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Enjoy some pictures of the worldrecordtour, taken in Brunei
 
Brunei Map
 
 
Map of Southeast Asia
click a picture to see details
          
 

 

More websites from Borneo:

"Nodding Donkeys", which pump
the oil from about 330 feet,
work continuously everywhere
The “Billionth Barrel” monument in Seria
is close to the sight, where in the
Sultanate the first oil well was found
some 60 years ago. Here, we celebrate
on September 11th, 2006 our 8’000th
day on the road since October 16, 1984
 
Not a common sight in Seria near
Kuala Belait: Where in the world can
you see simultaneously:
1st an Oil-Pump,
2nd a Refinery,
and 3rd a Service Station?
Brunei Darussalam  - "The Abode of Peace"



We did know little in Thailand what a wonderful surprise waited for us when we opened an email from an unknown sender from the tiny Sultanate of Brunei with the following content: “….. I already live since five years in Brunei and work as senior engineer in the local oil fields. I have a nice house and you are more than welcome to visit us (my wife Julie and me) for a Raclette or a Fondue. Unfortunately we are not many Swiss living in Brunei – only six, the most famous one being certainly the wife of the Crown Prince. I can also help you if you have technical problems ..…”. Ruedi Schuepbach and his wife Julie – he Swiss, she from Brunei – live in Kuala Belait, the first town bordering Sarawak. This invitation comes as a real gift from heaven, as right now we are having a very hard time with never-ending problems of our good old LandCruiser.

 

The teapot monument (roundabout) in
Kuala Belait symbolizes the four districts
of the Sultanate: Brunei-Muara,
Tutong, Belait and Temburong
 
Chinese Shops are mostly family
businesses, where the older
people are still integrated
A striking sight is the yellow roof of
the M.J.A.-Mosque in Kuala Belait
Coincidentally, we already decided to ship from the Malaysian peninsula over to Borneo for the urgent car repairs. And Miri, the town we chose to have the engine repairs and intensive body work done, is situated only about 40 miles South of Kuala Belait. What a wonderful chance and what a perfect timing! How did Julie and Ruedi find out about us in the first place?..... “I read the article in the Swiss Revue about your journey and have been really pleased about your courage and endurance to travel for more than 20 years…..” are Ruedi’s exact words. The Swiss Revue is a monthly publication for expatriates all over the world. Due to the same article, invitations from other Swiss citizens living abroad flowed in later: From Egypt, India, Ireland, Malaysia and the Philippines. So it happens that soon after our arrival in Sarawak, we hop already over the border to Brunei to visit our new friends. Immediately, we notice some differences: The traffic is smoother and more orderly; the many noisy scooters that are common in most of the Asian countries are hardly seen here; life is more peaceful and safer (less fences) and there is no visible poverty. Later, however, we learn that there is nevertheless, especially in areas, where tribal people like the Iban and Murut live. The most delightful difference however is that the luxurious green of the rain forest is increasing considerably – 78% of Brunei is still covered with virgin rain forest – a reason more why we like this tiny Sultanate at first sight.

 

The peaceful Belait River at sunset
From this viewpoint, we can see as
far as over to Malaysian’s Sarawak
 
The sun is setting over the rainforest
When did we taste our last Fondue, our last Raclette – both wonderful traditional Swiss dishes with melted cheese? It is long, long ago – we cannot even remember it anymore. Never ever would we have dreamed to be able to enjoy a Fondue party in the very heart of Borneo – in tropical Brunei – on a very normal and very hot mid-week day while sipping white wine, exchanging adventure stories, experiences, plans and dreams with Julie and Ruedi. Their hospitality is unique, and only one week later, we are served Raclette, and the following week it starts all over again ..… Everyone who knows Emil also knows that there is nothing more delightful for his palate than cheese – he easily could survive with it! Yes, while our LandCruiser is undergoing an intensive “rejuvenation” in Miri, we are guests in Kuala Belait many times during the next weekends, hopping over the very easy border from Sarawak, first with Ruedi’s Daihatsu, called “Liseli”, which he generously offered us for two weeks, and afterwards with a rented car – a Malaysian Proton Saga.

