Too busy to write extensive post detailing my three days in Brunei, so I’m just writing down the essential stuff about traveling in Brunei.
Sleeping at the airport
Certain flights from Manila to Bandar Seri Begawan arrive at 1:40am, and unless you are staying with friends and relatives, it can be costly if you will be checking in to your accommodation at this time of the night. Sleeping at Brunei’s international airport is not as scary or uncomfortable at it sounds. There are plenty of cushioned seats with no arm rests, so you can stretch out.
The Brunei International Airport is open 24-hours, but the stores and offices are closed. Exit from the arrival hall and walk up the stairs to the departure hall. The area to your left, the VIP area, sees the least traffic, so stay here if you think you’ll oversleep. The airport terminal faces East though, so be prepared to wake up with the sun in your face.
Getting into the city
You can take the bus from the airport, but the public buses seldom make the trip to the airport terminal. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch the bus (if the driver will let you board), otherwise, you’ll have to walk to the nearest bus stop. The alternative is to take a taxi to the city at a flat rate of BN$30 to Bandar Seri Begawan.
Offering the cheapest bed in Bandar Seri Begawan, Pusat Belia is the best place to stay for backpackers and budget travelers. Located within the huge community center, the hostel is within walking distance of major attractions (the Royal Regalia Museum, the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, Kampung Ayer), central bus terminal and cheap eateries. The center also has a pool, which is open to the public for BN$1 per person.
Pusat Belia, however, only offer dorm rooms fitted with bunk beds. The dorms are single sex – females stay in one wing, the guys stay at another. But there’s a common area where you can hang out together. There are also clothes line on the ground floor, so you can wash and dry your clothes. Purified hot and cold water is available; just look for the water fountain.
The reception is only open till 10pm, so if you’re arriving late at night, you’re better off sleeping at the airport. The receptionist actually doesn’t stay at his desk the entire day. More often than not, you’ll be met with a sign that instructs you to call a number and he’ll come within 15 minutes. If you come during a public holiday, check-in is pushed back to 7pm.
They accept reservations via e-mail, but most of the time, they don’t respond. You call them long distance, and all they will say is “okay, just come here.” The hostel doesn’t seem to get full, so it’s okay to arrive without prior reservation (provided there’s no major event in town).
For a complete list of hotels and guesthouses in Brunei, check out this list on Brunei.travel.
It’s a great idea to check the public holidays wherever you’re going because it can affect your trip in a big way. Huge festivals can mean most hostels and guesthouses are full or charging peak rates, while public holidays can mean that you will be stuck with nothing to do. During public holidays, almost everything in Brunei is closed. I arrived on November 17 — just in time for Hari Raya. A list of Brunei’s public holidays is available at the Information Department’s Pressroom.
Shops open as early as 7:45am, but that also means they also close as early as 6pm. On Fridays, some establishments are only open until 12 noon or are close between 12pm – 2pm.
Bandar Seri Begawan Attractions
There’s not much to see in BSB. There’s the Royal Regalia, which commemorates Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s coronation. This includes exhibits about his early years, the gifts he received from foreign dignitaries, and the entire entourage of his silver jubilee parade. Within walking distance to it is the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, which has a bridge connecting to Kampung Ayer and to a replica of a royal barge. Kampung Ayer is pretty interesting, specially if you get to talk to the people who live there.
Other attraction includes the Jame’ Asri Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah mosque, Istana Nurul Iman or the Sultan’s palace (not open to the public, except on the Sultan’s bithday), the Brunei Museum, Jerudong Park and the newly opened Kampong Ayer Cultural & Tourism Gallery. There are no admission fees for these attractions.
Outside BSB, you can get close to nature at Kota Batu, where locals go to catch fish and picnic, or drive further to Muara and Serasa beach for some water sports and outdoor activities.
You can eat for as cheap as BN$1 in Brunei. Nasi Katok, a set meal of steamed white rice, fried chicken and sambal (chili based sauce) usually go for BN$ 1. For BN$2, you can get a Nasi Lemak (set meal of steamed rice cooked with coconut cream paired with meat (usually fried chicken or some sort of curry), peanuts, ikan bilis (fried anchovy) and sambal).
At the Gadong night market, you can find stalls selling huge servings of char kway teow for BN$1, if you’re hankering for something other than rice. There are a huge variety of meals for sale at the market, usually ranging from BN$1 to BN$3. If you’re vegetarian or craving for veggies, there’s a couple of vegetarian restaurants in Simpang 28. One of these is Pureland Vegetarian Restaurant, which has a sign that proudly announce that you can “eat as you want & pay as you wish.” It’s completely self-service — you’re expected to clean up after you eat.
Because almost every household in Brunei has a car (average of 2 per household), there’s hardly any need for taxis (and if you take them, they’re very expensive). The bus system is pretty extensive and at BN$1 per ride within the city limits, getting around is easy and cheap. There are several buses that head to the airport, just tell the driver that you want to be dropped off at the terminal.
There are water taxis to go around Kampung Ayer. Regular rate is BN$1 per person, but tourist prices can go for BN$20 for a tour around the river.
If you have extra money, are comfortable with right-hand driving, and want to see more, rent a car and drive outside Bandar Seri Begawan.
Brunei Airport is small, but it’s just the right size to accommodate the airport traffic. Check in, however, can be painfully slow, as there are limited check-in counters available. A departure tax is collected at checking, so be sure to set aside BN$12 for this.