Brunei

Belait District

Belait wears two faces. On the one hand it is oil country, the driving force behind Brunei's economy and home to a large population of British and Dutch expats. On the other, it is the best example of 'old' Brunei - Brunei before oil.

When oil was first discovered at Seria in 1929, the whole region was largely uninhabited, the lowlands dominated by peat swamps, mangroves and rainforest, with indigenous Iban and Dusun tribespeople sticking largely to the valley of Sungai Belait. Though the coastal strip has developed beyond recognition, the interior remains largely unscathed.

Aside from Temburong, Belait District is the best place to explore Brunei's rainforest and visit indigenous longhouses. However, the tourism infrastructure remains underdeveloped so few people visit (apart from British Army recruits
undergoing a round of brutal jungle training). The interior of Belait is earmarked as an important ecotourism destination
for the future, and tour operators are beginning to put together itineraries into the region.

Seria

Seria is a surreal place. Once open swampland, it is now dominated by level fields full of lawn-mowing tractors, egrets and nodding donkeys - small land-based oil wells that nod
back and forth as they pump oil to the surface. There is no real centre of town to speak of; row
upon row of neat bungalows line the roads - home, presumably to Chinese and expat oil workers, whose wives ride about town in land cruisers. It is a strange, functional place with an odd mix of inhabitants that includes indigenous tribespeople and a garrison of Gurkhas.

The town straggles along the coastal strip between Seria and Kuala Belait, which serves as the centre of Brunei's oil production. On the edge of Seria is the
Billionth Barrel Monument
, commemorating the obscene productivity of Brunei's first oil field. For those who want to delve deeper into the history and technicalities of oil production, there is the
Oil & Gas Discovery Centre
(OGDC)
, www.bsp.com.bn/ogdc, set in a building that resembles an oil drum. It's a fun place for kids, with a gyroscope, a bed of nails and a fish pond.

Kuala Belait

Though it all started at Seria, Kuala Belait (known locally as KB) is the district's principal town. It also serves as the border town with nearby Sarawak. Like Seria, Kuala Belait is a purely functional place that has developed over time to serve the needs of the oil workers. The centre of town comprises a large grid of streets with Chinese shophouses alongside multinational outlets such as the
Body Shop
and
KFC
.

Kuala Belait sits on the east bank of the Sungai Belait and it's possible to hire a boat upriver as far as Kuala Balai . Boats leave from behind the market building on Jalan Pasar, at the southern end of Jalan McKerron (sometimes spelt Mackeron).

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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