Trip to Brunei 2018
Trip to Brunei 2018
For the second time I traveled around the Sultanate of Brunei – a small country on the island of Borneo, which although it is not the world’s leading tourist destination, I find it very interesting. Brunei has tropical forests, nice beaches, proboscis monkeys, diverse food and nice people. Those who are interested, can also learn something about the oil industry.
Last time I was in Brunei in 2012, but only for a few days and only in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. In 2018 I was just traveling in the Philippines, and at some point my two-month visa was close to expire, and the new one in the Philippines cost a lot of money. For that reason I thought that it would be better if I take the cheapest flight to Brunei, I would spend there for a few days and then go back to the Philippines, where I would get a free visa for 1 month. My visa trip to Brunei turned out to be an extraordinary adventure, because I stayed in Brunei for 8 days, even though I was planning to stay 4 days the longest. After Brunei I organized an expedition to the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo, which took me about a month.
Brunei is an underrated country, often called a „boring oil-rich Muslim state”. It is true that not a lot is going on in Brunei, and that the country’s economy is based on oil. However, Brunei has an attractive small capital Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), the largest village on water Kampong Ayer, and it also has a river and mangrove forests, with residents such as proboscis monkeys and crocodiles.
Brunei also has a tropical forest in the Temburong exclave, nice beaches, good Malay and Indian food, good shopping and interesting museums. Therefore, I do not agree that there is apparently „nothing to see” in this quiet, peaceful country, and it is certainly not boring. On the other hand, Brunei is not famous for parties too, and it is not allowed to drink alcohol, but it certainly deserves a few days of any traveller’s time. Compared to 2012, when I was in Brunei for the last time, several things have changed for better.
Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB)
I hitchhiked from the airport to BSB, just like the last time. I got off at Pusat Bulia, where there were always the cheapest beds in the whole country, but unfortunately there was a renovation until April 2019. For the first few days I stayed in Bandar Seri Begawan. I lived in a hostel for $18, in front of the Brunei hotel,so was in the very center. Next to it, there was a bus station, and all places of interest. First, I saw the Chinese temple of Teng Yun, and the only one in BSB. It is built in a traditional way. It is red, and it has a roof profiled upwards, with attractive tiles. I also liked the windows, which were transformed into Chinese designs. In the middle there were red pillars with entwined dragons, Chinese lanterns, an altar and Chinese art on the walls. Teng Yun temple is small and in my opinion it is worth a visit. The only thing that I didin’t like was the parking lot behind the temple, which spoiled the view.
Then I walked around the pitch, with big posters depicting the Sultan of Brunei, and behind it stood the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque. I would also like to mention, that when I was walking along the main street, I had the famous Brunei clock tower standing right behind me, at the roundabout near the post office. However, this is not a traditional clock tower, similar to Big Ben, but very original, artistic, but also a strange art standing in the city center. I’ve taken a lot of pictures from different angles there, because it was really the only one of its kind.
I continued my walk to the Royal Regalia Museum, which presents the history of the Royal Family of Brunei, and where the Sultan of Brunei mainly keeps gifts offered to him from the leaders of other countries. Especially from Arab leaders he got interesting models of historical and religious objects of the Muslim world, but from the Queen of England Elizabeth II he only got a green flower vase.I don’t think she likes him very much?
Between the Royal Regalia Museum and the Pusat Bulia dormitory there is the Brunei Parliament, or Dewan Majlis. It is a complex of several impressive buildings with golden roofs, but there is also a garden and a fountain.
Then at last, I went to the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, which I think is one of the prettiest in the region of Southeast Asia. It is white, it has a large golden dome at the top, and a water reservoir around. There is also a bridge over the water leading to the boat, which I entered to look at the mosque from a higher place. The Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque has become the symbol of Brunei, and it is a popular tourist attraction. When I was in BSB in 2011, there was a wooden fishing village behind the mosque, but in 2018 it was already gone. It is a pity, because it could be a remnant of the old Brunei.
