Brunei – saving Grace

We transferred to Brunei from Malaysian Borneo by bus – a short journey and a quick hop through immigration and there we were! It was nothing like the horrific border hop from Malaysia to Singapore – supposedly the most organised country in the world!

Brunei gained independence from the UK in 1984 and is quite different to any other country we’ve visited so far on our travels. It felt more like being in the Middle East than in South East Asia – possibly due to the country being a Sultanate and the fairly recent introduction of Sharia Law.

It was a nice change from the rest of Borneo and we were really glad to visit such an unheard of, uncommon travel destination.

We stayed at a hostel just out of town and visited the two famous mosques – the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, which is surrounded by a beautiful lagoon, peaceful gardens and overlooks the river and water village, as well as the ‘big mosque’ called the Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. The latter was a grand, extravagant building which even houses an escalator for the Sultan and his family to use rather than climbing the stairs!

We later went to Kampong Ayer, which roughly translates to ‘water village’. It’s a community that’s been built on the river, with houses made using stilts to protect them from the water. Once upon a time, the whole of Brunei lived in the water village, and it’s still a popular place to live today with the Sultan visiting regularly and the community having their own schools, mosques and medical centres.

Most residents have small boats to get around the village and to cross the river into ‘mainland Brunei’. Its museum was a really interesting introduction to Kampong Ayer, and there was also a tower you could climb to look over at all the houses on stilts, or as it is commonly known, ‘Venice of the East.’

We later visited the Sultan museum, which houses many of the gifts the royal family has received from other countries. It was fascinating to see a glimpse into the culture of all these other countries, as the presents they gave were usually traditional pieces that reflected their homeland. It was also quite shocking for me to witness the extravagance, and as someone who doesn’t really do ‘pomp and circumstance’, a painful sight to see when there are refugees fleeing many of the countries that had sent expensive gifts.

Upon exiting the museum, I heard a young cat crying loudly and found a tiny kitten stuck down a grate outside the entrance. As a crazy cat lady, I couldn’t possibly let the kitten suffer and walk away, so I spent an hour and a half trying to coax it out of the drain, reaching both arms and my head down the dirty sewer to try and rescue the kitten. After a team effort, I eventually grabbed the kitten who was absolutely terrified and in shock.

He was trembling and had a broken tail, and I was so worried he was going to die. I wrapped him up in my baggy trouser leg and massaged him to warm him up. He was wet, dirty and really not very well.

I decided to name him Grace like ‘Saving Grace’ and after his ordeal, I felt like he needed a spiritual name. After about 30 minutes, I managed to persuade him to eat some cat food off my fingers, which Alex had fetched from the shop down the road. He was so hungry that he nibbled my hands, and by now I was covered in dirt, sweat and tuna flavoured cat food. It was completely worth it when Grace’s health started to improve and I felt such affection as he nuzzled into me for a cuddle and a sleep.

We googled animal rescue centres but found that this wasn’t really a thing in Brunei, and rang our hostel owner to ask for advice but she just told us to ‘leave him’.

After everything the poor little guy had been through, I couldn’t possibly desert him and we managed to find a police station down the road from where he’d got stuck to take him in with his 2 packets of Whiskas. They promised to look after him and seemed genuinely caring – I was already attached to him and Alex even suggested smuggling him into Bali with us so we could keep him as our pet!

It was such a happy ending and I was so proud to have saved little Grace’s life. I hope he found his mummy and siblings again after the police set him free.

The next day, we flew directly from Brunei to Bali on luxurious Royal Brunei Airlines, which was a real treat! It was the only option for a direct flight, otherwise we’d have to go back to KL or Singapore before transferring onto Bali, but it was an expensive option too!

We’ve learnt that it’s better to pay a little more rather than waste lots of time and tire ourselves out – it was so much more convenient to fly direct and get to our next destination at a more sensible time.

I’ll be writing some updates on Bali soon, but before we catch up again in Indonesia, don’t forget to:

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  • Best wishes,
  • Sarah

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