Friday, June 21, 2013

Brunei Darussalam

Many foreigner living in Malaysia Borneo stated, that the best of Brunei is the Immigration Office (visitors to Brunei are granted 90 days and then again when they re-enter Malaysia).

I don’t absolutely  agree with this. Brunei worth the visit for at least 2-3 days (or 1 if you have someone to show you around). It is a lovely tropical country so extremely peaceful that you will never feel that peace anywhere in the world.

What to see in Brunei
Omar Ali Mosque: One of the best Mosque in South East Asia, it has it own man-made lake (the one on the first photo of this post). Muslim can enter any time, visitors are allowed when not praying time. Woman are provided with Muslim clothes to cover themselves when entering. No photos are allowed inside the mosque but outside take as many as you want.
Who parked this car right outside the Mosque?

Residence of the Sultan
You will not get to see the Palace inside (or outside), of course, but you might want to wander outside and take some photos.

Floating Silt Houses
Still many Bruneian live in there. I didn’t have the chance to visit them. For more info, visit the post of my friend Juan of Bitacurry.

Brunei Museum
Here you can find information about Brunei's Archaeology, Ethnography, History and Natural History.

Beaches and BBQ
Fortunately, the Bruneian are not fans of the beach, and they are still wild with no constructions or people begging or trying to sell you something. Absolutely empty and pure nature. The only time that the Bruneian visit the beach is when they want to do a BBQ, apparently the national entertainment but I didn't see anyone doing BBQ when I visited the country.

Note that Jerundon Playground, the present of the Sultan to the Bruneian people, is actually closed.

Even if alcohol has been banned from the country, Bruneian love to do BBQ in the forest or beaches. Beaches there are totally unspoiled, you will not see any hotel or shop nearby, you will have an empty beach all for yourself in the middle of the nature, however you will have to share it with all the rubbish that Bruneian don’t bother to collect when they go home. 

The Youth Hostel Pusait Bella charges 10B$ (7,85US$) for a dormitory bed. It's the only real budget option for backpackers. Other hostels will charge you between 25-30B$ (20-23US$) for a double (or single occupancy) without breakfast. Internet seems not to be available in most of the motels.

This is the route I did from KK-Labuan- Brunei-Miri

How to move inside the country
One of the biggest problems in Brunei is the lack of public transport. Everyone owns a car here and the price of the petrol is 0,33B$ (0,25US$) per liter. With this price, obviously the Bruneian go driving everywhere and the sultan does not have any interest to have more foreigner visitor to break the peace of the country, so very limited buses are provided and very infrequent. Walking is not an option as many of pedestrians paths disappear to give priority to excellent highways never seen before in South East Asia and up to the standards of Europe or North America.

Luckily I saw one public bus and I was quick enough to shoot it with my camera.

So your only chance to visit the city is to know any local that can take you around (or be very patience and spend one week here, even if there is not much to do)

Currency and prices
Keep your Malaysian Ringgit in the wallet for a while, as they won’t be accepted here. However, you can use your Singaporean Dollars here. Do not be afraid, Brunei is not so expensive country as everyone thinks; as always you need to know how to move (real travelers will be able to find bargains everywhere).

Examples of prices in the hotel I was staying (0,78US$ for a coffee and 4US$ for a full breakfast)
Other considerations:
  •  Alcohol and drugs laws are a serious offence here and the penalty is the death.
    Sounds scary right? Do not risk your life!
  • Market are very similar to the Malaysian one. And I was very happy because I found...
Marinated fish.

Selling mata-kuching and another amazing tropical fruits.

A typical market in Brunei

Even a cold Milo and some mata-kuching looks like a luxury meal with native flowers.

Potatoes! Finally spotted in Asia! Bye bye rice!
  • Chinese and another minorities are not very represent into the Bruneian society. Most of the population are ethnically Malays.
Chinese temple. Not very exciting after living in Hong Kong for such a long time.
  • The Bruneian gastronomy is very similar to Malaysian, with goreng and soto dishes everywhere.
Delicious soto (noodles) with beef
A food court family restaurant serving local food in Kuala Belait

  • The capital of the country is Bandar Seri Begawan, however, the 402.000 inhabitants live all around the country.

Dangers and annoyances
Being one of the smallest and safest countries of the world, you should not be worried about your safety. Women are not required to cover themselves in any moment, unless entering to the mosque. (just dress modestly to avoid inconveniences). If that is an annoyance for you, there are not bars, pubs or places to buy alcohol and no night life scene at all. At the end, Brunei is a village country in the middle of the jungle (in this post you can find photos from a close by rain forest) you will have to find another place to party hard! Note: Bruneian go to Labuan Island or Miri whenever they want to drink or party.)

If this annoys you, don't go to this country!

Does it really worth to visit Brunei?
In my opinion, absolutely. Obviously I would not recommend to fly from Europe specifically just to visit this country, but if in any moment of your Borneo Malaysian trip you have the chance to visit, do not hesitate to spend at least 2 or 3 days here. Rent a car if your budget allows you to do so or get in touch with any of the lovely couchsurfing hosts in the city. Brunei is probably one of the smallest countries of the world, so don't lose the chance!

Have you been in Brunei or planning to go there soon?
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