A BREATHER IN BRUNEI [2018.08.16-19]

I booked Brunei last year during one of CebuPac’s sales cause Celine and I have been ticking off ASEAN countries from our list. Brunei is one of the last 2. I initially booked a 5-day trip but things happened at work and I couldn’t be gone for so long, so 2 months before the trip, I booked an earlier flight home so it was cut to 3 days. Before going and when I was researching, I had this idea that Brunei was so boring. I remember a friend asked me for some travel tips last year and I was surprised that she was going to Brunei. Clearly, I was prejudiced due to what I have read online so far but I was dead wrong. Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s boring. At the time of the trip, I was really tired from all the shit at work and just wanted some peace and quiet. Brunei is the perfect place to do just that. I remember going to Kota Kinabalu in 2014 and Brunei reminded me a bit of that. My friend and I both agreed that Brunei is sort of a combination of Kota Kinabalu and Singapore. Brunei so laidback and simple, but the cost of living is like that of Singapore’s. Everything else is definitely more expensive here that in the Philippines, except for one thing – movies. More on that later, LOL. I feel like movies are really cheaper in other than Southeast Asian countries than the Philippines.

Anyway, we decided to focus our itinerary to just in the city cause we were worried about transportation. On our first day, we didn’t go out of Gadong (where our lodge is) cause it was a Friday. On Fridays, they have a 2-hr prayer time from 12nn to 2pm and everything closes. We didn’t want to get stuck outside when noon comes so we decided to stay nearby and get back to the lodge before noon. I ended up sleeping for 4 hours that afternoon instead of reading the book I saw in the living room. I must have been super tired from working for 13 days the last 2 weeks. Celine was able to go out and did some currency exchange.

The Mall Gadong is literally right across the street so we were there a lot. It’s the biggest mall in Brunei and I really like the interior design. Literally, every building in Brunei is so beautiful even if they aren’t so huge. Our driver, Yazdi, who picked us up from the airport told us that the reason Brunei doesn’t have skyscrapers is that because it’s part of their culture to not build anything taller than the mosque. It’s not even mandated by religion cause they have skyscrapers in Dubai and other countries in the Middle East. That’s just how they do it in Brunei, how they were raised. He said that they even crouch down whenever they pass by elders. That’s respect.

We watched two movies in this mall, Christopher Robin on the first day and Mamma Mia on the third day. I think the Philippines needs to get it on the trend wherein the price of the movies depends on the day and what time of the day it is. I have seen this in Cambodia and Malaysia before, and now in Brunei. It’s usually cheaper on weekdays, and dead hours – normally before 6pm. Also, the theaters are smaller, like the newer theaters now in the Philippines.

We weren’t able to enjoy the markets so much – I think we went on not busy days. We went to Gadong Night Market on the first day and Kianggeh Market on the second day, and there really wasn’t much. It might be because it’s a non-working day. Weekends in Muslim countries are from Friday to Saturday. We passed by Gadong Market on our third day when we were on the bus and I think it was busier then.

On the second day, we booked a car so we were able to go around the city comfortably. We started our day at 10am and were picked up by our driver, Erwani. She is actually our Airbnb host’s sister. Yazdi is usually the one that does the tours but he was unavailable that weekend. We started with the mosques because they normally close at noon.

Our first stop was the Masjid Ash-Shahileen. I forgot to include this in our itinerary but saw it on one of the brochures at the lodge so we told our host that we wanted to go here, too. It’s a small mosque and it’s fairly new. According to Erwani, it has only been 5 or 6 years since this mosque was built. I like this the most because the color theme is maroon, it has a courtyard with a retractable roof and it felt like I was suddenly shipped to Morocco cause of its style.

All visitors are required to wear robes, it’s maroon in this mosque, black in the 2 bigger mosques. Women and men have separated praying areas – in this mosque, women pray upstairs and men downstairs.

Little did we know that our Airbnb host is one of the interior designers of this mosque! Whut We later found out that he she did a few projects as well like the Police Department Building and the RIPAS Hospital. Other than that, she’s also running a few businesses including a store in Centrepoint in Gadong.

