I flew to Brunei via Brunei International Airport (BWN) last Sunday morning, flying for the first time with Royal Brunei Airlines. Flights connecting Manila, Philippines with Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei Darussalam, are serviced only by either this airline or Cebu Pacific. Royal Brunei's service is more preferred as it is a full service (premium) airline and have at least one schedule flight daily compared to Cebu Pacific, a budget carrier and with less frequent flights of 4x weekly as of this writing.
The flight to Bandar Seri Begawan started from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) Terminal 1, where most international flights (except those serviced by PAL, Airphil Express, Cebu Pacific or ANA) start and/or terminate. It wasn't a very good experience though as I experienced the infamous long lines in the terminal that it took me minutes more than an hour just lining up in immigration. It was already flying time (7:20AM) when I reached the gate and there were more passengers behind me on the said line that went way past the counters where passengers pay the terminal fee. Naturally, we flew behind schedule (pushed back around 9AM).
Quantity of the meal service was rather small. I was sitting on economy and asked between chicken sausage with omelet or beef with rice as it is breakfast time. I choose the former and was surprised by the size, which you can gauge with the small cup or the condiments behind it like jam and butter. The said chicken sausage tasted like those that comes from the can so I didn't really enjoy it that much. It was a good thing that the omelet was ample-sized and there were a few potatoes and beans on the side.
Another thing I find weird is the numbering of rows inside the planes. The 3 business class rows were numbered as 6-8 and the economy rows from 26-31, skipped 32-41, then 42-58. I was sitting on 45A and was wondering at first how come there's a row 45 in an A320 plane.
What's good is that we arrived just a few minutes late than the scheduled arrival of 9:25AM. The airport terminal and the facilities was small, which is understandable as it wasn't really a busy airport. I was waiting for more flights to arrive after us but until we deplaned there wasn't one. Looking later at the newspaper, I was surprised they actually have the schedules of all inbound and outbound flights and it wasn't very long.
A person holding a sign with my name was waiting for me at the arrival hall past customs as I arranged for a transfer from the airport to my hotel (BND35) to avoid inconvenience with lines or cash as I am new to the country.
15 or so minutes later, driving past what seems to be areas of greens and a few establishments, we arrived at the place where I am staying, The Empire Hotel & Country Club. I was amazed at how big the property is and I think I underestimated its size.
I was dropped off at the atrium lobby where I checked in. I will blog on another day about the hotel as it is so massive but just for your appreciation, to get to the Lagoon building, where I stayed, I first had to ride a buggy (golf car).
Rest of the morning until lunch hour, I just stayed at the room to catch some sleep since I lacked sleep well the night prior due to hasty packing of stuff. During lunch, I approached the activity desk and asked for options going around the city. That was then I was informed that I am actually on a different town, not in the city of Bandar Seri Begawan, but on Jerudong town. Towns were small so nothing to worry as the city is only 15 minutes drive away however public transportation is also scarce. For bus, the schedule below is there are 3x departure going to Bandar Seri Begawan daily (except Friday) and another 3x departure going to Gadong town (where shopping and dining places are). As the next one is 2:30PM, I had to book in advance as they have to call the bus operator (or else the bus wouldn't come inside the hotel grounds) and wait. I spent the time in between going around the hotel taking pictures. Going back, I have to arrange it separately with the bus driver if there will be service.
Bus fare was only BND1. For some reason I know I took the right bus number (58) which should go to Gadong, but it actually went to the Bandar and I only knew it when everyone went down at the bus terminal in the city.
What I did instead was to ride another bus that has a sign "Bandar - The Mall" and asked politely if it will pass by The Mall before getting on it. Fare was still BND1.
As the bus headed for The Mall, we passed by Teng Yun Temple which is just a couple of blocks away from the bus terminal.
Minutes later, we reached The Mall and most passenger get off just across the entrance.
The Mall, located in Gadong town is said to be the largest mall in Brunei. For us used to big malls in the Philippines, it is rather small, but it seems this is the place to be when in Brunei.
I passed by the food court and was surprised to see Jollibee, a Philippine fast food chain, to have a branch there. Turns out that on my succeeding days I will come a cross a number of its other branches in the country. There is a significant number of Filipinos, mostly those who are working in the country, so it just makes sense to have one.
I passed by B-Mobile to pickup a mobile starter pack (BND30) which I plan to mainly use for wireless broadband internet while in the city or at the customer site. It is regulated unlike in the Philippines where you can just buy almost anywhere a SIM card and that I had to show my passport and actually pay for registration fee for this.
It is already past lunch time and I am naturally starving. I went to Hot Point Café & Restaurant located at the first floor as I really was already hungry by that time.
inside the restaurant
black pepper steak
After lunch, I went downstairs at the supermarket (Grand Utama Superstore) to buy stuffs as I plan to eat my dinner at the room to prepare for the next day's engagement. I also had a takeout from Hot Point to add (Sambal Fish) so I managed to stay in the room that night without getting hungry. Going back to the hotel though was a challenge as I waited for taxi for 30 minutes, there was none, so I rode a bus back to the bus terminal and from there took a taxi back to the hotel.
On Monday, after the kick-off meeting with the customer, there was a big time gap before I started to work so my colleague friend brought me to our office located at the 13th floor of PGGMB Building. Lucky number I thought! lol!
