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Explore majestic Brunei, the Abode of Peace

Explore majestic Brunei, the Abode of Peace

Brunei, known in Malay as Brunei Darussalam or “The Abode of Peace”, is a small country entirely surrounded by Malaysia and the South China Sea and made up of two separate areas.  The majority of the population lives in the Eastern part of Brunei, where the international airport and the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, are located. The Western part of the country only accounts for 10% of the 400,000 Bruneians and is entirely made of lush and pristine jungle. 

Although Brunei appears to most as a place devoid of any interesting sights, this is a country where you should find beauty in the smallest things and all you need is a weekend.

Cameron Highlands in neighbouring Malaysia also has potential for a great weekend getaway – here’s our guide!




Day 0 in Brunei

Arrival

Flights to Brunei are in the evening so you will most likely arrive too late to do anything. Just check in into your hotel and head for some food.

Nothing better than the food market at Gadong, behind Rizqun Hotel at the Mall Gadong to get you started. If it’s too late, head to De Royalle cafe which is open 24h (one of the few places open late) and you can have an array of international, not the healthiest, but flavourful dishes.

Day 1 in Brunei

Rainforest trekking

Today rise and shine early and head to Ulu Temburong, the lush national park. As opposed to the rest of Borneo, where logging and palm oil plantations are the source of much concern from environmental agencies and the public in general, Brunei’s jungle is untouched. Logging is banned, providing a unique insight into an unspoiled ecosystem of overgrown vegetation and thick forestry. Only about 1% of the park is open to the public whereas the rest remains closed off and only accessible to researchers and park personnel. 

Aside from the possibility to spend some time with nature, Ulu Temburong is primarily known for the canopy walk, a suspended structure hanging high atop the jungle. You have to take a boat, a van and a long-tail boat to get there. The walk up 1,000 steps is hot and humid but the reward at the top of the hill is all worth it. Built in steel and standing high at sixty meters, the canopy walk provides an incredible view over the jungle top, if you can bear the altitude and the scary rattling of the structure as you climb up.

A trip to Ulu Temburong National Park is a must when in the country. You will have to book with a tour company because independent visitors are not allowed.This is a full day day tour, leaving early morning and returning later in the afternoon so you will not have much time for anything else.

Dinner

For dinner, try Aminah Arif where you can sample the local Bruneian foods. Just order and Ambuyat set that comes with the gooey translucent sago base that you have to roll around chopsticks and dip into spicy sauces. Not for everyone but an experience nonetheless.

Open daily from 7am to 10pm

Fireflies deep into the night

After dinner, head back out to the river and go spot fireflies. Brunei is not known for the nightlife, and this is as close as one gets to adrenaline pumping. At night, aside from the fireflies, you will also be able to see lots of crocs on the banks. Look out for their red eyes.


Day 2 in Brunei

Museums Galore

Start at the Royal Regalia Museum nearby. This could be as interesting or mind-numbing as the Museum of Brunei. The Museum is home to the gifts that Royals and Heads of State have given the Sultan. Expect gold and jewels galore. The entire place is reminiscent of the Armory, in Moscow’s Kremlin, where the Tsar’s richeses are displayed.

Open Sun-Thurs, 9am to 5pm, 9-1130am & 230-5pm on Fri and 945am-5pm on Sat (last entry 430pm)

Continue to the Museum of Brunei. This is a great source of information about the culture and history of the country, including the recent developments in the oil and gas industry. The Sultanate of Brunei was a strong Empire up until the 15th century when wars and disputes caused its decline. For most of the time after that, the country remained under various forms of protection from the UK until achieving full independence in 1984.

Open Sat-Thurs, 9am to 5pm and 9-1130 am & 23o-5pm on Friday (last entry 30 mins before closing)

Marvel at a mosque

Down the street, you can’t miss Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien. It was built in honour of the Sultan’s late father and it is made of solid gold and fine marvel. The crescent lake between the mosque and the water village, Kampong Ayer, gives it a heavenly aura. Watch out for monitor lizards cooling down in the water. The large and colourful boat in front of the mosque is a replica of the 16th-century Royal Barge.

Although it is open to visitors, this is a functioning Mosque so practice respect at times of prayer. You might be allowed in (not during Ramadan) but check beforehand.

Interior of mosque is open from Sat-Wed, 830am to 12pm, 130pm to 3pm and 430 to 530pm
Exterior of mosque is open daily from 8am to 830pm except during prayer times

See a water village

Down the street, you will eventually hit the river and the village on stilts of Kampong Ayer. Rent a boat from the harbour to motor through the world’s largest water village with 30,000 people. Get off and wander along the suspended streets. Kampong Ayer is a developed and often wealthy part of town. Some of the newer houses are as good, if not better, than the ones on land and can go for as much as $100,000.

Lunch

Lunch is best had at Tarindak di Seni, on the 1st floor from the Handicraft Training Center. They serve local fare with a nice water view and it is just a few minutes walk from the piers to Kampong Ayer and the river tours. If you are hungry before Kampong Ayer, you can also just have lunch first then hire a boat for both the Kampong Ayer (as him to wait) and the river tour.

