In the past few weeks, chances are you’ve read something about Brunei in some mainstream media. Yes, you’ve probably read something about their new anti-LGBTQ law that has been applied since earlier this month. Honestly, I don’t really care whether you’re pro or against the law, because I’m here to just share my experience. An experience to explore the country called Brunei Darussalam.
My first mistake when I arrived in Brunei was the thought that Brunei would be pretty much like Singapore: a small, rich country where everything is expensive. That’s basically the stereotype I’ve got as an Indonesian.
Well, I gotta say… Things around Brunei are much more affordable compared to Singapore. And did you know that the gas only costs around 3 cents BND per liter?!
I know, it’s not surprising as they’re a country that is rich with oil anyway. But believe me, I was surprised by the fact that I could control my expense quite easily in Brunei. If anything, I suppose Brunei has a currency that is on par with SGD, but the living cost is slightly on par like in Malaysia. And for me, it’s a sweet spot! 😉
How To Get Around Brunei
Apart from the city center where most of the tourist attractions are located, Brunei also has Ulu Temburong National Park that is located in Temburong district. I had to skip the latter as I decided not to go due to a limited budget. However, if the budget is not really your concern, I’d really suggest you to go for a better experience.
So, here’s the thing… If you think that Brunei is a country as small as Singapore, you’re wrong. As I mentioned previously about Bandar Seri Begawan, if Singapore is only a tiny red dot on the map, Brunei is ten times larger than that. Not to mention that Temburong district is divided by Limbang, a city that is a part of Sarawak in Malaysia.
Therefore, if you’re planning to visit Brunei, be prepared with at least 4 empty pages on your passport since your passport will get stamped a few times when you go across the border.
With almost 9% of their territory consists of water, along with the infamous Water Village around Bandar, boats are one of the common ways to commute. Apart from that, most Bruneian have their own vehicles to get around. I mean, I’m not gonna blame them since the gas there is so cheap!
Public transportations like bus, while they say that it’s operated around the country, it’s quite rare. I got around Brunei mostly with Suzie as she’s got her own car, although when she couldn’t show me around, I also installed a local Bruneian ride-sharing app called Dart Rider.
While the app was quite reliable, I have to admit that it is less user-friendly compared to other ride-sharing apps in Southeast Asia. But then again, it’s better than nothing! 😉
Where To Go Around Brunei
Yes, I skipped Ulu Temburong for my trip the last time. However, I gotta say that I had a good time exploring Brunei around the Bandar or the city center. From the classic museum-hopping with Suzie as my tour guide, and of course, trying the local delicacies in Brunei like ambuyat.
And I think, these attractions around the city center in Bandar are the must-do when you have some time to explore Brunei!
1. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Google Brunei Darussalam, and head over to the images section. Chances are, you’ll mostly see the pictures of this mosque on your monitor. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is the mosque built and dedicated to the father of the current Sultan of Brunei.
It is considered as one of the most beautiful mosques in Asia Pacific, and I’m not surprised. The architecture is astonishing, in the afternoon the beauty enhances with the lovely sky around Brunei. I mean, I’m coming from Java in Indonesia where the blue sky rarely appears around me… But in Brunei, it’s something you see in a daily basis.
The combination of Bruneian blue sky and the SOAS Mosque’s architecture is no doubt very Instagram-worthy. And during the night, the mosque is full of lights which enhance its beauty.
You can pray inside the mosque anytime, but be sure that you already use the proper clothes to pray. Unlike the mosque in Indonesia where you could enter anytime as long as you have the prayer clothing with you, in Brunei you can only enter the mosque when you already have your hijab and proper clothing to pray.
For visitors, SOAS Mosque opens everyday from 9 to 12 where they provide the proper clothing to cover your knees for men. For women, they also provide abaya for you to wear inside the mosque as a visitor.
2. Taman Mahkota Jubli Emas (Eco Corridor Park)
Eco Corridor Park is located exactly in front of the SOAS Mosque. It is a riverfront public park around Bandar that was inaugurated during the Golden Jubilee of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s accession to the throne in 2017.
The perfect time to stroll around the eco park is during the night since in the afternoon you might be showered with sweat. Given the Brunei heat. 😛
The park itself is quite large to explore, so if you like to walk around or maybe do some jogging at night, it’s really a night place for you. However, for Suzie and I who got too lazy to walk around on our first visit to the park, we decided to rent a tricycle there.
The rent is only 10 BND for an hour strolling around the park. I split with Suzie, so each one of us only had to pay for 5 BND. It was enough to look around every corner of the park during the night. We even reached to see the former palace where the current Sultan was born.
