More of my photos from Brunei


Brunei Archives

April 28, 2006

welcome to southeast asia

after a 5:30am wakeup today to catch my flight to brunei, i officially began the southeast asia portion of my trip.

the flight on royal brunei air was ok, but emirates had probably set my expectations a little too high in terms of what to expect on an international flight. i arrived at brunei airport only to find out that my hotel reservation had gotten screwed up, and i had to make another one. after doing some serious bargain hunting, i managed to get a room over at the empire hotel for a great deal.

i'll try to post photos soon when i find a fast internet connection, but first i need to spend some time at the empire exploring the ridiculously nice grounds (not the least of which is an onsite bowling alley and a full-size movie theater) and go for a swim on one of the lagoon beaches. wow... all this at a 5-star luxury hotel for less than the discount rate at most santa monica beach hotels (i'll share the details of how i managed that one in a later post).

i'm off to explore the water village. i know i'm going to miss all this fanciness when i arrive at a budget backpacker resort in bali in three days...

breakdancing in bandar

you'll all be glad to know that the fine art of breakdancing is alive and well in brunei.

i was walking near the water when i passed a group of teenage kids. one of them said to me "Yo, man," and immediately broke out into his best breakdancing moves. i just stopped and stared.

there are rare moments where you feel surreal cross-cultural connections through pop culture. this was one of those moments. faith, i should have learned breakdancing from you earlier, or at least watched the movie "wild style" a few more times, so i would have had something to contribute back to the moment.

a quick aside: the people here are honestly friendly. being one of the few western tourists wandering around brunei's capital (bandar seri begawan), i get a few stares, especially from kids. but people here are nearly universally polite and friendly once you talk to them, and an unsolicited "hello" from a stranger is just a simply "hi", and not a "hi, i would like to draw you into some kind of scam or sketchy deal which will inevitably involve separating you from the contents of your wallet."

while (unfortunately) i didn't get any photos, please content yourselves with the mental image of breakdancing in brunei.

April 29, 2006

control panel

i've always been a little crazy about technological gadgets, and one of the little delights of my room at the empire hotel is this control panel next to my bed.

it has the look of custom electronics built for the absurdly rich. (since the empire hotel and country club was originally built by the sultan's family as one of their palaces with plenty of room for guests, i'm guessing that this gadget was ordered for the rooms in those days.) no brand name is present on the console, just a simple set of buttons and a vaccum-tube display.

the panel begins with the usual clock with alarm, along with the gratitous world time feature (but only for the 4 "cool world time zone" cities -- london, new york, tokyo, and sydney). the air con controls are a nice touch. but ah, the joy of controlling the room's lighting from the console! it reminds me of my geeky youth wiring up my room with X10 light switches so i could control the lighting from the X10 control panel / transmitter.

but the best feature is the control of the window curtains from the panel. nothing says "i am so lazy that i don't need to lift more than a finger in the mornings" than remote-controlled curtains. i love it.

when i get home from this trip, maybe it's time to investigate the world of DIY home automation again...

my night at jerudong park

ever since i began researching my first trip to southeast asia back in 1998, i was entranced by one oddity in the always-short section on brunei in my guidebook.

the sultan of brunei had built an amusement park for his subjects as a gift, called jerudong park playground. when i first read about it, the park was brand new, and it was considered a major attraction in brunei. although i never ended up making that trip to southeast asia or brunei, the image of jerudong park continued to stick in my head, and i kept my eye out for it when reading anything about brunei.

over time, i would find references to jerudong park playground in different guidebooks and travelogues. mentions appeared abouy the addition of an entry fee, and then comments about some rides being closed. when i visited the park's website, and found that a lot of the rides are being offered for sale, i had a feeling that i would not be seeing another Disneyland.

when i finally completed that long-delayed goal and visited the park this evening, i was struck by the cultural differences going on with the "playground". half of it was dedicated to children's rides (everything from a merry-go-round to simple swingsets and slides), and was very popular with families, even at 10pm on a saturday night. the other half of the park, dedicated to more thrilling rides, was over 70% non-operational, with unmonitored areas left dark. i've never seen roller coasters just left out to rust like that. if i hadn't been in a safe country like brunei, i would have been watching my back a lot more. as it was, i can't believe local teenagers weren't using the dark corners to get up to some sort of teenaged trouble.

i went on two of the thrill rides (there were only three open anyways): the "log flume", basically like splash mountain but without any sort of scenery inside (it's a big empty mountain with a few spotlights), bumpier (instead of gentle bumps, your ride vehicle gets some solid whacks as it moves along), and very splashier (with some very dicey-looking water), and some sort of flying-jurassic-raptors-with-lasers-in-their-mouths ride. i have to confess that i found the amount of rust on the bolts in the ride to be pretty alarming. i made a short video about the park and the raptor ride to give you a feel for them, and taken photos of the park as well.

needless to say, there weren't a lot of visitors in the thrill rides section of the park, even with the entrance fees being very cheap (about BND $5, which is about USD $2). the amount of broken tiles and abandoned sections of the park, combined with the fact that they're selling lots of the rides off, means that this park will probably get overhauled within the next 5 years.

if you like exploring abandoned places (and semi-abandoned ones) as much i do, i recommend stopping by jerduong park playground while you can. it's one of the most surreal amusement parks in the world.

