Budget is an essential factor when travelling. As much as I would like to live the luxurious life and disregard my economical constraints, I simply can’t! When I booked for Bandar Seri Begawan, my thought was “I need a lot of money to enjoy the trip.” Thankfully though, I was proven wrong. So here is my story of how I enjoyed Brunei with Php 3,000.
We arrived in Brunei from Kota Kinabalu Saturday afternoon. From Muara Port, we rode the bus all the way to Bandar Seri Begawan which took around a good 30 minutes to an hour. What’s great about the bus rides in Brunei is that however near or far you are headed, the bus fare would always be 1 BND or around Php 37. It may look pricey but considering the distance that you will often travel, this is reasonable. Plus, if you need to transfer buses, they will give you a stub and you just hand it over to the next bus and not pay anymore.
Please note that buses only operate until 6 PM. There will be some buses operating until 8PM but since it was Ramadan when we were there, we had to really make it to the 6 PM trip.
Our homestay is located in Jalan Mata-Mata, right next to Warisan Mata Mata Complex. This was booked through Air BnB (click this link to book your stay with AIRBNB!). For a very fair price, we were able to enjoy an impressive living space plus gain two friends in the form of our hosts Mizzy and Zee! THEY GAVE US A FREE ROOM UPGRADE from a shared toilet room to a King Size bedroom with toilet, by the way!!! You can read all about M3 HERE.
After checking in and a good chat with our host, we headed to Mamih Cafe to have our dinner. Dinner in Brunei happens after sundown in compliance with Ramadan. I ordered Bah Kuh Teh and it was love at first taste! We also had Kopi C and Kopi O which in the Philippines is the equivalent of coffee with milk and black coffee, respectively. The night was good and we were filled to our heart’s content! That night, our dinner cost us 13 BND or around 476 Php. For our full meal description and experience, click HERE.
The night was rainy and there was nowhere left to go in Gadong but home. Besides, the trip to Brunei from Kota Kinabalu can be a bit tiring. A night in Brunei is calm and it is ideal to those who would prefer to rest up and get up early the next day for a packed adventure.
We woke up at 6 in the morning and headed to Sing U. Me Restaurant. This restaurant is one of the few ones open during holy week. Restaurants like this would have a sign on their doors in Malay that says non-Islams can dine inside and all windows and doors are covered with paper. Although majority of Brunei’s population is Islam, there are still some belonging to other sects. Out of common respect, everyone (even the tourists) are not to be seen eating or drinking in public. I honestly find this practice beautiful.
Just as the night before, I ordered Bah Kuh Teh and other dishes. Their dimsum selection is a must try! They also serve seafood like huge, fresh shrimp and fish As do most restaurants in Brunei, a number of kababayans are working here. They were very patient with us in explaining unfamiliar dishes and made sure we enjoyed our experience. We overspent here, sadly. I am known to be highly impulsive when it comes to food. LOL. Make sure to check my review of this restaurant by clicking this sentence and find out why the 19 BND or Php 700 is so worth it!
There are designated buses for every place in Brunei. Although you can view this at the Central Station, you can print a copy using this link.
Once you reach the Central station, you can walk around to some of the famous landmarks of Bandar Seri Begawan
- Tiang Yun Dian Chinese Temple/Teng Yun/Twa Pa Kung Temple
This temple is located at the corner of JLN Elizabeth Dua and JLN Kianggeh-just walking distance from the Central Station. Its name means “Temple of Flying Clouds”. This is so hard to miss as it’s structure is distinct and grand.
When we went inside, it was pure solemnity. Candles offered to the gods were burning reverently as prayers were believed to ascend through the smoke. We asked permission, of course, if we can take photos, and the caretakers were more than welcoming.
A detailed write up HERE by The Daily Brunei Resources.
BND Spent: 0
2. Makam Raja Ayang
This is one of the monuments that really sparked a particular interest in me. It may look like a typical shrine on the outside, but it actually has a story that tells so much of the Brunean culture,
The story tells about a woman named Dang Ayang. She is of royal descent but was sadly caught in an immoral relationship with her sibling. This deed is punishable by death through stoning but no one at that time had the heart to execute the punishment. Some say that the people were swayed by the obedience of Dang Ayang. Instead, she was built a cavern prison in the middle of the forest and was provided food.There was also a vent where smoke comes out and once smoke ceases to appear, it would mean that they had already passed away.
The only proof that this was indeed the actual mound was the tombstone where words in Arabic were inscribed.
Check the detailed story by CLICKING HERE.
