I went to Brunei last week for a short vacation with a few relatives. Brunei is my first international trip (teehee!) so it was quite special to me (I finally got to use my passport. hehe).
When I told friends that I've booked a trip to Brunei, they would ask me, "why Brunei?", as we all know, this country isn't a popular tourist destination compared to its neighboring countries. But I tell you, visiting this country made me appreciate the culture this beautiful kingdom has to offer. Also, one of my aunts has been staying in Brunei for the last 20 years, hence, we had somebody to tour us around. :)
Brunei Darussalam is a small country with a population of less than half million. It is ruled by the "King", Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. This country's main religion is Islam, but there are few non-Islam churches in the country, like the Roman Catholic and Anglican.
Here are some of the things I knew about Brunei, that I think would be useful should you visit the country.
Flights from Manila
We booked Cebu Pacific (Manila - Bandar Seri Begawan). Our flight was around 11:40pm, so we arrived in Brunei the next day at 1:40am. Our flight back to Manila was 2.25am to 4:25am. All CebuPac flights are of same time as our flight. If you have some money to spare, you may try Royal Brunei Air (or RBA).
No visa required if you'll be staying for less than 14 days. Let me emphasize that the Brunei immigration is really strict, as there are a lot of cases of overstaying visitors (or TNT). Always keep the copy of ticket and the address of your accommodation ready.
We stayed in my tita's flat in the Bengkurong area. However, I've seen lots of hotels around Brunei. This includes the budget-friendly Pusat Belia, Jubilee Hotel, Radisson, Rizqun and the grandest, Empire Hotel.
Public transportation is quite limited in Brunei. Taxis are rare and the public buses take 30 minutes or more waiting time. It would be better to book a car rental to tour you around. Our platoon of 8 adults + 2 kids took 2 cars (including my aunt's car + whoever she asks to drive us) to tour us around. Private vehicles are usually cars, and vans are rare.
Brunei Dollar is the official currency but Singaporean Dollar is also accepted. I used Singaporean Dollar for most of my purchases on this trip.
Brunei was supposed to be hotter than Manila, but I didn't feel the difference, maybe it was the clean air? I didn't have a hard time sleeping sans the air-conditioning. Rainy days in Brunei are the worst (as I've seen it too), you wouldn't even dare to go out.
Brunei is very, very safe. I even had the shock of my life when I entered the mall without having a guard to check my bag. As I've observed later, the guards roam the mall instead.
How safe is safe?
|uh-oh. Somebody left his/her car door open.|
Somebody left his/her car open in a public parking lot across Jerudong Park Playground. Yes, it was still there when we came back (and the owner was already back during the time).
If somebody left his/her car in some other country *ehem ehem*, wala na yun pagbalik nya. hehe.
I've seen 3 branches of Jollibee while other popular restos are also abundant (McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, Secret Recipe, etc). For coffee addicts, there is Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (and no Starbucks).
One Bruneian brand caught my fancy: FUN Donuts. :)
Looks familiar, eh? :P
The prices of their utilities got me envious. Really envious. My tita's flat is provided by the government since she works at a government school.
Oil prices are ridiculously low because of government subsidy. During my visit, gasoline price is 53 cents (Php 18.55) while diesel is around 35 cents (Php 12.25).
Average daily consumption for a fully-furnished apartment is around 1.30B$ a day (Php 45.50) while water is 11 cents (Php 3.85) per cubic meter. More reasons to love the Sultan. :)
Other things you need to know about Brunei:
- It was an additional challenge for us that Ramadan has just started during our trip. Eating is not allowed in public, except for kids, the sick, pregnant women and the elderly. You may opt for takeouts or you may eat inside restaurants though.
- The Muslims break their fast at around 6.30pm, so expect restaurants to be full around that time. Better buy your food early!
- Brunei is a conservative country, so appropriate clothing is encouraged.
- There are lots of Filipinos working in Brunei, so don't get surprised if you enter an establishment and somebody speaks to you in Filipino.
- Medical treatment is free for children 12 years old below.
- Local food is really affordable. More about this on my future posts. :) But I dare say that you shouldn't miss it.
- When leaving Brunei, pay only an airport tax of 12 B$ (Php 420). Super low compared to our travel tax and terminal fee of Php 1660 + Php 550. Again, WHY PHILIPPINES?!?! :(
- Brunei may not be that tourist-y, but it was so peaceful and simple that I could understand why my tita chose to stay there.
More of Brunei soon! :)
1 B$ = Php 35