We went to the Masjid Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah next. Damn, this was a really popular one. It has the most tourists out of all the three mosques we went to. It’s not surprising thought because it’s the biggest one in Brunei. The only prayer room that’s open to visitors is the one for men, but you cannot walk in the carpeted area where people pray. There’s a small boxed area where you can admire the beauty of the mosque from.

This was the actually the first landmark we saw when we arrived 2 nights ago. It looks even more beautiful at night, but I only have a pic from inside the car. I also think it’s the tallest, cause I can see the minarets from our lodge and from Kianggeh, too. I couldn’t get a better photo of the mosque from inside the compound cause it was too hooooot.

I just had to get my photo taken in front of this super grand set of stairs!

Our last mosque for the day is the Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifudden. Whew, that golden dome is so striking! This mosque is named after the 28th Sultan, who’s also the father of the current Sultan. There is a lagoon behind the mosque. I wanted to go to the other side and take a photo from there, but seriously, it was so hot. :/

After our masjid-hopping, we went to the Royal Regalia Museum since it was just in the Kianggeh area where most tourist spots are. It’s a good place to learn about the Sultan, and at the same time, get some cool air from the AC. Let’s be real here, it’s freaking hot in Southeast Asia! There’s an area dedicated to the life of the Sultan, then an area dedicated to the Sultan’s Silver Jubilee Celebration in 1992, and an area for regalia. It’s interesting what stuff are from the Philippines… saw a few photos of FVR. I love going to museums, obviously when you go to another country, you want to learn about it. And one of the fastest ways is going to a museum. I always have takeaways and makes me want to my research once I’m home. Got me thinking though, if I make something for the Sultan, is there a chance they’ll place it in the museum? Hahaha JK.

Like in most museums, photography isn’t allowed so you’re given a locker where you can place your stuff. Better to leave your stuff first, go around the museum and then take photos downstairs. They allow photography though in the main area.

It was around 12:30pm when we finished with the mosques and museum so we went to this small restaurant. I don’t know where it is but we passed the Raja Isteri Pegirn Anak Hajah Saleha Bridge (I had to Google the name!) and went to the other side of Kampong Ayer. Celine and I had a late breakfast at around 9:30am so I wasn’t really hungry then. I was just really thirsty cause it was so hot. I didn’t finish my food and took it home instead.

We dropped by Kianggeh Market really quickly after that, and we were shown the Youth Hostel and the Chinese Temple.They’re all in the same area so you can totally explore Kianggeh by foot. That was actually our initial plan. We were supposed to do all of that on the first day but thinking about it now, don’t think we would have survived the heat. LOL.

Anyway, we went to Tasek Lama Recreational Park next. We had 3 parks to choose from but we picked this one cause it had a waterfall. Taman Jubli Perak I think is more of a playground and Berakas Forest Reserve Recreational Park is so big, but quite far. It’s in the same area as the Empire Hotel so I felt like, if you want to spend like a day in nature then this would be a good place. Tasek Lama is perfect for us cause we just want to spend like an hour walking around, but you’re still in the middle of the city. The waterfalls is just 444m from the entrance so it was not so hard for us. It was also great that it wasn’t so hot when we went, considering that it was I think after 1pm at the time. There were a lot of locals exercising and it was cool to see them so dedicated to physical fitness in the middle of the day. We were just so amazed.

WEATHER REPORT! HAHAHA!

We went to the Waterfront next, which is facing Kampong Ayer.  We decided not to do the river cruise cause we’ve done a similar tour when we went to Kota Kinabalu in 2014. Also, I visited Chew Jetty when I was in Penang a few months ago. I think I would have to actually preferred staying in a room in Kampong Ayer if I had the chance. I looked into that but unfortunately didn’t come into fruition. It’s interesting though that there’s an area where the houses all look alike. It felt like a subdivision. It’s amazing to know that there are about 39,000 residents living there. I wish I could have walked around in the area more since I also wanted to explore Yayasan Complex. I totally forgot!

