Going to Brunei Darussalam is honestly just to complete my bucket list of visiting all South East Asian countries. It was a quick trip of 72 hours. I arrived on Friday noon and left by Monday noon. It is enough time to explore the most important sites in Brunei.
Before I get into more details, allow me to clarify one thing. Many of my European friends have asked me if it is worth it to visit Brunei. My answer is “no, it is not” if one flies to Asia only to visit Brunei. However, if one is already planning a South East Asian journey, the Borneo jungle in East Brunei is worth visiting.
On this trip, I pretty much did two things: explore the Bandar Seri Begawan and Ulu Temburong National Park.
Upon arrival, I explored Bandar Seri Begawan (familiarly referred to as Bandar) downtown, the two main mosques, and the water village. The downtown of Bandar is quite compact and most of the tourist attractions are within walking distance to one another, except for one of the mosques. In half a day, I went to the Royal Regalia and the water village, Kampong Ayer.
The Royal Regalia has quite interesting exhibitions, especially those related to the ceremonial vehicles and apparatus (thrones, batons, gongs, etc). It is worth a visit. I quite like the room where they replicated the ceremonial entourage for the Sultan Bolkiah’s Silver Jubilee parade. There is also a ceremonial vehicle used for the current Sultan’s coronation and Queen Elizabeth’s visit.
Kampong Ayer water village has been called the “Venice of the East”. The water component is the only similarities between Venice and Kampong Ayer. The former is very beautiful, while the latter is quite run down. The government has rebuilt some of the houses and given it away to the residents of Kampong Ayer. In my opinion, the boat ride is enough to explore and get a taste of the water village.
There is nothing much about the sunset boat ride to the Istana Nurul Isman (Palace). The Palace is hidden behind the trees. It was also a cloudy day, so I could not enjoy much of the sunset lights.
I visited the two mosques on the way to the airport in less than one hour. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque was built by the father of Sultan Bolkiah (the current Sultan). The other mosque I visited is the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, built by the current Sultan. Both mosques give the impression of understated elegance, compared to some of the Mosques I have visited. Brunei applies stricter rules for tourists visiting the mosques. We could only see the Prayer Hall from a cordoned off area near the door. And women had to wear a long robe, though surprisingly we did not have to wear a shawl covering our hair. And there is no photo allowed, unlike in the Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman.
After exploring the city, I decided on an overnight trip to Temburong for a chance to visit the Ulu Temburong canopy walk. The boat ride to Ulu Temburong National Park along the Borneo jungle on the iban longboat, called “temuai” is one of the highlights of the trip. On the way there, we went upriver against the current and it could get pretty wet. It was thrilling though. The water was a bit shallow when I went, so apart from the boat driver, we had another local in the front helping to direct the temuai.
I found the canopy walk quite easy to do. We had to walk about 1,250 steps (small steps) before we reached the bottom of the canopy walk. There are a few rest stops along the way. The we had to climb the metal scaffolding structure (very secure) 60-metre high. This climb is not for those with fear of heights or vertigo, however. For those who have no problem with heights, this climb is recommendable. The structure has four towers with increasing height.
The view is the most amazing from the first tower. This is closest to the edge of the hill and one can see the lush trees spanning the horizon. I actually did the first tower climb twice, because the very first climb, I walked off on the bridge to tower 2, without realizing that there is more to climb for the tower 1 view point. It was not crowded and there was no one waiting to climb up. There is a limit of two people per tower for safety reasons.
My jaunt to Temburong was made special because I had a chance to hang out with a few local Iban villagers. I chose a tour company that in theory has a good concept and purpose. However, my interactions and experiences with the owners of the said company were very negative. I will not dwell on that on this post, as I have posted my honest review on TripAdvisor.
Otherwise, the villagers involved took care of me well and I had fun getting to know them. Two of the grandchildren, Anisa, aged 10, and Elun, aged 12 accompanied me swimming in the Mutong river (approximately 11km downstream from Ulu Temburong Park). Anisa is happy girl with a very infectious laugh. Her brother, Elun, is a bit more reserved. He gave me a short ride on the long boat and he showed me how to set the net they use to fish. Earlier on, I went with their aunt to pick up wild ferns and sweet potato leaves for dinner.
After dinner, they played the gongs and other traditional music instruments for me and they danced around. They are happy, simple people, and unfortunately with very basic or no education. They may be at risk of exploitation. I was there on the weekend, so the grandchildren came with me on my evening jungle walk (we saw small insects, frogs, and a bird).
Then Elun took me up the hill to see some sunrise and the morning mist lifting above the tree line.
On the way back from the hill after sunrise, we stopped by a local duck farm. This couple learned about raising ducks for making salted eggs from the Internet and now they have grown their farms to about 300+ ducks. They are hardworking and serious entrepreneurs. I hope they can be role models for the younger generations of Ibans. Their farm is called Haziyah, after the wife.
My trip to Brunei has been short and (bitter)sweet. Temburong is definitely my favourite part. Please check out my post on the food of Brunei and the Kianggeh market here.