Brunei would probably be the last thing anyone would think of as a vacation place. Considering its size and the limited places to see, people were raising their eyebrows when they found out I’m going here for a few days. Everything just fell into place that time Cebu Pacific announced a seat sale to Brunei. For just P4,000 for a roundtrip ticket from Manila to Bandar Seri Begawan, I knew I had to grab it. It was an absolute steal! I mass-texted a number of my friends to see who would like to join me and Ann was the only one who said yes. Good thing she did otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to book that flight. Of course, I am not into solo-travelling and I needed someone to take a lot of pictures of me, so having a friend join me was a requirement. Knowing that Brunei is a small country and there’s not much to do except visit the beautiful mosques, I booked us for three whole days. The flight schedule was just perfect since it was around the weekend, so it did not affect our work schedule that much.
While checking in for our flight, one Pinay passenger approached us and asked if she could have one of her bags checked in together with our luggages under our ticket. I was hesitant of course since I’ve heard horror stories about drug carriers doing the same thing so I was really cold towards her during that time. Ann said that’s probably not the case since she was able to go through the security checks earlier so we agreed and have one of her bags checked in with the rest of our luggages. She was pretty chatty the entire time that she even requested that she be seated besides us during the flight. I told Ann to talk to her since I was not in the mood and was very sleepy then.
Our flight arrived at around 2AM in Brunei, and had arranged for the hotel to have their driver pick us up at the airport. Tita Lorna, our new-found friend there, actually is a resident and has lived in Brunei for more than 30 years. She offered to bring us to our hotel but we told her we actually have somebody picking us up already. She wanted us to visit her and her husband on their house, but we told her we don’t think we’d have much time since we will be doing an overnight stay in the Ulu Temburong rainforest the day after. We gave her our hotel’s name instead, which was the Jubilee Hotel, after she insisted that she’d be dropping by there to bring us some pasalubongs to take back home before we leave Brunei for Monday.
Our hotel’s location was just perfect. Located at the heart of the city, Jubilee Hotel is just a few minutes’ walk to the central business district, shopping malls, food stalls, night markets, cafes, international restaurants, and the cultural and religious centres. I was suprised to find out that our contact at the hotel was actually a Filipina and was more surprised when I was informed by the receptionist while checking in that Sitti, our contact, has upgraded us to a suite room at no additional charge, which made us very happy.
At around 3AM, we were able to unpack and tried to catch some very much needed sleep and woke up around 8AM for breakfast. The hotel offered a free 45-minute tour around the city so we took advantage of that first. We needed to familiarize ourselves with the area before we venture on our own the rest of the day. Maps were also available at the reception, so it was a big help for us while we navigated around the area later that day. Our driver took us to a number of tourist sites, more like one mosque after another, but it was all worth it. We went to the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and the Istanan Nurul Iman (also known as the Sultan’s Palace). Nothing much to see afterwards so we asked our driver to drop us off Yayasan, a popular shopping complex, just a couple of minutes away from our hotel. Situated just between the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and Kampong Ayer, it was the perfect place for us to relax and unwind after suffering a little from the heat outside. We then had lunch at Jollibee, which was very, very popular in Brunei. Didn’t taste as good though.
In the afternoon, we decided to visit the Royal Regalia Museum and Kampong Ayer, the water village. We hired a water taxi to drive us around Kampong Ayer for BND15 and it was such a beautiful sight to see hundreds of houses seemingly floating on water. Constructed on stilts above the Brunei River, it kinda reminded me first of the squatters area in Manila, but it was nothing like that. Every house there has airconditing, schools were actually located in the water village as well, there are foot-bridges, concrete jetties, a police station, a fire station, piped water, electricity and telephone lines, clinics and a number of shops were also there. Situated after the Brunei Bay, it is estimated that around 39,000 people live in the Water Village, representing roughly ten percent of the nation’s total population.
We had dinner in Yayasan and continued exploring the area at night. We had to take pictures of the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque at night since I’ve seen pictures of it and it was just magnificent. Nothing beats the real thing though. I know this word has been overused every time I describe a beautiful tourist spot, but it was amaaaaaaazing. Knowing that it’s made of pure gold, the way it glitters at night made me feel like I was in an Aladdin movie, waiting for the genie to pop out. I took so many shots of the majestic mosque, trying to find the best vantage point for me. Had to head back to the hotel afterwards to pack for our Ulu Temburong Rainforest trip the next day.Follow @iamthegarysia