I was escorting the Australian Welsh Male Choir group on this occasion. Tom our tour guide was excellent; very knowledgeable in everything about Brunei and answered all questions posed to him thoughtfully and very thoroughly. We all now have a greater understanding of this small country of just 80,000 inhabitants.
The immigration formalities for arrival into Brunei require extensive form filling, and this together with the mandatory arrival visa for Australian passport holders at BND5.00 for a stay of up to 72 hours and BND20.00 for a stay of up to 90 days made the arrival process slow.
The new international airport recently opened is very impressive and reflects this wealthy Royal State. On passing through immigration if passengers are bringing and alcohol into Brunei a further form has to be completed to declare the amount and type of liquor in your possession. No alcohol is served anywhere in Brunei, but visitors are permitted to drink their own supply in the privacy of their hotel room
The accommodation at the Centrepoint Hotel located in Gadong only 15 minutes from the airport, was an excellent choice.
The hotel offers a gym and large pool though no sun loungers around the pool to encourage and endorse the need for modest dressing and behaviour in Brunei.
Only 3 Brunei hotels actually offer a swimming pool.
Centrally located next to a good shopping centre and surrounded by a huge selection of well-priced local restaurants and Western fast food outlets if preferred.
An average local Malaysian meal around Bnd7.00 to Bnd10.00 with fresh fruit juices at Bnd2.00 Bottled water in Brunei a bargain at around bnd1.00
Gadong has an interesting Fresh Fish, meat and fruit and vegetable market.
At night from around 4pm the local hawker market offers freshly cooked local delicacies, delicious satays, noodle and rice dishes, all priced at around $1.00 or $2.00 and frequented by many locals who call past and pick up dinner after work.
This is just a 10 minute walk from the Centrepoint hotel, and for me a terrific introduction to Brunei family life.
Empire Palace Hotel
This is the only 5 * resort style of hotel in Brunei located approx. 40minutes from town. A little isolated but offering numerous pools, restaurants, and an 18 hole golf course; the only hotel to recommend for the discerning traveller.
Large comfortable hotel rooms, with hugely palatial marble bathrooms housed in a series of accommodation blocks, with a shuttle bus operating from the main lobby.
Our sightseeing included a Brunei city tour which visits to the Royal Regalia museum which highlighted the history and high esteem that is held for the Brunei King by subjects of Brunei
A sightseeing highlight for me was definitely the watervillage. This was a 5 minute transfer by high speed boat from Bander foreshore. Brunei has the largest complex of persons living in these stilted overwater houses than anywhere else in Asia. The village stretches for several kilometres and has schools, restaurants a fire station and an ambulance service. We were fortunate enough to enjoy afternoon tea in a private home and fully appreciate how the homes accommodate the families in this unique housing.
Another highlight was a river cruise where within the mangroves on either side of the river we were able to see several of the proboscis monkey’s native to Borneo and the jungle here in Brunei.
A more adventurous sightseeing option, and recommended for an environmental experience, is overnight in a jungle lodge. We stayed at Freme Lodge which has a basic backpacker feel, helpful staff, clean and excellent food, but shared bathrooms and the majority of the accommodation bunk rooms.
Without question the best of these lodges is Uulu Uulu accessed via longtail speed boat. This is where the National Park registration is necessary before being able to enter the park for the recommended 1000 step uphill walk, leading to the canopy tree walk for amazing views over the Jungle.
We were fortunate enough to see snakes, monkeys and numerous birds during our walk as having stayed overnight, we were first of the groups tackling the 1000 steps before the day tours from Bander arrived. This is quite arduous and I’m not sure that enough emphasis is made on how hard the climb can be in the heat of Brunei.
Another highlight was a river walk for a swim under a small waterfall, a welcome relief after the hot climb. Here flesh eating fish (similar to those found in Thailand that nibble at ones feet advertised as a natural pedicure) are in their natural habitat and nibble at any flesh exposed - certainly a unique experience for me, and created much laughter amongst our small group.
I was very pleasantly surprised by my week in Brunei and a destination that can certainly be recommended for those clients who enjoy experiencing a different culture, where nightlife is not a priority as there really isn't any in this strict Muslim alcohol free destination.