Right next to the mosque there is a promenade with plants and fountains, and just above Brunei river, a brand new Ecopark. The Sultan built bridges over the river, he ordered to plant baoabs from Madagascar, and he added spectacular lighting. At any time of the day or night you can see the mosque of Omar Ali Saifuddien and the Yayasan Complex. This area is very popular among the people of Brunei and Polish tourists, who like to go there to take a walk, run, or look at the village of Kampong Ayer from afar. In the evenings one can buy good and cheap food over there, as well as rent bikes.
Right next to the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, there is a spectacular Yayasan Complex shopping centre. One can buy souvenirs, electronics, clothes, and many other things. However, I often went here because on the top floor there are bars with food. Brunei has the reputation of an expensive country, but I disagree with that, because food, accommodation and transport are cheap. In front of the Yayasan Complex there is of course another fountain that heads to the mosque and the river.
If someone is interested in shopping, I recommend Pasar Gadong, where there is a whole estate of shops and cheap restaurants. Chinese restaurants are very popular, where for about $2 they gave me chicken with broth and cucumber. In Pasar Gadong you can buy all the necessary things, and you can get there by bus 01 from the BSB bus station. On the way back I hitchhiked.
When I was in BSB, I went to see the palace of the Sultan of Brunei – Istana Nurul Iman, which is the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei. This palace was placed in the Guinness book of records, as the largest residential house in the world. It is larger than Versailles, and up to 5 times the size of Buckingham Palace. Istana Nurul Iman is a huge white construction with golden domes and minarets, which lies close to the river and just a few kilometers from the BSB center. The palace has 1788 rooms, and it occupies an area of 200,000 square meters. The palace’s mosque can accommodate up to 1500 people, and the banquet hall can fit in over 5000 guests. The palace even has a helicopter landing pad, 5 pools and more than 250 bathrooms. In the middle, there are 38 types of marble, gold and Chinese silks. However, you cannot enter the palace, and you cannot see it from the river because it is covered by trees. When I was there, I was standing in front of the main gate, and then I went for a walk along the river. Unfortunately, it was raining terribly and before I got back to the hotel, I was all wet.
I got there by bus no 45.
! The good news is that the Istana Nurul Iman Palace is open for three days a year, during the Eid Mubarak festival (Arabic: عيد مبارك). The queue is longer than for sausages in Communist countries, but the lucky ones can see the Sultan, and maybe even shake his velvet hand. Colloquially called “Happy Holidays” fall in June.
I also went for a 2 hour boat trip to the largest village on water, the Kampong Ayer, and then sailed around the mangrove forest in search of proboscis monkeys. Kampong Ayer is made of about 42 villages built on thousands of logs, connected with each other by wooden bridges. There are residential houses, museums, schools, fire brigade, police and of course a mosque. Kampong Ayer is an extraordinary undertaking, as around 30,000 people live on the Brunei river, and who have developed their own local culture. From BSB you can get to the village in less than 5 minute,s for $1. However, I paid $30 for 2 hours, so that I would have time to walk around the village, and then have contact with nature in mangrove forests. I was able to see proboscis monkeys and a mangrove snake on a tree.
I would like to add that those who are willing can stay in the Kampong Ayer village for a night. You should ask boat drivers in BSB or just after reaching the “water village”.
Another important place is the largest mosque in Brunei, the Jame`Asr Hassanil Bolkiah. I personally liked more the previous mosque, because of the lake and the marble boat, but it was also impressive and richly decorated. Jame`s Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque was an exquisite art of Islamic architecture, although it was especially beautiful from the inside. There were fountains, sand-colored marble and decorated prayer materials. It is an object that takes some time because it is huge. The mosque enters through the decorated gate, and next, driving through palm alleys and a long water corridor, we reach the great gates characteristic of Islamic architecture.
I got there by bus number 01, because that mosque is on the way to the shopping district behind BSB – Pasar Gadong.
On my last day in Bandar Seri Begawan, I hitchhiked to the Brunei Museum, but it was closed for refurbishment. Over ther I saw the Maritime Museum, where on the ground floor I saw a whale skeleton, and then watched a film about a scientific expedition, the purpose of which was to extract the remains of objects of ancient civilizations. It was also emphasized that Brunei developed thanks to the strategic location on the trade route from China to Borneo. Then I went to the jungle on the river and saw a few tombs of dead sultans.
