Brunei made a good overland stopover between the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah in Borneo, so we decided to see what it had to offer - it's by far the shortest chapter in the guidebook, so it seemed pretty manageable in a day. The border crossing was ridiculously easy and efficient, especially now that we have the nightmare of the Thailand-Cambodia crossing to compare it to.
Straight away it was obvious that Brunei was far richer, and more religious, than the other countries we'd been to. Street signs were written in Arabic, as well as Malay and English, and almost all the women were wearing headscarves. Ramadan was still in full swing too, so we weren't allowed inside any of the mosques, and we made a bit of a booboo at a lunchtime food market. We tucked in to our food happily, and it was only after about fifteen minutes that we noticed we were the only ones eating - although there were loads of people buying food, nobody was actually eating anything, they were just buying food in preparation for nightfall. And that explained the dodgy looks we were getting...
We stayed in the only affordable hostel, which was government run (locals are only allowed to stay there for a maximum of 14 days apparently), and segregated into male and female sections with many many rules (no gambling, for starters). We almost had trouble checking in though, because the receptionist there is notoriously always absent, so another guest had to spend ages running around the labyrinthine hostel looking for him first!
Spent a while looking around the National Museum, stuffed full of presents from foreign dignitaries to the Sultan (nobody needs that many presents), cases and cases of his various medals, and photographs of him with his family with captions like "Look how cordial the Sultan is with his wife and children". Criticising the sultan is very clearly not the done thing there. We also took a ride on a water taxi around the Kampung Ayer, a village built entirely on stilts over the river which has been there for hundreds of years and has its own police station, school, fire station, satellites etc. - quite a difference between that and the many massive (but rather tasteless) mansions we saw all over the place. To my great dismay, we were a couple of weeks too early to go into the Sultan's palace - he opens it for three days a year at the end of Ramadan, and not being allowed in made me want to see inside even more than I already did (and that's a lot - when I was younger, the Sultan of Brunei always seemed roughly on a par with the Sultan from Aladdin in terms of coolness). So although we covered pretty much all there is to do in Brunei, or at least in the capital, in 24 hours, I'm going to have to go back there again one day.