Travel

Brunei in 24 Hours

Restless me… Instead of spending my time waiting for my family in Kuala Lumpur before they arrive the next day, I booked myself for Brunei via Air Asia for a very short trip. I went without a lot of expectations. First, I had a very limited time. Second, I did not really prepare the way I usually do. So, it was just, “Ok, let’s see what I can do in 24 hours!”

View of Brunei from the Plane

Brunei Airport is (was) small, much like a domestic airport in bigger countries, but developments were ongoing at that time (Feb 2011). When I got out of the airport, uh-oh… It was quiet and I could not see any public transport. There was a bus, but it was not leaving for the city. There was no taxi! Not what I expected from an international airport especially that I arrived in the morning and not in the wee hours. Uh-oh… I needed to ask! I approached somebody who was “Filipino-looking” who really was a Filipino working at the airport! I’ve been told that buses to the city (Bandar Seri Begawan) were infrequent which means I would have to wait a while. 

A little later, 2 other Filipino-looking men approached me. It turned out they are Filipinos working in a travel agency and have just dropped off their guests at the airport. They noticed I have been standing there for some time already. I told them I was waiting for a bus or taxi and they confirmed that buses really come infrequently and offered me a ride to the city. Trusting my gut feel and not wanting to be stuck at the airport for God-knows-how-long, I accepted their offer. It turned out to be a very good decision. First, they were really nice and welcoming, they are working in a travel agency after all. Secondly, they brought me along to have brunch at a local carinderia just off the airport. The eatery was clean and the food was great. We had the local noodles (pansit), some sandwich, and my drink of choice whenever I am in Southeast Asian countries – teh tarik or pulled tea. Afterwards, they brought me to my hotel which I just then found out was not in the city center. Another uh-oh moment… I booked a cab going to the city center with the hotel. Second lesson for the day: taxis in Brunei need to be booked in advance.

I went to the city center area and I almost shrieked in delight when I saw Jollibee in Yayasan Mall. Jollibee is a big fast-food chain the Philippines famous for its fried chicken and gravy and their breakfast meals. Of course, I did not pass up the chance to eat Chicken Joy.  

Yey, Jollibee in Yayasan Mall!

Inside Yayasan Mall

Behind Yayasan Mall is one of the most famous, if not the most famous landmark of Brunei, the golden-domed Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. The mosque has a quiet but grand presence tucked behind the hustle and bustle of the crowd at the mall and the waterfront.

Golden-domed Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Another view of the mosque

After I had my fill gazing at the mosque and taking pictures, I walked back to the mall curious how malls in Brunei are. I heard that the best mall is The Mall but it is far from the area, even so, I still went to Yayasan Mall. This mall is small, unlike the malls I am used to. Foreign brands are lacking if not absent, and local brands dominate. However, Yayasan Mall has a good spot fronting the river. There is a promenade lining the riverfront and restaurants are plenty in the area. This is also the gateway to the Kampung Ayer or the water village where you may take a water taxi and explore. Since heavy rains were threatening to fall, I erased the thought of going.  

Walking around, I then decided to walk to Istana Nurul Aman, the residential palace of the Sultan. Again, I chanced upon a Filipino couple who told me that the palace is a very long walk from where we were. They recommended I go instead to the Royal Regalia Museum. Cameras are not allowed inside the exhibit area except for the lobby where the impressive Royal Chariot is displayed. There I met a Filipina married to a Bruneian who owns a souvenir stall inside. My photos inside the museum are courtesy of this Pinay “friend”.

Inside the Royal Regalia Museum

The Royal Chariot

View of Kampung Ayer

Park nearby Yayasan Mall

I asked my new friend if there is a Catholic church close by that I can visit. Rightfully so, there is one and it is just a short walk from the museum. Though it was already drizzling, I left for the church not wanting to be stuck in the museum. The rain became stronger and just when I was that close to the church the rain fell so hard that I had to settle into the carinderias (eateries) just in front of the church. Imagine how dismayed I was. The rain wouldn’t stop and I couldn’t even go home. There were no taxis and the buses do not have a stop close to where I was. Uh-oh… 

I just wanted to go back to my hotel…

It was almost getting dark and I was getting worried. I just sat there praying that the rain will stop or that a taxi will pass by. Then, another hero came along for the day… Yes you are right. Another Filipino who came to buy food from the eatery. I asked if he can contact a ride for me. He was able to call his friend but would take some time before he can come.

A little later, the rain became lighter. We called his friend not to come anymore. He walked me to the bus stop which happens to be on his way. What a coincidence!

After 30 minutes I was at the hotel. I have never been so relieved 🙂

————————————

The weather, my short stay and my so-unlike-me poor planning of this trip deterred me from maximizing my time. Honestly, I cannot marvel about my discoveries and explorations in Brunei. I may need another visit to have a taste of Bruneian hospitality and explore more of its treasures.

The highlight of my trip was the hospitality, helpfulness and warmth of the kabayans I met in Brunei. I did not meet one or two, but eight little angels. My story would have been a lot different if I did not meet them and I wouldn’t want to think of the possible scenarios, it is nerve-wracking. I had to go to Brunei to have my taste of Filipino hospitality, Brunei-style 🙂

On my flight back to KL, there is another highlight of my trip. You may not guess it but waving at me at the airport was Jollibee wanting to serve me longganisa (sausage) for breakfast. And I just couldn’t resist another dose of Jollibee.

Finishing my last bite of longganisa I thought I travelled so far and wide and expensive for that matter just to have my fill of Jollibee. Amidst all the hassles I went through, there couldn’t have been a better way of ending my 24 hours than this!

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