Borneo is where you go to see the Proboscis monkeys – the ones with the long noses.
We knew we wanted to see Proboscis monkeys while in Brunei (Brunei is on the island of Borneo).
So we got on the bus early (6:45AM) in Seria (in the southwest of Brunei where we had been staying), to take a bus to Bari Ser Bagawan (the capital of Brunei in the east). Crossing the whole country by bus took just 2 hours.
We arrived at the bus terminal at 9:45 AM and walked along the river, where there were several people asking us if we wanted to go for boat tours.
For Brunei 50 (about USD $38), we got to see the water village, the Sultan of Brunei’s palace, a trip into the marsh and mangroves where the proboscis monkeys live, and also got a water-level picture of us with the gold-domed mosque in the background.
We figured another water village would be pretty much like the one that we saw in the south of Vietnam, but that wasn’t the case. The water village in Brunei was quite different.
Over 30,000 people live in the water villages of Brunei, and the homes are actually seemingly modern. There are schools built for each of the neighborhoods within the water village (11 schools total at present). Most of the schools seem pretty modern, and the facilities available at the water village homes seem to be similar to the facilities available at most of the homes we’ve seen in Southeast Asia.
Except of course that the toilets waste go straight into the water below the house…
Where the people in the water villages of south Vietnam lived there so that they could earn a living farming fish, the people of the water villages in Brunei live there simply because that’s where they live.
That’s my impression anyway.
We saw some girls yelling and waving to us from the balconies of one of the schools – it’s fun how kids react. If you smile and wave first, they are so excited to smile and wave back to you. These girls kept shouting “Hello! How are you?” in English.
When we responded back, “Good! How are you?” the response was “Hello! How are you?”
It was funny. They’ve gotten the second level of language acquisition, which is speaking, but not quite gotten the first level, which is hearing and understanding. Interesting though that young kids are learning English at their schools here in Brunei, and are eager to practice it with foreigners.
From the water village, we went to see the Sultan’s palace. With over 1,000 rooms, it is the largest inhabited palace in the world. And yes, the gold dome is in fact real gold. We didn’t get an opportunity to see it up close however… our time was limited and I didn’t research how to get a tour of the sultan’s palace, though I’m fairly certain it’s possible.
After seeing the palace from the water (which was a little difficult because of the mangroves in the view), we went to see proboscis monkeys.
Our driver for the day had been giving tours for 30 years and had a very good eye for spotting the monkeys.
Their habitat appears to be pretty aggressively encroached upon by houses and factories, but from my understanding at this point, Brunei recognizes this and is taking steps to ensure there are safe spaces and preserves being designated, making sure that the wildlife has places to continue to live naturally.
Apparently the male proboscis monkeys have even longer noses than the ones we saw, which were all females. Even the females though have very interesting long noses, but all of the monkeys were a bit shy and the heat of the day had started, so apparently the others were in the underbrush staying cool.
Word to the wise:
We didn’t know this until after the fact, but if you want to have the best shot of seeing proboscis monkeys while in Brunei, get up early and catch one of the boats about 7:30. Apparently the best time to see the monkeys is between 7:30 AM and 9:30 AM (before it gets hot).
We also saw a giant lizard which looked quite dinosaurish. Our guide didn’t know the name in English, but it reminded me of a Komodo Dragon. It waddle-slithered off too quickly for me to get a close-up, but this will give you an idea anyway.
From there, we headed back to Bari Ser Bagawan, where we had been picked up, but before we went, there was time for a few snapshots of us with the gold-domed mosque in the background.
When you are in Brunei, taking a river boat tour comes recommended. Be sure to find an English speaking guide, and negotiate for Brunei 50 (About $37) to go and see the proboscis monkeys.