BND Spent: 0
3. The Lapau and Dewan Majlis Building
Situated next to each other, is the Lapau or the Royal Ceremonial Hall and the Dewan Majlis (House of the Parliament). This was where the current Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah was crowned.
Aside from it was still Ramadan, we were not able to see the interior because permission was needed to be granted to us by the government to do so. The place is a beauty, though, from the outside. You can see the intricate designs on the roof and walls which would really make you admire the Brunean architecture style.
BND Spent: 0
4. The Royal Regalia Building
I have never seen so much gold in my life! The Royal Regalia Building is a museum that celebrates the 50 years of the country under the Sultanate of Hassanal Bolkiah. Photos and artifacts that were used during special ceremonies were stored here. The gifts of different world leaders to the Sultan were also displayed. For the security of the place, taking pictures on the second floor is not allowed. Bummer.
On the first floor you will see the Royal Chariot that was used during the Royal Jubilee celebration. You will also see a grand entourage of mannequins wearing different traditional attires which commemorates the parade of the sultan during his coronation.
You will not regret visiting the Royal Regalia as it is rich in history and, OMG GOLD! Also remember to remove your shoes and change to bedroom slippers before going in. In my case, I just removed my shoes and walked around in my socks. Sorry. I can be slow sometimes.
BND Spent: 10 BND for 2 keychains, 2 ref magnets, and a postcard
5. Brunei History Centre
We were not able to make it inside the building. The announcement of Raya has emerged and they had to close for the celebration. If you will be visiting the place, please remember that the museum is closed on Fridays. Here, you can see the history and the family tree of the Sultans in Brunei. It was also initially established to conduct further research on the history of the country.
BND Spent: 0
6. Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Library
This is a public library with over 385,000 books –heaven for the likes of me and my friends! You will not miss this building along Jalan Elizabeth II because of its huge mural showing the culture of Brunei through the eyes of someone who reads. Beautiful concept!
BND Spent: 0
7. Jabatan Hal Ehwal Syariah or the Department of Syariah Affairs
Located just beside the Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddin, this building is a proof of how serious the people of Brunei in following the laws of their religion. Aside from the discussion and organization of laws, events such as workshops to improve the foundations of Islam is held here.
BND Spent: 0
8. Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddin
Named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is undoubtedly the highlight of our Brunei trip. It sits in all its glory on the banks of Kampong Ayer and if you are to fly over Bandar Seri Begawan, you are not to miss the grand dome of the structure which is made of pure gold.
We were only allowed outside as prayers were being held in light of Raya. Who are we to complain? The beauty of the garden is breathtaking! I read over the Internet that the carpets inside the mosque were of fine materials from Saudi Arabia and the magnificent chandeliers inside were from Europe. Here, we resolved to visit again and see more of the masjids and marvel at their beauty.
BND Spent: 0
9. Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex
At this point, I had become so thirsty that I really needed to take a gulp. Given the circumstances, however, we simply cannot. We saw this beautiful mall just across the lagoon where Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddin is situated. There were fast food joints inside like KFC and, guess what…Jollibee!!!
We noticed that these restaurants were open but only for to-go orders. We went straight to KFC and ordered 3 large sodas and headed out to the convenience store and bought a large bottle of mineral water. The dilemma came when we didn’t know where and how to drink it since it was not allowed. People were even throwing us looks because we sat at KFC with drinks on our table (sorry :((( ).
Luckily we found Chewy Junior!!! Yes! The cream puff store we know and love in the Philippines. They were on sale – half the price off everything – since it’s the holy week. Here we met another Filipina. She is in charge of the stall and by how we probably looked she could tell that we were really thirsty! She allowed us to hide behind the oven and drink. SALAMAT PO ATE!!!
BND Spent: 3 large sodas for 1.50 BND each, 1 bottled water for 1 BND, 2 large pieces of Chewy Junior Cheesecake Cream Puffs for 5 BND
10. Mercu Dirgahayu 60
This monument is located near the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex, right across Kampong Ayer. It takes a very interesting shape that symbolizes a lot about the philosophy of the country. The Mercu Dirgahayu is a gift of the Brunei people to Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkian for his 60th birthday. It takes the form of the Arabic numeral equivalent to 60 at the center of 5 pillars representing the 5 obligations of Islam. It also represents the close relationship of his majesty to his people and how he is full of wisdom and looked up to by his people.
BND Spent: 0
11. Kampong Ayer
Home of 10% of Brunei’s population, Kampong Ayer or Water Village, has been named as the Venice of the East. This village is located above the river waters and its main transportation are the water taxis. The community is complete! It has a market, schools, restaurants, shops, etc! Majority of the houses we saw has air conditioning and our boat driver mentioned that cable television and Internet connection is good in that area. It was also said that the government provides those who wishes to live there a good means of living to promote the growth of the largest water village in Asia.
