24 Hours in Brunei - My Trip Report

By 5:09 PM , ,


I have travelled with my family, I have travelled with friends and I have travelled with Topdeck, Intreprid and Busabout but I have never travelled by myself. I always prefer having people around to share the experience but after so many people telling me I had to try solo travel I added it to my bucket list. And when my friend moved to Dubai this year I had the chance to dip into the shallow end of solo travel by flying over Dubai, doing it part by myself and part with her. I then decided to take advantage of the cheaper flights with included stopovers and make the stopover one of my destinations and that destination was Brunei.

I picked Brunei because, well it was one of my three options, and also because it was a country that I don’t think I would go out of my way to visit, and according to lots of websites- very doable in one day!

Doing some pre trip research I was assured by the fact it was one of safest countries in the world. However, I found there was not much information out there about travelling throughout Brunei which shouldn’t have surprised me given it was not a super popular tourist spot. It just would have been nice to read some experiences on where people stayed, where people went and how they got there (especially since I read public transport is scarce since petrol is so cheap and people just drive themselves everywhere). I failed to find a post that covered everything I was after and being my first solo trip I wanted to be prepared! I have now been and come back and want to share my experience in hopes of aiding future Brunei travellers and to inspire some wanderlust amongst those who love travel. So here is my 24 hour guide to Brunei:

Accommodation

I chose to stay at the Capital Residence Suites in Bandar Seri Begawan for three reasons: 1) It was cheap but not dodgy, 2) It was centrally located, 3) It had free wifi (in case this solo traveller felt lonely and wanted to message back home). But it was the free shuttle and lovely service that ended up being the highlight of this hotel. The free shuttle really made it possible to see so much in so little time, and the very friendly staff genuinely cared about their guests (e.g. making sure people got back to the hotel safe).

24 hours in Brunei

Saturday
5pm: I arrived in Brunei and the hotel driver was already waiting for me on arrival, holding up a sign which read my name. We got to the the hotel within an hour, and the driver pointed out sights on the drive there.


Fruits of the Night Market
7pm-9pm: The hotel shuttle goes every two hours from 9am-11pm and takes you to the main spots in the city. My destination that night was the Night Market. The driver dropped me at The Mall and showed me how to get to the Night Market from there. It’s only a five minute walk from The Mall to the Night Market, and even though it was dark by then and I was alone I felt safe and didn’t get any looks or leers. The market was bustling and the first few aisles are full of brightly coloured tropical fruits such as rambutan, longan, jackfruit and durian. What I liked about these markets is that no one hassled you to buy their produce and I could browse at my leisure. Even though I was only in Brunei for a day, I couldn't resist buying half a kilo of Rambutan (for only $1 it was such a bargain). Past the fruit stalls were the savoury stalls where hot food is cooked in front of you. I didn't see anything over $5, so it’s a great chance for you to try a lot of different things. I must admit, being someone who has fallen victim to food poisoning whilst travelling before, I didn't want to risk it so ended up only buying a saucy looking dish that looked delicious, when I asked the lady what it was she said tapioca (I think she meant cassava!) which was actually pretty yummy and flavoursome. I also bought a spiral chip. The markets don't have anywhere to sit and eat so I munched on my buys as I walked back to The Mall. I was told it’s the biggest mall in Brunei, which was such an indication of how small Brunei really is because it wasn't that much bigger than my local Westfield. I was disappointed to see the clothes in the stores were the same prices as clothes back home. Being a lover of supermarkets I was happy to find a supermarket close to The Mall to stock up on cheap snacks. I then met the shuttle back to the hotel.

Night Market meals

9pm-10pm: It wasn't too late and I wasn't tired yet so I thought I would venture out and go see the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin (SOAS) mosque at night. I was a little nervous about getting lost but I had a maps app (Maps. Me) that guided me and then it was easy because I could quickly see the tops of the mosque. It was only a ten minute walk from the hotel and I was glad I went despite my nerves because the mosque was serene at night, all light up with only a few visitors. The mosque alone is not super impressive (despite the pure gold dome), but when you walk to the back there is a lit up path and boat sitting on an artificial lagoon which is so beautiful and calming. I loved having it to myself and being able to take pictures to my heart’s content.

