In the sweltering afternoon heat, I felt like a slab of raw meat left out on the kitchen counter, gradually wet with condensation, turning bad by the minute.
That was exactly what happened as I sat my ass down at the perhentian bas (bus stop) for an hour, as cars streamed by, none of them being a public bus. I was getting hangry as lunch time had neared, came and passed.
Resigning to my fate of having to travel an hour on foot under the scorching sun to my next destination, I sighed and got up to walk. After about 20 minutes, I was walking along the highway, against the flow of traffic.
A grey car had stopped by the curb, with its two hazard lights switched on, blinking. I peered into its cool, grey interior as I trudged by.
“Where are you going, Miss?”, the driver of the auto mobile asked as soon as we made eye contact.
“Ok. I take you there.”
And there I have my first hitch-hiking experience ever, afforded by the friendly people of Brunei.
The Beauty is in Her People
One thing which left a lasting impression on me during my 3-day solo trip (16th – 19th April 2016) in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei was how genuinely nice the people there are. Everywhere I went, I was greeted with cordial smiles and casual greetings, none of which felt forced at all. It really does seems as if they haven’t got much to worry about, at least not financially.
Another thing that made my trip really pleasant was the fact that almost everyone spoke and understood English. This took the stress off having to communicate in order to get my basic needs met and also learning more about the place.
The kind guy who gave me a ride to my destination, the joggers who uttered “Good Morning” as I passed them, the lady at the flea market who gave me a discount before I even asked for it, my lovely mangrove tour guides Mark and Wann, my amazingly generous AirBnB hosts Eirene and James.
Brunei, the Abode of Peace, feels immensely safe and I could devote my attention to seeing the beautiful places she has to offer.
Places Worth Visiting
I was caught off guard by its majesty in real life. No doubt, this has got to be the most beautiful mosque in South East Asia.
You’re allowed to head into the mosque and have a look around when there are no religious activities going on. Ladies will have to don the long black robe they offer at the entrance. There is a small little door to the right indicating perempuan (female) which will lead you up to the second floor of the mosque, overlooking the main prayer hall for males.
Getting there: Walking distance from the main bus terminal where bus timings are more trustworthy than bus stops.
My AirBnB host took me there at night. It was illuminated in a really magical way, which had my jaws hanging as we pulled into the deserted parking lot. It was really quiet, past visitors hours. I ventured into the mosque, listening to my breaths echo against the beautiful marbled interiors, before being chased out by several guards. :p
Getting there: With the unreliable public bus system, it seems like you have no choice but to get a taxi ride over to the second largest mosque in Brunei.
“It’s like a bigger MacRitchie Reservoir,” cautioned my host as I shared with her my plans to spend a morning there. “There’s nothing much to see, really.”
The taman (park) is a stone’s throw away from my AirBnB residence, a 15 minutes walk away. It is a green space filled with healthy joggers during the weekends, with basic exercise facilities and shelters to keep the people happy. There are many trails to explore. Walking on flat land is boring. The ascent to slight hills make the entire experience challenging and hence rewarding.
The main attraction of the park was supposed to be a waterfall, white foams plunging into depths below. However, due to the dry spell Asia has been suffering from, the flow has unfortunately been reduced to a mere trickle.
Getting there: Buses 36 and 38 will get you to a nearby bus stop. Or you can walk if you ain’t feeling lazy. It’s a short distance away from Terrace Hotel.
If you’re looking for good and cheap food, here’s the place to eat yourself silly. I love the atmosphere of the venue too. It was crowded with families on a Friday night, little children munching on colourful sweets or greasy bbq drumsticks. Smoke in the air mingled with the joyous shouts of vendors. Smiles on everyone’s faces.
It HURTS so much being a vegetarian, looking at this sight and walking away empty-handed, stomach growling in protest.
Getting there: Take bus 01C. It is a bridge away from the Gadong Mall district.
5. Gadong Mall
Unfortunately, the shopping here isn’t fantastic, if you’ve been born and raised in shopping paradise, Singapore.
However, there is a cineplex at the top most level which offers up-to-date movies at just SGD$4 before 6:30PM on weekdays. I watched Batman vs Superman in an almost empty theatre and allowed myself to bawl my eyes out when the man of steel got punctured by the hideous lump of a creature.
Getting there: Take bus 01C. Or hitch a ride from a local if it’s your lucky day.
I didn’t expect much going into this place because I know it’s a renowned tourist attraction of Brunei. I was anticipating loud crowds, jostling tourists and annoyed locals. But I experienced none of that when I took a $1 speedboat over to the other side from the mainland waterfront.
What greeted me was serenity and the local’s relaxed way of living. Visiting the museum enlightened me about the significance of the kampung, of its importance in the development of Brunei itself. It’s also interesting to observe that there is almost everything there, a school, shops, motor boats parked beneath the stilts, prayer rooms, full houses. It is pretty much self-sustaining.
Once again, the locals were really friendly. I’ve always feel a sense of pressure to purchase something when I browse in shops overseas. The shop owners tend to hover around you like a hawk stalking its prey. Yet, I was completely at ease doing that over here.
Getting there: Take a speedboat over from the mainland. Just walk towards the water and you will have a handful of speedboat operator coming over for you, quoting their prices. A one-way trip over to the Kampung should only cost you $1.
YOU HAVE TO VISIT THE MANGROVES. You have to.
When my AirBnB host suggested going on this tour, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about the idea. I had thought I would be floating on the boat, a quick hour will pass without me spotting anything interesting. I was dead wrong.
I took a tour with Mark and Wann, who were both extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife within the mangroves. They carried encyclopaedias and guide books with them, pointing them out to us whenever we changed upon something. It really did pique my interest midway through the tour and I was asking more questions than I’ve ever did in all my science lessons combined.
We spotted the famous proboscis monkeys, ordinary monkeys (I recalled the names being “meccah” but Google search produced no related results), straited herons, egrets, monitor lizards and even the eyes of a crocodile. It was very invigorating, getting to know a side of nature I wasn’t used to.
The trip back to mainland coincided with sunset. My, it was beyond breath taking, a piece of memory which I will take to my grave.
I definitely do recommend booking a tour with them! I did the tour with an exchange student from Estonia who was putting up at the same AirBnB as I was and it costed us only SGD$20 each.
Next time I return to Brunei, I will make sure that I’m not alone, that I will have my driving license and have a longer period of time there. These are some of the places which I haven’t been able to explore on this trip:
If you are planning a trip to Brunei, I’ll say go for it! Feel free to ask me more about the culture and stuff if interested!