I booked my trip to Manila last minute in a peak season. It was my first time to fly the Royal Brunei Airlines which means that I have to stop over in Brunei for 24 hours on the way back to Melbourne. To be honest, I do not know what to expect as Brunei is not a very popular place to visit, at least not in my circle of friends. I did a bit of reasearch to equip myself of the necessities.
I landed Brunei around 11pm. The airport was small but clean. I headed towards the baggage area to collect my things. It was an easy collection as the airport was not very busy. As soon as I walked to the arrivals, the airport pickup service organised by the hotel I was to stay in was already waiting for me. I was greeted by a warm friendly smile as I said hello. It took 20 minutes drive to reach the hotel in the city centre. I was about to stay at the Radisson Blu. The check-in process was swift and easy. Since my next day flight was at night, I requested for a late check out which the receptionist happily obliged. It was such a relief to arrive at my room as it was already midnight. The room was inviting me to lay my back to rest and get ready for the next day of adventure.
I got up at 7:30 am feeling recharged and ready to conquer. I freshened up and headed straight to the reception asking for help to book a tour. The receptionist called affiliated tour companies and booked me a morning one. It originally cost $65 Brunei dollars but since I was a solo traveller and the peak season for travel just passed, I paid $90 for a private tour. The receptionist told me that the tour will start at 9am so I decided to have a buffet breakky. I could have the tour for free as a Royal Brunei passenger however, I could not be botherered to travel back to the airport. The receptionist was telling me that I am good to go as I am already appropriately dressed. This reminder comes from the fact that tourist are expected to dress modestly in their country.
I was surprised how big the van was considering I was the only passenger. I guess because the petrol/gas is cheap so the overhead cost is at the minimum. It is really cheap as chips, 20 odd cents per liter. The tour guide was was friendly and gave an overview of what to expect in the tour.
The first stop is the the Kampong Ayer which is a water village. I was feeling excited at this point as I always have a liking for water views.
We had a quick stopover to visit a modern Malay home within the vicinity of the water village. The owners of the house were friendly and welcoming. I was guided to check out their massive living hall. I noticed that the chairs lined up at the edge of the room. I guess they have a lot of gatherings to be having a huge living space and to gave a lot of sitting area. The family pictures hanging on the wall represents the closely knit Malay culture. The picture of Brunei’s Sultan was also visible which speaks of the locals’ respect for their Ruler. At the end of the house visit, the family offered me a delicious pandan rice cake.
It was a nice day to sightsee. My friendly tour guide and I hopped into the boat. The boat tour enabled me to have a good look of the city. The layout of the city was well organised and is well kept. The mosques were the standout landmarks to see. It was also good to see the traditional and modern homes of the local from the river. It took an hour to finish the Malay home visit and the boat tour.
The tour headed back to the city. The next stop was a beautiful mosque, ‘Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien’. The exterior of the mosque is painted white and the dome is covered in pure gold. I was stunned by its sheer beauty. My tour guide escorted me to enter the mosque. I was glad I decided going on a tour rather than freestyling my sightseeing. I would have never known what to do when visiting a mosque. I had to wear a black robe as a cover and I had to remove my shoes as a sign of respect before being allowed to enter the mosque. It was a surreal experience being my first time to see the interior of a mosque and also to admire the intricate architecture within. The ceiling was crafted with skill and the stained glass spoke about its European-inspired design. Photos were not allowed inside but the picture of it is still lingering in my mind.
I was stunned by its sheer beauty… The ceiling was crafted with skill and the stained glass spoke about its European-inspired design
We continued the tour stopping at Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah. It is another important landmark of Brunei. By this time there was an influx of Chinese tour group so we had to walk faster to beat the crowd. Similar to the tour of Masjid Omar Ali mosque, again I had to wear a black robe and remove my shoes before I was allowed entry. This mosque is massive. The chandelier inside the worship hall was grand. The ceilings were well crafted. Everything is stunning inside and out.
The next stop was the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei, Istana Nurul Iman. We are lucky to be allowed to have a quick photo stop in front of the gate, as there were events few days earlier and stopovers were not allowed. It was like the Whitehouse where it completely secured and gated. I could only see the palace from afar. However, it was noticeable that the architecture of the palace is unique of Brunei’s.
My tour guide brought me into a taman arca or a park after to have a view of the mangroves. It is very green and tropical. I was soaking in sweat as the temperature started to rise in this really humid day.
The last leg of the tour us the Royal Regala Museum. This exhibits the commemoration of the Sultan of Brunei’s coronation. It also houses the exhibits from the Silver and Golden Jubilee. It took me back in time imagining the grandness of the coronation in 1968. The 3- hour culturally awakening tour concluded at 12pm, where I headed to the hotel to take a nap and freshen up.
It was 2:30pm and it was at this moment I felt hungry. This time I decided to explore the place by foot. The hotel is centrally located and close to the landmarks, so it was an easy walk. I felt safe walking around being solo female traveller. The mall was within 1-2 kilometres which I consider a short walk. The malls were quite small compared to the malls in other Asian countries but everything I needed were there. I was really starving at this point so I tried a local restaurant and ordered a Nasi Lemak. I stumbled to this on a local park on the way home to walk off the calories.
The clock is ticking before my night flight so I decided to rest up and be ready for my 7-hour journey back to Melbourne. It was a short but memorable stopover. I’ll come back for a forest safari next time.