Let’s start this off by saying I visited Brunei during Ramadan which gives me a different insight into a fascinating country. It’s also the place I would inauspiciously start talking to the incredibly pretty blonde sitting at the breakfast table in our hostel, who would eventually become my better half and inspiration. All of that combined gives me a complicated love / dislike (hate is too strong on this one as Ramadan just made it a bit trickier) feeling towards the country. I packed a huge amount into a fairly short time period.
The actual start of my 48 hours in Brunei started in Kuala Lumpur, with a 5.30am flight to Bandar Sari Begawan (BSB) where I would be met by the owner of the hostel. There is literally one hostel in Brunei, Villa Dadap, as a result most solo travelers gravitate here. Arriving there mid morning I grabbed a shower and got a lift from the hostel owner straight back into town to start exploring. At this stage I knew nothing other than there were a few mosques, a shopping mall and some sort of village on water.
First stop was the mosque in the centre of town, Omar ali Saifuddien, which is stunning and so big you can see it from almost anywhere in the capital. Set on an artificial lagoon the white and golden mosque reflect off the water create fantastic photo opportunities, it’s a must see if you’re in Brunei. Heading for the entrance I was greeted by a sign that during Ramadan the Mosque was closed to tourists, so it was time to head to the other Mosque, which was probably a bit hasty.
It’s about a 3 mile walk between the two mosques, it was 35C (95F) and while it’s Ramadan you aren’t allowed to eat or drink in public, not even water. So trekking 3 miles in that heat with no water and no chance of being able to drink isn’t the smartest idea. The walk isn’t too bad through the back streets of BSB.
This time arriving to Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah you are once again astounded by magnificent architecture, a beautifully constructed masterpiece of a building. Equally as impressed as the first obviously I wanted to look inside, again no luck, there was literally no one around so I didn’t want to risk walking inside and disturbing something. With the heat unbearable I jumped on the bus heading back to the hostel, any bus ride in Brunei is 1 Brunei dollar ($0.70c) so getting around is pretty cheap.
The next day it was up early to go and hit the Royal Regalia museum, which is an insight into the Sultan of Brunei’s life. It’s also got a number of gifts he’s received from other countries which are incredible, as well as models of the 747’s he’s been given by Royal Brunei airlines, yes plural. You can easily spend a couple of hours here, there’s a lot of interesting exhibitions and it’s free to get in, a perfect morning activity.
Lunchtime hit me, as I mentioned before you can’t eat in public, so restaurants will serve you they just won’t allow you to eat inside them and only let you take away so you can eat in your private home. Now my private home was a 40 minute bus ride, so I took the obvious choice of eating in the bathroom, not my most pleasant chicken salsa wrap from KFC but enough to keep me going.
In the afternoon head out to the floating village, Kampong Ayer. You can either get a tour which is a lot more expensive, or you can pay one of the boat men $1 to take you across the water to the other side where you can walk around freely. I went for the cheap option, 2 minute boat ride later and I was walking around the floating village, the whole time I was there I saw maybe 5 other people.
The floating village is well worth walking around, the houses are all built on stilts, as well as the walkways, the piping and bridges. These little speed boats fly around the canals that have been created by the walkways and houses. The floating village has been nicknamed the venice of the east, which isn’t a very close comparison as the speed at which the boats drive is not the same as a peaceful gondola down the canals!
One of the most amazing things about the Floating village is that most houses have a satellite dish attached to them and a fair amount have air conditioning, so despite being in the middle of a large body of water they’ve still got fairly good amenities! After a couple of hours walking around experiencing how people live it’s easy to find one of the piers where you can get another boat to take you back to the mainland.
For Dinner head to the night market, if you time it correctly you can go from the Floating village directly to the night market by boat which will cost close to 5 Brunei dollars, the drive along the river is fantastic when the sun goes down as the view of the Omar ali Saifuddien is spectacular. If it’s a bit earlier you can take a detour further up the river to try and see the proboscis monkey, the one with the huge nose.
Once at the night market you can get most dishes for 1 Brunei Dollar, noodles, spring rolls, doughnuts, various fruit drinks along with a variety of curry. The place is open 4pm until around 11pm, unless during Ramadan when it’s open 3pm until about 7pm. All of the food is decent and you can get some excellent cheap street food.
That’s it from 48 hours in Brunei, you can easily hit all of the main sights over 2 days in BSB. If you really pushed yourself you could rush it in 24 hours, but I like Brunei and as there is only one hostel to stay in you’ll be sure to meet people and you never know you may fall in love like I did.