DISCLAIMER: This post is not written to bad mouth Brunei as a travel destination hence the purpose of this article is to facilitate awareness and provide travel guidelines on what to expect if you plan to visit Brunei. All details that will be mentioned in this article is purely based on the observation and personal experience when I backpack in Brunei as part of my SOUTH EAST ASIAN Quest.
If not for the cheap airfare you can get from AIRASIA then I would have not traveled to Brunei yet. Brunei is an Islamic State Country and one of the richest and wealthiest country not only in SEA but in the whole of ASIA. It is somehow tempting to take a peek on one of ASIA’s less traveled destination but the urge is not as same as if you will mention the names Thailand or Hong Kong. I was hesitant at first when I booked my 1 way flight to Brunei as I am not really certain if this is the right time to visit the country or I am just going through a panic traveling syndrome. But what I was certain is that I am up for doing a day trip and spending 1 night in BSB and on the next day just fly back to KL again and it is all DONE. So technically my main purpose is to have my passport stamped and cross it out from the SEA list of countries with my aim to accomplish all 11 countries the SOONEST.
1) Lack of public transport options in getting around in Brunei.
public bus in Brunei
Transportation is one of the most important thing that we consider whenever we make plans of traveling to our next destination. For a country to attract tourists they must have a reliable and affordable means of getting around the area. You dont expect a budget traveler to hire a private car or cab for 100 BND for a half day tour that will passes main attractions in the city center-it is not economical and practical at all. This is just one of the many things Brunei has to work on and should focus on in terms of promoting their tourism. Public transport in Brunei can only mean 2 things which either public buses or taxi. The moment I stepped out of the airport I was so disappointed to have not found taxis and public buses just outside the airport- I have totally no where the heck is the mode of transport going to the city center from the airport. I have to wait for some tourists to come out and watch them as to where they will go.
“Taxis are difficult to be found, the fares are exorbitant, bus stops are hardly visible and there is no information whatsoever that is available to help us explore this beautiful country,”
There are only six bus routes in daily operation in Bandar Seri Begawan – the Eastern Line, the Southern Line, the Western Line, the Central Line, the Circle Line and the Northern Line. The buses are purple in colour and quite small and mainly used by foreigners and take note that the public bus only runs from 6.30 am to 6.00 pm. The main bus station can be found at the multi-storey car park on Jalan Cator. Bus fare is cheap around 1Bnd to 3Bnd depending on where you want to go but I tell yeah you may be waiting for 1 hour or so for a bus to pass by the street and still nothing and your whole itinerary is ruined.From what I had observed, most Bruneians do not use these services cause they mostly drive their own cars. They produced their own petrol so Hell Yeah! the price is really low which makes it more convenient for locals to get their own car.
As for Taxi’s they are nowhere to be found except at hotels, shopping centres, the Brunei International Airport and in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. I personally had to experienced walking for 1 hour from Gadong Area to BSB as I didn’t make it to the last trip of the bus from Gadong to city center. It was not cool at all to have walked that long and I was not able to spot any taxis during those times. .A 15-minute ride from the airport to the city center costs a crazy BND 25.
Brunei maybe small in terms of landmass but this should not be an excuse to not improve what has been a problem for a long time now. Who wouldn’t like to take trains from getting from 1 attraction to another. We all love the idea of traveling at ease.
2) Scarce of budget accommodations for budget traveler.
Pusat Belia Youth Hostel
There is really a hot mess problem in finding the most affordable accommodation in Brunei. The country is not tapered to backpackers and budget travelers as most of the hotel options caters to luxury travelers and wealthy families/tourist. In fact if you want CHEAP bed for 1 night there is only one option but to go to Pusat Belia Youth Hostel which is located in the city center of BSB. For 10 BND per night you can get a bunk bed along with other solo travelers. I arrived in Brunei with no BOOKED and CONFIRMED accommodation which is the biggest mistake I made-I didn’t even bother calling the hostel before I arrived though I made reservation via email but got no response. I asked the bus driver to drop me at Pusat Belia Youth Hostel from the airport and when I was about to inquire about staying for a night I was surprised to see a SIGN just at the entrance of the hostel that it is CLOSED for renovation for 1 year. I was like WHAT THE HE…..-I totally freaked out realizing that I have no place to stay for a night. I walked around BSB and checked out the hotels rate around the area and WAPAKKK!!!!!-prices ranging from 90BND-200BND for a night. So I ended up sharing a room for 2 with a Chinese Lang Bang Backpacker in K.H Soon Resthouse for 35 BND per night with no WI FI and a very rundown room. So it ruined my budget for that trip.
