Sometimes it takes a real fail to appreciate how good something is. That pretty much sums up our first dinner experience in Bandar Seri Begawan.
It could be argued that our favourite part of travel is eating. We eat a wide swath across every place we can, and almost always, we love it. Almost always.
If I can say one good thing about Malaysia it is this: without exception, their border control services have been five star. They’re quick, efficient and modern. We’ve never waited. We’ve never been mistaken for Iranian, or terrorists. They’ve never misread a visa stamp. The power has never gone out with half of the kids in the country and half out. The crossing to Brunei is no exception. We passed from one side to the other in under ten minutes with an entire busload of people and were on our way, noting, with awe, the mile long lineup that was crawling towards the Brunei side at an alarmingly slow rate. For once, the travel gods were with us at a border crossing!
First impressions of Brunei:
- Well organized
The gold topped onion domes atop the minarets of pristine mosques dot the capital city like dollops of gilded whipped cream. The cherry on top? The people are not extremists. I’m sure there are exceptions, but it there seems to be a country wide effort to promote peace and tolerance in one of the wealthiest and tiniest nations on the planet. In fact, they promote Brunei as “the abode of peace.”
We drove into the country past an enormous and bustling port, followed by palm oil plantations, followed by metal yards with enormous oil drilling platforms under construction, laid over on their sides.
The Sultan of Brunei is one of the richest men in the world. He is also one of the last remaining absolute monarchs. He is beloved by his people and seems to work hard to create an environment that blends the best of the country’s history with participation in the modern world and economy, preserving their cultural and religious traditions with tolerance for outsiders and their differences. We’ve passed a Chinese temple and a Catholic school in addition to the numerous houses of Islamic worship.
From the moment we stepped off of the bus on the riverside of the capital city, people have bent over backwards to help us, with no strings attached. One man ran two blocks to get us “the official map.” Another welcomed us to Brunei over lunch with a huge smile on his face.
As usual we took a walk to get our bearings and to find some dinner. We ended up eating at a little hole in the wall place that is advertised as closed on Friday from noon to two, for mosque attendance of the employees. It was, in a word: horrible.
I really can’t do chipped beef.
If I’d had any idea what I was ordering it would have helped, of course, but I didn’t. When minced up and fried in an egg it rather resembled vomit. Now imagine slamming it on a bun that had been steamed to the point of slimy instead of grilled to crispy perfection and the addition of mayonaise (my least favourite condiment) and the nasty red, slightly spicy sauce that passes for “ketchup” in these parts and you’ve got an idea of what arrived on my plate. It was all I could do to choke down one section of it. Hannah and the boys fared better than I. Gabe and Tony ordered something that looked like a similar vomit in a thin tortilla like shell. It was also not yummy.
The only consolation was that it was cheap.
The night market added insult to injury, when we passed through, slightly nauseous, to the mouth watering scent of every possible cut of juicy, delectable meat and fish on the barbecue. The worst part: it was also cheap. Something looking very like our beloved schwarma was coming off one grill, and every lovely ocean fish was lined up, salt encrusted on another.
We know where we’ll be eating our next dinner!
Here are some pictures for you, of our first day in the Sultanate of Brunei: