Into The Forest
Having friends and partner from East Malaysia I found myself time and time again in Borneo Island, this one day adventure worth mentioning. A day well spent at a tropical rainforest in Brunei Darussalam. As Brunei is so compact I will also mentioned other activities and places to go in Brunei. This will be enough as a complete Tourist Guide to Brunei Darussalam.
About Brunei Darussalam
Brunei is a very small county in Borneo Island. Not many have heard of it and richness and land of oil will spring to mind when others have heard of it. In reality, Brunei is a small country consists of two parts that’s separated by Malaysia in The middle, the mainland of Brunei and Temburong. It is very much a kingdom with its Sultanate and Royalties having the absolute power of the country. It is extremely religious as a Muslim country and the land and sea has been blessed with oil for generations. Citizen of Brunei are pampered by the Government and are among one of the most benefited citizen in the world. For some reason Brunei does not encourage tourism but they welcome expats and tourist nonetheless. This is probably why there are so few tourists and Brunei is not high on top of most traveller’s to visit list. However 3 days in Brunei could be a great stop-over while travelling South East Asia to experience its pristine tropical rainforest and biggest water village in the world.
Here are the top things you can do in Brunei
1. Ulu Temburung National Park
Ulu temburong National Park is a must visit when in Brunei. To reach Ulu Temburong you need 3 modes of transportation. Catch a public speed boat (covered) from Bandar to Bangar (Capital of Temburong), Ride on a van and catch a pleasant long boat from Bangar to the National Park.
The way to reach the national park is scenic and rather enjoyable.
There are plenty of options for your trip. You can have a day trip, choose to stay overnight or 2 nights.We did a day trip and it is just nice for me. I rather not come across too many rainforest creatures hence a day trip is perfect. To mention a few, some jungle residences that our host has come across are tarantulas, snake, python, a giant millipede, scorpions, a cheetah, a sun bear and plenty of monkeys. In the less extreme side, there are birds, butterflies, giant ants, bats and creepy crawlies. But it is a very low chance that you will see them if at all. The residences of the National Park are very shy and reserved.
If wild lives are what you like to see then overnight stay will be ideal. Most of jungle animals are nocturnal hence they show themselves during night walks. Like these homes for tarantulas. During the day the hole is covered by the web, at night it may just barely show itself.
The other benefit of staying overnight is that you can experience the breathtaking sunrise and sunset view of the canopy walk.
If you can’t stand a creepy crawly like me and are phobia to spiders, don’t worry and proceed with your plan. During the day trip you will see none of them. It was a pleasant hike of more than 1000 steps (yes to tight buttocks) and a memorable climb to 27th level of the canopy walk to see the rainforest from the top.
From this height you are able to see the forest of Brunei and Malaysia. Afraid of height or worry that you won’t be fit enough? Don’t worry within our group we are not a gym-bunch with one with a fear of height and we manage fine! Remember to follow the guidelines.
One of the highlight for me is having to pass this hanging bridge.
We were served a light refreshment and able to enjoy some nature including bunga simpur, the national flora of Brunei that you can find an image of in the BND 1 note.
Other things to do here other than the must-do canopy walk:
- Do water tubing down the river
- Visit the mini waterfall for fish spa
- Even for day trip bring changing clothes so that you are up for any activity
- Wear proper trekking shoes/sandals and bring a sandal or other waterproof footwear even for a day trip for unplanned water activities or walking on uneven and wet surface.
- The sun was extremely intense while doing the canopy walk– slip slop slap and wears a hat.
- I underestimated this canopy walk – it is more extreme than any sky tree walk I did previously
- This activity isn’t cheap and be prepared to fork out around $150 for a day activity and doubles that for an overnight stay, per person. Companies I know that does this tour: http://www.uluuluresort.com/ and www.b2nbrunei.com.
2. Visit the Water Village with water taxi (boat)
Brunei has an active water village that has up to 20,000 residents. This is also the biggest in the world, I heard. The mode of transportation here is by water taxi that you can catch from the jetty. Try to bargain, I ride mine for about $25 and that is all the way to mangrove forest just in time to see the beautiful fireflies and catch a glimpse of the proboscis monkeys. Near the jetty is one of the biggest mosque and a shopping mall, Yayasan. If you are going to Ulu Temburong National Park, you will depart from the water village all the way to the mangrove so it’s killing two birds with one stone. The entry point of the Water Village where you hail your water taxi is also known as the waterfront. If you need a coffee fix here, Picollo is a cafe located in this area that serves a good cup.
3. Marvel at the majestic Mosques and other Islamic Architecture
One of the magnificent buildings in Brunei is the mosque. One of the must visit is the Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien. This Mosque is located at the heart of Brunei. The interior are beautiful marbles and glistening chandelier from sky-high ceiling. To top it all, the domes of the roof are painted with pure gold.
4. Visit Local Museums to learn about the culture and history
Royal Regalia is a must visit and is a museum that house various tribute to Sultan. You can also learn about the family tree of the Sultanate and marvel at handicrafts from all over the world that have been presented worthy of a present for the Sultan.
The Brunei Museum
Brunei Museum is where are can learn the history of Brunei with the aid of 3D figurines.
Brunei Arts and Handicraft Centre
Kain Tenun is an exquisite fabric that traditionally uses silver and gold thread for the decorative pattern. I think they are beautiful and I have a soft spot form beautiful textile. Brunei Arts and Handicraft Centre is a good place to purchase and learn about kain tenun.
