Friday, May 31, 2013

[Travel Asia] One day in Brunei Darussalam

Last December (2012), I traveled by sea to visit Brunei Darussalam. Check out my entry on traveling by sea from Kota Kinabalu to Brunei via sea, for details.

Since I only had a solid one day to roam around the country and with limited budget, it was indeed a scary adventure. Nonetheless, it didn't stop me from having so much fun exploring the city; mainly Bandar Seri Begawan as much as I could. Compared to Malaysia, the Brunei currency exchange rate is higher. Thus, everything in Brunei is more than double of everything in my country. Having said that, I was slapped with almost having to pay an equivalent of RM90 for a taxi ride from Muara Ferry Terminal, soon after arriving in Brunei. Fortunately, there was a bus waiting at the same time.
Anyway, if you only have one day to visit a new country, please do take time and browse information of where and what to do while you are there, in advance. This, would definitely save you time and money but at the same time maximizing your experience within the limited amount of time you have. Brunei is famous for its ecotourism. There are loads of interesting floating villages that would allow you to experience nature and culture while cruising on speedboat along the beautiful river. 

I stayed in Gadong, an area that is about 20 minutes taxi ride from Bandar Seri Begawan. The hotel I stayed is more or less for business traveler, so the services offered are pretty much basic. Surprisingly, this is one of few hotels that offered cheap rates. With very little option of public transportation, I recommend you to find hotels in Bandar Seri Begawan itself to gain easier access to places of interests as well as public transportation. 

I was advised by a fellow friend to ask the hotel reception counter for a private day tour. Basically there are individuals who offer drive-around services; much cheaper than the organized day tour by travel companies. Me and my friend were picked up by the driver after our breakfast and we went around the city for several hours. 

Since Brunei is a Muslim country, it is a MUST to visit significant mosques that are known to be the landmarks of Brunei. We visited two very beautiful and unique mosques that are highly recommended in travel websites; the 1) Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque and 2) Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. Each mosque is unique by design and architecture. While Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque has a very distinct and bold design with beautiful landscape surrounding, the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is located next to the famous Sungai Kedayan with its own articifial lagoon. Luckily for both my friends and I, later that evening one of our friend drove us to visit both mosque again - giving me the chance to experience the beauty of these landmarks after the sun down.

After the visit to these mosques, our driver made a pit stop in front of Istana Nurul Iman, the home for the Brunei royals. It is said to be the biggest residence building in the world, with more than 1000 people residing in the 'palace'. If you happened to be in Brunei during Eid'fitr, probably you would be able to enter the palace area, as the Sultan will open the gate and invite people to join him and the royals for feast. Nonetheless, a visit to the entrance of the palace would also bring a lot of amazement, at least to me. 

Soon after we left Istana Nurul Iman, we had the chance to learn a bit about Brunei history at the National Museum. The museum itself is not that big but at least I was able to learn more about the country. Coming back to town from the museum, I was able to see floating houses - it was the famous Kampung Ayer. Some reviews said that Brunei's Kampung Ayer is the Venice of the East. The riverbank were in the process of beautifying, that would allow better infrastructure and more comfortable sightseeing to be done. We made a stop at a newly built rest area, facing exactly towards the floating village. I was approached by a guide asking if I would like to ride on a boat and tour the village. I didn't have enough time at the time, so I had to skip the offer. It was a bit unlucky, but a river tour is actually recommended.

Our day tour ended early, since we had to get ready for a dinner on board a cruise ship at Muara Port. My schedule was so tight we had to skip lunch and had snacks instead. The area nearby the main Bandar Seri Begawan bus terminal has many choices for food. If you are planning to tour by foot, which is relatively safe and comfortable, just take note that Brunei's weather can be quite hot and humid. 

For more information about Brunei, check out the official Brunei Tourism website
Here is the episode for this short travel from the Makiko Travel Journal Series.

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