February 7-14, 2019: We’d been hanging out at Pulau Tiga for a week, so we figured it was about time to get a move on.
We got an early start in the morning for our 59 NM run south along the coast of Sabah, into the East Channel off Labuan, through the gauntlet of mothballed drilling platforms and supply ships for the offshore oil drilling industry anchored outside Labuan’s Victoria Harbour, across Brunei Bay and into the traffic separation scheme that leads into Muara Basin and the Port of Serasa.
Here we passed underneath the newly constructed Serasa Bridge and anchored in the swift downstream current off the Royal Brunei Yacht Club. We had made it to Brunei Darussalam.
By now it was late afternoon. The opposing wind was whipping up a good chop. That, combined with the river current and the incoming tide made for a bit of an interesting time as MOKEN seemed to dance at anchor, turning to and fro. We held off putting the dinghy in the water until the following morning and then made our way to the ferry dock for clearance. In the meantime, we raised our Q flag. (Did you know that quarantine comes from quaranta, Italian for forty? During the black plaque, ships coming to Venice had to anchor offshore for forty days before they would be permitted into the city. These days we only have to fly the Q flag, or quarantine flag, until we visit a new country’s health department and fill in a form saying that we are healthy.)
Brunei’s formalities included four stops: the health department, harbour master, immigration and customs. Unlike in Kota Kinabalu and Puerto Princesa, at least here all of the officials were located together in the same building, not spread halfway across town. Our new friend Roy, from the health department, shepherded us through the process and made sure we had no trouble dealing with any of the various officials, although we did have to wait for the marine department officer to return from his mid-morning lunch break. We filled out various forms, handed over our passports and Malaysian exit clearance document, and within a short time, we had our 14-day visas on arrival. While this isn’t very generous by Southeast Asian standards, we figured it was more than enough time to get a good feel for this small country.
Now that we were official, we swapped our Q flag for a Brunei courtesy flag. It also meant we could go ashore at the Royal Brunei Yacht Club, where we registered as a visiting yacht for the next week. For B$5 per day, we could use their facilities, including the restaurant, pool, showers and a free washing machine. One of the first people we met at the club was Pete, another Canadian helicopter maintenance engineer from British Columbia. They keep popping up everywhere. Not surprisingly, he and Chris knew quite a few people in common.
It was Friday, so the entire country, including the yacht club, shuts down from noon until three in the afternoon for prayers. We headed back to MOKEN, later meeting up on Pete’s boat for a few sundowners with his friends. That evening we splashed out on steaks at the yacht club. It’s was a nice change from my cooking.
Late the next morning, one of the staff drove us in to Muara so we could change some money, have lunch and pick up some groceries. We thought we might walk back the few kilometers to the yacht club, but it was too hot. Instead, we waited forever for the local bus that took us there. All the other passengers were foreign nationals working in Brunei, mostly from Bangladesh. It was a lazy afternoon. Chris stayed on board, while I went to the club to work on the blog and have a luxurious hot shower. For once, I didn’t worry about water conservation!
From Muara, we could have caught a bus into the city, Bandar Seri Begawan, if we had wanted. Lucky for us, Pete arranged for us to use one of the other member’s cars during our stay. We had wheels! First up, we headed into town to get a local SIM card and buy a few groceries.
On another day, we played tourists in downtown Bandar Seri Begawan. We parked by the waterfront and wandered around the grounds and park surrounding the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, named in honour of the previous Sultan of Brunei. We checked out the Regalia Museum, which houses a vast array of gifts that have been presented over the years to the current Sultan of Brunei, along with his coronation chariot and the chariot used for his 25th jubilee celebration. We followed this up with lunch at a Chinese restaurant downtown. Somehow, I never expected to be eating pork in Brunei. On the way back, we decided to make a detour to check out the opulent, five-star Empire Hotel and Country Club.
For the next three days, we took it easy. We hung out at the yacht club, swam in the pool, worked on the blog, explored nearby Pantai Serasa (Serasa Beach) and the little fresh market in the park across the road, and frequently joined Pete and his friends for sundowners on his boat. We never did spy the crocodile that has reportedly taken up residence at the yacht club’s beachfront.
On our final full day, we arranged a morning tour of one of the highlights of Brunei, Kampong Ayer. But I’m going to save that for our next post…