Brunei – Land of Mosques and Inedible Goo

To be honest, the only reason Amanda and I decided to go to Brunei was because it was so close to Kota Kinabalu and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to cross off another country. Yes, we can be list tickers sometimes.

While researching how to get to Brunei, I found overland instructions that sounded like an adventure all on their own and included crossing back and forth over the Malaysia/Brunei border several times. However, after racking up quite a few overland adventures already, we kept searching for alternatives and finally found a ferry option.

The first ferry left Kota Kinabalu and went to Labuan, which seems to have little to offer besides duty free shopping. The second ferry then took us to Brunei. I think this is a fairly new option, and it was much easier than the overland option sounded.

We arrived late in the afternoon, checked into our hotel, and set out to look for a good restaurant. After dinner, we decided to walk towards the huge Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque that was a few blocks from our hotel. We had just enough time to take a few pictures before the sky opened up and poured on us.

I don’t really have a camera case, just a little bag that came with a pair of waterproof pants I bought for our trip to Antarctica. Since the bag is made of the same material as the pants, I assume it’s decent enough protection, at least from water. Still, I put the camera in its bag, then in my purse, and then put my purse under my shirt. And then we ran.

We were a good 20 minute walk from our hotel, and this was not a light rain. The sky lit up with lightening, scary loud thunder crashed along with it, and all we could do was run and laugh. Luckily, while running through the parking lot of a mall, a guy about our age pulled over and offered to give us a ride. Not something I would normally do, and definitely not if I was on my own, but Amanda has good instincts about people, so we got in and directed him to our hotel. He turned out to be a very polite and friendly guy, and we never once felt uncomfortable. (To all the moms out there reading this with concern about the fact that we got in a car with a stranger, don’t worry, a hotel employee chastised us for you.)

traveling to Brunei - Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque
Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque in Brunei

The next day we lounged at the pool for a few hours, not wanting to wander around the city during the hottest part of the day. We then had the hotel drive us into the city center for some sightseeing. The more famous Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, which is in the city center, is closed to tourists Thursdays and Fridays. Of course it was a Thursday when we were there, so we could only view it from the outside. It was a really impressive building, and a little less flashy than the one near our hotel. We walked around the city for a few hours, and finally found a restaurant where we could order ambuyat.

traveling to Brunei - Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in Brunei

Ambuyat is a traditional Brunei food, which doesn’t really look like food. It’s a sort of white, sort of clear, gooey substance that doesn’t have much flavor of its own but takes on the taste of whatever you eat it with.

We didn’t even know what we were ordering, only that we were getting an option suitable for two people instead of an entire family. A little while later, the waitress brought over a huge pot of goo along with several plates containing vegetables, chili sauce, some kind of bean paste, and the most disgusting fish I’ve ever seen. They were so dried and overcooked, and they smelled rancid.

We tasted the ambuyat by itself at first, and then tried it with some of the other items in front of us. The ambuyat felt like swallowing phlegm, and adding spices and vegetables didn’t help. I couldn’t even handle having the fish next to me, so I certainly didn’t try any of that. Amanda is usually pretty open-minded about food, but even she thought this entire meal was disgusting. I wasn’t expecting much from a meal based around a gooey substance, but at least I gave it a try.

I’m planning on doing a post later showing some of the food I ate in Southeast Asia, but ambuyat was so vital to our experience in Brunei that I don’t want to wait to post those pictures.

traveling to Brunei - ambuyat
ambuyat in Brunei
traveling to Brunei - ambuyat with green beans
ambuyat in Brunei – those green beans were about the only thing I could eat
traveling to Brunei - ambuyat with fish
ambuyat in Brunei – the horrible fish

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