 

The small Swiss community of Brunei
gathers with Mr. and Mrs. Ambassador
Daniel Woker from Singapore in
the Empire Hotel for dinner
 
On the menu the Swiss flag –
on the plate the „Sorbet Trio“
View of the luxury and nice
surroundings of the Empire Hotel
The Sultanate of Brunei is an Islamic country where the law strictly prohibits alcohol for Moslems. People from a different faith however are officially allowed to import some limited booze: Twelve cans of beer and two bottles of either wine or spirit per person, which has to be declared on a yellow form and handed over to the customs officer who stamps it. During our various border crossings, we never have been checked once. Of course, at each border crossing, we always make use of this quota to top up Ruedi’s stock which decreases always considerably during our visits! And each time, it is also a good opportunity to easily renew our monthly stay permit in Sarawak (whereas Peninsular Malaysia grants a three months stay, Sarawak is limited to one month only). As a senior engineer at Baker Hughes, Ruedi spends many days out on oilrigs with his colleagues from different countries. He tells us a lot about the sometimes boring life “out there” and explains us also a lot about the complicated drilling of oil, which is also paid above the average. But he also entertains us with many amusing stories from his earlier job with the Red Cross in Central Africa and Angola. Very soon it shows that there is so much common interest and so much to talk about! And from Julie, his young charming wife, we learn a lot about Borneo’s culture and its tribes.

 

A giant jungle tree rising towards the sky
Grapes of deep red fruits grow
on a palm tree in Ruedi’s garden .....
 
..... and sweet, huge mangos
in neighbor’s garden
The tiny and split-up nation of Negara Brunei Darussalam is wedged between the Malaysian state of Sarawak, facing the South China Sea along the Northern coast of the island of Borneo. It is an absolute monarchy, ruled by Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah (“Haji” means that he made the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca) and is home to one of Asia’s oldest kingdoms. Its sovereignty once stretched across the entire island of Borneo and parts of the Philippine archipelago. It gained independence in 1984 (the year we set off on our world tour) and has the reputation to enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world. The citizens of Brunei enjoy a level of social benefits most people can only dream of. The government of Brunei collects no taxes, grants free schooling and health care. His Majesty, the Sultan of Brunei, known as one of the richest man in the world, is highly respected by his people. Traditionally, he joyously celebrates his birthday on July 15th – this year 2006 his 60th – together with his citizens in all the four districts of the Sultanate. On July 22nd, the festivities take place in Kuala Belait, and we have the unique chance to join them.

 

Julie, Ruedi and Emil enjoying „Fondue“
– a typical Swiss cheese specialty
We pose for a picture in front of a
giant oilrig on the beach in Seria
No, this is not our new car, but the
Rolls Royce of the Sultan of Brunei
 

The sun is already burning hot from a blue sky at 8am on this festive day, when we arrive at the richly decorated stadium and are greeted from every corner by huge billboards commemorating the Sultan’s 60th birthday. Children of different ages in colorful costumes start grouping under the shades of the tents. Slowly more and more people in beautiful attires are pouring in – Malays, Indians, Chinese, a few Westerners and tribal folks. The atmosphere is simply unique – the diversity of costumes and colors is eye-catching. Especially exotic looking are the men in their traditional clothes, the “Kain Samping” – a kind of an “apron” made of precious brocade tied around their waist. We line up with a happy crowd to wait for the Sultan’s helicopter to arrive near the stadium. I had always a fascination for monarchies. Therefore, when finally the helicopter carrying his Royal Highness appears, rumbling in the clear skies above our heads and making a smooth landing just a few hundred yards away from us, whirling up a cloud of dust, I feel probably as excited like most of his patiently waiting people too. When his black Rolls Royce drives slowly through the festive gate towards us – headed by a small, motorized police escort on heavy motorbikes – people cheer at him in loyalty and wave little Bruneian flags.

