Brunei: A Tour of National Treasures

In part one and part two of his travel adventures, Malcolm unearthed the hidden treasures deep with the rainforest of Borneo and the seas of Brunei. In this travel article, he journeyed back to Bandar Seri Begawan to discover the other national treasures resting between the two giant mosques of gold. 

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Having spent a longer time  at Ulu Temburong National Park soaking in the morning fresh air at the Canopy Walk, we had to rush through the rest of our itinerary that day. Day 3 breakfast was a special experience as we had our meal packed into bento boxes and ate it on the go while traveling on the long boat back to Bangar town.

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Once we reached the speedboat terminal at Bangar town, everyone were excited to get connected with technology and were rushing to post their pictures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to share with our readers, friends and followers. Seems that you can take bloggers to Ulu Ulu Resort without wifi but you cannot take the habit off from us! I was guilty as charged too.

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Next on the itinerary was the tour of the Water Village. Commonly nicknamed “Venice of the East” by both the local and international communities, Kampong Ayer is actually not a village but a town of 40 sub villages interconnected within this water community. Kampong Ayer is home to over 30,000 Bruneians. From the outside, they look like kelongs or houses built on stilts, commonly found in Malaysia as homes of fishermen. But take a closer look and almost every house in Kampong Ayer was reinforced by concrete pillars and not wooden stilts.

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For the locals, traveling across the river was a daily affair. Prices for the water taxi or small speedboat start from B$1.00. Our first stop was to visit the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery which gave us a detailed introduction about the history and culture of the Water Village. I also heard that Brunei is applying for Kampong Ayer to be listed as a UNESCO Heritage site, I sincerely hope this will bring up the profile for the Venice of the East.

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Next to Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery are the newer houses on water. These residents were re-homed due to a big fire. The newer houses lack the unique characteristic and remind me of our public housing built by Housing Development Board (HDB) in Singapore. But these houses certainly look like resorts and I really don’t mind owning one. By the way, owners of these new houses own title deed, meaning to say, they don’t just own the house but also the land underneath it too (unlike the older water houses, the owners can only claim ownership of the house and not the land underneath).

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One disappointment was that I didn’t get to see any proboscis monkeys, which hang out further down the river from the water villages. However, we did get to go inside one of the residents’ house to have a peek at what daily living there looked like. The host we visited own a house with three bedrooms and converted one room into a wedding studio for visitors to take photos. We also had tea with some local snacks before moving back to main land.

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After visiting the Water Village, we crossed the river and drove to the Royal Regalia Museum. Opened in 1992, it houses a huge display of the ceremonial items associated to the Royal family. These royal regalia had been passed down from generation to generation. Inside the museum, there are replicas of the royal throne, robes, crowns and gifts to the Sultan displayed as a tribute to the life and times of the monarchy.

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Lunch was at Tarindak d’Seni located at level 2 of Brunei Arts and Handicrafts Centre (Jalan Residency, Bandar Seri Begawan) opposite the Water Village. It was here that we got to finally try the much talked about national dish of Brunei – Ambuyat, a dish made from the interior trunk of sago palm.  It is a starchy bland substance commonly eaten using Chandas (chopsticks or bamboo fork) and with special local dips. This dish was invented in World War II when food choice was limited.

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To be honest, I prefer Singapore’s national dish Chili Crab and national cocktail Singapore Sling for sure. Speaking of drinking, no alcohol is sold in Brunei but you can bring your own booze from Changi Airport duty free shops before your arrival to the Sultanate.

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That afternoon, we also got ourselves wet as we went snorkeling at Pelong Rocks (mentioned in my previous post). We checked-in to The Empire Hotel & Country Club to freshen up before the much anticipated dinner meeting with the Brunei bloggers at Azhani’s residence.

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It was a pleasure to meet up with passionate individuals who have a love for online sharing and writing. Did I mention that the barbecue dinner was specially prepared by Azhani’s husband? Azhani is the senior corporate communications officer for Royal Brunei Airlines and she blogs occasionally these days due to heavy workload.

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Check out the Bruneian bloggers’ website:

Rano Iskandar (@RanoAdidas) – RanoAdidas.com and LoveFoodHateWaste.org

Reeda Malik (@AnakBrunei) – AnakBrunei.org

Kamarul D Ajimain (@marul69) – geekinwhite.com

Maurina (@Maurina) – maurina.wordpress.com

Azhani (@EmmaGoodEgg) – emmagoodegg.com

We are thankful to Royal Brunei Airlines and Brunei Tourism for the travel arrangement and hospitality, and to Omy.sg for organising this trip. For more information about Brunei, visit Brunei Tourism website at: www.bruneitourism.travel

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For more information on Royal Brunei Airlines’ destinations, fares and promotions, please visit their website flyroyalbrunei.com and Facebook page www.facebook.com/royalbruneiairlinessingapore

“Save time, pay less, travel more – Get cheaper air tickets and hotel rooms with Wego.com“.