BND Spent: 10 BND for the boat ride. We haggled! It was just supposed to be 2 BND but with the rise of the number of tourists that day, the prices went up to 20 BND. We were glad the boat driver agreed to our price and still gave us a good tour.
12. Sungai Kebun Bridge
When we first arrived in Bandar Seri Begawan, this bridge immediately caught my attention. It’s structure, in all its massive glory, can literally render you speechless. They say that this bridge was made to connect Muara to Bandar Seri Begawan to improve business relations and that there is another bridge that is in the process of construction that is twice its size and length, connecting Muara to Temburong District (boarder of Sarawak, Malaysia). WOW.
BND Spent: 0
13. Gadong Night Market
Food park is also a hit in Brunei. We were in the right place and in the right time because during our stay, we get to celebrate the first day of Raya! Food and fireworks were everywhere! What really got me is the Gadong Night Market. Unlike in the Philippines, Brunei night markets are more of an “afternoon market”. They open at around 3 PM and close at 5:30 PM to 6 PM. Also, no one eats at the night market. Everything is to-go.
If you are slow in deciding which dish to buy, you might end up going home without anything. Seriously! The food is so good that it does not last the entire operating hours! As expected, we went over our budget here. The spicy cockle I begged my partner to buy was worth 5 BND…but believe me it was worth it! We also bought sate, rice cake, Kuih Malaya (which is like coconut pancakes with peanut butter and A MUST TRY!), stir-fried noodles, and Nasi Katok (this dish has a pretty interesting backstory which I will be sharing to you soon!).
I also bought a glass of iced chocolate drink which is actually a life-saver!
BND spent: 13 BND
We went home from Gadong Night Market at around 5:30 PM. Sadly, there were no more buses left and everyone is celebrating the holiday. We walked for 30 minutes just to get home and got lost a little bit since it was so hard to recognize freeways at night! Thank goodness we arrived just in time for us to have our very own Raya dinner 🙂
It was so hard to wake up the next day because of our full stomachs and tired legs that we missed the first bus trip from the Central Station to Muara Port. We were told that we can ride Bus 38 and just transfer buses to get to the port. That we did. Here we met the bus driver of Bus 38, Allan Jasmin. He is also a fellow Filipino. We noticed how he would greet every one who rode the bus and even asked any Filipino who would ride this trip how they are and how their lives are doing. I find his personality very refreshing since it is so seldom that you see someone so happy and optimistic while doing his job.
While riding bus 38, we get to pass by the Office of the Prime Minister and the different homes of the ambassadors from foreign countries. We even passed by the Philippine Ambassador to Brunei, Meynardo LB. Montealegre’s home. I also found out just recently that the Ambassador is my elementary school teacher’s in-law!!! Lucky! We promise to drop by and say “hi” the next time we visit. 🙂
We arrived at the drop-off point of Bus 38 and were instructed by Kuya Allan to wait for the next bus heading to Muara Port. When he found out that we were going to ride the ferry, he mentioned that we were running late and might miss it. At that moment, he did the uncanny. He requested for the other passengers to alight the bus! Imagine, they were nationals! He said in a very nice tone that he will just drop us off and he will go back to them to resume the trip. We were so filled with gratitude towards Kuya Allan. He dropped us off at the gates of Muara Port and were able to make it just in time to ride Shuttle Hope. We missed the Express Kinabalu to Labuan and had we missed Shuttle Hope, we would have stayed there another night with no homestay reservations!
Kuya Allan mentioned that he has a daughter working here in the Philippines in the call center and if by chance you happen to read this, which is a long shot, I hope you know that your father is a very good man. He is working really hard and still manages to put a smile in other people’s faces. It really is something to be proud of!
As we rode Shuttle Hope and leave for Labuan and Kota Kinabalu, I realized how much I enjoyed Brunei. The country made me realize how beautiful Islam is. Their government is strong and sturdy, and most importantly, cares so much for its people. They are strict in implementing their laws and that actually puts order in place.
If you were to ask me if I would visit Brunei again, my answer will definitely be YES. The culture is rich, the people are friendly, and the streets are clean! Also, I only spent roughly Php 3,000 here!
Here’s a breakdown of everything:
If you are going to visit Brunei, I highly recommend for you to visit Jerudong Park (amusement park) and Tungku Beach! This is near M3 or the place we stayed in. We regret not seeing those places but we would not trade the culture-filled experience we had in Brunei. Travelling really does mean learning and I had so much of that in this country.
Terima Kasih, Brunei!