BRUNEI MAP (image from http://www.vidiani.com)
Once part of Borneo, Brunei became independent in 1984. Bandar Seri Begawan is the capital city and where most tourists will spend few days while exploring the small country.It lies on the northwest of the island of Borneo is one of the oldest kingdoms yet one of the youngest independent nations of the region.
A small country with a total land area of just 5,765 sq km with a coastline that runs 161 km along the South China Sea.The official name for Brunei is Negara Brunei Darussalam (i.e. ‘Negara Brunei’ – the state of Brunei, and `Darussalam’ – Abode of Peace).
Brunei Darussalam operates a Currency Board system and has no Central Bank. The unit currency is the Brunei dollar (BND). It has the same dollar rate as with SINGAPORE DOLLAR. Both are freely traded in their respective countries.
Brunei is comprised of four districts such as:
- Brunei Muara District
- Tutong District
- Belait District
- Temburong District
The nation’s riverfront capital, Bandar Seri Begawan is in the Brunei Muara District.
It is probably the least noticed independent country with a lot of exciting destinations for nature lovers, though if you are looking for a nightlife, this is not the place for you. The streets are almost deserted at 9 pm as being a Muslim country alcohol has no place in this country.
Filipino’s can enjoy a 14 day stay in Brunei while SG,Malaysia and UK citizen are exempted from visas to visits of up to 30 days. Brunei may be small, but it’s also very rich – thanks to natural gas and petroleum resources. The Sultan of Brunei is one of the richest people in the world.Many of places of interest actually lie within a comfortable stroll of each other in the heart of the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan. Here’s my take on how to spend a day or 2 in Brunei.
Coming to Brunei is easy as you can either Fly from nearby countries, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Dragonair and Philippines Airlines serve Bandar Seri Begawan and offer one-stop connections to the rest of the world through their hubs in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Manila. Or take a ferry from Labuan off the coast of Sabah, and to the Malaysian towns of Limbang and Lawas in Sarawak. You can also spend couple hours on a road trip from as an extensive overland road connects nearby cities like Miri, Sarawak and Sabah.
1) Check out one of the best works of architecture in Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque.
Built in 1958, the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque sits near the Sungai Kedayan and is the tallest building in central Bandar Seri Begawan. It dominates the city centre of Bandar Seri Begawan. It is one of the most magnificent mosques of South-East Asia. It is made out of materials such as including marble from Italy, granite from Shanghai, stained glass and chandeliers from England and carpets from Belgium and Saudi Arabia.
NOTE: The mosque is closed to non-muslims on Thursday. Access is restricted to late afternoon on Fridays
HOW TO GET THERE: From Yayasan Shopping Complex just simply cross the street.
ADMISSION FEE: Free of charge
HOURS OF OPERATION: 08:00 – 12:00, 14:00 – 15:00, 17:00 – 18:00, 20:00 – 21:00 Saturday – Wednesday
2) Do the canopy walk in Ulu Temburong National Park
Lying on the Southern part of the Temburong District is the Ulu Temburong National park, the first National Park in Brunei Darussalam. The Park , which has an area of 48,857 hectares.Regarded as the best preserved tropical rainforest on Borneo. It has never been logged so expect to see trees of hundred years old.Tour companies in BSB offer a variety of packages. The standard rate is around B$245 per person for a two-day trip to the park which includes an overnigth stay,though it’s cheaper by far to get the boat to Bangar and either book at the tourist office (B$85) or hang around and try to negotiate a ride-along with an existing group. If you have 2 or 5 days to spare in Brunei then this option is available for you, price maybe expensive but with the best adventure that awaits for you then sure thing it is gonna be worth it.
ADVENTURES TO EXPECT:
-Suspension bridge walk
-Drift down river on floats
HOW TO GET THERE: Better to hire tour operators as getting there can be a challenge, the park is only accessible via boat from Bandar Seri Begawan ou can hireywater taxis which take about one hour to ply the route to the main town of Bangar in Temburong District and another 30 minute bus ride is needed to reach Batang Duri which is the base for Brunei’s Outward Bound School and the embarkation point for Temuai longboats which carry visitors up the Temburong River.
TOUR PRICE: From 200-260 BND per person
3) Understand the origin of “Abode of Peace” in Brunei Museum
The Brunei Museum is located on the bank of the Brunei River, about 6.5 Km from the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan, stretches then elongated of the Brunei Museum. Brunei Museum was first established in 1965. Here you can see the antique cannons and intricate daggers, a large private collection of gilded Holy Korans, Borneo ethnographic displays and treasures unearthed from shipwrecks off Brunei’s coasts.
There are 5 galleries in the Brunei Museum.
