Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, the landmark of Brunei

BRUNEI IN ONE DAY – UNMISSABLE THINGS TO DO

Brunei is for many unknown destinations and a bit different than the rest of Asia. If you want to get away from tourism and get to know another side of Southeast Asia, Brunei is worth the time.

I have been planning to visit Brunei for a long time, but I just waited for the right time. And while planning our winter trip to Southeast Asia, I plan to fly straight to the Philippines to visit my family and spend Christmas with them.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei by night
The beautiful Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque at night

Planning the trip

Since we have three weeks, I wanted to combine the trip with other countries such as India and Brunei. The idea stayed two nights in New Delhi and a couple of nights in Brunei. Somehow the entire program was changed and became twelve days in India.

So after reviewed the planning, we only have one night in Brunei. I’ve tried to abbreviate the itinerary to add more nights in the capital. Unfortunately, we’ll miss Christmas that I have planned with the family, so it is going to be one night or nothing. I really want to visit Brunei on this trip while we’re in the surrounding countries.

One of historic monument in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
One of historic monument sits at a large square

Finding affordable flights

I found inexpensive multi-city flights with Qatar Airways. However, the trip has a long layover in Qatar – and it’s a bonus! I have never been to Doha city. So anyway, it’s a reasonable price for the combination flights. Departs from Brussels to New Delhi – returning home from Manila. But somehow, Qatar Airways doesn’t fly to Brunei. 

The alternative is by booking a separate ticket. However, due to its remote location, a flight to Brunei is expensive! And none of the airlines has direct flights from New Delhi. I don’t want to spend so much money on a trip where I spend in a city only for one day.

So anyway, after spending hours on the internet searching for the cheapest flight. I found the budget airline, Air Asia. However, the flight had more than six hours layover in Kuala Lumpur – we lost an entire day on the trip. It was like take it or leave it! Hell, yeah, I booked the flight.

 

The Royal Regalia Building Museum
The Royal Regalia Building Museum

Entering the country and Tourist Visa

At the time when planning this trip, I haven’t think about the tourist visa. My thought was like we’re flying to Dubai, we can enter the country on visa-free. 

We were at the airport on the check-in counter in New Delhi while they’re printing our boarding pass. Suddenly the staff asked for our visa? I’m surprised! My answer was, do we need a tourist visa with a Belgium passport? I’ve never been jolt once during my trip. I thought we’re not going to make it to Brunei. And while he’s tagging our luggage – I’m doing a quick search on my phone.

Nevertheless, he doesn’t know either if we need a visa or not. So before handling us the boarding pass – he went to ask someone and looking into their system. He came back and given us the boarding pass. We (Belgium passport) don’t need a tourist visa to Brunei. At the airport arrival, we receive a three months stamp in our passport. For other foreign nationals, check here!

The city looks like a ghost town on a Sunday morning
The city looks like a ghost town on a Sunday morning

The Facts about Brunei

Brunei is known as one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The benefits of this wealth are the residents do not have to pay taxes – education and health care are free for everyone. Therefore Bruneians have a happy life, friendly, and honest people – you don’t have to worry about crime, scams, and thieves. Visitors can move freely at all times day and night – Brunei is a very safe country.

Since a few years ago, the capital is implementing a car-free every Sunday morning. The government’s initiative to promote a healthy lifestyle so families can enjoy walking or biking – a lot is going on a Sunday morning in Bandar Seri Begawan. As for visitors, you can take this opportunity to enjoy the city without cars.

The sultan's palace, Istana Nurul Iman
The sultan's palace, Istana Nurul Iman

No drinking alcohol and ban smoking!

Brunei is a rigorous Islamic land – some may find it a boring country because there’s no nightlife. Additionally, drinking alcohol and smoking is prohibited. Nevertheless, nobody forbids anyone from drinking inside their house or in your hotel room. But somehow you must bring the alcohol from somewhere there is no alcohol available throughout the country.

Furthermore, you will notice that the capital is very clean – I haven’t seen any waste on the ground. Bruneians have the orderliness to keep their city clean. Cigarette butts are the number one causes dirt on the terrain. Smoking in Brunei is prohibited. There are designations about fines everywhere! The infringement cost 300 BND for the first time – the second offense is 500 BND – which is quite a lot of money. Although smoking prohibited in the country, there are still locals who concealed smoking. Just don’t get caught!

Downtown Park Archway - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Downtown Park Archway

What to wear when visiting Brunei?

I find Brunei living in the present time – compared to other Islamic countries like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In spite of the fact, Brunei is Islamic land – not everyone wears according to tradition. I see women and men wear long pants and a t-shirt. A short pant also adequate but should beyond the knee. 

Besides, nobody judges you what to wear – but if genuinely respect the culture – avoid revealing attire if you don’t want to get attention from people. Brunei has a tropical climate and scorching all year round. When we were there in December, the temperature is above 30 degrees. So the message: packing light garments!

 
Beautiful buildings across the water - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Beautiful buildings across the water

How expensive the food in Brunei?

Prices in Brunei are higher than their surrounding countries – comparable to Singapore. For a less expensive meal if you’re not fussy, indulging a delicious food inside the food court at Yayasan Shopping Mall. They also have fast-food restaurants like KFC and Mc Donalds. Another cheap bite is the food street – for 1 dollar, you can get a barbecue. Noticeably there are not many choices of restaurants in the city, and if there is – they’re pricey. 

How about accommodations?

There are no extensively choices of accommodations in the capital. Prices of the hotels are outrageously high, but if you do a lot of research – you’ll be lucky. I book the hotel six months before our trip. See below on this blog. The room was in promotion – booking and pay immediately and no annulation or refund.

