Exploring the unknown: Brunei Darussalam

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​While it’s still hot in my memories, i’d like to share everything about my recent trip to Brunei Darussalam. I hope by reading this post, you can decide if Brunei is your next destination 😉

Why Brunei Darussalam

At first, my obsession to visit every country in South East Asia become my solely reason to visit Brunei Darussalam (that, combined with perfect aligned AirAsia flight that matched rough itinerary in mind). But after I did some researches of what gem Brunei hides, especially the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, Ulu Temburong Park, and many more, it easily switches rank. I was instantly obsessed with what Brunei hides and i couldn’t wait to visit and explore all the gems. And now that I have visited Brunei, I can easily say that it has such amazing places, stories, histories, and quickly dissipates the initial motivation I had in the first place.

Why Brunei? Why not? It has its unique atmosphere among other places I have visited in South East Asia to name a few. It has National Park for those who enjoy being close in the wild and nature, it has multicultural vibes combined with rich, authentic cultures and histories span for ages, as well as magnetic persona of its kingdom. I hope that if you are currently considering visiting somewhere calm, unique, and enigmatic destination, put Brunei on your list.

Where is Brunei Anyway?

​Brunei is located in Borneo (Third largest island in the world, and the largest in Asia). Borneo itself is shared between three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam. The North part of Borneo belongs to Malaysia, and the north-most part of this area belongs to Brunei Darussalam.

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Little what I  know about Brunei

​I knew that Brunei Darussalam is oil producing country and it has been its main commodity. I learned (or should I say what I can still remember) from my geography class that it’s a commonwealth and governed by an absolute power of its King and it’s a Moslem Country. What I didn’t know though before visiting the country, is that everyone owns a car so much so you will find that you own the pedestrian lane if you choose to explore the city walking.

It’s capital city Bandar Seri Begawan is very tidy, quiet, and charming all at once. There are no skyscrapers as they limit the buildings heights to not exceed the Mosque’s minaret. On Friday, all stores are closed from 11 pm to 2 pm to allows Friday Prayer. The Brunei that we see is only 30% of the total are, the rest of them are still unexplored.

How do i get there?

From Indonesia, I went to Kuala Lumpur first because it was the closest and easiest hub from Pekanbaru before I took another flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bandar Seri Begawan International Airport. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Brunei takes about 2,5 hours. If you’re going from Sabah/Serawak, I think you can rent a car and go from there.

The itinerary and The Gems in Brunei

I have many people already asked about the itinerary that I had. So here’s the 2-days itinerary on Brunei. I’d like to start by saying that at least have 2 days as minimum and four as maximum to explore Brunei. As interesting as it is, there are not that many attractions in the city itself, unless you want to expand the area to Sabak and Serawak part of Malaysia, or staying a bit longer in Ulu Temburong National Park.
Day-1
On the first day, I arrived at 9 am in Brunei International Airport. The complimentary airport pick-up from the Hotel where I stayed (The Capital Residence Suite) had already waited. I waited for other minutes for another passenger going to the same hotel showed up before we went together.
​06:35 – 09:05
​Flight From Kuala Lumpur to Brunei Darussalam International Airport
​09:05 – 11:00
​Journey to the hotel, Check-in and go to the City Center
11:00 – 15:00
​Explore the city center:
– Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
– The shopping center
– Terminal de Ferri
– Passing Taman Haji Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien
– Passing Muzium alat kebesaran diraja
– Passing Memorial Clock
15:00 – 17:00
​Rest @the Hotel
17:00 – 21:00
​Out and about the city center to have dinner, admiring Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque during the Night, and explore the night market

I arrived at the hotel around 10 am, and at that time the room wasn’t ready. The receptionist told me and other guests to wait, and he politely explains that the Hotel has complimentary Shuttle to the city center every other hour, and they would be happy to drop us to the city center for a lunch while waiting our room ready. I arrived at Friday, and every Friday all the stores close from 11am-2pm, so he advices us to take lunch earlier before it closed.

The map that’s shown above pretty much showing the route I took since the drop-off until I went back to the Hotel around 2 pm. I visited back the Omar Ali Saifuddien during night to get night shot of the Mosque, and quite surprise to find the area were much occupied during the night with so many food stall and child games stands.

