1. After busy tidying up various loose ends on the 14 Oct morning, I boarded SQ 182 with Yeow Pheng at 2.45 pm for Brunei, to begin our 70 days journey through Brunei, E Malaysia states of Sabah and Sarawak and Indonesia.
2. With a good discount, we checked into Empire Hotel and Country Club in Jerudong, Brunei. Very luxuriously finished with marble everywhere, the 500 rooms seaside resort was completed some 10 years ago, with a 18 holes golf course nearby. Was told that it was originally intended to be part of a wider Jerudong development, but for various reasons, the plan was aborted. The theme park was dismantled and the marina was never proceeded with. After 10 years, the Empire Hotel and Country Club still looked very good. It was very well maintained. I could see young staff painstakingly keeping the hotel sparkling clean most time of the day. Probably one of the jewels of Brunei, it has to look good. Occupancy did not appear to be high but it did not dampen the mood of the staff. They provided good service with a smile. Very good value for money if one does not mind not having internet in the room. We stayed 2 nights here, 14 and 15 Oct.
3. Our short stay in Brunei was also about meeting up with old friends - friends from the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) whom I got to know when I was in the army and former colleagues from MINDEF/Singapore Armed Forces. Yeow Pheng know many of them well as he spent 6 years here as our Defence Attache in the late eighties and early nineties. On the day we arrived, we were hosted to a dinner by Pehin Mohammed at iLotus, a halal Chinese restaurant. We were happy that many of our old friends from RBAF were able to come. On the 15 Oct night, our Ambassador to Brunei, Joseph Koh, was very kind to buy us dinner at Thiam Hock Restaurant.
4. On 15 Oct morning, we were able to squeeze in a golf game at Empire Country Club. A beautiful course, well maintained, not too difficult, but as far as we could see, we were the only flight on the golf course. Our SAF friends, Larry Loon and Tay Sin Chuan, were able to join us.
5. The ship carrying my Pajero arrived at Muara Port at about 4 pm on 15 Oct. It was meant to arrive on 14 Oct, giving us ample time to get it out of the port area on the 15 Oct. But, no harm done. As the container carrying the Pajero was conveniently located on board the vessel, the local shipping agent was able to get the container unstuffed and car retrieved by the evening of the 15 Oct. We were all set to begin the journey on the 16 Oct morning.
6. The next day, 16 Oct, before we set off for Temburong, we dropped by Pehin Mohammed's house to return him the car that he had very kindly allowed Yeow Pheng to use during our stay in Brunei. It was a sprawling house, very lushly landscaped with plants and flowers and a tract of vegetable plots adjacent to his house. Although a soldier, he must have farmer DNA in him. We had an unexpected feast of durians in his house; one type with red meat which I saw for the first time called the "brain" durian.
7. I also find it interesting that a number of the former senior RBAF officers have become padi farmers in their retirement. Pehin Mohammed owned 2 ha of rice field. So are Pengiran Ibnu, Dato Jocklin etc. They are leading by example as, I was told, the Brunei govt is striving for greater self sufficiency in rice production, with the goal of reaching 20% by 2013, up from the current 3%.
8. At about 1 pm, we departed BSB to begin our journey to Kota Kinabalu. Here we were, just before entering the Bruneian immigration checkpoint before entering Limbang. In order not to rush too much, we decided to stay one night, 16 Oct, in Temburong, the Eastern half of Brunei. To get to Temburong, we had to first enter the Malaysian territory of Limbang, before re-entering the Brunei territory of Temburong. Just before entering Temburong district, we had to cross a ferry at Pemdurang. All in all, some hassle but fairly efficiently carried out by immigration staff, and many "chops" in the passport.
9. There will be more immigration checkpoints tomorrow, 17 Oct, as we depart Temburong for Kota Kinabalu.