So if you come to visit Brunei then I suggest that you booked your accommodation before coming so it will not jeopardize your trip just like what happen to me. And hotel rates are cheaper if you book it couple of months before your trip.
3) A dollar currency at par with Singapore Dollar.
SGD vs BND
The Bruneian Ringgit (BNR) and Singapore Dollar (SGD) are equally pegged and interacceptable. In other words, the two currencies are ‘customary tender’ when circulating in the country in which they are not legal tender. Thus, Brunei currency is accepted as payments in Singapore. All banks are also obliged to exchange Brunei currency notes and coins at par without charge.
For a SEA country who is not famous as a tourist destination it is unlikely for someone to travel o Brunei. I have traveled to SG for a number of times already and I can really attest that it is not going to be a cheap holiday getaway for you- with accommodations prices starts from 30 SGD and skies the limit to the overpriced tickets to man made attractions. For that alone I will not consider going to SG very SOON cause the value of my MYR becomes smaller after having it changed from a money changer. Same case as with Brunei since they have same dollar rate so expect to pay more when buying items or when hailing a cab to take you to your destination. A chicken meal in Jollibee in Brunei costs me around 7BND and a fried rice from a food stall I had to pay 5 BND alone-not a good idea if your tight with budget. It is funnier to think that the cost of hailing a cab for a short ride will cost you 15 BND when in SG my taxi fare for short distance trip is within 6-8 SGD. However you can still find cheap and authentic dish in Brunei like Nasi Katok, which is fatty rice in special sauce with fried chicken; it’s cheap (BNR 1 only) and tastes better than Malaysia/Singapore’s Nasi Lemak. There’s also another local delicacy worth trying (but not for a second time though) called Ambuyat.
4) You will be running out of attractions to explore.
Brunei doesn’t have many tourist attractions and these attractions aren’t very attractive anyway. Don’t come to Brunei if you want to see amazing architectures and interesting sights to fill your daily itinerary. That is why I only stayed for 1 night in Brunei cause I made my research that the place is really dull and boring. Yes you can find beautiful Golden Mosques and glamorous hotels but after a day or 2 I tell you that you are gonna regret staying long in Brunei- you will end up surfing the net inside your hotels room.
5) No Nightlife, Alcohol and Cigarettes. (in short NGA-NGA sa gabi)
Once the sun sets down, most of the locals head to their homes and the streets are virtually empty. Islam religion forbids the drinking of any alcoholic beverage. This is keenly followed by the locals of Brunei. Due to this factor there are no local pubs and no casinos. Moreover there aren’t any night clubs or dance floors. However, the foreigners and the non-Muslims are allowed to bring about 12 cans of beer and 2 bottles with them. Travellers by air are advised to make their purchases before departure, as duty-free alcohol is not available at the airport in Brunei .They have to follow strict guidelines and can consume liquor only within their households.Nightlife in Brunei means walking along the peaceful streets of BSB. Forgot about even thinking hanging out in a fancy club for chill cause you will not find it here. At 9PM on my way back to hostel from the Mosque the street is deserted literally and for someone who is outgoing and would love to end the day with a bang then you will be disappointed to have come here. With no WI FI in my hostel after a very tiring day tour then I am super BORED TO DEATH and cant find anything to make me busy. Between 6-9PM you can still visit the night market or check out their only Theme Park which I heard is now rundown and no longer maintained.You can find most amusement park rides here. A fun place for the kids and the young at heart though. So if you are up for a steamy, racy, adrenaline-rush pleasures, strike Brunei off completely and just go to BKK or KL.
NOTE: On arrival into Brunei, you must declare any alcohol by simply filling in the yellow import forms available at the airport after you exit immigration and before customs checks. You should be able to show the merchandise too. If you arrive by car, simply request for these forms from the custom officers, fill it in and hand back to the officers for acknowledgement. You’ll be given an official stamp/ signature.
OVERALL: At the end it is still subjective to the person if he would like to visit Brunei. To each is own as my observations maybe inappropriate for others. Brunei is an interesting country to visit but it will not give you a WOW factor after your trip. If you just wanna have a peace and quiet, slow and steady, rest and relax travelling then Brunei can be a good destination for you. For additional stamp in your passport or you just wanna have this sense of accomplishment of bein able to complete all the 11 SEA countries are just few of the reasons you can use if you wanna weight things-undecided whether to go or maybe some other time.