 

Huge portraits of the Sultan are greeting us all over in Kuala Belait, commemorating his 60th birthday

 

Then, the crowd breaks up and returns to the stadium. We mingle with them and try to get a good shady spot in the front rows. Seats are anyway only available for the invited guests on a special platform under a shady tent. Ruedi, who is representing his American company, is one of the privileged ones. The next two hours, we are fascinated by the variety of special performances and the colorful parade of the children and students. Only at noon, when under a burning sun the splendid birthday celebration comes to an end with a wonderful cascade of a firework (!), we realize how tired, hot and thirsty we are. But we have no time yet to relax, as we do not want to miss the moment when His Excellency is gathering with the people. Being not a tall man and dressed in his sportive outfit, it is quite hard to catch any glimpse of him at all, as he makes his way through the massive crowd that waits eagerly to shake hands with him – but the dozens of (video)-cameras and cell-phones held high in the air always reveal easily his royal presence though. With some endurance, we also manage to catch a glance of this quiet ruler, who shows not at all his age. One question just comes to our mind: Why does he appear in such a sportive gear instead of wearing his royal garments while his people dress up in their best clothing?

 

A colorful crowd pays respect to the king on his 60th birthday in Kuala Belait:
Deeply covered Moslem ladies
Young Iban girls in their
traditional tribal dress
 
Moslem men in their traditional “Kain
Samping” – mostly made of precious brocade
The capital Bandar Seri Begawan – also called BSB – is a modern city with broad avenues and well-maintained buildings, the streets are packed with cars and a parking fee is enforced. After Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, Brunei is our second visit to a Sultanate during our long journey around the world. We have always felt a strong fascination for the Arab culture (we visited the Middle East three times). Strolling around the city, this special feeling hits us fiercely once again: Its many beautiful mosques, its towering slender minarets and golden domes gracing the skyline, and the Arab script. When we approach the ‘Omar Ali Saifuddien’-Mosque in the heart of the city with its glistening dome built up of 3.3 million pieces of Venetian mosaics and situated peacefully on the shore of a quiet lagoon, our timing could not be more perfect: The muezzin’s calls for the noon prayer sounds and echoes from all directions over our heads. The richly decorated copy of the 16th-century Royal Barge mooring next to the Mosque – previously used for religious ceremonies such as the Quran reading competition –, highlights the splendor of this site. It is even more stunning in the evening, when the sunset colors the clouds and both – mosque and barge – glow like gold and reflect beautifully in the motionless water, spreading an irresistible fairytale mood.

 

The arrival of the Sultan in his Rolls Royce
is announced by a motorized police escort
 
All eyes are fixed on the festive grounds
The parade passes in front
of the Sultan’s tribune
A totally different world is ‘Kampung Ayer’, the traditional water village of Brunei – also called ”Venice of the East”. It consists of about 40 villages built on stilts, spreading in the middle of the Brunei River for about two miles, and is reached and connected by boardwalks and boats only. It houses around 30’000 people. The river is alive with motorized and roaring water taxis. We hire one and are ferried over the river in a racing speed. Strolling through the maze of wobbly wooden walkways, known as “Jambatan”, and admire the brightly painted houses on stilts, their verandas crowded with pots of orchids and bougainvillea, is quite amazing. It is an autonomous world in itself with schools, mosques, police station, fire brigade etc., – where nowadays their waterborne lifestyle is combined with the conveniences of modern life. Children appear on windows and greet us with broad smiles. Is it a perfect place to live? May be – probably not for us! Since there is one thing, which destroys this illusion: The piles of floating garbage – plastic, bottles, styropor, etc. – accumulating underneath the dwellings.

 

Children and students performing
The great finale
 
There is another most impressive building in BSB: The Empire Hotel, built by Prince Jefri, the younger brother of the ruling Sultan, who was finance minister and had a special passion for a flamboyant lifestyle and extravagancy which brought him into troubles with his ruler. He invested so much money into five additional luxurious hotels overseas – including the Beverly Hills in Los Angeles – that he brought the tiny Sultanate close to bankruptcy. Everything is exaggerated in this 1.1-billion-US-Dollar-Empire-Hotel, but in a way that it is also unique in its “eccentric” architecture, decor and extraordinary surroundings. Everything is there: From a golf course to a bowling alley, from a cinema to a beach and a dinner theatre. Long before this world-class hotel gave us a lavish welcome, Ruedi told us that it boasts with superlatives: Starting from the magnificent lobby with its 265ft high atrium and its crystal chandeliers to the stairway railings plated in 21 carat gold. It is a gigantic feeling! Gigantic, of course, are also the room prices: They range from US$335 to US$15’513 (! – for the Emperor Suite) per night!

