Ambuyat. It sounds like a word used in a witch’s spell and its gloopy texture and not so lush perfume smell is one of Brunei’s local delicacies. Surrounded by seven dishes, the Ambuyat was the ring leader in a battle that my stomach and taste buds would most certainly lose. Alone in a restaurant, this skinny young travel writer stood no chance. I left feeling awful, because I had wasted so much food.
Made from the trunk of a Sago Palm the substance is considered bland. So using ‘chandas’ a bamboo chopstick but with one end stuck together, I would twist the chandas in the gloop as if it were spaghetti then dunk it in a fiery sauce. The bowl was big and is ideally for big parties to gather around a table and share. However, when you travel alone and want to experience local cuisine you cannot opt for the ‘lonely traveller baby sized’ option. The other dishes that forcibly accompany the main dish were mostly nice, but dry carrots were really finding it hard to be swallowed – bunny food is not for me. Aminah Arif Restaurant may be the most famed place for the delicacy, but having tried it once, I would never need to return.
Motorway High Jinks
A more lucrative foodie experience was at the local Gadong Market. The market is simple and it set up by locals in a car park opposite The Mall. Due to the distance between the city centre and The Mall, I contemplated getting a taxi before realising that Brunei only has about 20 taxis and they are nearly impossible to find. So I took pleasure in walking for 50 minutes under the beautiful Brunei sun. The walk went swimmingly. I passed lush parks and over bridges cluttered with the national flag.
However, then came a point where a large roundabout which was allowing traffic to emerge on to and from a motorway which had no traffic lights, just three lanes of road, followed by another three to reach the other side. I had come too far to back down from my real life game of Frogger. I bounded across the first three lanes but then got stranded on an island for about ten minutes as the relentless traffic poured on to the highway. I took my chances and utilised all my experiences of travelling to Highway Code lax countries and dashed to the other side. A local man looked at me confused so I graciously said “morning!”. It wasn’t the morning…it was late afternoon.
At the market I enjoyed the local food. However, in a bizarre standard for Asia, the local food is not supposed to be eaten at the market…so all the food including kebabs are packaged up for you to take home. I decided to eat my snacks in a nearby park that had sinks and cosy little areas.
Kelupis, which is a sticky rice wrapped in leaf is a foodstuff born from the Brunei and Malay people was delicious and I grabbed a bag of six for only $1 Brunei dollar. I always have caveman cravings so I located beef and chicken skewers which were coated in a zingy sauce. There is a lot to choose from so wear your most elasticated trousers.
Wondering around I felt like I was gazing at the Sultan’s Palace in the city of Agrabah in the Disney classic ‘Aladdin’. The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is the most recognisable landmark in all of Brunei. It’s golden dome and prime spot next to the Brunei River makes this a beautiful building to explore.
Sadly, westerners cannot wander freely inside but are restrained to a small patch of carpet close to the entrance. Either way, exploring the outside of the mosque was the real thrill. The royal boat in the man-made lagoon is dramatic and adds to the already impressive marble façade.
There is another mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan ‘Jame‘Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque’ but despite being the largest mosque is nowhere near as breath-taking as the famed mosque.
I spent a few days in Brunei, whereas many just transit here. I may have been worried about running out of things to do and see, so I found a local park that many locals go to get their jungle fix without having to go very far.
Tasek Lama Recreational Park is a quaint oasis that has idyllic walking and jogging paths with a natural waterfall awaiting at the end. The troupe of monkeys that were lounging outside the entrance gave me that gentile nudge to remind me that I had left the confines of the city centre…after a short 10 minute walk. The park was very nice and spacious and I decided to opt for an incline hike to reach the summit where an observation tower awaited. It was an easy climb and didn’t take long at all for me to be able to lookout onto the small city of Bandar Seri Begawan.
I then saw a dirt path that had guide ropes to stop people plummeting down steep hill edges. I decided to take it and went on a jolly through the wilderness. It began to get muddier and trickier with inclines that required rock climbing skills. Whizzing through the jungle was fun and it gave me a glimpse into what I could expect from my day trip to the nature reserve.
Cash to Flash
Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei is worth around $20 billion USD and I wanted a glimpse inside such a lavish lifestyle so off I went to visit the free Royal Regalia Museum.
The museum houses priceless antiques, uniforms and superfluous gifts. It is a grand museum that offers an intriguing experience. Curiosity did leave me bemused and amazed at some of the gifts presented to the billionaire Sultan. The President of Syria gifted the Sultan with a silver shield adorned with a picture of said president’s face – narcissist springs to mind. Detailed models of Angkor Wat and fine crafted wooden statues are just a few other presents received.
The most extravagant piece in the museum is a Royal Chariot that stretches through the centre of the main hall. It was once used to carry the Sultan through the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan during his silver jubilee. This main hall is also where many Chinese tourists in their tour groups congregate. Watching the staff shouting and running after the tourists to stop them from doing inappropriate things is a humorous site.
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