The succeeding days was spent mostly between the customer place and hotel. It was only yesterday before I flew back that I had a chance to go around and see the city. I signed up for a tour with Sunshine Borneo Tours (Bandour Splendour, BND70).
Our first stop was at the Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the largest mosque in Brunei built to commemorate the 25th anniversary of being in throne of the current sultan. It is famous for having golden domes and the architecture really looks beautiful from afar.
Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque
one of the entrances to the mosque
the sultan's entrance to the mosque
fountain across the sultan's entrance
design pattern in one of the towers
Unfortunately the mosque was closed for public viewing on Thursdays as they prepare for the prayer day which happens every Friday so I didn't get a chance to come inside and take a peak and was only allowed to do so on the grounds outside.
Next we had a quick stop at Istana Nurul Iman, the official residence of the sultan in the country.
The palace cannot be seen clearly today from the gates as it is now covered with a lot of trees unlike before when it was constructed in 1984. I was surprised to know that it was designed by Leandro V. Locsin, a Filipino architect and was built by Ayala International, a Filipino firm.
insigna and flag of Brunei at the gate
While taking pictures and admiring the beauty of the place, our group was asked to step aside as they open a gate of the palace. A few policemen also stationed at the street waiving at the cars (or stopping some of them) at that time.
There was a couple of cars, who must have been from the royal family, that entered the palace grounds. We left a few minutes after bound for our next tour stop.
The next stop was at Royal Regalia Museum but as our van parked the streets were momentarily closed (we have to cross the street from the parking area) and we started to see policemen and escorted cars. Turns out the sultan and his entourage actually went out of the palace to go to Chung Hwa Middle School (near the Royal Regalia Museum) and I guess we were lucky to witness the whole thing as the whole entourage actually circled the parking area and for us to see the Sultan in person even for just a quick moment!
more policemen coming
policemen and the sultan's Rolls-Royce car behind
the sultan's car with Brunei flag waving on the top
other cars that followed that seems to be the two cars we saw earlier.
circling the parking area (or actually they circled us!)
another Rolls-Royce car
Bangunan Alat Kebesaran Diraja or Royal Regalia Museum houses a lot of the royal family's items and have a brief history of the current sultan's life and succession to the throne. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed inside specially on the areas where they have a replica display of the throne and actual items used during the coronation in August 1, 1968.
Visitors are allowed to take pictures outside at the lobby area. On display there is this big chariot pulled by 40 people during the coronation parade.
ceiling dome of the Royal Regalia Museum
some displays at the lobby area
Our next stop was at Kota Batu where Brunei Museum is located. The museum divided the themes into galleries of Islamic Arts, Oil and Gas, Creatures of the Night, Natural History, Brunei Darussalam Archaeology and History and Brunei Traditional Culture.
Unfortunately cameras are not allowed inside the galleries and we had to leave them in the locker. I was only able to take pictures of the lobby and nothing else.
Worth going if you don't have a lot of time is the Oil and Gas exhibition gallery where they showcase the birth of the oil and gas industry in the country (which is said to power up 80% of its economy).
Then we headed back to the city to go to Kampong Ayer (Water Village), referred by others as "Venice of the East".
The area is situated along Brunei Bay and comprised officially of 42 villages built on top of stilts. The villages are actually complete. They have mosque, stores, and even schools.
houses at the water village
newly built houses
We boarded a water taxi that took us around what is called the "Venice of the East" in Brunei.
cruising through Brunei Bay
Here are some areas and houses we passed by during the water taxi ride at Kampong Ayer:
By the way, the pictures above are not slum areas. You will be surprised that most of the houses are actually big with 3-5 bedrooms with air-conditioning and satellite TV services. In fact, we were told the government are offering houses so that they stay over land as these houses are fire hazards but it is the dwellers that refuse to leave.
We stopped over one of the houses, supposedly of a tour company staff.
me inside the house
room for photo opp
view of the neighbors
We were offered some pastries as light snacks and sat down for a while to munch on these items.
After then, we left the house and went back over land. I realized the place is actually near Yayasan Complex, a shopping place in the city.
Our last stop was at Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. The mosque was built in 1958 and is a project started by the former sultan before his descend from the throne.
The mosque is situated on a man-made lagoon and is made mostly of marbles from Italy and sports a few golden domes. A barge connected to the mosque by a bridge is a replica of 16th century Sultan Bolkiah mahligai barge.
After this stop I was brought back to the hotel where I spent the rest of the day before my flight late last night. Unlike the usual airport terminal, during my departure time last night, the Brunei International Airport was mostly empty.
my boarding gate
After entering the boarding gate, we actually had to sit down at a holding area before we boarded the plane.
Good thing I did online check-in this time. Last time, my confirmation number wasn't reflecting on my e-ticket so I wasn't able to do so. This time, I was able to choose the front-most seats in the economy cabin and had a big leg room throughout the short flight back to Manila.
bound for Manila
Meal service again was a bit disappointing. Was made to choose between beef rendang with rice or spaghetti bolognese with meat sauce. I chose the pasta and was surprised on its small size. Seems like snack to me. Glad to had dinner at the hotel first before coming to the airport.
This was such a short trip in a small country of Brunei that ended as I arrived in Manila minutes before midnight yesterday. Next time I want to visit the other outlying places, or perhaps cross to Malaysia if I get a chance to be back again in the country.