 

Volcano Land – Lake Taupo & Rotorua

Journey: Auckland – Lake Taupo – Rotorua – Auckland

Period: Mid January (summer), weekend

The sun was setting as our red hatchback cruised through New Zealand State Highway 1. Few hours ago, the light was harsh, I felt so tempted to spread sunscreen on my left arm and face even though I was sitting inside the car. Now the glow was gentle, welcoming us after a restful weekend back to our home in Orakei.

For most part of the day, light clouds scattered across the sky providing some shade as the cool wind blew through our hair.

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Waking up at 3 am on early Saturday morning for a light meal to replenish energy, we set off at 4 o’clock, traveling at 110 km down the south side of Bombay Hills. In the pitch darkness, we were guided by only the astronomy of the south hemisphere and the reflectors on the road. It felt as if I was journeying along the North-South Expressway in Malaysia. Together with a few other brave souls, we were one of the few cars racing down the road.

At the break of dusk, we paused into Matamata (www.matamata.co.nz) for a pitstop. A large sign saying, “Welcome to Hobbiton” greeted us as we looked for a place to stretch our legs and use the public washroom. This place had evolved since the Lord of the Rings series, from a sleepy old Kiwi town to a tourist attraction in New Zealand. No doubt, the price of the food and beverage here had increased to fit the tourist market demand.

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We didn’t like our breakfast, it was overpriced but “eat we must” as we were on a schedule to reach Lake Taupo by 8.30 am for the 2013 State Epic Swim.

Journeying on, we drove through the mountains. Summer had arrived but a fog accompanied us as we traveled closer to the geothermal sites of central North Island.

We reached Lake Taupo Yatch Club at 7.55 am, giving our mate J more than enough time to change into his event official uniform while Tony and myself scouted for a comfortable spot to watch the athletes conduct their warm-up swim.

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It feels very much like the Lake District of Queenstown in South Island but instead of the The Remarkables and other snow-capped peaks, Taupo gives a scenic view of volcanoes in the distant. In fact, this famous lake which is the home of the Iron Man New Zealand was once an active volcano that has blown its top off thousands of years ago.

What I really like about Lake Taupo district is the beauty that it feels more like a weekend recreational town for Kiwis to relax as compare to Queenstown which resembles a typical tourist trap with large influx of Chinese tour buses and overcrowded facilities.

The best time to walk around Lake Taupo (www.greatlaketaupo.com) is on a Saturday morning. We visited the Riverside Market (every Saturday, 10am till 1pm) where Tony bought second hand books at $3 each. There was stall selling homemade sausages and the chef was very friendly and gave us four different samples. The pork & watercress sausage was especially yummy. Other stalls of our interest include the one selling llama products and other stall with display of essential oils made from lavender.

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As we continued our tour of Taupo on foot, I found an old aircraft in the backyard of a McDonald’s restaurant. Once a military air transport, it is now part of a unique fast food dining experience. Taupo matches most activities that Queenstown offers, for those seeking a thrill, opt for the Hukafalls Jet or skydive. River rafting, bungy jump and scenic flights are just some of the activities that one can do if he/she is willing to part with his/her cash.

There are also lots of free activities on offer. After checking in to the Lakeland Resort (www.lakeland.co.nz), we went for a swim in the lake followed by dinner at Wok-tastic, a cheap & cheerful place owned by a Chinese family. It’s not a place for authentic cuisine but they have fish & chips at $5. I tried their spicy noodles and it’s really good for the price, though I won’t recommend eating the Singapore Noodles. Also on the menu are side dishes such as samosa (10 pieces) and money bags (8 pieces) at $4 each. The lady owner was kind enough to allow us to mix 5 samosas and 4 money bags at $4.

While we were busy chopping down our noodles, our mate J was having his committee dinner at the Crooked Door (www.crookeddoor.co.nz), he described the food there as “pub style food, good quality with wide variety”. There are lots of choices on the menu and the entree are reasonably price. Instead of having their main courses, mates can order different entree for sharing and sampling.

We walked past Scenic Cellars (www.sceniccellars.co.nz) which Tony described it as “the best place in town (New Zealand) for wine”. They have moved out of their former building and business has expanded with the additional of an eatery. It’s the perfect venue for a romantic night of wine & dine if you are looking to please that someone special.

