Tripster: Unexpected adventures in Brunei

March 2, 2019

brunei village

Sometimes the best adventures are the most unexpected ones – even if it’s not under the best circumstances. Natalie Fabian shares how being stranded in Brunei has encouraged her to explore unusual destinations and cultures.

In 2010, Eyjafjallajökull – an Icelandic volcano – suddenly erupted, ejecting a 9km tall ash cloud into the air. During the eruption, I was on the plane ride home from a family holiday in Australia. It caused major disruptions to air travel over northern and western Europe for about six days, leaving thousands of people stranded in airports. Luckily, my flight was able to turn around, and we landed in Brunei – a country located on the north coast of Borneo in southeast Asia. Until that moment, I had never even heard of the country.

My family and I were given no clear indication as to how long we would have to stay there for. This seemed terrifying at first, as we were left in a foreign country that we knew absolutely nothing about and we couldn’t speak the same language. Nevertheless, we tried to make the most of the situation, and stepped outside our comfort zone by exploring the local area and in turn learning as much as we could. Now, I can happily say that it was one of the best experiences of my life.

boat village

Tourists venturing in to Kampong Ayer. © Valerie Fabian

Whilst in Brunei, I saw how different the way of life can be in impoverished areas and the effects that the social environment has on the people living there. I will always remember the day we visited Kampong Ayer, a water village along the Brunei River which is home to 30,000 people. We travelled to the village via a ‘water taxi’ with a local guide who toured us through the stilted buildings. I had never seen anything like the village before.

One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.
– Henry Miller

We walked the ‘streets’ that were made from wooden planks, connecting all the buildings and houses together, and passed makeshift hospitals, schools and playgrounds. I saw beauty in the welcoming locals and colourful village, but also poverty in the collapsing and weathered houses, litter-filled water and unclothed children.


children in brunei

Welcoming locals playing in the stilted streets. © Valerie Fabian

It was a huge culture shock, but by the end of our unexpected stay in Brunei (as cliché as it sounds) I came away as a different person – more knowledgeable, grateful and empathetic.

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
– Gustav Flaubert

There are many benefits to travelling abroad, however, travelling somewhere outside of your comfort zone can multiply those benefits drastically. After this unique experience, I have become more open to visiting countries I am unfamiliar with and that have a vastly different culture to my own. I’m eager to experience things that I may never have known about otherwise.

So, if you have some savings, or happen to get stranded by a volcano eruption, don’t be hesitant to travel to unknown places and really explore the culture. It could give you a whole new insight to the world and the strangers around you.

Featured image: © Bernard Spragg.

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