Travel, Food & Books

Christmas in Brunei

Travelling somewhere without buying the ticket beforehand is always a gamble, especially during a public holiday. I was still angry at the ticketing staff from yesterday. If only they were willing to serve us at the last 3 minutes before the closing time, my mind would be at ease and we wouldn’t have to rush to the counter early in the morning.

Goodwill Star – Car Passenger Ferry to Brunei

Once we checked out from the hotel, we walked to the Labuan Ferry Terminal. By 7:25 we were already at the ticketing office, but I couldn’t find the 9:30 am ferry listed on the schedule board. I asked the ticketing clerk about it and was told that it was for the car passenger ferry, and it was in the other building. (Blue-roofed building across the parking lot).

When we got there, the rest of the counters were closed, except for the one selling tickets to Kota Kinabalu, and I was worried. I asked the person who sat in front of me, a Muslim Sabahan with her few other relatives. She told me that they heading to Brunei too and asked me not to worry because the counter always opens late. My mind began to relax and I asked them about their purpose to Brunei. They told me that they were visiting their Christian relatives for a Christmas celebration.

Labuan to Brunei Ferry Ticket

By 8:15 am, the counter finally opened and we bought our tickets from Goodwill Star for the price of RM35 each. The immigration counter was located in the building next to the ticket counter. The one on the outside was for a driver, and the inside counter was for the passenger.

When we came out from the immigration building, we handed over our ferry ticket to the guy who was standing outside the building before walking to the ferry.

There were only about 8 cars and less than 40 people onboard the ferry. There’s a counter to buy light snacks and drinks and a projector screen for entertainment. However, most of the passengers were busy loitering around, and nobody paying attention to the movie that was playing on the screen, including me.

I spent the whole journey with my nose buried in my Kindle, completely engrossed in the mermaid story.

Almost reaching Brunei

According to the schedule, we were supposed to arrive at 12:30 pm, however, by 11:50 am, we were already at the port. There were only two immigration counters, and behind the counter was the customs x-ray machine. Prior to arrival, Mike had filled up the “Liquor Form” which he got from the snack counter.

Once we had our passports checked, we placed our luggage for scanning and the officer directed Mike to a room for inspection before stamping the approval on the customs form. The whole process took less than 10 minutes.

Rules to import Alcoholic Liquor to Brunei

1. Must enter Brunei legally, and be non-muslim above 17 years old.
2. May only import not less than 48 hours since the last importation
3. It shall be for personal use, and can’t be given, for sale or transferred to another person
4. Must be stored and consumed at the place of residence of the importer
5. The total amount to declare does not exceed 2 bottles of liquor (max 2 litres) and 12 cans of 330ml beer.

Brunei Customs form

It was a nightmare to get any public transportation from the Serasa ferry terminal. The Bus is only available at a certain hour, and we couldn’t find any taxi around too. So, we had no choice but to walk away from the terminal hoping to get a taxi outside the port. Worse come to worst, we just have to walk to town.

Before leaving the place, I asked the ferry car park attendant about the direction towards Pekan Muara and also the duration if we were to walk. He told me to follow the road to the right and it would take about 30 minutes to walk.

Meeting a Kind Stranger

After walking for about eight minutes, a car from the other side of the lane suddenly made a U-turn towards us and stopped just about 10 metres away from us. The driver rolled down the window and we could see a Chinese man inside. When we reached him, he greeted us with a smile and asked if we wanted a lift. He was so friendly and judging from his appearance, he looked decent and kind, so we didn’t hesitate to go with him. Mr. Lien told us that he saw us walking from the terminal dragging a suitcase, and he felt obligated to help us.

We told him that we just needed to get to the nearest bus terminal and we would work our way to the hotel. He agreed to take us to the terminal, but before that, he offered to take us for lunch. We were quite famished at that time, so we didn’t object to his suggestion. He took us to a Chinese restaurant where he usually had his lunch. When we arrived at the restaurant, we joined his friend who was already there.