At the Brunei Museum however I was in 2012, and I remember that at that time I saw a very interesting exhibition, called “life under drilling platforms”. Currently, I saw that topic in the port of Muara, and I think it is worth paying attention to the life of sea creatures, despite the mining industry that poisons the environment.
Trip to Temburong
Temburong is the exclave of Brunei, which is separated from the rest of the country by Malaysia. The main city is Bangar, with a population of over 10,500. Currently, the Sultan of Brunei is building a bridge connecting two parts of the country, which total length will be 30km. Currently, in 2018, the only way to get from one part of Brunei to another is by a water taxi.
My first trip outside BSB was to the exclave of Brunei, Temburong, where the Ulu Temburong National Park is located. Although Brunei is mainly associated with Islam and mosques, to me Brunei is mainly about walking in the primary rain forest, with trails through the jungle and with proboscis monkeys, which live in Brunei in large numbers.
When I was in Brunei 6 years earlier, I didn’t go to Temburong, so this time I wanted to see the beautiful nature of this country and take an adventure in the jungle. The best way to do this is to buy a trip at one of the travel agencies that regularly organize trips to Temburong. One-day trips involving a speedboat, dinner, and a guide in the jungle cost about $160- $180, but I paid $135, because at the end of the day I separated from the group and stayed overnight in Bangar.
I got up at 7 am and went to the Brunei hotel where I was supposed to meet the group. I left my stuff and the big backpack in the hostel, and only took what was needed the most. The driver took us to the boat at the big bridge, and from there we sailed by a motorboat through the Malaysian territorial waters. The journey to Bangar took us 45 minutes. Then in Bangar we got to the next bus and drove 32km to the Ulu Temburong park, where a beautiful adventure awaited me.
Ulu Temburong National Park is the first park in Brunei, where there is a primary rain forest. It covers an area of 550km² and it is a home to many species of animals, endemic to the island of Borneo. At the first base there was a river and wooden longboats waiting for us, which we soon sailed to where our march through the jungle would begin. The first base was a river of a colour of tea with milk, exotic vegetation, and a rope bridge. It was beautiful, quiet, and among the picturesque nature of Borneo.
Then we got motor longboats and sailed for about an hour on the river. We were fighting strong currents and rocks lying above the water surface, and on both sides there was a jungle. When we got out of the boats, we started a 1.2km walk through the jungle, uphill. Although a wooden bridge was built, we sometimes passed through small swamps and slimy areas. Being in Temburong, just like when I traveled through the jungles of Sarawak, I was captivated by the wonderful nature. I saw huge trees with massive roots, that were so huge that they formed contoured, high, wooden walls. Going uphill, I listened to the sounds of the jungle.
My march ended when we got to the metal platform, located 250m above the ground. I do not recommend it to people with fear of heights, but this is the biggest attraction of Ulu Temburong Park. From the top you can see the vast panorama of the park very well , and I was so fortunate that I saw a pair of flying hornbills. The platform itself is stable, but the height has impact on imagination, and for safety reasons it was necessary to enter at intervals. Then we went back through the jungle to the boats.
Our next stop was a waterfall. That day it was raining and it was chilly, so not everyone was swimming in cold water. However, I always swim in waterfalls, regardless of the temperature. After returning to the boat, we stood on the rocky bank and moved to the pontoons. It was also fun because we had to paddle ourselves and avoid strong river currents and trees. Sometimes it was so adventurous, that we jumped up with the pontoon. Once we reached the rope bridge, we ate our delicious lunch, the best of which was a lemon fish. Then the driver took us to Bangar.
The rest of the group boarded the motor boat and returned to Bandar Seri Begawan, but I stayed because my plan was to see another park. On that day it rained a lot, and Bangar was very small, so there was nothing to do. Fortunately, I found a very cheap room in the hostel called Pusat Bulia, where I spent one night for $10. I walked around Bangar, I was in the shop, in the port, and I talked to people. I also had a dinner at an Indian restaurant. There is really nothing special about Bangar. Attractions are outside the town.