We drove to Istana Nurul Iman, which is the Sultan’s Palace. This is actually not open to the public, you can only take photos from the gate. There was a photo though at the Royal Regalia Museum and dang, it’s huge! Celine and I also got into talking that all of the presidential palaces are near a body of water and we’re thinking maybe it’s some tactic for escape or something. Haha. Fun fact: Leandro Locsin, a Filipino architect designed the palace. Pinoy Pride right there!

Anyway, we finished our city tour at around 3:30pm and we asked Erwani to drop us off at The Empire Hotel cause we really wanted to do the afternoon tea. We had no idea how we’ll get back to Gadong. Heard there’s a bus going here but we never saw it. Also, I just wondered where the bus stop is. I didn’t see anything on the way. We asked Erwani to pick us up after sunset and take us back to Gadong.

I can easily spend the entire day here! If only it’s more accessible for people with no cars. It’s so freaking big and beautiful. Everyone is just super nice, too. Empire Hotel is definitely one of the tourist spots in Brunei so they are very welcoming to visitor. We definitely took so many photos here. I actually brought swimsuit with me cause I planned on swimming. If I ever go back to Brunei in the future, I only have 2 things on my itinerary – meet the Sultan and spend the entire day at Empire.

The afternoon tea is just so bougie. HAHAHA. This will be the start of another tradition for our travels. I’m scoping out high tea in Fukuoka as we speak. The afternoon tea at Empire costs 22BND plus 10% service charge. I’m telling you the staff deserved that service charge. I knew there was gonna be coffee, tea and lots of cakes and pastries but I didn’t know there was gonna be champagne! I definitely took advantage,  I think I had about 4-5 refills and I drank the rest of Celine’s. HAHAHA! I also declined to get my coffee refilled cause I was all about the champagne hahaha. It was definitely an amazing (feeling rich) experience (that I want to do again).

This is the best place to see the sunset in Brunei, definitely.

On our third (last) day in Brunei, we wanted to go to the city center in the morning cause Yazdi mentioned that the Sultan sometimes visits and you can actually take photos with him. However, we didn’t know how we’d find out if he’s actually coming (where can we see the announcement???) and since they close some of the roads on Sunday mornings, we didn’t know how we’ll get there.

We later found out that taking the bus is actually pretty easy and that there are water taxis in that river behind Gadong Market. Anyway, we ended up sleeping in that Sunday morning and only went out after checking out.

We watched Mamma Mia at The Mall Gadong at around noon and we were surprised cause we were expecting to pay 6 or 7BND but they only charged us 4BND – the price for kids! It specifically says “kids” on our ticket. That’s so cheap – around PHP160, you guys! We were worried that they’d make us run back to the counter to buy new tickets but the staff at the counter just tore it up and let us in. We were really shocked but we’re thinking maybe it’s because it’s an old movie – it shares the cinema with another movie so there are only 2 screening times for the day. We are not sure what the logic behind it is but you know, I’m totally happy about my PHP160 movie ticket. LOL.

I actually enjoy watching movies in other countries – especially when they’re cheaper! I remember blogging about my experience in Siem Reap, too. This has also become one of our travel traditions. I also did it in Bacolod, LOL.

The only thing left on our itinerary is to visit Bake Culture, which is Wu Zun’s bakery. Come on, we just had to do some fangirling on this trip! The closest one is on Jalan Menglait, which is only 2km from Gadong. We took the bus, and we got off after 2 stops. So the bus fare is 1BND, no matter where your stop is. The “conductor” (I dunno what they call them but that’s how we call it in the PH LOL) will give you your ticket and then you pay your dollar. From the bus stop, we had to walk a bit to the building where the bakery is. I saw it instantly, it was actually not too far from the bus stop.