 

The End
His Majesty, the Sultan, meets the
people. Behind him – in a white
T-Shirt – follows the Crown Prince,
who is married to a “half Swiss”. Her
mother is Swiss, her father Bruneian
 
A well deserved drink after performing
Of course, we never would have dreamt to step into this luxurious world, would we not have been welcomed to join a special dinner for the tiny Swiss Community in Brunei, offered by our Ambassador in Singapore, Mr. Daniel Woker, responsible also for Brunei. The invited guests are happy; the table is decorated lovingly; the menu card bears our white-red National flag, which – we have to admit – revives a special feeling for our home country – when we arrive. We enjoy the following menu: Well, it started with “Amuse Bouche”, little seafood entrees to awake our appetite, followed by “Penne Pasta” (Pasta with sauce arabiatta, pomodoro or pesto), “Veal Scaloppini” (served with spinach, carrots, asparagus and broccoli) and a trio of sorbet as desert. It ended as usual with coffee and tea and “petit four” in addition – delicious chocolate that melts on your tongue – Swiss quality of course. Being in a “dry” country, in a way it is amusing to see that, at least in a closed party as ours, alcohol is still served, but in nontransparent blue glasses! Automatically, we remember the many private parties in Saudi Arabia, when we were invited and where was also never a shortage of alcohol.

 

The 'Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah'-Mosque
in Kiarong was built to commemorate
the 25th anniversary of the Sultan’s reign
 
Birthday wishes for the Sultan in
Arabic script in Bandar Seri Begawan
The 'Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah'-
Mosque in Kiarong by night
Situated also on the banks of the Brunei River in BSB, is the “Istana Nurul Iman” – the official Sultan’s residence and seat of the Government. It is said to be the largest residential palace in the world. Unfortunately it is open to the public only once a year, at Hari Raya Aidifitri – marking the end of the Ramadan (we nearly make it, but only nearly!) .At this occasion, the ruler and his family are apparently present to shake hands with the people. But from the “Rough Guide Book”, we learn some phenomenal figures about its grandeur: It is bigger than the Buckingham-Palace or the Vatican. It has 1’788 rooms, 257 toilets, 18 elevators and 44 escalators. It is illuminated with 51’000 bulbs. The Royal Banquet Hall can accommodate 4’000 people, the Prayer Hall 1’500, and the underground parking garage the Sultan’s 100 vehicles! Living in a small car for almost 22 years – as we do – it is a bit hard to imagine life in such an extravagant surrounding! Probably we would need “walkie-talkies” to find each other again!

 

Kampong Ayer – the traditional river
village in Brunei – is called also
“Venice of the East”. It consists
of about 40 different villages .....
 
..... which are connected by
wobbling wooden planks .....
..... and where life takes a peaceful course
Never would we have expected to get stuck so many weeks in this small Sultanate with a total area of 2’226 square miles and approximately 360’000 inhabitants only. The reason is the never ending car permit bureaucracy for the Philippines, which we already initiated in February. Finally everything seems to be settled and the date for the ferry from Sandakan to Mindanao is fixed for September 19th. Additionally, the SuperFerry – the second largest Philippines Ferry Company – offers us a sponsorship for all the transport within the islands. But we are not yet there and shortly before the set date, the Filipino Customs jeopardizes our whole project. We are asked to place a bond covering 150% of all the duties, taxes and other expenses. Up to now, we never complied in any country with such a request, knowing that we will (if ever) get back the money only after our car has left, and then only in local currency, which moreover can take months. This risk is so big that we definitely are not willing to bear it. But despite of this sudden knock-down, we do not give up yet. We make contact with the Philippine Embassy in Brunei, explain the whole story, and get a positive reaction for assistance from its very friendly Consul as well as from its Ambassador. Both promised to do their best to find a way to help us – probably to convince the Department of Tourism in Manila to place a bond in their name for us (it worked out that way in St. Lucia). However, this new situation means for us that we need to change our plans, as probably it would take weeks or even months again to make it work. But at least, we have now a new reason for hope!

