Borneo 2016, Part 2: Brunei Darussalam

I had a great experience in the islands of Kota Kinabalu. I enjoyed the city as well, with its laid-back atmosphere and natural ambiance despite some big establishments. It was my time then to leave the place and head to my next destination, which just lies near Sabah; I was bound for the oil-rich country of Brunei.

Situated at the northwestern coast of Borneo, this tiny nation is divided into two sections by the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Its capital is Bandar Seri Begawan, which spans an area of 100 square kilometres. Travel between Kota Kinabalu and Brunei is easy, with a lot of options either by land, water, or air. Just like Singapore, the city can be explored in a short period of time and the sights here mainly includes mosques, parks, and shopping areas. On my one (and a half) day trip in Bandar, I saw most of its notable landmarks.

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View of Sultan Omar Ali Saiffudien Mosque from Yayasan Complex

September 12, Kota Kinabalu to Brunei: I woke up on my third day in Borneo at the same hostel in Kota Kinabalu. I got up at five in the morning, took a shower, packed up and head to the city park where the long-distance buses were lined up. At seven I bought my ticket to Brunei and wait for the bus to leave the city in an hour. It was a long journey of nine hours until I arrived in the waterfront of Bandar Seri Begawan at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I alighted from the bus and walked a short distance to Jubilee Hotel and there I checked in. I got the keys in Room 513.

After I unload my backpack, I took a short rest before going out to change money. I asked the hotel receptionist about the location of the nearest money changer and he handed me a photocopied map of the vicinity where I would find them. I stumbled upon a shopping mall, which turned out to be the famous Yayasan Complex and there I found what I was looking for. After receiving my Brunei Dollars I walked around the mall and found a familiar face. Guess what? It’s the happy and smiling Jollibee, a fastfood chain loved by Filipinos back home. I ordered chicken strips and it really tastes like the local fried chicken.

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Chicken Strips. Yum!

After dining, I headed to the magnificent Sultan Omar Ali Saiffudien Mosque, the famous icon of Brunei. Somewhere on its parking area I found the perfect location to take its photo, and after taking too many shots, I went inside and looked around. I really appreciated its beauty and the ambiance of solemnity was present. There were not so many tourists inside, and I could count them with my fingers. As the dusk approached, I went back to the same spot  where I took pictures and captured a better image of the mosque. Then their prayers began, as I could hear the song through its speakers.

I went back to the hotel early, and bought snack on the way to consume in my room. After a long day, I took a shower, lied on my bed and covered myself with the warm comforter and shared online some of my photos of the day. And then in a while, I took a rest.

September 13, Bandar Seri Begawan: I woke up early to relax at Tasek Lama Recreational Park. It was somewhat a long walk from the hotel. The park welcomed me with a lot of joggers around while a group of women were doing the zumba. I walked around the park once and on the second round I followed a different route which led me up a hill, showing a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains. I liked the scenery so much that I extended my time schedule there for an hour. After I replenished my energy I descended and walked back to the road.

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Good morning, Brunei!

On my way, I found a bus stop where I sat down for a while. I haven’t researched much about their public transportation but I had a route map saved on my phone. I waited for the minibus and took a ride. I went to Gadong and paid 1BND. After I alighted the bus I looked for the restaurant suggested by my friend, Singapore Chicken Rice, and had my brunch there. I ordered a steamed chicken rice and a cold Milo drink. I liked its taste because it tasted differently than the usual chicken cuisine that I eat. After that, I walked around the area. There were a lot of shops in Gadong and I tried to look for souvenirs that I could buy. I found a shop beside Centerpoint Hotel and I bought a T-shirt, keychain, postcard, and a clear Brunei paperweight with a small sample of Bruneian oil inside. Looks cool.

Then I headed to the nearest bus stop and checked out the nearby Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the largest of its type in Brunei. The pedestrian gates were not open, so I went to the compound through the driveway. As I was gazing with awe, the majestic, 29-golden-domed mosque seemed to me like a mansion rather than a religious site. The stairs in front was so beautiful that every woman would wish to walk there and feel like a princess.

There were a lot of fountains around the compound and I took some of the most beautiful memories of Brunei on my phone, pointing out to you that I was the only tourist inside at that time. I wasn’t able to go inside because as the guard said, there was an activity happening, and I thought that it was connected to Eid al-Adha as it was just a day after that holiday. Before I went out of the gates, I asked one of the men on the gate doing maintenance of the walkway to take photo of me with the mosque on the background. I was lucky that he brought me near the entrance and took some photos and a video. I thanked him and asked the location of the bus stop, and he gave me the directions. Although he only spoke Malay, I understand some of his words and I found out that he was Bangladeshi. I told him I came from Philippines and I would be leaving Brunei that night. My words ran like “I’ll go back to Philippines, malam (night)”, helping with a gesture of an airplane by my hands. I’m glad he understood.

I went back to the hotel and checked out. I requested for the airport transfer service at 8PM as my flight was 11PM. I left my baggage with them and continued to tour. I walked to the waterfront. Suddenly there was a guy on the boat who approached and offered to tour me in Kampong Ayer for 30BND. I refused until he bargained to me at 15BND. On that rate I agreed. Through his small boat we went around the water village and learned more about it with its hundred-year-old history. There were lots of structures present other than houses that I saw, including schools, police office, mosques, and fire station. We also went near the nearly-constructed Kg Sungai Kebun Bridge which is scheduled to be finished next year, as he said. The tour spanned 30 minutes and I paid him 20BND for learning a lot from him.

After I got back to the jetty I thanked him for the knowledge. I went on to the Royal Regalia building and saw the different displays of gifts to the Sultan from the leaders of different countries. I also passed by the taman haji, the royal ceremonial hall, and a chinese temple near Tamu Kianggeh. I spent my remaining time in the middle of Yayasan Complex, with the eternal view of the great Omar Ali Mosque.

At seven in the evening I went back to the hotel and sat down on the reception area. There were these two girls packing up their things, and I had a good feeling that they were from Philippines too. I waited until I heard them speaking in Filipino, and said hi. It turned out that we had the same itinerary from the start. They were in Kota Kinabalu and went to Brunei on the third day too. We even had the same flight to and from Borneo. We shared our experiences from our own vacations and got to know each other. We went to the airport at the same transfer service and checked in at around 8:45PM. On the scheduled flight time the plane departed from Bandar Seri Begawan and landed in Manila at one in the morning. I slept in the airport and went straight to work.

Overall, my experience in Borneo is one of the most memorable for me. Though I didn’t spend much time meeting a lot of people, I was still able to enjoy every destination I wrote on my list, and see the beauty that’s in this island, either man-made or natural. There are still a lot to see in this region, and I am certain that I will go back here at some time. On the second time I will visit Borneo, I will definitely climb Mount Kinabalu, hike in Gunung Mulu National Park, and will get to see the lush forests of Ulu Temburong National Park. But as of now, I will live with the beautiful memories I had with this place.

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At the Waterfront, Bandar Seri Begawan

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