The next day I took a hitchhike and drove 15 km from Bangar to see the Peradayan Forest Reserve. Currently, it is a popular area because of the perfect place for a picnic. However, in the area of 1070 hectares there is also a jungle and many trails. I went to the top of Bukit Patoi, which is the most popular uphill walk. It lies at an altitude of 250m above the sea level, but to get there, one has to overcome a 1602 meter long trail. Climbing is easy for people with average physical condition, and on the way you can admire the majestic trees of the island of Borneo, with characteristic, huge roots. When I reached Bukit Patoi, I knew that I was the place, because before me appeared a clearing and bare rock with a sharp decline.
Then I hitchhiked back to Bangar, and after tea in a Malay bar, I returned by water taxi to Bandar Seri Begawan for $7. I was lucky because a woman, that I met on the boat drove me to the Brunei hotel, from where it was close to my hostel.
I believe that it is necessary to go to Temburong, because this experience allows you to get to know Brunei from a different perspective than we usually hear. Brunei is also about a beautiful jungle, waterfall, wild river and exotic animals. Let’s not forget that!
From the bus station in BSB I went by bus no 55 to Jerudong Park, which is a popular meeting place for families. There is a funfair, a fountain and several other attractions. Unfortunately, this park is not as big and grand as before, but you can still come. I recommend Jerudong primarily as a destination for families with children. When I was there, the carousels did not work yet because it was too early. It is best to arrive on Saturday evenings.
From Jerudong I hitchhiked to see a monument of money, the famous Empire Hotel. This hotel was built for a magical amount of $ 1.1bn, which shows what the petro-rich people from Brunei can afford. The hotel is connected to a path of carefully tended gardens, beautiful exotic trees, and several lakes. Inside, the things which strike visitors’s eyes are white marbles and the size of that place. In the rooms there are hand-made carpets, crystals and small things that “drip with gold”. The Empire Hotel has a big indoor pool, a beautiful outdoor pool surrounded with palm trees, and of course a private beach. The final result strikes with luxury at every turn. I spent a few hours there, first swimming in the sea and then in the pool, until I was asked for my room number. After that I thanked for the free attractions and left happy, because I lived in a hostel in BSB for $18 a night. Well…
As far as I know, one night in this hotel costs from $270, to at least $22,000 for the “imperial room”; though sometimes probably even more. I believe that a visit in the Empire Hotel is a must-have experience when traveling in the Sultanate of Brunei. I recommend photos on the website of the hotel http://www.theempirehotel.com/ .
Few people come to Brunei to see the beaches, and from what I know, not many people have even been to Brunei. I’ve been 2 times, that’s why many often accused me of being a boring man. I don’t think that way. From the bus station in BSB I went by bus no. 33 to Muara. The town itself is nothing interesting, because it is only a parking lot for buses with two rows of shops, and Indian and Malay restaurants. It is not too clean either. Muara is known more as a seaport, from which boats regularly sail to the Malaysian island of Labuan.
A few kilometers from Muara there are also several nice beaches. The first one I went to was the small and narrow Pantai Serasa beach. I didn’t swim there because it was not attractive, but for a seaside walk the place was ideal. In addition, there are also several pubs, especially on weekends, and The Royal Brunei Yacht Club. Another beach is Pantai Meragang (crocodile beach), but it is also not attractive. Whilst swimming in a muddy water, of a colour of tea with milk, and among the trash, I saw otters eating fish which they just caught. Once in a while, they emerged from the water to eat them, while holding them in their paws. When sitting in water I also noticed a board on the shore, on which was written “Beware of Crocodiles”. I started moving slowly towards the shore, and I understood why I was the only person bathing there. When I was walking next to the sea, I asked the fishermen whether they swim there. They replied that they would have to be out of their minds to bathe there, because those waters are full of crocodiles.
Well … I was lucky, but on the other hand I began to wonder how terrible I must be, if even crocodiles do not want me.