SOAS Mosque at night
Sunday
Something ridiculous in the morning: Despite there only being a two hour time difference between Australia and Brunei, I was up much earlier than when the shuttle service started (9am) so I leisurely got ready as I watched the end of The Rugrats movie (one of the only English things on).
730am: I was advised by the hotel receptionist that unfortunately due the road closures for the Sultan’s birthday celebrations they couldn’t drive me to the Water Village as I requested but were happy to take me somewhere else otherwise I could walk. I opted to get an early start and walk to the Water Village. Before I headed out, I enjoyed the hotel buffet breakfast and got to try some local meals. I took advantage of the buffet and tried both Nasi Lemak, a parcel of rice, sprat sambol and fried egg wrapped in a banana leaf and Nasi Katok, a pyramid of rice with fried chicken hidden in the middle. Although neither are really breakfasty I enjoyed both dishes but found the Nasi Lemak tastier as I quite liked the sprat sambol with the rice.

Nasi Lemak

8.30am-10.00am: The walk to Kampong Ayer a.k.a the Water Village was actually quite easy as I noted a bridge the previous night at the SOAS mosque that led to it. Once you reach the road at the end of the bridge you are supposed to turn left and walk along the road until you see water taxis lined against the water. This is commonly what tourists used to explore the water villages. I, on the otherhand, just saw a very rickety bridge straight ahead and stilt houses in the distance and decided to cross it. The houses, all wooden and falling apart, stand in such stark contrast to the grand mosque with its pure gold dome.

Walking paths in the Water Village

Once I reached the other side of the bridge into the village it was clear I was just walking through people’s houses so I walked back over the bridge and came across an even more rickety one, planks would randomly disappear, or would be very wobbly. Who knew I would be doing such adrenalin realising activities in the morning?! As I was crossing scary bridge number two, I noticed a number of water taxis racing to and from a common location and it dawned on me that’s probably where I was supposed to be, so back over the bridge I went and down the safe and stable road. The water taxi drivers must be used to tourists because he knew what I meant when I said I just wanted him take me around. It cost 30 Brunei dollars for a 30 minute drive around the water village. Kampong Ayer is the largest water village in the world and is often referred to as the Venice of Asia. I’m not sure about the latter claim, but going through the villages in the water taxi you could certainly see its enormity. The driver didn’t speak through the drive, so I just spent the time observing the houses, the little wooden police station on stilts and several mosques. 



10.00am – 11:00am: Having an hour to kill before the 11am shuttle, I decided to just walk around the town (I have no sense of direction but I found Bangar surprisingly easy to navigate). I don’t know if it’s because there was an air of celebration or if that’s how it always is, but everyone seemed very friendly, smiling and saying hello as I passed- even the police officers. I decided I might pop in on the celebrations since I had time and my timing was perfect! I got to watch the big closing performance on stage which ended with balloons and confetti being released into the sky. A local explained to me that the Sultan and the Prince were then going to go around and greet everyone so I was going to have a chance to meet him! So I gathered around with the locals and a handful of obvious tourists and waited to greet the Sultan. The locals obviously love their leader and were very excited when he stopped by to shake their hands and say hello, some were even reduced to tears. It was then our turn, the Sultan stopped in front of us and a pushy American jumped in front of me and explained that she was from America as was the group she was with (who I ended up in the middle of) and wished him a happy birthday and we all gushed similar sentiment as he welcomed us to the country and then he moved on. What are the chances, I’m in Brunei for one day and I get some face time with the Sultan!



11:00am-12:30pm: I caught the 11am shuttle to Jame Asr’ Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. This mosque is the biggest in Brunei and is so incredibly beautiful with its sprawling green lawns and numerous water fountains. When you enter the mosque you are given a black robe and you must place your belongings in a locker as they are very strict about the no photos inside rule. Thus you will have to take my word that the inside of the mosque is as beautiful as the outside; a marble staircase leads to you the top level which has the prayer rooms. It was so peaceful inside the mosque and I got lost in a fantasy that I was Princess Jasmine and I was wandering around my castle. Tours are run inside the mosque but the one that was walking through when I was there was in Chinese so I just explored on my own. I disrobed to explore the grounds, where you are able to take pictures. The grounds are sectioned off so each time you enter one of the sections it feels like you are entering a secret garden. It didn’t take me longer than 40 minutes to thoroughly explore the mosque and take pictures so I decided to bask in the serenity of the mosque and sit in the gardens and just relax while I waited for the hotel driver to pick me up. When I travel I like to pack every moment with activity so this hour of forced relaxation was nice, I sat and ate the Rambutan I had packed in my bag from the Night Market while I watched other tourists explore the mosque and a young Muslim couple take their wedding pictures.