​As a City Center I was quite surprise that there were not as many as restaurant or food stall along the ferry or near the Mosque (I discovered the “city center” the next day). For lunch I went to Japanese restaurant near the Jetty named Kaizen Sushi Waterfront. After greeted me they told me that they will close at 11:30 for Friday prayer. So I ate as fast as I could. The menu here is myriads, and I was happy to find vegetarian-friendly meal namely Vegetable fried rice and vegetable tempura.

After the lunch I toured along the harbour right outside the Japanese Restaurant. Everybody was preparing themselves for the Friday prayer, and it was not that long before the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque was full by the prayer. After toured along the waterfront, I went to the Mosque and enjoying it from the outside. The Mosque itself was closed for visitor, so I walked around outside the gate circling it 360 degrees.

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Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
​Soon after that, I went to Taman Haji Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien only to see it from the outside and did the same thing with Musim Alat Kebesaran Diraja (Royal Regalia Museum) before I went to Memorial Clock. The roads were empty due to Friday Prayer and it certainly felt like I own the city.

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The road in Bandar Seri Begawan on Friday Afternoon

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Taman Haji Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien

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in front of Royal Regalia Museum

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Historic Clock

After wandering for about 6 hours, I went back to the hotel to see if my room was ready and took a break. I went out again for dinner at 5 pm. This time I chose to walk to the city center and not using the hotel shuttle. The roads were getting crowded and back to normal, but still I found no one walking but me. I went to city center near the shopping center in the hope that more and more restaurant would start opening after the Friday Prayer. But I was wrong. Restaurant in the proximity of 500 m from the mosque were scarce. They are many, but not that many as I imagined. So I went inside the shopping center and marched upstair and eventually found the humble foodcourt with less than 10 food counters ranging from wester, Thailand, Singapore, Malay, and Brunei food. I opt for Thai fried rice, the familiar and simple menu I know fit for vegetarian like me.

After the dinner, I went back to Omar Ali Saifuddien to get a night photograph. The gate to the bridge was opened and I went circling the mosque which looking absolutely striking beautiful.

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​At night, the area near the mosque was very crowded by local merchant offering rides for kids in a form of cart that beautifully decorated with lights in many colors. There were also night market offering street food and beverages. I arrived early at the hotel around 9 pm to get ready for next day’s adventure.
Day-2

My initial plan was to explore all the notable and historical buildings on the first day, and spend the next day on Ulu Temburong National Park. Turns out everything was closed on Friday (my first day in Brunei), and tours in Ulu Temburong takes up about 12 hours (from 7 am to 6 or 7 pm) and I definitely could not do that since my flight back is at 4 pm. If I had to switch the second day itinerary with the first one, it would not fit as well since my arrival to Brunei is at 9 am. That was why I spend my two-days in Brunei exploring the cities. My suggestion would be to arrive late in the afternoon, and leave on the third day in the morning (check if your flight schedule match this scenario).

  • Day 0 – PM – Arrive in Brunei
  • Day 1 – AM-PM – Explore Uru Temburong National Park
  • Day 2 – AM-PM – Explore the city and brunei at night
  • Day 3 – AM – Depart from Brunei

Anyway, here’s my itinerary for day-2

​07:30 – 08:30
Have breakfast at the Hotel and get ready for the big day
​08:30 – 13:00
Tour around the city center and the outskirt
– Visit Istana Nurul Iman (The King’s Palace) – from the outside
– Visiting the Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah
– Visiting Muzium Alat Kebesaran Diraja
– Hop on a boat to Kampung Ayer (water village) and have an afternoon tea in one of the local house
– Malay Technology Museum
​13:00 – 16:00
​Going to the airport and waiting for departure
I decided to use a tour for the second days since the attractions I wished to visit were quite far one another. Also I would really like to have been told history and stories about Brunei in the eye of locals. I had contacted several travel agent and read all the reviews and recommendations from Tripadvisor. They are:
1.  Borneo Adventure (link here), you can read the Tripadvisor review here
2. Borneo Guide (link here), you can read the Tripadvisor review here
3. Freme Tour (link here), you can read the Tripadvisor review here
4. Sunshine Borneo Tour (link here), you can read the Tripadvisor review here
I ended picking up Sunshine Borneo Tours because at that time it’s the only Tour agent that replied to me within one-day and had a nice offer on its City tour. The package they offer match by budget as well. I picked the Bandar Splended Tour without Lunch for BND 60. What I got is sit in coach price, joining with other guests, inclusive of English speaking guide, driver, transportation as mentioned, entrance fees and all activities as outlined in the itinerary above.The tour picked me up at 9:30 sharp, and I was the last one to be picked up before they have another 20 participants in the tour bus with ranging nationalities from Vietnam, Philippines, and Singapore. Our first destination was Istana Nurul Iman.

