Brunei x Borneo: Day 1

August 04, 2014

To set your expectations on this post, let me start by saying this is meant to be a wordy and picture-heavy travel diary of what went on during my first solo travel abroad. If you need tips, I'll be more than glad to answer your questions in the comments section. :) 

It has been about a month and a half since I went on this trip. Work and other trips aside, I have been procrastinating on writing about what was the best travel experience I've had so far in my life. It's not that it's a requirement that I write about this, but if you crossed off something really big from your bucket list, wouldn't you want to document it in photos, along with your feelings, for all the world to see? No? Okay.

I wanted to edit the photos first to give it a coherent feel, but that was not happening. I'm too lazy and I apparently don't have time for it because in a few days. I'll be off again to another adventure. Just so I can get the ball rolling, I'll just be using the raw photos from the trip.

Of Airports and Airplanes
If you have read what I have written here, you'd already know how much I love airports and airplanes. During this trip, it wasn't any different. I arrived in the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKIA) Terminal 2 past 1AM. Due to the excitement from it all, I actually forgot to eat dinner back in Manila. I saw only one convenience store open in Terminal 2 and they didn't sell heavy meals so I decided to try my luck at Terminal 1, where I was going to catch my flight to Miri.
What You Should Know:
Airport taxi transfers from one terminal to another cost a lot. During the day it would cost you RM30, while during graveyard hours, it would cost you RM45. Of course, you can always take the airport bus for only RM5, but it has a schedule that starts from 8AM to 8PM
An hour and 45 Malaysian Ringgits (RM) later, I was already in Terminal 1. It took that long for me to decide whether I really wanna spend that much money on a short cab ride to the other airport terminal versus looking for potential cab-mates that I could share the cab fare with. Na-da.

Short sad story
Me: Hi. Do you sell rice here?
Cashier: No.
Being that it was the only open food establishment in BKIA Terminal 1 around 2AM, I had no choice but to eat from McDonald's. Why the Happy Meal? Their chicken meal had two pieces of chicken. I was hungry but not THAT hungry. The only option for a 1-pc chicken meal was to get the Happy Meal. I got to take home a toy so win-win!

The part of the airport near my boarding gate was pretty much deserted. I tried doing jump shots for my collection using a remote control shutter but the timing was off. I was already wasting precious battery life so I eventually decided on just taking a video instead. It is that same clip you'd see on the first few seconds of my video diary.

I had a lot to complain about BKIA Terminal 2. I could go as far as saying it was worse than any Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminal here in Manila. (We have four terminals and one has been dubbed as the worst airport in the world. IN THE WORLD. I silently wondered if the panel who ranked the airports have not been to KK.) On the other side of the spectrum, Terminal 1 was nice. The check in/departure floor looked like our NAIA Terminal 3 and Singapore's Changi Airport, minus the lack of food choices 24/7. But what took my breath away was the atrium where Gate A11 was located.
What You Should Know:
If ever you get to board from Gate A11 onwards, set extra time for the long walk. It is quite far.

Imagine having to watch the sun rise with this view. These are all unedited raw photos and whatever you're seeing right now, was nowhere near the sight in person. No other passenger were there so I took the liberty of exclaiming "Wow!" over and over again. That, and some other cheesy lines.

On the other side of the sun rise was the plane I was about to hop on. If you didn't know, MASwings is a Malaysia Air plane. It was tiny, had old school propellers, and it was NOT an Airbus plane. Needless to say, I was praying so mightily. At that time, the MH17 incident hasn't happened yet, but for the first time, I actually felt scared of flying.
What You Should Know:
MH3201 is NOT an Airbus airplane. If you don't like how small Zest Air planes were, this was way smaller and cramped. 

Off I flew to Miri. I usually sleep on flights, no matter how short. During this trip, I spent the first half taking in the view of the Sabah islands as we flew over, the next quarter eating the in-flight snacks and the last quarter catching a power nap. (I haven't slept since I woke up the day before.)

