Hubby and I didn't really think there was much to do in this country with only 330,000 people and a city centre that's smaller than Singapore. Well, we were right. If we stuck to the city, there probably wouldn't have been much to our trip.
In fact, during our first full day in Brunei, we managed to tour the city highlights in less than six hours. There were no tall skyscrapers, no huge shopping malls, and no bars or pubs. In fact, by 8 or 9pm, the city seemed to have fallen asleep.
We managed to see the two major landmarks of the city: Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque (a gold-domed [real gold!] structure built in the 1950s) and Istana Nurul Iman (the Sultan's palace). We didn't get to see the interiors, of course, but just looking at the facade was impressive enough.
We also went to see the Jerudong Theme Park and The Empire (a gorgeous luxury hotel).
We had a traditional Malay buffet for dinner. Hubby and I kept giggling to ourselves because we kept forgetting that it is rude to point with your fingers. In the Bruneian culture, you see, it is always best to point with your thumb.
Speaking of Bruneian culture, I was quite taken aback by how slow-paced the life there seemed to be. It was such a contrast from hustle and bustle of cities like Singapore.
People also tend to be quite friendly and helpful. I didn't experience the pointing, staring, and gossiping like I did in Bangkok (being with a Caucasian guy). When I caught people looking at me, they usually just give me a very nice and friendly smile.
Anyway, the next day, hubby and I decided to sign-up for this day tour to Ulu Temburong National Park. We ended up with an Iban guide (Iban is one of the tribes from Brunei who comes from the line of head-hunters), plus three Candadians as tour mates. I've never been on an active tour like this, so I was totally unprepared. First, we had to take a 45-minute boat trip from the water village in Gadong (the main district) to the Temburong district. Then, from the jetty at Temburong, we were met by our Iban guide who was quite a feisty and cheerful young lady. She drove us to this chalet by the river (another 20 to 30 minute trip), where we took a long boat to the national park. The ride was generally smooth and interesting. We were only a bit disappointed not to catch a glimpse of any wildlife.
When we reached the main area of the national park, we registered and began our trek up 1,200 wooden steps, past a suspension bridge (approximately 150 metres). Along the way, we saw different kinds of butterflies (some as big as the size of a big hand), trees, animals, and insects. Our guide and one of our tourmates actually got stung by a bee. And, the same tourmate ended up with a blood-sucking leech on her leg too. Eeeew! Anyway, once we reached this area where we could climb up the treetops using steel ladders, I began to feel sick. I barely reached the top, and it makes me feel bad to realise how unfit I was. After we got our fill of the view from the treetops, we went back the same way. Then we had our lunch by the river. I thought the adventure was over. Wrong.
After lunch, we all went back to our long boat. The boat went up to this rocky area where we stopped for a walk. We then found a creek. We continued walking (past, in, and through) the creek, going up small boulders and logs, as well as hiking up small hills (my slippers were definitely not the right foot gear.), until we reached this gorgeous waterfall. We were all going to start bathing near the waterfall when our guide started screaming: "Get out! Quick! Get out of the water! Hurry!" So we scrambled towards land and saw at least three or four snakes just a metre or so away from us. Our guide was pretty certain those snakes were poisonous. It was a good thing she spotted them. Yikes! Anyway, after the waterfalls, we had a bit of a bumpy long boat ride back to the chalet. And, as soon as we reached the chalet, the rain began to pour.
That was the end of our short adventure in this quiet and interesting country called Brunei.