April 30, 2006

hooked on "lost"

i am absolutely addicted to "Lost". but when i left home, i figured that there was no way that i'd be able to keep up with the show.

however, thanks to the fact that i can use my itunes store account anywhere that has itunes installed (or will let me install it in their internet cafe), and that i have a video ipod with me, i'm quite happily tracking the show from wherever i am in the world.

"but wait!", you say. what about the obsessive over-analysis of the show that you would go through with your friends when you were living back in california? what about that critical part of the Lost experience?

enter LostPedia.

LostPedia is simply amazing. hyper-obsessive analysis of every point in the show. for example, just look at their info on the map that locke recently found inside a door in the hatch. just the kind of thing that i need when i'm looking for something to muse over in between episodes.

now if they'll just start selling movies on the itunes store so i can have even more timewasters... nah, i'd settle for matlock episodes. ;)

actually, i'm trying to just look out the window, go outside, and enjoy the trip instead of getting caught up in watching TV. but being able to keep up on Lost is really cool.

May 1, 2006

3 days at a sultan's palace (sort of)

so this is the story of how i ended up in "the empire hotel and country club", which (according to what i remember from my guideook) was originally built as a palace for the royal family of brunei's friends to stay in.

when i flew into brunei, my rough plan was to stay in an $18 (BND) a night hostel room in downtown bandar seri begawan, see the local sights (there aren't a lot in brunei, due to its relatively small size), and head out to bali a few days later.

instead, after a mixup with reservations, a chance encounter at the hertz rental booth at the brunei airport, here i am in the heart of the empire hotel and country club, where i most likely don't deserve to be, at a price that is absurdly low compared to their rack rate.

to fit in with the general opulence of the place (and hide my current identity as budget backpacker, which definitely doesn't fit in the rest of the people here), i've been tempted to assume the personality of some rich young playboy (i couldn't decide between stock market tycoon, or heir to the mccormick/schilling spice fortune, or succesful internet entereprenur), i decided to simply be me as usual and just dress a little nicer for a change. as for the social apects here, i think joan didion wrote in "the white album" about a smilar social milleu in a hawaii beach hotel.

the empire hotel and country club is fanastic -- a 5-story atrium in the main building, endless swimming bools and beaches, full dive/acquatic activiies center, 6-lane bowling alley, championship golf course, multi-screen luxury movie theater with plush leather seats, delicious asian cusine at the hotel's several restaurants, etc etc. while ive been dipping into the activities here, i've spent most of my time relaxing by the pool, listening to the hushed british accents of british families while i sip some tropical drink and listen to my ipod.

it's been great being here, but both budget-wise and just "need to get out and experience a country beyond the confines of a resort"-wise, it's time to move on. so i'm flying to bali for about a week to explore the surroundings over there.

if you're looking to read even more detail on this place, one of my favorite nomadic travel writers, elliott hesther, has written a great essay on the empire hotel.

it definitely wasn't caddyshack

what are you to do when you're staying at a hotel / country club / resort that has one of the best golf courses in asia, a championship golf course sitting directly on the south china sea, custom-designed by jack nicklaus and you don't play golf? (aside from a little urban golfing or sand golf in coober pedy)

you learn.

so in my last two days (out of three) at the empire. i signed up for golf courses from the resident golf pro. first of all, the guy was a great teacher. i am one of the worst people when it comes to hand-eye coordination, let alone having any sort of attention span, yet this guy brought me up to speed enough in a few hours on the driving range to have a passable shot at playing on the course.

the second day there, i showed up at 8am in my golf shirt (freshly purchased from the pro shop minutes before), and we headed off on the golf cart for adventure and fun.

although i've barely been on any golf courses before now, i suspect that not all of them include monkeys hiding in the trees off the course (the rules for play on the course include this abbreviated one: "8. If a monkey steals your ball..."), or a komodo dragon living next to one of the holes.

sure, with only a few hours of practice i may have may not have been perfect, but i have to say that was one of the most unique and best experiences of my trip to date.

when you're in brunei next, drop by the empire for a few rounds of golf. if you don't know how to play already, learn! as for me, i'll have to give it a shot again when i make it to that golf course in malyasia's cameron highlands.

About Brunei

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to gone living in the Brunei category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Brazil is the previous category.

Chile is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.