- Brunei Darussalam Archeology and History gallery
- Art Exhibition (Brunei cultures)
- Oil and Gas discovery gallery
- Islamic gallery
- Brunei shipwreck
I only made it to 3 galleries as the Museum is about to close when I arrived. I didn’t get to absorb much information cause I was in a hurry. My favourite part of the museum is the Islamic art collection which is just amazing. It’s a large gallery absolutely full of beautiful artifacts.But overall it is still one of the MUST VISIT places especially if you have come to Brunei knowing just a handful information.
HOW TO GET HERE: Take the bus 39 from BSB bus terminal, private tour and TAXI.
ADMISSION FEE: free of charge but you have to log your name and leave your valuables and camera on the locker.
HOURS OF OPERATION:
Monday – Sunday : 9.00am – 5.00 pm
Friday : 9.00am – 11.30am / : 2.30pm – 5.00pm
4) Take a peek on the house of the Royals in Istana Nurul Iman
Hailed as the Largest Palace in the World is home of the Sultanate of Brunei and infact the guinnessworldrecords has recognised and proclaimed as the “LARGEST RESIDENTIAL PALACE IN THE WORLD”.The name “Istana Nurul Iman” is taken from Persian Astane and Arabic Nur-ol Imaan and means Palace of the Light of Faith.
The palace contains 1,788 rooms, which includes 257 bathrooms, a banquet hall that can be expanded to accommodate up to 5,000 guests, a mosque accommodating 1,500 people.The palace also includes a 110-car garage, an air conditioned stable for the Sultan’s 200 polo ponies, and 5 swimming pools. Just imagine living in this palace where everything you need is at your fingertips. Or how about sleeping on room made out of GOLD.
The palace is not open to the public except on the annual Islamic celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri (the festival at the end of the Muslim fasting month) when the palace receives about 110,000 visitors over a three-day period where the guests receive gifts of food as well as green packets containing money for young children.One of my friend went to Brunei just this year during the EID season and he is of the lucky ones who have come to shake hands with the Sultan, he was also given 50 BND
HOW TO GET HERE: Take bus number 27 from BSB bus terminal or TAXI.
ADMISSION FEE: Free of charge but only open during the EID season
5) Witness the chariot of the Sultanate of Brunei in Royal Regalia Museum
It is located in the heart of Banda Seri Begawan. It was built to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the Sultan’s accession to the throne in 1992. The museum is home to a collection of royal regalia, including the royal chariot, gold and silver ceremonial armoury, the jewel encrusted crowns used during the coronation and a replica of the throne, which is used by the Sultan on state occasions.
You will need to take off your shoes before you get inside and leave your camera in the locker provided with the keys handed over to you by the attendant and once done you can get your camera and your only allowed to take photos at the main hall.
Allow at least an hour to go through this large museum with its labyrinth of display areas. I had hard time looking for this place from my map handed over to me by a backpacker. I actually mistaken one private office nearby as the Museum so I went inside when suddenly a guy approached me and asked me if I am looking for something and he said I am in wrong building. Good thing he was on his way out of the building to get some meal so he voluntarily dropped me to the Museum using his car (AWW Those Nice Gestures From Strangers).
HOW TO GET HERE: short walk from Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque or take any buses.
HOURS OF OPERATION: 08:30 – 16:30 Sunday – Thursday; 09:00 – 11:00 Friday
ADMISSION FEE: Free of charge.
6) Visit the “Largest Mosque” in Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque
Built in 1992 to commemorate the 25-year reign of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque is the largest mosque in the country. The mosque is a jaw-dropping sight with four main minarets and two golden domes – its landscape is a mixture of artfully landscaped gardens and fountains. Every aspect such as the dome and stairs used the number 29 as to represent the 29th Sultan of Brunei. Dome is made of 24 carat gold and most of the building structure is import from other countries such as chandelier is from Austria, marble and tiles from Spain.
Non-Muslims are also allowed to enter the mosque on prescribed timings. You need to leave your foot ware outside and women will have to wear ‘burkha’, which is available right in front door of the mosque. The mosque maintains a register to track all the visitors and you need to enter your name and country in it. Photography is prohibited inside the mosque but you have all the rights to take photos of the Mosque outside which I did. Spent almost 2 hours wandering around the area not noticing that the sun has come down and surroundings starts to darken.
HOW TO GET HERE: take buses 1 or 22, 55 from the main bus terminal,private tour or taxi
ADMISSION FEE: Free of charge
HOURS OF OPERATION: 08:30 – 16:30 Sunday – Thursday; 09:00 – 11:00 Friday
7) Kid again in Jerudong Theme Park
Jerudong Park Playground is an adventure theme park open free to public.The park is meant for amusement and there are quite number of rides for you to have. Carousel, race tracks, giant drop, dancing fountain, haunted house, kids bouncers, shooting centre, electric train and scooter, bumper cars, go-karts and boat riding. But lately locals and visitors have been losing interest because the rides were either shut down or closed for maintenance.
