Bandar Seri Begawan: Arriving in Brunei and exploring the sights of the capital, Royal Regalia Museum, Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and concluding with a relaxing water village boat tour.
Waking up to the sound of my alarm blasting in my ear and getting out of bed after only 3 hours of sleep was not easy. Though, I knew I had a plane to catch, so off I went. As I was checking out of the hotel, I realized I had forgotten to check-in and print out my boarding pass! Since I was flying budget AirAsia, I didn’t want to risk not catching the plane because I didn’t check in online. So I used the business center and printed the passes out (at a ridiculous rate per page). The taxi was eagerly waiting to go.
The drive was almost an hour even with no traffic. We arrived at AirAsia in the KLLC terminal, which is different from the international one.
900 miles later, I was in Brunei!
My 40th country visited! Hooray! Time to pop open the champ… oh right, they don’t have alcohol here.
With my Australian passport I can get a tourist visa on arrival, which cost BND20. As I had not booked my first night’s stay, I ended up just going with the airport travel agent who was friendly enough to earn my business. He booked me in the Trader’s Inn with airport pick up included. Except the pick up took 30 minutes.
The hotel was very basic and a bit overpriced for what I was getting but it would serve its purpose. I dropped my stuff off and got some basic information from the front desk before heading into town. The very moment I was about to step out the down a tropical downpour started. The hotel armed me with an umbrella and off I went.
I took the bus into town, which was only BND1, and the ticket lady assured me I was on the right bus. The bus went straight into the city center bus station.
From there I walked through the quiet city to the Royal Regalia Museum.
Royal Regalia Museum
Though this isn’t a mosque you still must take off your shoes as you enter the halls of the Sultan’s collection. The friendly staff welcomes you and shows you to the registry before you need to store your camera and phones away in a provided locker. The exhibit is free.
The items of pure gold are the most impressive on display, which are guarded by security. Also on display are the gifts from other nations. It was fun to compare the quality gifts versus cheap gifts. I wonder who budgets for gift giving to other sovereign nations.
Next up was the most famous mosque of Brunei.
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
This icon dominates the city center with its real gold domes. Visitors are allowed inside once they cover themselves with a respectful black robe, but can’t take pictures.
After wandering around the mosque, I walked through the shopping center to the riverbank. Then the boat drivers yell at you asking if you want a tour of the mangroves or the water village.
Kampung Ayer Water Village
Since the timing was right I decided to go for a sunset water village tour. For BND20 the driver took me on a 40 minute round in the water village pointing out notable structures such as the water village mosque. I also saw Duli Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah Mosque and Istana Nurul Iman, the Sultan’s palace. It was quite a sight against the pink cloud studded backdrop.
The shacks over water are connected by bridges and are very modern with electricity, cable, and internet. Apparently 10% of the population lives on the water and they continue to live there because of tradition.
The driver dropped me off and I walked through a dark closed market to the ferry terminal where they have a lively crowd of locals eating at the open-air restaurants.
After dinner I walked around looking for a tourist T-shirt for the next day photo-ops. I passed a few stores before arriving at the mall in front of the mosque, but to no avail. I called the hotel and asked them to send the driver, who arrived in due time. I asked him to take me to find a tourist shirt and he drove me to a night market that sold fruit and food. Um…
Then he took me a bit further to Gadong, the largest mall in Brunei. Next to the mall I found a souvenir shop where I also found my green Brunei tourism slogan T-shirt. I was set.
Back at the hotel, I confirmed and paid for my jungle tour tomorrow and switched rooms because my shower handle was broken. Then finally relaxed and slept.