Location: Bandar or Bangunan Sumbangsih Mulia in Kg Beribi.
5. Experience Night Market and shop like a local at Tamu
Night Market – Gadong
Night market in Gadong is an array of charred meat and many other local ready-to-eat and delicacies. For traditional market (or as the local refers as Tamu), there are 3 main traditional market in the city Tamu Kianggeh, Tamu Gadong and Tamu seria. These are more for local doing their cheap groceries shopping and are definitely smaller than most other traditional market in Asia.
6. Visit the beach(es) and enjoy some water activities
Though it may not be a surfer paradise, for those resides in Brunei, Tungku and Serasa are the two main closest Beach getaways. Brunei is especially pleasant for divers and unique activities like ATV Adventure and Diving is available at Tungku Beach. Another famous beach is Serasa where there is option to do water activities. These are great location to catch the sunset.
7. Have some fun at the Themeparks
Jerudong Park is the amusement park in Brunei. It used to be free and very lively. Since they decide to no longer offer it to public for free it rapidly lose popularity. It is still consider cheap entry and beautiful to take photographs at night in my opinion. Other than that it offers a pleasant jogging tracks.
Want more more nature?
Brunei is definitely rich in its nature and the below are maybe less heard off and easier to access from the city.
- Tasek Lama Recreational Park
- Bio-Innovation Corridor
- Bukit Shahbandar Forest Recrational Park
- Kampung Kiudang
- Selirong Island
- Berakas Forest Reserve Recreational Park
- Persiaran Damuan
- Tasek Merimbun Heritage Park
- Bukit Subok Recreational Park
Without much tourist, there’s not much of an accommodation options. Below are some of the more popular ones:
- The Empire – The empire is simply the best hotel/venue for event in Brunei. Owned by the Royals, it is a 5-6 stars hotel, arguable the cheapest 6 star hotel in the world. Local get a special rate hence it’s only around BND 150 a night.
- Hotels – there are a number of hotels starting from around BND 99 a night. To name a few there are Times Hotel, Centre Point, and The Radisson that are conveniently located.
- Homestay – for local experience, there are several homestay options where you can stay with locals on the water village. For more information, visit Brunei Tourism Board.
One thing I was obsessed about was the dry and wet buttermilk dish (chicken/fish/prawn). I think this is worthy of being a national dish but the actual national dish of Brunei is Ambuyat that you can try from Terindak d’Seni Restaurant. Ambuyat is gooey starch consumed with various dipping sauce.
Dry and wet buttermilk Chicken can be purchased in any good-ol Chinese restaurants. The tried and tested places that has good butter chicken are Restoran Daun Merah, Sing-U-Me, You Me and Nyonya restaurant. You can also enjoy the unusual greens that are commonly consumed in Brunei and East Malaysia which are, Manicai with egg and the funny looking Million sprouts. If you like soft shell crab, seafood are quite abundant in Brunei and softshell crap here are cheap.
Other than that, try the beach side restaurant Anjung Layar Luncur to enjoy the sunset and experience kopitiam culture. One of the best kopitiam is Chop Jing Chew that I have reviewed in Depth Here. Bruneian also seem to have a love affair with chicken and rice hence they have another famous National dish, the $1 chicken rice (Nasi Katok) and a popular long-standing chicken rice restaurant – Thien Thien Chicken Rice. Since we are talking about chicken and rice I’ll throw in Ayamku Restaurant (Local version of KFC with rice of course) and Waroeng Penyet specialised in Ayam (Chicken) Penyet, a dish from Indonesia that gains huge popularity in Brunei.
For those craving for a bit of Korean there’s the first and original Korean restaurant in Brunei, Ko-ryo. There are so much more good eats in Brunei, but Japanese is rather famous. Kaizen by the river will give an authentic Japanese experience and Escapade is a well established Japanese restaurant that has 8 branches all over Brunei.
I will just briefly mention shopping but Brunei is no shopping paradise. In fact I hardly heard of any local that actually shops in Brunei (they went oversea, stock up, repeat). Nevertheless, when you miss the air conditioning and want to window-shopped the below are as good as it gets in Brunei.
- The Mall – Gadong – The biggest mall in Brunei.
- Time Square and Airport mall – Your friendly neighbourhood, parking always full joint-shopping malls.
- Yayasan – Located at the city centre and waterfront, this make a good stop over while visiting the water village and the mosque.
- Seri Q-Lap Mall – The smallest of them all with some specialised shops and restaurants.
Taxi and bus is rather inconvenient not to mention how rarely have I come across them, if ever. A car with personal driver will be the best bet. The road in Brunei is very pleasant too so you can get by just renting a car with Waze application for direction.
When to Come to Brunei
The absolute best time to visit Brunei is on Hari Raya day (Always change every year but around July-August), the Muslim celebration of the New Year as well as mark the end of the fasting month. Why? Because the palace will be open to public and you get the chance to get up-close with The Majesty Himself and his Royal family. The Sultan of Brunei is a very down to earth and friendly while oozes charisma – he will personally greet each guest. Free food and drink will be overflowing.
Terms of visiting: Be patient. It will be super packed, might be a long queue and wear something highly appropriate is a must (like Baju Kurung – traditional Bruneian attire). Being a Muslim country attending a formal event requires formal attire that consists of long sleeve and long pants.
I hope after reading this article you’d give this little green corner of Borneo a chance and stop by for a day or two. And if you do let me know what do you think of Brunei =)