Brunei – the rich Sultanate on Borneo

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Looking at the map, I thought: »Is this a country? Do I need a visa? If we travel from Kota Kinabalu down to Kuching, we could stop for a night or two.«
So we did. But Brunei didn’t leave a very good impression – yes, it’s clean, the capital had two impressive mosques and a lovely traditional fishing village, but! We stayed in an Airbnb, because all the accommodation is very expensive, the city has very unreliable public transport and is not pedestrian friendly at all. Still, it’s worth to stay for a night to see the two beautiful mosques and the water village.

Get in

All European Union countries (except Croatia) get 90 days free visa on arrival. For other countries you have to check for yourself, we just know, that Israeli passport holders can’t enter the country due to non-existing diplomatic relationships.

We entered by fast boat from Kota Kinabalu (with a 2 hour stopover on Labuan island). The first leg of the trip was a nightmare for me – I was soooo sea sick like never before. When I got all my breakfast out of my stomach, I felt better. J
On Labuan there is luggage storage (3 ringit per bag), so we left our bags at the port and went for lunch. At least Jure did, I just had a soup. The port has a few duty free shops packed with candies, booze and perfumes.
Then we boarded another boat to Brunei. I took sea sickness pills so I was immediately asleep, but this time Jure had a horror ride – a big storm came up, the waves were splashing against the boat and everyone was worried, the boat could flip over. Luckily I was asleep.

Arriving at Serasa Ferry terminal, we went through immigration (no problem). Right in front of the port is a bus station, where you can wait for a lila bus to the capital (2 brunei dollars; 1€ is 1,5 brunei $).

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Sleep

I wouldn’t book again in advance, because around the bus terminal in the city are many hotels and guesthouses, a few people on the street were even offering us rooms. Expect to pay around 20 dollars for a private room.

For better options check online, you can find hotels in different price ranges.

Getting around

Public transport is a pain in the ass. We managed to use a bus once. The second time we would have to drive into the city to change to another bus to our destination. So we just walked. And except in the city centre, there are NO sidewalks. It was like walking on a highway. :/
Taxis have meter, but better to arrange an approximate price before. Almost to everywhere in the city is 25 dollars.
When we were waiting for the bus from our accommodation back to the bus terminal, a very friendly Colombian stopped, squeezed us in his car and drove us to the centre. He said, he knew how irregular the busses are and he wanted to save us some time. Soooo nice – good karma 😉

Get out

We took the bus from Bandar Seri Begawan (if you didn’t know, this is the capital of Brunei) to Miri. It leaves twice daily (7:00 and 13:00; 20 brunei dollars) and you can buy your ticket on the bus. If you are lucky, you will meet Danny – he’s in charge of the buses, but he can arrange everything what your heart desires 😀  We are sorry, we didn’t know about him before we came to Brunei, so take advantage of this info. Oh, and by the way – he is collecting badges from different countries – he will be extremely grateful if you bring him one. Want to meet him? This is his e-mail:danny25174@yahoo.com, or just google Danny Brunei bus 😀

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Danny and Jure

What to see

As mentioned, there are 2 beautiful mosques and a water village.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

This mosque is known as one of the most beautiful mosques in the Asia-Pacific area. Also called the floating mosque, it’s a beautiful white building surrounded by a water pond. They are very friendly at the mosque – you get a rope to wear, so you can enter. And it’s in walking distance to the water village and bus terminal.

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The impresive mosque

Jame’ Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah

This mosque is a little outside the center. We went there in the evening to see it shine – look how golden it is! It’s very new – opened in 1994 and locals told us it’s one of the more expensive buildings in the country. Well, I don’t doubt that. 😉

 

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Jame’ Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at night
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and at daytime

 

Water village (Kampong Ayer)

This is considered the biggest water village in the world – around 2000 houses and 30.000 residents (as Wikipedia says) have been living on water for around 1000 years. It’s easy to go by water taxi around but don’t ask for the price – to get to the other side it’s just 1 dollar. If you want to have a boat tour, you’ll have to arrange a price (here we cannot help, we didn’t do one).

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Water village

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We are happy we went there, but we wouldn’t make it our primary destination. The Sultanate is considerate as a very rich country showing off with all the golden bling, bling buildings (google the sultans palace or the prime minister’s residence), but then our hosts asked us not to use you tube or watch videos elsewhere, because the internet is very expensive in Brunei. In the bank we couldn’t exchange money, the exchange offices were already closed and we didn’t want to go to the ATM because of the extra charges. Looking for restaurants where we can pay by card was also an adventure. 🙂 We ended up in Pizza Hut (all you can eat buffet was great fun).

If we would go to the countryside, maybe we would enjoy the country more, but then a Malaysian friend, who lived there for years, said: »Why would you go there? There’s nothing to see.”


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