 

Thousands of colorful lights illuminate
the streets of the capital in honor of
the 60th birthday of the Sultan
The 'Ali Saifuddien'-Mosque and a
copy of the Royal Barge dating
back to the 16th century give a
sense of “1001 nights”
 
The 'Ali Saifuddien'-Mosque
glows like pure gold in the evening light
Luckily, we have a wonderful time in Brunei and are able to enjoy an exceptional hospitality. Besides Julie and Ruedi in Kuala Belait, we meet other people – mainly teachers – who came to this remote part of the world to experience another culture, a new way of life and a new environment: First the Australian teachers Nancy and Ray who contact us after reading our interview with the “Borneo Bulletin”. They invite us spontaneously for a cup of coffee. But it does not end with that cup; it ends with staying in their home for three nights. Then, they recommend us to their New Zealand teacher colleagues Monique and Beane in Bangar in Brunei’s district and exclave of Temburong, where we stop on our way to and from Sabah – each time for four enjoyable, relaxing days. There, we also meet their friend Alex from Malta – of course also a teacher – and because of him the entire “Temburong Nights Basketball Club”. As a special honor, Emil is proclaimed an honorary member on October 1st. But the ball keeps rolling, the hospitality goes on: On our Southbound stop in the capital BSB, we are welcomed at Dan’s place, another Australian teacher, where we have a good time during another four days, meeting and partying with his friends, washing our clothes and taking also the chance to visit the Brunei Museum. While Emil spends there most of the time in the oil and gas history exhibition, I am especially attracted to the Islamic Gallery of Art with its numerous illuminated Korans – mainly from Turkey, but also from Iran, Syria and Egypt. Each single page is a master piece in itself – with golden ornaments and delicate, decorative paintings. The timing happens to be also just perfect to get our visa for Indonesia in BSB – now our next and 155th country.

 

A new village on stilts has been
built on the Brunei River
Long and lonely: The Muara Beach
at the South China Sea
A passenger express boat „flies“ over
the water channels between Bangar
in the Temburong District and the
capital Bandar Seri Begawan
 
The most beautiful spot for us is Monique and Beane’s place in Temburong. They live right next to the jungle, which turns out to be a true treasure box of wild animals and exotic plants. Looking out of the window as soon as we wake up, there is always a great excitement. Sometimes, our “friends”, the long-tailed macaques are already sitting on the huge tree in front of the house, sometimes they just emerge from the dense bush and then swing precariously from branch to branch. It is an ongoing entertainment. We never get tired to watch them foraging, to look how mothers teach their youngsters to climb, how they louse each other or how they sit just quietly, but alert on a branch, disappearing hastily at the slightest movement in the dense forest again. Exceptional beautiful are also the huge butterflies and bugs in their sizes and colors flattering above our heads. And when night falls, we even hear the gentle sound of a “barking lizard” – which can reach a length of three feet. It is simply beautiful – an expensive jungle lodge could not make us happier.

 

We are greeted by the ‘Temburong
Knights’ Basketball Club in Bangar/
Temburong in Brunei, when Emil
becomes a ”Honorary Member”
 
Everything seems to grow in
excess in the tropics – like this bug
Lovely drive through the lush tropical
rain forest along the ‘Sungai Batu Apoi’-
River near Bangar in the Temburong
District, the exclave of Brunei
Our last stop on the way South is once more Kuala Belait, where the circle closes in. Not without regret, we say good bye to our good friends Julie and Ruedi, then fill our 62 gallon tank with cheap gasoline of 0.36 Brunei-$/Lt (=23 US-cents) and stock up with Dutch cheese and other imported goodies that are a bit expensive in Brunei though, but not available in Malaysia. When the border gate closes behind us on October 21st – after having spent 43 days in different stages in this tiny Sultanate – we know that it left a beautiful imprint on our memory as a very special place.

 

Fisherman enjoying the afternoon
and hoping for some catch
These long-tailed macaques have
only little natural jungle habitat left
The ‘Sungai Batu Apoi’-River is meandering
peacefully through the rain forest near Bangar
in the Temburong District, the exclave of Brunei
 
Articles in newspapers about us in Brunei:
Article: "Lifelong sojourn for Swiss couple",   Borneo Bulletin - September 16, 2006