Bake Culture is in this building called The Factory, that’s shared with Gong Cha. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wu Zun owns this franchise of Gong Cha as well. We spent about an hour here, talking about how we actually liked Brunei. I think now that we’re older and we’ve been travelling for about 10 years (at least for me cause I had my first light in 2008 or 2009), our priorities have changed. Previously, night outs are a staple in our itineraries and we’ve had our share of fun drunken nights but we’re just not into that anymore. Spending an hour actually talking and not fiddling with our phones is something that we should do once in a while.

Wu Zun’s other businesses are in Kiulap Complex (his gym and another Bake Culture branch), which according to Erwani is like Gadong – a commercial area. The Bake Culture branch that’s closer to the airport is nearer to where his residence is. Wait, I will add that as a third item on my next Brunei itinerary – more Wu Zun business stalking. LOL.

Going back, we had to use the overpass to get to the other side and we missed the bus! We really thought we were going to wait for 20 minutes but I think the next one came in less than 5 minutes.

We visited this souvenir shop at the Centrepoint and we were able to buy postcards from there! The post office is closed so we couldn’t send one but the nice lady said that we can just buy the stamp as well and she’ll post it for us. I will be expecting that post card in a few weeks. ^^

We went back to the lodge to get some rest before we got picked up at 8pm by Wana, who took us to the airport. Yes, we were too early but I like being early at the airport instead of rushing. What I hate the most when travelling is the fear of getting left behind the plane.

Brunei totally surprised me. I loved it! I have to give props to our Airbnb host for everything! We relied on her a lot during the trip and despite her being a busy businesswoman and she has a full-time job, too, she really came through! She would reply to all of Celine’s messages and every time we needed a ride, it arrived on time! We didn’t have a Brunei mobile number where they contact us so we heavily relied on promises that we will get picked up at a certain time and they were always on time! We totally recommend booking with EZ Lodgings, it’s a cute little place in Gadong. It’s being run by Dina, a nice lady who we thought was Filipino, but she’s actually a local. You can say that it’s a family business because the people who took us to places are her cousin and sisters. We met a few of her family members in just 3 days! We saw her briefly as well in Gadong when Erwani was about to drop us off from Empire.

I remember Celine and I talking about shopping in Brunei and we didn’t really give it much attention, but I’m surprised that I actually enjoyed buying things here! I was able to buy a lot of snacks from the supermarket at The Mall Gadong. We were going to buy the waterproof sandals for 10BND but we were like, “Ok, if I have some BND left then I’ll buy it.” I had 18BND left! I should have bought it, damn!

Food in Brunei is pretty much a mixture of anything and everything Asian – Singaporean, Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Filipino. I was satisfied with everything I ate except for the Mi Goreng on our second day cause I had a late breakfast. All the food we ate:

Of course we had to try Jolibee! We had this at the food court at The Mall, since it’s just next to the cinemas. I had the chicken sandwich, with fries and Coke. The taste is legit. No difference from how it is here! I feel so proud actually cause it’s so successful in Brunei and we see a lot of people with Jolibee takeouts.

One thing I want to talk about as well is how they give priority to pedestrians, cars automatically stop before the pedestrian lane when they see someone is about to cross the street. They only have stoplights on bigger streets like in Kianggeh and that road in front of Istana Nurul Iman.

Brunei is also really clean. The people are so nice – they speak Tagalog. Which is really not surprising for me anymore cause we experienced this too in Kota Kinabalu. And actually in Malaysia as well. I think a huge chunk of the population in Brunei is Filipinos. Ordering in restaurants was easier cause we could just speak to them in Tagalog.

What else? Currency exchange. Ok, I did it in 3 different places – at the NAIA airport before we left, at a money changer in Kianggeh, and in Gadong. The best rate was at the airport. The exchange rate is actually the worst in Kianggeh out of the 3. So I think it’s better to get your BNDs before even leaving the country.

Again, I think it’s all about the purpose of your trip. I needed peace and quiet and I got it here in Brunei. I swear, I will be on the lookout for cheap flights to Brunei during the Hari Raya Aidil Fitri next year (And maybe do a sidetrip to Miri next time)!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Celine says:

    Hindi mo kinuwento na lagi sila late dumating sa sinehan! XD

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