Brunei Darussalam: Inside the Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures

One of the things that made our first-ever international trip to Malaysia last March spectacular was the fact that we were not only able to visit one country, but two. Brunei Darussalam (literally ‘Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace’) is just a mere three-hour drive from Miri, so we gladly took on the challenge and crossed the border for a one day trip.

It’s Not About the Destination…

The road trip along Pan Borneo Highway to Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is in itself riddled with attractions.  Our first stop down this road was the ASEAN Bridge, otherwise known as the Batang Baran Bridge.  The bridge crosses the Baram River and connects Sarawak with Brunei.  Luckily, vehicles are allowed to stop briefly on top of the bridge, so we were able to take some quick snapshots.

Upon clearing the Immigration Checkpoint at Sungai Tujuh, we were now finally inside Brunei.  The drive from Miri up to the checkpoint only took us around 45 minutes, meaning we still had about two more driving hours to the capital.  On the way, we learned about Brunei’s history as an oil-producing country by touring the vast Brunei Shell Petroleum headquarters in Seria where we saw giant oil vats, numerous pumpjacks and long pipes transporting the oil to the ships docked along the bay.

Pumpjacks are also affectionately referred to as
Pumpjacks are also affectionately referred to as “donkeys” because the sound they make when drilling for oil resembles that of a donkey’s braying.

We also stopped by the Billionth Barrel Monument, which, goes without saying, represents the billionth barrel of oil produced by the country through Shell in 1929.

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We finally took off from Seria to Bandar Seri Begawan.  Located along the outskirts of the capital was Jerudong Park, the biggest and most expensive amusement park ever built in Southeast Asia.  According to our tour guide, the park was a gift from the Sultan to his second wife; the two have recently divorced, which probably explains why the park’s Facebook page describes itself as the “gift of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah to the people of Brunei to mark His Majesty’s 48th birthday in 1994”.  Jerudong Park has various attractions for families and a few rides.  Sadly, we only drove around the park, missing any possible photo opps.

Continuing from the park, we also took a short stop at the Empire Hotel and Country Club, which is so far, hands down, the biggest and most beautiful hotel I’ve ever laid eyes on.  According to our Malaysian guide, the “6-star” hotel is Sultan-owned and is for VIPs only.  Upon checking online though, we didn’t find this sort of information, so it might be better to do your own fact-finding when you get to the hotel.  Regardless of this tiny obscurity about its origin and background, Empire Hotel’s enormous and exquisitely-decorated interior, sprawling gardens and relaxing pools are enough to delight guests.

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Breezing Through BSB

After a short beffet lunch break at a Japanese restaurant where most of the staff were Pinoys, we finally made it to Bandar Seri Begawan.  Most of the roads were empty but very clean.  We first headed to Brunei Museum, which, unfortunately for us, was closed that day.  Afterwards, we headed to see Kampong Ayer, Brunei’s famous and historic water villages.  About 10 percent of the country’s population live on modern stilt houses built over the Brunei River.  The community isn’t unlike those found on land, as it has schools, a police station, a hospital and even a mosque for its more than 39,000 inhabitants.  Tourists can get up close and personal with the houses in Kampong Ayer by riding the fast cruising water taxis along the river.

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Our next stop was the Royal Regalia Museum which houses the royal family’s precious photos and relics.  While guests can learn about the country’s general history at the Brunei Museum, the Royal Regalia Museum instead focuses on the history of the Bolkiah family.  Cameras are prohibited in most parts of the museum except for the lobby part where visitors can still have their photos taken with the sultan’s usungan diraja (coronation car).

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After touring around the museum, we went back outside and our guide took us to a spot across the river which offers a spectacular view of the towering white walls and golden domed roof of the Istana Nurul Iman Palace (Palace of the Light of Faith).  The official residence of the Sultan, which also holds the record as the world’s largest palace, was unfortunately closed during our visit since it only opens its doors during important Islamic events like the Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr.  Research also tells us that the palace was designed by Leandro V. Locsin, a Filipino architect, and that construction was handled by Filipino construction firm Ayala International.  Well, hey there, Pinoy pride!

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The last attraction on our list was the Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the largest mosque in Brunei built in 1994 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the sultan’s reign.  The mosque’s magnificent exterior and well-kept gardens with its many fountains add to the appeal of the place.  The golden domes also were a sight to behold.  Non-Muslims are not allowed inside the mosque, especially during prayer hours, but guests can always explore the gardens which already resemble a small park.

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Back to Malaysia

By this time, the intense heat of the day was slowly being replaced by a cool breeze as the sun started to set, which signaled the end of our Brunei tour.  After one final stop at the weekend market which features some local delicacies and products, we made our way back to the border, across the ASEAN Bridge, and to our abode in Miri, Malaysia.

How to Get There

From Manila, Brunei Darussalam via Miri is accessible through Air Asia. Unfortunately, as of middle of 2014, Air Asia has suspended their Manila-Miri flights. However, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have direct daily flights to Bandar Seri Begawan. This way, you can still reach Miri, Malaysia from BSB.  It also possible to fly in via Kota Kinabalu by boat and land travel through BSB. Air Asia Zest and Cebu Pacific are serving the Manila-Kota Kinabalu route.

From Miri, Malaysia. As of the time of our trip, no public utility vehicles ply the Miri-BSB-Miri route directly. The best option is to take a private car or avail of package tours to BSB, which we availed through Borneo Tropical Adventures. However, you can still explore possible longer cutting trips of buses from Miri thru the Brunei border then take another bus to BSB.

Borneo Tropical Adventuresinfo@borneotropicaladventures.com | Contact Person: Mr. Garry/Richard

Brunei Day Tour: Depart from Miri City 0800 am and continue overland to Bandar Seri Begawan. This tour allows you to explore the history, culture and tradition of Brunei Darussalam. Later, we will pass through the busy government and commercial center of Bandar Seri Begawan to the Brunei Museum via the science route. You will also have the chance to view the Venice of the East (The Water Village). The Water Village of Bandar Seri Begawan is the home of some 30,000 people, Our next stop is the Royal Regalia Hall which houses the royal items used during the coronation and silver jubilee celebration of the 29th Sultan of Brunei. Next, the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque was named after the 28th sultan of Brunei. Designed by an Italian architect, the mosque was built in 1958 in the city of Bandar seri Begawan.The golden-domed structure, the tallest building in the city, has Italian marble floors and walls. A stone replica of a 16th century barge rests in the Brunei River in front of the mosque. Before the tour ends we will drive past the world’s largest residential palace- Istana Nurul Iman and you will have the chance to take the best view of the palace from the nearby ASEAN Park. Depart for Brunei to Miri City & drop off at your choice of accommodation. Rate per Person: RM 300.00. Includes :  Scheduled roundtrip transfer per itinerary, Buffet lunch, guided tours & entry permit. Excludes : Tipping & Personal Expenses.

If you’re flying straight to BSB, you can check with Brunei Tourism for guidance on local tour operators and transportation.

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