3. Having Ambuyat at Aminah Arif Restaurant
If there’s any food that you shouldn’t miss while in Brunei, then that would be ambuyat. Ambuyat is the national dish of Brunei, which is a mix of sago palm and tapioca starch. It is eaten with a bamboo fork by rolling the starch and dipping it into the sauce.
When Suzie showed me the video of ambuyat, it actually rings a bell since I remember that there’s a similar dish in the eastern part of Indonesia where we call papeda. I suppose it’s similar, but I’ve never been to eastern Indonesia, so I’m not too sure what’s the difference, or rather the similarity between the two.
Suzie told me a brief story about Bruneian under the Japanese Occupation during World War II, where the general population in Brunei began to eat the ambuyat in their everyday menu do to the hardship during the period.
According to Suzie, Aminah Arif is the most famous restaurant that serves the best ambuyat in the country. It has a number of branches throughout Brunei, but we had one at Jerudong. Along with the ambuyat, we also ordered some side dishes as Suzie mentioned that the best part about ambuyat at Aminah Arif is its sauce.
The sauce is so good that they don’t serve the sauce for take-away. Yes, it’s only served for dining in only. And the most surprising thing is that one of the ingredients for the sauce is actually durian.
I hate durian. For all my heart. But guess what? I couldn’t taste the durian in the sauce, it’s just great. But it’s probably because Suzie asked the waiter to mix the sauce in a way that I could barely taste it. HAHA.
However, it tastes quite nice, the sauce is somewhat sweet and sour. For the ambuyat, we split the bill again as the total for 2 was $25 BND (around $18 USD).
4. Breakfast at Chop Jing Chew.
Do you agree that there’s always a popular place to have breakfast in every city, that you just have to know the place to enjoy the most out of it?! For example, Pontianak has Asiang Coffee and/or Sarihati, Well, Brunei also has Chop Jing Chew for this!
I suppose they’re one of the most legendary bakeries in Brunei as they started their own business since 1946. Chop Jing Chew is popular with their roti kahwin kuning. Well, if you’ve been to Singapore and you’re familiar with kaya toast, roti kahwin is basically that.
Apart from roti kahwin kuning, I also tried toast with egg and cheese, which costs slightly more than the standard roti kahwin. But in my opinion, it’s all worth it! 🙂
Also, take note that Chop Jing Chew is really legendary to the point that it’s always crowded during breakfast time. However, if you’re a real foodie, I strongly recommend this. Believe me, the pic doesn’t do the justice as I suck at taking food pics. HAHA.
4. Malay Technology Museum
If most of the previous places that I mentioned are located around the city center, the Malay Technology Museum is located a bit more distance from Bandar. Located in Kota Batu, it takes around 30 minutes driving from Bandar.
There are a few museums around Kota Batu that you could visit. In which all of them are free entry. One of them is Malay Technology Museum that exhibits the house miniature around the Water Village in the ancient times, as well as the technology used through construction or handicrafts back in the day.
To be fair, checking out the exhibition here could be a little bit boring. However, I think this would help you understand more about the locals in Brunei back in the days.
5. Brunei Darussalam Maritime Museum
Still located around Kota Batu, Brunei Maritime Museum is only around 5-minute drive from the Malay Technology Museum.
One of the newest museums in Brunei, it has a couple of galleries with an audio-visual room where we could watch the documentary about the finding of some shipwreck around Brunei sea back in the 1990s. All the findings, along with the artifacts, are now displayed in one of the galleries at the museum.
It is believed that the shipwreck came from back in the 15th or 16th century, judging from the design of ceramics found in the discovery.
Not just the artifacts, at Brunei Darussalam Maritime Museum you could also check on the development of ship models that come around Brunei sea from time to time.
Apart from Brunei Darussalam Maritime Museum, there’s also an old building of Brunei Museum around Kota Batu. However, it is permanently closed until further notice. Which is unfortunate since they have more exhibition that shows even more of the Brunei history.
6. Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque
Now that you’ve been to SOAS Mosque, then it’s time to head over the mosque dedicated to the current Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
The construction of this mosque began in 1988, and it was first inaugurated in 1994. Located in Klarong, you need to drive if you come from the Waterfront around SOAS Mosque.
For this one, sadly I couldn’t tell much about the experience since the mosque was closed when I stopped by. Twice.
The thing is, I came to Brunei just a few days before Maulid Nabi, a big Islamic holiday when people celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad PBUH. For exactly the same reason, the mosque was entirely closed when I got there.
So I didn’t get a chance to enter the mosque. Just got me some pics in front of the mosque and that’s it. 🙁
However, according to Suzie, the Sultan Himself often makes his appearance randomly for the prayers at the mosque. And for that, the main gate is always open during prayers’ time for him to make the entrance.
