RayaTechnically, I guess it was only my attempt to become best friend with the Sultan of Brunei. I’ll get to it in a bit, but as a woman Iris would not be allowed to meet the Sultan.
So Iris and I both had three days of for Hari Raya, the celebration at the end of Ramadan here in Malaysia. Balik Kampung, as they say, which means go home. Most Malays (aka Muslims) go to their home village to visit family. Iris and I decided to go to Labaun, a small island off the coast of East Malaysia, aka Borneo. As we were deciding were to go, we discovered that we could take a ferry to Brunei, a small country sandwiched between the Malay states of Sarawak and Sabah. And it was then that we discovered that it is during Hari Raya that the Sultan of Brunei opens up his palace to anyone who wants to visit. This is the ONLY time of the year that he does this or, depending on what you read, the only time he does it for non Muslims. Some sources said that he does it another time in the year for the Muslims of Brunei. Needless to say that since Iris and I are not Muslims, this was our only time to visit the largest private home in the world. Let me stress that again. This is the Sultan’s home. The country does not own it, he owns it. He rules the country from there, but it is his house. It is twice as big as the second largest private home in the world, which is pretty darn big itself. We were obviously excited. But first, Labuan!
Listen, we had a great time. But the only time I really took photos was on our snorkeling trip. We went to a few tiny islands in the marine reserve. Other than the people working there (the guides and what not) we were the only tourists. So the snorkeling trip was us following our guide around the water. I had never been snorkeling before, nor had I ever been to an area that has actual reefs like that, with the clown fish and pretty much all the fish you think of when you think of South China Sea reef. It was incredible!
Now on to Brunei! We took a ferry from Labuan, which took about 1.5 hours. We were met at the dock by our friend Dawn, who lives in Brunei and was nice enough to lug us about for the day. This was really nice not only because Dawn and her husband are super nice, but because there are not really any taxis or public transportation in Brunei.
First stop, some food!
We took a nice little tour of downtown, which was very tiny because it is a very tiny country after all.
On to the Sultan’s house. Again I have to stress, this is his house, not the governments or somebody else’s. And it is huge. Disappointingly, we only got to see the reception hall, which seats about 10,000 people apparently and was built ONLY FOR THIS EXACT EVENT we were going to. Everyone is welcome to come and get some food and a gift from the Sultan. More on that later.
First thing was the food. Brunei is a very strict Muslim country, despite being only 60 percent Muslim. You might have heard about how last year they went full sharia law and people protested outside of some famous hotels in Hollywood because yeah, the Sultan owns those hotels.
After eating, which I for some reason did not take pictures of or can not find them right now, we got in line to get our gift! We only had two hours or so before we had to catch our ferry, so we did not get in line to meet the Sultan. Well, like I said earlier, I can meet the Sultan. Iris would only get to meet his wife. As I was waiting in line I took a few photos of the waiting area.
As you might have noticed, not a lot of men waiting. So I gave Iris my free gift ticket, and got in line to meet the Sultan. Very quickly I was taken to another waiting area where there were still not a lot of men, but more then before. Worried that I would not be on time for our ride back to the ferry, I balked on meeting the Sultan. Next time? Maybe not. Given that we are only able to be there during Hari Raya, it seems unlikely that I will be in Brunei again to meet the Sultan. Oh well, I got a gift from him to placate myself!
That’s about it for Brunei!