Brunei | Borneo’s Oil Fueled Sultanate

Having just been to the largest Malaysian cities on either side of this tiny country, we couldn’t resist the urge to pop in and see what Brunei was all about. Pre-COVID that would have been an easy task, with buses running straight from Miri (Sarawak) to Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei’s capital) in about 4 hours. COVID killed that route so we found someone’s phone number on a helpful website and called em’ up – it worked! A Brunei native named Pauline picked us up at our hotel in Miri and took us sightseeing all the way across Brunei for ~$75USD total. What a deal! Her insight into the country was invaluable, teaching us about about cool things like the unique writing system they have called “Jawi“. It uses Arabic script with Romanized phonetics for Malay-origin words read right to left. So cool! We got a pic of a highway sign using it en route to Chop Jing Chew – a Bandar stalwart from the 1940’s known for their kaya (coconut jam).

Pauline also stopped at Seria’s Billion Barrel Monument, one of many tributes to the Sultan’s black-gold cash cow.

As soon as we got settled in at the Jubilee Hotel (WAY past its prime), we walked over to Bandar’s iconic Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque for the obligatory pic. Going back at night was even cooler – both literally and figuratively. Like Malaysia, it was scorching here! The call to prayers over the loudspeaker was a clear reminder that we were not in Texas anymore, to say the least.

We lucked out again on our second day in Brunei, meeting up with a friend of a friend of Tara’s named Bal. He had noted through our mutual connection that nobody ever makes the journey to come visit him all the way in Brunei, so he was happy to be tour guide for a change! The boat ride he negotiated from the central wharf really made the trip for us. We’ve given shout-outs to many sunsets around the world, but both agreed that the ones we got here may be the best we’ve ever seen (something Borneo is often noted for). A misty horizon with occasional lightning, pastel colored streaks, and a bright blue backdrop – I mean, a double rainbow too?! While admiring the eye candy in the sky, our captain sped us through mangoves to see crocodiles, Kampong Ayer (Bandar’s famous stilt city), and past many of the Sultan’s lavish palaces along the riverfront.

Bal thought we should get a taste of Brunei’s classy lifestyle so we drove out to the Empire Hotel on the coast for “high tea”. Tara gave me plenty of looks and hints that we should have stayed here rather than our worn down urban digs. Duly noted for next time! The sunset here was again nothing less than mesmerizing.

Bal’s hosting instinct extended to entertaining Andy as well, despite having no kids of his own. He bravely offered to take us to Bandar’s lone amusement park, where Andy went on his first roller coaster! Kid took it like a champ. The park was mostly empty, which felt kinda eerie at times but cut out having to wait in annoying lines.

On our final day in Brunei, we hit up the Regalia Museum where gifts to the Sultan from other world leaders are stored. Pretty interesting to see what items were selected for gifts for the man who already has it all. Andy disagreed though, and took a nap to make his thoughts known 🙂 We joked a ton throughout the museum that the Sultan kept the gifts he really liked at home and that these were all just possible re-gifts. Yeah, we’re hilarious.

Prior to our flight to KL, we had one last stop to make – an oil funded interactive museum on the main waterfront. They had all kinds of cool exhibits for both kids and adults, although our collective favorite was definitely the VR photobooth. Some people crap on going to Brunei, saying it’s just plain boring (or more visceral comments about the recent addition of Sharia Law). Maybe it was due to having such extensive interactions with locals, but we’re super glad we went regardless.


Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

    Explore the Blog
    Read on the Blog

    Subscribe here to get emails you won't read!

    * indicates required