7. Kampong Ayer
Kampong Ayer, or the Water Village in Brunei, is believed to have been inhabited for several centuries. The area around the Water Village was the capital of Brunei, in terms of the social and economic center.
The first time I saw the Water Village, it actually reminds me of Kampung Ambon in Jakarta or Kampung Beting in Pontianak. In Indonesia, the people living in the villages above the water always associate with the criminal case.
Not trying to be condescending, but I told Suzie about this and she said that it wasn’t the same case in Brunei. In Brunei, those who live in the Water Village are not poor. In fact, the idea of them living in the Water Village might be something they’re proud of.
Because of the heritage and the history of the village, a lot of locals who live in the village refused to relocate even though the government of Brunei offered free housing in exchange. The attachment with the idea of heritage for so many generations made them hesitant to give in.
I tried to explore the Water Village on my own, as I took the boat from the Waterfront for $1 BND for one way. So in total, I only spent $2 BND for the boat trip to and from the Water Village. They offered me a tour on the boat for $30 BND, but I found it super pricey to just get around the Water Village.
I stopped by the village during the weekdays and I barely saw any person there. Needless to say, I found it quite boring. I suppose maybe if it’s around the weekend, the village would be more alive. But for the experience, why not coming to Kampong Ayer and see it for yourself?
8. Royal Regalia Museum
If you read my previous post about random facts of Brunei, you might already know that the late father of Sultan, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, is the admirer of Winston Churchill. He once had one hall dedicated to the former British prime minister, and it was located at this very Royal Regalia Museum.
The museum itself is located around 10 minutes drive from the Waterfront. The hall that was once stood the statue of Winston Churchill, is now full with the armors as well as the golden chariot that the Sultan Himself usually use when he makes his appearance.
Royal Regalia Museum is the house of the regalia of the Sultan and the royalty in which not only you could see the souvenirs given from the Sultan’s guests, but also his clothes and even weapons.
Rumor has it that they exhibit the real stuff. And not just the imitation of the regalia. Probably the reason why it’s not allowed to bring the camera inside the exhibition. You are only allowed to take the pic in the main hall around the chariot.
In here, you’ll be welcomed by the family tree of the Sultanate of Brunei. Starting from Sultan Muhammad Shah, the first sultan of Brunei, to the current one Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
At this part, I’m actually really grateful that I came with Suzie as she knows a lot about her country’s history and I loved listening to her story about Brunei Darussalam. Like for example, did you know that in the past, there was one former Sultan of Brunei who committed the biggest sin when he did black magic to rule the country?
9. Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha Bridge
Popularly known as Sungai Kebun Bridge, the bridge was inaugurated on October 2017 to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. Hence, the bridge is named after her: Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha.
The cable-stayed bridge connects the city center and Sungai Kebun district in Bandar Seri Begawan. And the visit to the bridge was one of the extreme ones I had done during my trip to Brunei. *LOL*
So, basically Suzie and I tried to find out how we could get to the bridge and where we should park the car when we stop by. Suzie consulted to her dad to find out and he casually told us to just switch on the hazard light and park the car somewhere around the bridge. And guess what? We did successfully! 😀
Long story short, we made our way to take some pics around the bridge since there’s a small way for the pedestrians in each side anyway. It’s just there’s no entrance for the pedestrians by the end of the bridge, so really we had to jump that might sound like trespassing the area.
But you know what’s surprising? We weren’t exactly the only one who did it. So, it’s like being a local custom to get around the bridge. So, who cares? 😛
Is Brunei Worth to Visit?
Here’s the thing, I understand that after the recent news about their sharia law, so many people would try to discourage you to visit Brunei. But you know what? If you want to visit Brunei, you should.
Because if anything, this might exceed your expectations. I mean, I visited Brunei for 4 days since some people kept telling me that Brunei is rather boring anyway. But I still have a good time. In fact, I want to go back for so many reasons.
First of all, Suzie told me that the Sultanate usually arrange an open house during Hari Raya where you could actually meet His High Majesty in person. He will serve you foods and the idea of celebrating Hari Raya sounds tempting as well.
And not just that, on my last trip to Brunei, I couldn’t get a chance to get to the Empire Hotel for tea party since it was on the same day when the president of China, Xi Jinping, arrived for a bilateral meeting with the Sultan. And basically, the hotel is entirely blocked for the Chinese guests.
Well, in that case, I have some activities left to do around Brunei. And the recent news in the mainstream media won’t stop me from visiting the country.
So, have you visited Brunei? Moreover, are you interested to visit Brunei to see how it is in your own way? Tell me what you think, and cheerio! 🙂