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The next day, we set off to Huka Falls (www.hukafalls.com) – the largest falls on the Waikato River, is one of the most visited natural attractions in New Zealand. The serenity of the majestic of the falls was broken when a tour bus offload a wave of eager tourists armed with camera and snapping five shots of the same spot. Huka falls can also be explored onboard a jet boat that offers a 360 degrees view of this natural wonder.

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As we continued our drive back to Auckland, we stopped by Rotorua (www.rotoruanz.com) – famous for its geothermal springs. The Rotorua Museum (www.rotoruamuseum.co.nz) offers visitors an enriching educational experience for the family. I highly recommend a day trip to The Blue Baths (www.historic-venues.co.nz) if you are staying over at Lake Taupo. As we were in hurry for time, we stopped by a local park to soak our feet in the hot spring for free.

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Our late lunch at Pigs and Whistle (www.pigsandwhistle.co.nz) was disappointing. I ordered linguine and my pasta turned out to be a plate of dry spaghetti. The pizza my mates had was “cheap preserved chinese garlic with cheese on a soggy microwaved crust”. Having said that, Pigs and Whistle is worth going for if all you are after for is beer and cider. Housed in a former police station, the pub offers live music on certain nights and live screening of television sports.

As the sun set, our car brought us to our final pitstop – the Hamilton Gardens (hamiltongardens.co.nz). Pouring hot water from the thermal flask into our cups, we slipped green tea under the shade of the trees. We took a quick tour of the botanic gardens before continuing our journey home. The Hamilton Gardens offer several collections. I enjoyed exploring the Paradise Collection comprising of different culturally inspired gardens such as the Indian Char Bagh Garden, Italian Renaissance Garden and Japanese Garden of Contemplation.

The wind continued to howl, the rays now felt gentle on the skin as our red hunchback carried us back to the city of Auckland…

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Into its ninth year and gotten bigger with support from 19 corporate partners, 21 community partners and more than 250 volunteers, the Singapore HeritageFest 2012 is set to reach out to Singaporeans to “Recollect, Reflect and Reconnect”.

 

We woke up early on a Saturday morning to rush down to Velocity@Novena Square to support Irene Ang, who is the emcee for the opening of the HeritageFest. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts was present to grace the event as the guest of honour.

 

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim mentioned in his speech, “I am heartened that Singaporeans are not only demonstrating a stronger interest in our heritage, but also taking a more active role in keeping our heritage alive. This edition of the Singapore HeritageFest (SHF) has seen more individuals and community groups coming forward to participate in and shape the Festival.”

 

 

 

This year’s SHF is spread over 9 Festival Hubs and 2 Satellite Hubs around the island. With Sports as its main theme at Velocity, the exhibition showcases the sporting history of our nation and celebrates the achievements of our countrymen and women in the realm of sports.

 

The programme for the opening of SHF features the cultural richness of the different ethnic groups with appearance from some of our favorite comedians such as Patricia Mok and Suhaimi Yusof.

 

 

 

I was interviewed by Lianhe Zaobao and quoted saying that I welcomed the idea that the National Heritage Board (NHB) offers free entry to its museums in August and it will now be a yearly affair. For those of us who are sick of shopping in the malls, we can spend the afternoon of weekends visiting the permanent galleries and selected exhibitions of these museums.

 

There are really a lot of things to do from now till 29 July. You can immerse in Football Fever at Century Square (Tampines), check out Void Decks at Changi City Point, find out more about Traditional Toys and Games at Tiong Bahru Plaza, recollect memories of our National Monuments at Hougang Mall, experience Peranakan Heritage at 112 Katong or go Shopping for Gold at Causeway Point. For the movie buffs, you can relive the Golden Age of Singapore Cinema at Bugis Junction  or see Singapore through the lenses of 10 local short film-makers at Jurong Point.

Heritage Trails await you at Tiong Bahru CC, Sembawang CC, CHIJ Katong Convent and Evergreen Secondary School. The Centrepoint brings you flash back to the 1980s with music performances and movie screening. The other satellite hub at Chinatown Visitors Centre has an interactive gallery with display from Rediffusion and walking tours conduct by Chinatown clan associations.

 

 

After the launch, it was time for us to feed our soul. We discovered Curry Times operated by Old Chang Kee at #02-33-34 of Velocity. It’s a good place to relax and to soak in its retro, 1960s theme.

 

 

 

We absolutely enjoy the ambience of that eatery and on your way out, remember to reward yourself with some Sugar Gem Cookies!