Let’s set the record straight: Brunei is not a part of Malaysia or Indonesia even if they all land a spot on the island of Borneo. Many people confuse all three with each other, but while Indonesia is well-known for their Bali beaches and the mere mention of Malaysia brings to mind the KL Tower or Kota Kinabalu, what then is the draw of Brunei? I mean, it must be worth a visit if both Maxine Medina and Pia Wurtzbach vacationed there this year. Admittedly, it’s not the most popular travel destination, but that just makes the place even more alluring.
From here, Brunei is just a quick two-hour plane ride. Another perk is that you don’t even need to hassle yourself with organizing documents since Philippine passport holders are allowed entry for 14 days visa-free.
If you’re looking to get down and boozy, Brunei is definitely not the place. Melayu Islam Beraja states that consumption of alcohol by Muslims is illegal. That means selling alcohol and drinking in public are extremely serious crimes. Non-Muslims, however, can bring two liters worth of alcohol once every 48 hours into their hotel. Despite the strict rules, rumor has it that there are speakeasies all over Brunei.
What to do
1. Enjoy some tea at the Empire Hotel.
The most exclusive resort in Brunei boasts the same legendary “7-star” rating as the Burj Al Arab in Dubai and the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. You can take a tour of the rooms—the biggest one is the Emperor Suite, which is a grand 665-meter penthouse. No need to book a room to enjoy all the golden opulence of this place though; just catch some afternoon tea and dessert for a good $16 (P800) per person, and you’re all set. Either way, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of Queen P who graced the Empire Hotel during a recent two-week vacay.
2. See the Flora and Fauna at Ulu Temburong National Park.
Ulu Temburong has some breathtaking views of Brunei’s untouched natural rainforest. It is accessible from the city via a water taxi and a bus ride. On the way there, you get great views of the mangrove forests, and even some proboscis monkeys in the late afternoon. Technically, you could spend days in the Ulu Temburong without setting foot on the forest floor—the National Park is decked with floor boards and suspension bridges where you can view everything from above. Think Masungi Georeserve but a whole lot bigger.
3. Grab some grub at the Gadong Night Market.
They don’t fall short of delicious local street food and traditional Bruneian treats at this busy night market. Go for the satay, nasi goreng (fried rice), and ketupat (dumpling made of rice) for dinner and then some murtabak (peanut pancake) for dessert. The national dish of Brunei is the ambuyat tempoyak, which comes from the trunk of a sago palm. It’s usually served with fried fish, mixed beef, and local vegetables. Keep an eye out for this as you go through the stalls because it’s not a complete food trip without it! Have yourself some durian too while you’re at it.
4. Take a tour of Kampong Ayer.
Welcome to the largest water village in the world, also known as “The Venice of the East.” Visiting this famous water village is a must for anyone exploring Brunei. Here you get a quick look into the lives of the locals (roughly 40,000 of them). Their homes are set up on stilts above water and people navigate through the village on foot. Rent a water taxi for a full tour!
5. Explore the beautiful Sultan Omar Ali Mosque.
Brunei is a Muslim country, so their mosques are a long-standing symbol of their traditions. While the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, with its golden domes and majestic gardens, might be the largest in Brunei, the Sultan Omar Ali Mosque is the most Instagrammable. Try visiting between 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. to avoid the crowds.
Follow Chrissie on Instagram.