Brunei – The Undiscovered Treasure!
Many think that travelling alone is not a very good option at all and I also believe in this. Normally I like to travel in a small group of family and friends as this not only gives me opportunity to spend quality time but creates great memories too. But, sometimes I had no other option but to see the place alone as it happened last month when I went to Brunei for some official work and got stuck there for few days for delay in some predefined activity. This gave me time to see Brunei, and let me tell you that it was a real fun indeed. This was a really great exposure and I learnt a lot about the people and society of Brunei.
I took a flight from Singapore to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capitol city of Brunei. It took about 2 hours to reach the place. I used the Royal Brunei Air services. On reaching the arrival lounge I saw a person waiting with my name slip in hand. It was perhaps the pickup service from the Hotel. On reaching the Hotel, I found the place to be nice, especially for the reasonable rate that they offered me. I placed my things in the room, took a shower and then I was on my way to see the city. I took a map of the city from the hotel and was happy to see that most of the places were quite close. So, I decided to explore the city on foot, as I am normally an avid walker and do not leave any opportunity to do so. Moreover, seeing a place on foot is much better option than the guided tour when you are made to see only a few of the places.
I decided to start form the Mosque of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin. This was a really spectacular building and is considered to be a landmark place of the city. This is perhaps the best mosque in whole of the Asia-Pacific, and after visiting the place I am in full conformity to the fact. Though taking pictures inside was not allowed but I took a copy of the visitor mementoes which has photos of the mosque.
The next place was the Royal Regalia, a place used by the current sultan Hassanal Bolkiah to keep the gifts received from other dignitaries on public display. It was about 20 minutes walk, a little more but okay considering the fact that I was new to the place. I took a guide to tell me the place and things in detail. I was told to remove the shoes and taking photos was prohibited. The whole place was filled with the artifacts of gold and many other costly items. Though it could have taken one full day to properly see the pace so I decided to see the important places and then left for Kampong Ayer (Water Village).
It was again about 25-30 min walk from the Regalia. The place was located in the middle of the Brunei River. There were about 39,000 people that live in the water village. The place is called the Venice of the East. There were all kinds of establishments as schools, shops, restaurants etc in the middle of the river. All houses, building and the commercial places were connected with the foot bridges. To move around speed boats called water taxis are available. Though the place looked a bit backward, more like a slum, but after seeing it closed I was surprised to see that all modern amenities like AC, internet etc was available all around, all in all, a nice and cool place to be at least once.
By that time I was really tired of walking so I took my lunch at a good Chinese restaurant. The food was good, especially when I was so tired. After my lunch I looked around in the Yayasan Shopping Complex for some time and then went back to my hotel to take some rest after a long tiring but enjoyable day.
Next day, I got up early took my bath and then went for complimentary breakfast. That day I had plan to go to Temburong and then to Jeruding National Park, so I walked up to the boat station (about 20 minutes away from my hotel), took the ferry and reached Temburang in about an hour. The journey was very refreshing with some great scenery to see. I reached Temburong at about 10 AM and tried to catch a taxi but there was none. Someone told me that for some reason the Jerudong National Park was closed for the tourists. It was a great disappointment but I decided to spend some of the time moving around Temburong. Not a very great place so I took the return ferry back to the capital city.
After this I decided to see the Tamu Open market. It was more like a semi-Venice market where vendors are selling their goods in open, mostly vegetables and fruits and other things of day to day use. Not again a very interesting place to be, so I decided to go to Mall Gadong. To reach the place I caught a bus, which is one of the very economical and convenient ways to travel in Bunder. On reaching Mall Gadong, I took my lunch and then decided to see one interesting English Movie. After seeing the movie I again took my time to see the streets of Bunder. One nice thing that I observed in Brunei was that people were very hard working and disciplined. After few hours I returned back to my hotel to take some rest before going to see the night market.
The night market was about 30 minutes walk from my hotel. Though I had gone there to scout for some souvenirs, but on reaching there I was surprised to see that it was actually a food market. I took my dinner there. The food was really good enough not to make me repent the efforts taken to reach the place. On my way back to hotel, I took a taxi and then laid myself to rest after another tiring day.
On the third and last day on my free time in Brunei I decided to go to Jalan Istana Nurul Iman. After taking breakfast I left for the place. The day was especially hot and so was draining my energy fast. I took a bus to reach the place. This is actually the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei. Jalan Istana Nurul Iman is an Arabic name meaning “Palace of the light of faith”. This is considered to be the biggest residential palace in the world.
On reaching there I was told by a guard that the outsiders are allowed to go in the palace only in the month of Ramadan. Again disappointed, I took another bus to reach the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque located in Kampong Kiarong. This mosque was really grand and is said to be the biggest in Brunei. It has been built by the present Sultan in memory of completion of 25 years of his rule. We were asked to remove shoes and women were asked to wear the black covering cloth as mark of respect before entering inside. The mosque was really big from inside with one of the biggest prayer room which could have easily accommodated more than 3000 persons at a time.
After seeing the mosque, I took my quick lunch and then went to see the Jerudong Park. It is basically an amusement park build by the Brunei Government at total estimated expenditure of about $1 billion. I saw that the place was not in good shape and needed proper attention. After that I visited the National Museum. It displayed basically the special artifacts and jewellery items owned by the royal family, a place worth seeing at least once.
That was my last day of free time in Brunei as from the next day I was busy with my official obligations. In short, I found Brunei to be a nice place worth seeing and I left the place to visit again with my family.