HOW TO GET HERE: Take bus 55 and 57 from BSB main terminal
ADMISSION FEE: Free of charge
HOURS OF OPERATION: Wednesday-Thursday-Sunday 4PM-10:30PM
8) Shop and Eat in Shopping Yayasan Complex
Excited na ako kumain ng Jollibee
In the central city the Yayasan Shopping Mall opposite the waterfront was the main shopping with a Supermarket, clothing, cosmetics, shoes, crafts and food. On the top level there was a department store, while the Mall interior had a range of individual stores.it is locally known, it is one of the capital’s most popular shopping venues.
I went inside the mall to explore and to take a break from the heat of the sun outside. The only interesting here for me is dining in Jollibee Food Chain, if you work abroad then surely your gonna miss this. You can also find other food stall outside for cheap eats then try going here.
HOW TO GET HERE: short walk from Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and just opposite side of the Kampong Ayer River.
HOURS OF OPERATION: daily 10AM-9:30PM. Opening hours of some shops may be shorter during Ramadan.
9)Hire a boat to see houses standing on stilts inKampong Ayer/Proboscis Monkeys
Naku 7BND din ang bayad ko dito ahh
This water village is among the most attention-grabbing places in Brunei and really does feel like a whole different world as you travel through the area. Hailed as the Venice of the East by Antonio Pigafetta, who once visited Brunei in the 16th century, Kampong Ayer is one of the oldest settlements in Asia. See how locals get by on their daily lives with houses standing on stilts. And if you more adventurous enough you can ask the water taxi operator to spot on some Proboscis Monkeys hanging on the trees, these are the Pinocchio like Long Nose Monkeys can only be seen in the Island of Borneo.
HOW TO GET HERE: Just walk across from Yayasan Complex
PRICE: got my tour alone for 7BND but you can haggle as initially they charged me 10BND
10) Have a taste of Brunei’s local food in Gadong Night Market
Pasar Gadong is a bustling marquee of munch parked near the big shopping centres in Gadong. Also known as the Pasar Malam with food choices from satay,chicken wings barbecue, cold fresh fruit drinks up to merchandise and and fresh fruits and vegetables. Expect not to see any hints of PORK here as you’ve come in a Muslim Country. From Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, it is a 20-30 minute walk but it is more close to Gadong Mall which is just across the mall. It’s my last stop on my itinerary which puts me in trouble as I wasn’t able to catch up the last bus from Gadong area back to BSB.
HOW TO GET HERE: take bus Buses 1, 22 and 55 from main bus terminal or do a 30 minute walk from Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.
FOOD PRICE: Ranges from 1BND-10BND
HOURS OF OPERATION: stalls starts to assembles at 4PM and will close at around 11PM
11) Tamu Kianggeh or Open Air Market
Known as “Tamu Kianggeh” to the locals, this colourful, open-air market is offers a variety of the freshest produce and homemade handicrafts. Wander in the early mornings to enjoy a feast for the eyes and find great souvenirs and gifts.This place is vibrant and colouful with activities. You can see locals buying their kitchen needs, local medicinal and ceremonial needs, pets, plants and even household decorative items here. From afar looks interesting because of the busy ambience but didn’t get close enough as I am in a rush as usual.
HOW TO GET HERE: In the center of BSB it is just 5 minute walk from bus terminal or just across the famous Brunei Hotel.
HOURS OF OPERATION: daily from 6 a.m.–7 p.m or sometimes until midnight
12)Check in one of the famous 7 Star hotel in Empire Hotel & Country Club
The magnificent and highly acclaimed Empire Hotel & Country Club is the only beach resort inBrunei. Located at the doorstep of one of the oldest rainforest in Southeast Asia.It was built by the current Sultan of Brunei’s notorious brother Prince Jefri, who fled Brunei under a cloud of scandal after some serious financial overspending. He certainly spent a lot on this place. Everything is lined with gold. The main hotel building is stunning. You wander around with your mouth hanging open looking at it.
The thought of staying in a 7 Star Hotel can be overwhelming but maybe I will passed cause I am not ready to spend 250BND for a night of stay here. Though you can still explore the Hotel from the main lobby or dive into the luxurious pool fror 10BND.
HOW TO GET HERE: take bus 57 from the city centre or Gadong (runs two or three times a day; on the way back, book at the Transport desk) or a taxi (B$30 to B$35),or if coming from airport then hotel can arrange pick you up not sure if it is FREE.
PRICE RANGES: From 250BND -300BND per night
It is nice place to explore for only a day or two and for succeeding days will be boring.Will I consider going back?!, Probably NO not unless it is an sponsored trip or all expense paid trip from a close friend.