According to Wikipedia, Miri is a city in northern Sarawak, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It is the second largest city in Sarawak, with a population of about 360,000, and located in close proximity to Brunei.

My stay in Miri was relatively short. It was only so I could get to experience the local scene over breakfast. To me, it looked like a very laid back and peaceful town. 
What You Should Know: You can go to Brunei via Miri International Airport

This was the part of the city where the local coffee shops were located. 

I forgot if this was the actual name of the coffee shop we went to, or if it was the one beside it. They served a really good flat noodle dish

These are Cyril and Tawny, my friends working in Brunei. They went all the way to Miri to pick me up from the airport, and toured me around Kuala Belait and Bandar Seri Begawan. I cannot thank them enough for being too kind, especially Cyril throughout the Brunei leg of the trip. I wouldn't have pursued going to Brunei if not for them.  

Empire Hotel and Country Club
To say "I have never seen so much gold-plated things in my life" is an understatement. Everything in this place screams luxury. I read online that it's a 6-star hotel and true enough, the facilities and service were really topnotch. I've been really blessed to have stayed here. 

I only have a prime lens with me and the scope couldn't really fit in the enormity of the place. Heck, I can't even take a photo of the whole pillar.

This is the dining area on the lower floor. It doesn't seem like the hotel's filled with people but come breakfast time, all the tables on both levels gets filled. The hotel's that enormous that you won't get too see everyone. 

My bed for two nights. My lens is too tight but this room is very spacious. If this were a hotel room I booked in Manila, I would have setup a hotel room party. Unfortunately, in Brunei, you are not allowed to drink alcohol, nor have parties. It is a serious offense, even for tourists who try to break the law. I have been told, however, that you are allowed to drink quietly inside your hotel room, and provided that you don't disturb other guests.
What You Should Know:The hotel is far from the city proper so if you are staying in hotels in the city, you would need to either ride the shuttle (until 5pm) or take a cab back to the city. Rooms in The Empire Hotel start at SGD/BND 340. Check out their website here.

I had to take a photo of the complimentary snacks. It's not everyday you check in to a hotel without having to pay huge markup for snacks. The Empire Hotel gives it for free. I left an opened Pringles can and upon returning from the day's trip, the Pringles was replenished i.e., replaced with a new one. 

I don't usually get shy when asking strangers to take my photo, but when everyone's with their loved ones, relaxing by the beach or by the pool, it's only proper etiquette to not disturb them. Instead, I took out my mini tripod and took photos of myself, by myself.  

Gadong Night Market
As for the nightlife in Brunei, there is pretty much slim to none. By 7PM, shops were already starting to close, beating my island province hometown in shop closing schedules. There's no alcohol consumption allowed in public and even loud music is prohibited. Karaoke bars and clubs, you won't find here. (Unless, of course, you're a member of that super exclusive club that is rumored to be the only club that serves alcohol.)

To my relief, at least there was a night market for me to scour. I love food. I love trying out other countries' local offerings. This was no exception. The Gadong Night Market was not the most hygienic place to get your food, but aren't most night markets everywhere the same? 
What You Should Know:Brunei allows foreigners to bring two bottles of alcohol, provided that you consume this within the comfort of your own hotel room. I had friends who visited Brunei a week before me who tried doing this. According to them, there was no limit on the bottle size, as long as there's only two bottles. *wink wink* 

Day 1 Conclusion
Well, that was long, even after cutting the commentary halfway through. Hopefully, I can get myself to write about the other days too. I guess I have also been stalling on writing this series because just by looking at the photos, I'm taken back to the place and time when everything was happening straight out of an adventure movie plot. Okay, maybe a chick flick about finding oneself. The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants was the first movie that came into mind, except that I was alone, but not really. If there's one thing I was so grateful for throughout this whole trip, it would be seeing how naturally kind everyone were to me, a complete stranger.

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