Open daily from 12pm to midnight

Exploring the Brunei River

After lunch, hire another boat and explore the mangroves along the river away from Kampong Ayer where you can spot proboscis monkeys. These monkeys, endemic of Borneo, are shy and will fly away if bothered but, with the right pair of camera lenses or binoculars, you may be able to see their funny noses. If you go there at night you will also be able to see the red eyes of crocodiles resting on the shore and the blinking light of fireflies.

Visit another beautiful mosque

Get a driver for the afternoon and head to Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. Built in 1992 this is the best expression of utter exuberance and Royal extravaganza. It is, of course, filled with more gold, and because the Sultan is the 29th reigning Monarch in his dynasty, there are 29 golden domes. At night, when it is lit, it is impossible to miss. It stands bright and tall in the surroundings. Well worth a stop.

Open on Mon-Wed & Sat from 8am-12pm, 2-3pm & 5-6pm, on Sun from 1045am-12pm, 2-3pm & 5-6pm.
Closed on Thurs & Fri

Let your hair down

After the mosque, an amusement park. Jerudong Park was once Southeast Asia’s most expensive amusement park, this is as kitsch as parks can get. Costing $1 Bn to build, the park was entirely funded by the Royal Family.

Although it originally opened without an entrance fee, it later started charging when the visitor numbers declined. Today, several of the attractions have been closed and sold off and it is now a decrepit place that is busy on weekends with families having a picnic. The entrance is free and you pay to use the rides. 




Places to stay in Brunei

Affordable

For an affordable option, stay at LeGallery Suites, relatively close to the main Mosque, about 15min away walking, it is central and offers cheap and air conditioned rooms. The hotel offers complimentary airport pick-up at only SGD$52 per night.

Mid-range

The best mid to high end hotel to stay at is the Radisson Hotel which is in town a couple of minutes away from the Brunei Museum. Rates are reasonable, starting at SGD$111.

High-end

There is only one true luxury hotel in the country, The Empire Hotel & Country Club by the beach. But if you stay there, plan to hire a driver for the whole day so you can get around. Hugely discounted, rates start at SGD$267 per night.

Can’t afford to travel this month? No worries, there are plenty of fun and free things to do in Singapore!

Getting to Brunei

Royal Brunei Airlines flies to Brunei daily from Singapore, with 2 flight options either departing Singapore in the afternoon and reaching Brunei 2 hours later or later at night, reaching Brunei close to midnight. Check their flight schedules here.

Alternatively, you can fly on Singapore Airlines, that flies out to Brunei every morning, except on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Check out the flight schedule here 

Getting around Brunei

Make sure to organize your airport pick up beforehand, all options to stay suggested can organize it for you. They can also help book cars and tours.

Getting around Brunei is almost impossible. There are virtually no taxis and no public transportation. On our trip, random locals stopped on their car to offer a ride and the restaurant owners offered numbers of taxi driver friends. This is basically the only way to see the city. We suggest you get the hotel to give you a driver for the afternoon on Day 2. Alternatively, you can also join a tour which will take you around.

As there is no way to get around than on foot, it is therefore important to pick the right location to stay. Staying in town is a must so you can make most of the activities on Day 1 happen. You can walk to Aminah Arif, if you are ok walking for 30min, else get a driver from the hotel to take you and wait for you or pick you up, dinner is quick, no more than 45min.

Other things to note in Brunei

Sharia Law

Since 2014, Brunei has been phasing in full Shariah Law, the most conservative form of Islamic Law  As a visitor, you can still roam freely and safely, for the Sultan’s generosity with his people and the country’s limited freedom of expression makes this a peaceful country Although as a woman you don’t have to cover, dressing conservatively is helpful and will keep you from getting a lot of attention. Once you walk outside of the main city center and the Gadong area, walking alone in a country where nobody walks, you will get attention. Brunei is a very safe country, but if you don’t like attention, hire a driver.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace, Istana Nurul, is the world’s largest palace and family residence. Open to the public only during the three days after the end of Ramadan, the Palace is said to have almost 1,800 rooms and over 200 bathrooms. Visit Brunei at the end of Ramadan, during Hari Raya Adilfitri,  and Sultan opens his house and welcomes everyone, locals and foreigners. If you go at that time, some places might be closed but you will get to meet him, or if you are a woman, the Queen.

No alcohol

Brunei is a Muslim and dry country so no alcohol is available. There is practically no nightlife or music to go around so the visit is mostly about nature and culture. The national airline is also dry.

Touring Brunei

For tours, most hotels have brochures with prices and options. Tours are largely standard and offer exactly the same, as there aren’t many options. Prices are also pretty similar.

Money matters

Brunei currency can be used in Singapore and it is converted 1:1 so you can use whatever is left back in Singapore or simply use Singapore dollars all the way.

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