Fri 15 Apr 2011 - Tue 26 Apr 2011
It's really not fair of me to keep lumping Singapore and Brunei together, simply because they are both small countries in the same area of the world. Each destination is unique - or not - in the following ways.
Singapore is a mega-city, or rather, a mega-city surrounded by green space that is less often visited. The city is known world-wide for its cleanliness and rules. I think that like all good reputations, each was a bit of an overstatement. The cleanliness was not glaringly obvious, and we saw dirty areas just like in every other city. The rules, while posted everywhere, were not rigorously enforced. One might expect to have "etiquette police" everywhere, which we didn't see. I use the term etiquette because refraining from eating durian on the metro is not a matter of safety.
It was a great place for a weekend, as you could easily spend hours exploring and admiring the different areas of the city, but after coming from Malaysia it also seemed like more of the same, but at a more expensive price. We liked the mix of colonial and modern, Chinese and Indian, but we had also seen that in Malaysia. It seems as though Singapore would be a great place to live and work, but for travellers touring SE Asia it is often simply another country to check off their list.
I recommend booking your accommodation in Singapore in advance, as budget places fill up fast, and we were left with a mid-range option that ate up most of our daily budget. If you're flying to Borneo next, it may be worth the effort to cross back into Malaysia first to save some money, as flights from Singapore tend to be more expensive.
Brunei Darussalam - the tiny Sultanate on Borneo surrounded by Malaysia - sounded extremely exotic at first, but was much more liberal and modern than we expected. The main purpose of our stopover was to visit with friends living there with their three children. They often deal with misconceptions about what Brunei is like. It is very developed, but not overly so; driving from one location to another on a nicely paved highway we could see wild jungle on either side. The large expat community of Shell employees is set up with all the amenities of home, including a country club, golf course and private school, but minus the shopping options and the alcohol, which you have to bring in from Malaysia for personal consumption and declare at the border.
It sounds like the Sultan really takes care of his people, providing them with free health care, education, occasionally housing and gifts during Hari Raya, but he also keeps a tight rein on things, including the media and who gets to stay in or exit his country.
As a tourist we spent a day in Bandar Seri Begawan to see the amazing mosque and floating village, and we had dinner in the Empire Hotel. We spotted proboscis monkeys on our boat trip, and saw many hornbills in the nearby trees. Transportation was a breeze for us because of our awesome hosts, but I'm not sure how independent travellers would get around outside of BSB.