Borneo and Brunei!

Friday, June 11, 2004
We arrived to Malaysian Borneo hoping to see the world’s largest flower, wild orangutans, lots of jungle and animals… and we have not been disappointed! Borneo boasts the largest of many things, one of which is the rafflesia flower. This bizarre flower is found only in Indonesia and Borneo, and it only blossoms whenever it feels like it – no particular season, nothing. And since it doesn’t have its own plant to flower from (it’s parasitic!) you never know where one will burst (that is actually how they bloom; pop!). Fortunately, you have the Tourist Information Office to tell you. We walked into the office; saw a big sign that said, “Rafflesia in Bloom!” and hightailed to the National Park. Only twenty rafflesias bloomed throughout 2003… so we were pretty lucky.

The other thing that’s only found in Indonesia and Borneo nowadays is the orangutan. They used to be found all over Asia, but like most places, people are encroaching on the surrounding woods and wildlife. They have a reserve where they rescue the orangutans from all sorts of situations and then help them back into their natural habitat. Before the orangutans go back into the wild completely, the park feeds them twice a day. It’s during these feedings that you get to see them; then they go back into the jungle. The visitors get to “hide” behind some trees while the animals come up for food. We saw eleven orangutans!! Four of them were babies. It was fantastic! Orangutan means “man of the forest” in Malay. We’ve been on lots of hikes – they have about a billion National Parks, so we went to a few. We’ve seen loads of bats, lots of random brightly colored LARGE insects and even a wild bearded pig!

Since the day we arrived, Borneo has been celebrating the Gawi Festival. It represents the end of the rice harvest and it’s their biggest celebration. This means that all the kids have two weeks off from school and ALL Malaysians are trying to visit the same places we are! Other than the buses being full, this has been great! The people of Borneo, most of whom have grown up in longhouses (big, long communal houses with extended family), are extremely friendly. One night we got invited to a huge family BBQ and the Mom insisted that all six (!) of her little girls call Rob uncle.

In contrast, we just spent the last two days in Brunei. The people there are still friendly, but the country takes on a whole different feel. Brunei, one of the world’s smallest and richest countries, has an almost eerie quality to it; at least in the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan, where we went. The whole country has about 330,000 people living there and the sultan pretty much is their government. He is one of the richest men in the world – the sultan and Brunei get their money from oil, and we get our oil from Brunei!

While we were there we checked out a few museums, meandered around the city and peeked at a few mosques. The best part though was the speedboat ride through the Stilt Villages. Overlooking this modern capital is a village built on stilts in the shallow water of the river. The other side of the city sports the $350 million palace of the sultan. Complete with gold dome and everything. It’s pretty cool. We rented the boat for an hour and he sped us past all the sites.

Fun Facts About Brunei:

  1. The country’s full name is Negara Brunei Darussalam which means, “Brunei – the Abode of Peace”.
  2. Islam is the national religion and about 99% of the people there follow this religion.
  3. Alcohol is not for sale (since 1991) and there is no nightlife.
  4. They were a colony of Britain until 1984. Even then, they were reluctant to gain independence. And, when they are not pumping prayers through their radio stations, they are listening to London radio.
  5. The sultan is no scrooge either. He appears to take good care of his citizens; everybody gets a pension, free medical care, free schools, free sport centers, short work weeks, subsidies for purchasing cars and, best of all… no taxes!
We are now in the northern part of Borneo, and will be here for another 2 weeks. Then we go back to Thailand for a few days to eat at our favorite Thai restaurants in Bangkok before we head off to Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. We bought those flights the other day, so it’s pretty definite! It’s also definite that we will head through China, Mongolia and Russia before getting back to England for Carla’s wedding in October! Congrats, Carla!


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