The restaurant doesn’t sell any beer (not allowed), but we get to eat pork here! When we saw they had Kollo mee, we couldn’t resist ordering it since we just met the Sarawakian family (Madam Chong) last night. The taste was slightly better! Sorry, Sarawakian. We also tried another way of eating it, courtesy of Mr. Lien’s friend. He asked us to dip it with chicken curry, and the result was a tasty curry noodle kollo me 🙂

Brunei Char Siew Kollo Mee

We chatted with Mr. Lien and also his friend, and later on we found out that his friend works as a manager in his company. Good lord, Mr. Lien is the big boss! But he was humble and kind-hearted. He told us he was supposed to go out together, but due to some circumstances, he had to go on his own. And just like that, fate had helped us in solving our transportation problem. Not only Mr. Lien treat us to lunch, he even gave us a lift straight to the hotel instead of the nearest bus terminal! We were so grateful to him. Thank you, Mr. Lien!

Orchid Garden Hotel

Orchid Garden Hotel is just a few metres away from the Stadium Negara Hassanal Bolkiah. The hotel was a bit outdated and the Sauna was closed for maintenance starting from yesterday! Mike was so disappointed and decided to have a swim instead.

It wasn’t a big pool and although it’s an outdoor swimming pool, the sun barely reached it so the water was a bit cold. While waiting for Mike,  I read my book in the swimming pool chaise lounge.

Swimming Pool in Orchid Garden Hotel

We asked the hotel to call a taxi for us, and within five minutes, a Chinese lady showed up driving an MPV. She was chatty and friendly. We asked her about driving in Brunei, and she told us that there’s no traffic jam at all. That’s why she loves her part-time job as a driver. She also said that all the shops here closed every Friday from 12 to 2 pm for the prayer.

We asked her what she does during her free time, and she told us that she has a busy life. We were intrigued and asked further, and she said: “I’m busy catching up with all the drama on TV”. 🤣🤣 She also told us about her children they all graduated from university in the UK (the Government paid for it). Now they work at the local university as a lecturer. She dropped us at the Mall in Gadong and we paid $15 for the taxi fare. We also arranged for a pick-up at 7 pm.

I have never seen a mall without any Christmas decorations in my whole life, this was my first time experiencing a dull celebration. What do I expect to travel to a Muslim country right?

Wait a minute, Malaysia is also a Muslim country, but we’re allowed to celebrate it openly. So, I did some digging online and found out that it started in 2015. The Sultan has banned any public celebration of Christmas, fearing Muslims would be led astray. If Muslims are caught celebrating it, they could face up to five years in jail. Malaysia, please don’t take the same action ok.

The Malls

Brunei Shopping Mall Without Christmas Decoration
Shami Kebab – Mixed Grilled and Rice @ B$10

Gadong Wet Market was about 5 minutes’ walking distance from the mall. This market is like the typical Malaysian market. They sell Malay Kuih, barbequed chicken or fish, vegetables, and fresh fruits like durian, mangosteen, mango, and Kembayau. One thing I liked about this place was the cleanliness. There’s no funny odour, just smoke from the barbequed, no haggling and blaring music played.

On our way back to the hotel, the taxi lady drove us to see the Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. It’s the largest mosque in Brunei which can accommodate 5,000 worshippers at a time. We paid her $20 for the fare back to the hotel.

Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

Although we had 12 cans of beer in the fridge, we couldn’t drink it because of our stomach upset. We thought of taking it back to Kuala Lumpur, but the cost of it was only RM45. It’s not worth buying check-in luggage which costs about RM95. So, we decided to just leave it and hopefully, the housekeeping would give it to the non-muslim staff.

The next morning, we had our breakfast in the hotel and thought of taking the free shuttle bus to Times Square. But when we checked with the reception, the bus timing wasn’t right. Since we couldn’t go anywhere else, we asked for a late checkout.

However, because we didn’t let them know earlier, they had already assigned the room to the next guest. We had no choice but to just relax for a while in the room and check out at 12 noon. We sat in the lobby for three hours while waiting for the free shuttle to take us to the airport. From the hotel, it only takes 5 minutes to reach the airport.

The AirAsia flight here was very strict and you had to weigh your cabin bag upon check-in. Probably because it wasn’t a busy airport and therefore they had time to adhere to the rules.

Unlike KLIA2, the airport here was small and there’s not much to do here. Before entering the boarding gate, they weighed our carry-on luggage again. At 4:30 pm, we boarded the plane and scheduled to arrive in Kuala Lumpur at 6:50 pm.

Travel Date: 25th ~ 26th December 2017

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