12.30pm – 4.30pm: I had read about the Empire Country Club and Hotel but had not intended on visiting but the hotel staff recommended I visit as they thought I would enjoy it. They said they could drive me there from the mosque and then they could bring my bags and we could go straight from the airport from the Club so I wouldn’t have to backtrack back to the hotel. So at 12.30 I was picked up from the mosque and driven to the Country Club. It was so fancy that I was a little intimated to walk in, all sweaty and casually dressed but my driver insisted it was fine and sure enough no one batted an eye when I walked in. The Club is very obvious in its fanciness with its marble and gold columns. I did a quick walk around the Club and grounds, sussing out my food options to ease my grumbling stomach and settled on a little cafĂ© called Zest. Despite its fancy location and the cases of tempting looking pastries, the pricing was pretty fair so I decided to indulge and ordered a shish kebab, an icy strawberry and mint drink and a pistachio and strawberry tart (all for $20 Brunei dollars).

View from The Empire
Fuelled up, I went to explore the club. To be honest, if you don’t want to swim (and since it was a last minute decision I didn’t have my swimmers on me) there isn’t a whole heap to do. I walked through the pool club area which had a large pool with a swim up bar (dry bar I’m guessing since Brunei is a dry country) to get to the beach where I dipped by feet into the warm water. I attempted to sit by the pool, with a view of the beach with the rest of the guests (I had wondered where all the tourists were during the day and the previous night as I didn’t really spot many obvious ones, I got my answer here- they were all relaxing by the pool at the Empire!) and it was nice for a total of five minutes before it got to hot and I got fidgety so I ended up finding a plush couch inside and used the wifi (I don’t think it’s free but the receptionist gave me the code as she didn’t ask what I meant if I could buy some internet haha) and watched shows on my tablet which I thankfully had on me.

4.30-5pm: My drop-off at the airport meant the end of my trip in Brunei. Despite my worries of getting bored or lonely travelling by myself in a country that wasn’t very tourist heavy I had such a lovely time discovering the gentle and beautiful Brunei. 

Hopefully this post helps relieve some trip anxiety and inspires some ideas. Now if you are wondering, what about Dubai? That’s to come ! Keep posted on here or on my Facebook page to read about that trip!

You Might Also Like

13 comments

  1. What an awesome experience! I feel so ignorant that I know absolutely nothing about Brunei, but I definitely learned a lot reading your post. So cool you got to meet the Sultan!

    Sues

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't worry, I didn't know anything about Brunei until I booked my trip!

      Delete
  2. Wow, you sure packed a lot into your brief time in Brunei. Love your photos.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have been traveling solo most of the time since I started traveling internationally. I'm glad you had the courage to do it and what a very nice first time experience in Brunei.

    The mosque looks enigmatic at night, you're probably very glad now that you've overcome your fear of going out at night - the photo's amazing! :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I enjoyed reading about your time in Brunei. We flew Royal Brunei Airlines to London a few months ago- a lot of people have never heard of Brunei and all that I knew about the place was that the Sultan is one of the wealthiest men in the world :) Glad you had a great time!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've done solo travel before and it is quite a wonderful thing. I have yet to have a long layover like this, but I like the idea of doing that! And this place looks like a wonderful place to visit! Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for sharing your experience. We're in Singapore, so close to Brunei, but haven't made it over there yet, but we plan to eventually. Nice to read about your time there because I haven't seen any blog posts about it or know anyone who has been.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Count me among the people who had no idea that there's that much to see in Brunei. It looks so small on the map...

    I have to ask: Now that you've been, Dani, do you think 24 hours is enough time to see the country? Is there anything that you missed seeing that you'd suggest others should visit?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'd love to go to Brunei, I haven't had the pleasure yet. And good on you for doing some solo travel!!
    Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust this week

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow! I like this guide a lot. Glad to know you were able to visit by yourself! Thanks for joining #TravelPhotoThursday.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Nice tour of the city. Very colorful place.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hello there, you have brought back happy memories of a short trip to Brunei from long ago. I went there from Sabah to catch a flight to Darwin - those were the days. I'd love to go againa nd retrace your steps.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks so much, so glad we found this! So helpful. We are having a stopover in Brunei en route to Malaysia and hopefully your itinerary will suit ours xx

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for the comments!