By far the most beautiful beach was Pantai Muara. It is the only beach that is long and wide, has great waves, and the water is blue, not brown. The beach is also surrounded by trees, and there is a park nearby with picnic tables. I spent a few hours there, just walking and enjoying the sea breeze and gusty wind. Of course, I also swam, but first I asked if there were definitely no crocodiles there. That place was the best
One can also charter a motorboat or hire a tourist agency to get to the “mosquito island” – Pantai Selirong.
I hitchhiked to the Muara beach. On the way, I saw a port with a military ship, and exercises during which the Brunei police tried to control a staged riot. To the bus in Muara I went woth a soldier working for the Brunei Navy. Then, for $1 and after 35 kilometers I returned to BSB, where the day ended with tea in a Bangladeshi restaurant.
Tutong is a very small, pleasant town that is halfway between Seria and Bandar Seri Begawan. Tutong is located by the river, where there are always many fishermen on one side, and on the other there is a mangrove forest and the big inscription “TUTONG”. For a small town, Tutong is very well stocked. There are several rows of shops there, where among other things I bought a camera. In addition, I recommend sports stores, as well as Malay and Indian restaurants. I went to Tutong several times, sometimes strolling along the river, and sometimes for dinner, during a stop over ton the way to Seria.
However, Tutong is best known for the best beach in the Sultanate of Brunei. It is Pantai Tutong, with white sand stretching for many kilometers. The water is clean, there are pleasant waves, and the wind moving palm trees. There is also a camping place nearby, where every morning Brunei people open their stalls with food. Tutong Beach is an unforgettable, charming place with a wonderful sunset.
As a curiosity, I want to say that a few kilometers outside Tutong there is a British military base, with Nepalese Gurkha soldiers.
Tutong is located about 50km from Badar Seri Begawan, and the bus ride takes about 1h and costs $1. It is also worth noting that Tutong is on the same route as Sera, that’s why people going to Seria will definitely have a stop there. The whole trip, including two towns can be seen in one day, but I did it in two days. That way it was better and nicer. I went back to BSB by a few hitchhiking trips, which even works well in Brunei.
About 100km from BSB lies a small town of Seria, colonized by the British oil industry Shell. The town itself is not delightful, but there are of course many Malay shops and restaurants. Most of the people who live there work in the oil industry, and mainly men from India and Bangladesh. One can also stay overnight at the Koperasi Hotel. A bus from Seria to BSB costs $6, and the journey with interchanges took me almost 2 hours.
In Seria I saw a monument to the Billionth Barrel of Oil, interesting factories, oil pumping machines and a museum. I still spent most of my time on the beach, which is a pleasant walk through green areas, palm trees and oil pumping machines. The oil plant itself was as interesting as last year’s snow, and although I know nothing about oil processing, I really liked pumping machines on the grass, but also my time spent on the beach, by the the Billionth Barrel of Oil monument. I spent a very nice day, even though the water in Seria was not as clean as in Tutong.
I went back to the BSB by a few hitchhiking trips, mainly with Indian employees of the oil factories. Indians praised Brunei very much, and they said that they lived well and were satisfied with the job. On the way to BSB I also stopped again in Tutong, then walked along the river and stopped another hitch.
I think that a trip to Seria is a must, because it is an interesting small town, where one can see interesting things. In the opposite direction to BSB, buses from Seria go to Sarawak in Malaysia, through the last town in Brunei – Kuala Belait.
Departure to Malaysia from the Serasa port
From the bus station in BSB I went to Muara by bus no 38, but I left a few meters before the town. From there I hitchhiked to the port of Serasa, from where by a fast motorboat I sailed to the island of Labuan. The journey took me 1h and cost $17.
! If someone goes from Brunei to Miri in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, I recommend taking a bus from BSB or Kuala Belait. However, travelers traveling to Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah should go by boat, and change on the island of Labuan. I think it is the best way. Of course, one can also go by bus, but due to the many border controls I do not recommend this method.
I hope that I’ve managed to show Brunei at its best side, and encourage travellers to visit this “beautiful country at the end of the world”. Good luck Brunei !!!