By all means, I found the hotel prices in Brunei aren’t so expensive as in some places in Europe. It is just not accustomed for people to pay a hundred dollars hotel room in Southeast Asia, especially for travelers with a specific budget. Just don’t wait for the last minute to book the room.

An unusual gate in the city center - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
An unusual gate in the city center

Get around and Public transport

Sad to say that public transport in Brunei practically non-existent, a taxi is limited. If you want a taxi ride, you need to phone or ask someone to call for you. The people were super helpful and friendly. Besides, every resident owns a car; some of them will be happy to give you a ride with a small fee. Despite anything, Bandar Seri Begawan is a tiny city – most of the tourist attractions are walking distance – except the sultan’s palace, you need a car. 

Public transport between the city and the airport

Most hotels have shuttles with surcharged, but I ignore that – I thought we’d easily find a bus or a taxi at the arrival – but there weren’t many taxis outside. The local bus is very cheap for 1 BND. You’ll find the bus stop on the left side towards the end of the arrival building. The green bus number 23, 24, 36,38 will take you down to the city bus terminal. The trips take about 30 minutes – from there you can walk or change to another bus. The public buses operate from 6:00 AM to 600 PM.

Brunei in one day, unmissable things to do!

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
The great mosque in the country

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The mosque is the most well-known landmark of Bandar Seri Begawan. The majestic building is visible from a great distance with its golden domes structure. This prayer house was opened in 1958 and named after the 28th sultan of the country. Non-muslims visitors are allowed to enter a small area inside, which leads you into the center of the room. Free entry!

Hours:
Monday 8:30am–12pm, 1:30–3pm, 4:30–5:30pm Tuesday 8:30am–12pm, 1:30–3pm, 4:30–5:30pm Wednesday 8:30am–12pm, 1:30–3pm, 4:30–5:30pm
Thursday 8:30am–12pm, 1:30–3pm, 4:30–5:30pm
Friday 4:30–5:30pm
Saturday 4:30–5:30pm
Sunday 8:30am–12pm, 1:30–3pm, 4:30–5:30pm

Royal Regalia Museum

The hallway of Royal Regalia Museum
The hallway of Royal Regalia Museum

The Royal Regalia Museum is a glittering place with an impressive display. Rooms filled with extraordinarily valuable items presented to the various sultans over the centuries. For curiosity about the wealth of the royal family and the gifts, visit the Royal Regalia Museum.

Notice! You’ll have to remove your shoes outside – and belongings must deposit in a locker. Photography is strictly prohibited; even the phone is not allowed inside. However, after the visit, you can take photographs in the hallway. The museum is free admittance!

Hours:

Monday 9 am–5 pm – Tuesday 9 am–5 pm-

Wednesday 9 am–5 pm – Thursday 9 am–5 pm

Friday 9–11:30 am, 2:30–5 pm – Saturday 9 am–5 pm

Sunday 9 am–5 pm

A stroll to the riverfront park

The beautiful city park and its surroundings
The beautiful city park and its surroundings

If coming out from the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, walk-behind the building. Sooner or later – you will come to the park — an excellent area for a walk with broad ways along the Sungai Kedayan River.

As you continue walking through the viewing platform of the bridge, you have a panoramic view of Kampong Ayer. One of the best spots to see the houses on stilts. Don’t forget to look at the other side – the mosque from a great distance. If you come here late in the afternoon if the weather permitted, this is the right place for a beautiful sunset. If you haven’t been to Kampong Ayer yet, going down to the bridge and you’ll come to the quay where boats are going to the village.

Kampong Ayer, a village built on stilts

The village on the river
The village on the river

The large part of the population in Bandar Seri Begawan lives in a village. Many people have their homes in the city center but still spend part of the time in Kampong Ayer. It is a place to spend a few hours just wandering around to see how people live in the water — the walkways connected through the houses are like a maze of alleys in the water.  

Some of the houses may look rugged on the outside but nicely decorated on the inside. They have schools, mosques, a hospital, shops, restaurants even have a fire station.

To get there: walk to the waterfront, you’ll see the boatman waiting for people. It only cost 1 BND crossing to Kampong Ayer. A boat tour cost 20 BND for 30 minutes, but we got it for 15 dollars after negotiating the price.

Istana Nurul Iman, home of the sultan

Behind the gate of the palace
Behind the gate of the palace

The Istana Nurul Iman is the palace of the sultan – the most significant attractions in Brunei. Although our time is cram, this was a priority on my list. You can’t go inside, so it takes less than five minutes to see it. Liked any other palaces in the world, it is also heavily guarded. The tourists come just having a selfie in front of the gate.

Three days in a year, after the month of Ramadan, the door is opened to the public. The sultan and his wife personally greet the visitors one by one. Thus, if you happen to visit Brunei at this time of year, take the opportunity.

To get there: The palace is 4 km outside the city. If you can’t find a taxi ask any locals to take you there in a car. We give a guy 10 dollars for bringing us to the palace.

Where to stay in Brunei

The lobby of The Brunei Hotel
The lobby of The Brunei Hotel

I have done my research on different websites by comparing the price. Booking straight to the hotel’s website costs more than booking through a hotel booking engine. We were staying at The Brunei Hotel – located in the city center of the capital. Tourist attractions are within walking distance. The bus station just a few meters away – very convenient if one takes the bus at the airport. 

As mentioned above, I booked the room far in advance to get the lowest price — the hotel offers airport service for 20 BND one way. We use their shuttle going to the airport, but we took the public bus for 1 dollar to the center. They have amazing, friendly staff and very helpful. Although the room is simple – it was nice and clean with free wifi, tea, and coffee facility. The Brunei Hotel was worth the price! 

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