Istana Nurul Iman

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in front of Istana Nurul Iman
​Nurul Iman Palace is the residence of Brunei Darussalam’s King and his royal families. The designer of the palace is the same with Burj al Arab in Dubai. Some part of the palace is decorated with pure gold. It is listed in Guinness Book of Record as the world’s largest living residence of state’s head, several times larger than Palace of Versailles and The Buckingham Palace. The whole palace occupies area of 200,000 square meters. It can contain up to 5000 people, has 5 swimming pools and 250 bathrooms. The palace is only open for three days during the Ramadhan month where The Sultan himself would meet and greet the commoner personally. (Source: http://www.istananuruliman.org/)

Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

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​This is probably one of the beautiful mosque in Brunei. And unfortunately, photos are not allowed once we enter the Mosque. Photos in the garden are still allowed. Black robes were provided in the Mosque entrance to be worn by non-moslem female visiting the Mosque. All the belongings must also be stored in the lockers provided in the entrance.

This beautiful mosque has 29 golden domes and four minarets. The stairs lead to the second level are also 29 steps, represents 29 Kings so far that have ruled the Kingdom.

Muzium Alat Kebesaran Diraja (Royal Regalia Museum)

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I passed this museum on the first day, but it was closed. Certainly, we cannot judge book by its cover. By any means, the treasure kept inside this museum has such an amazing history hidden in this rather ordinary exterior. This museum stores the carts accessories, and even the original costumes used by the King’s guardian when he was crowned. There were also pictures and gift given by world’s leader to the Sultan.

Kampung Ayer (Water Village)

This water village can be visited using a boat for less than 10 minutes ride. It was nice ride passing the Brunei River. We were brought to one of the local house in the village. To my surprise, the house is actually really solid and beautiful. It was very clean and far different from the water village I saw in Siem Reap or in Indonesia. The floating house I visited even has air conditioner as well, very tidy and nicely decorated.

The owner gave us local delicacies (I already forgot the name), four types of them. Three kinds of pastries and one kind of cake and served us some tea to enjoy. It was one nice afternoon in Brunei’s Kampung Ayer.

Malay Technology Museum

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Everything was anticlimax after our visit in Kampung Ayer. The journey to Malay technology museum was quite eventful and so was the trip to the museum itself. The museum itself was great, it was clean and systematically arranged. There were three floors of exhibition halls. The first is the exhibition of Water Village traditional gallery where they show the replica of water village dated back in late 19th and 20th century. The second is Water village traditional technology gallery where they show the replica of its indigenous people performing daily activities and the traditional tools that they use. The last one is the gallery of Inland Traditional where they show indigenous technologies of inland people.

​Right after that, I was dropped off to the airport catching up my 4 pm flight to Kuala Lumpur for transit, before continuing journey the next day back to Pekanbaru, Indonesia.

Where to Stay

I was convinced that the city center, where Omar Ali Saifuddien located are full with restaurants and café. Thus, I picked a nearby Hotel Namely The Capital Residence Suites for my one night stay in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB). Turns out, there was another part of BSB that is merrier, and that’s where the restaurants flock. It’s near the Center point Mall.

If you want to stay near to the Ferry to Kampung Ayer, Omar Ali Saifuddien and other main attraction, then the Hotels near the city center is the best choice. But if you’d like to have easy access to food and some hustle, pick hotel near the Centrepoint Mall. It’s 15 minutes’ drive to the City Center.

​Without a doubt, my visit to Brunei Darussalam, especially to its capital Bandar Seri Begawan has open my eyes so many things about Brunei I’ve never knew or thought before. The two-days trip has been a surprise and amazing quick escapade. If you’re currently looking longing to visit a new place, put Brunei Darussalam on your list!
Asana Kusnadi
I'm Asana Kusnadi from Semarang Indonesia. Some of my friends call me Mei, it is taken from my Chinese Name. I was born in Semarang, capital city of Central Java and lived there until I graduated from University. After graduated i worked in Sumatera island and it's been almost 9 years now i live in Riau Province

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