized. Drivers actually stop at crosswalks! (That doesn’t even happen in Canada).
Tomorrow we take a seven-hour bus ride to Kota Kinabalu (You may hear Gloria’s groaning as far away as Canada!)
We will remember our time in Borneo fondly, thanks to the kindness of new friends.