Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Brunei Tours Tips

Your most economical option to visit Bandar Seri Begawan Brunei from Manila is most likely Cebu Pacific, which frequently has promo airfares to Brunei. The caveat is that flights are not daily so you have to plan your Brunei trip carefully, and you most likely have to take days off from work.

Assuming you take the same flight schedule we did, you will have the following itinerary:
  • Depart Manila on Saturday, 11:45 PM, arrive in Bandar Seri Begawan on Sunday, 1:40 AM
  • Depart Bandar Seri Begawan on Wednesday, 2:25 AM, arrive in Manila on Wednesday, 4:20 AM
The schedule is tricky and you have to be very careful when planning your Brunei Tour around this itinerary.

Tip #1: book accommodations correctly
Arrival in Brunei is on Sunday at 1:40 AM, which means you still need to sleep that night. This qualifies as a Saturday check-in (albeit a very late one). Departure from Brunei is on Wednesday at 2:25 AM, which means that at around midnight, you should be heading to the airport already. As such, you don't need to book a room for Tuesday night anymore (otherwise, you pay for a room you won't really use). Given this, make sure you check into your hotel on Saturday and check out on Tuesday. That's a total of three nights - Sat, Sun, and Mon - which makes sense because you will spend 3 full days there (Sun, Mon, and Tue). A group of Pinoys checked into the same hotel and they made the mistake of not booking a room for Saturday night, and no standard rooms were available which caused them a significant amount of hassle.

Tip #2: if you are on a budget, stay at the Jubilee Hotel
It's a very basic hotel, probably 2-star, with basic amenities and no room service. However, the Jubilee Hotel Brunei is pretty cheap - about BN$70 or P2,400 a night - so if you are not fussy and just need a place to stay, this hotel is for you. The biggest selling point, though, is the free airport transfer: transportation is provided to the guests during pick-up (yes, even at 1:40 AM!) and departure. Given that taxis to and from the airport cost about BN$30, you save $60 or about P2,000. That means you effectively spend "only" P1,700 a night on accommodations. That's a steal in my book. The hotel also has free wifi access.

Tip #3: buy a travel book and bring it with you
It isn't too difficult to get around in Brunei tours so you are better off spending about P1,000-P1,500 on a good travel book instead of spending big bucks on a tour. I find Brunei tours to be quite limiting in terms of flexibility. Figuring out what you want to do when you want to do it allows you to explore the city more, and it gives you a lot more time to take the photos you want. You could also read the internet to prepare for your Brunei Tour and mark the places you want to visit, but I prefer having a book with me so I can read and re-read the details of the places I want to go. It also helps a lot when your plans change and you have to figure out what else to do and how to get there.

Tip #4: Proposed agenda
We share what we did in each of our three days in Bandar Seri Begawan Brunei. But there were things we wanted to see that we were unable to visit. As such, assuming health and weather conditions permit, here is my proposed itinerary:

Day 1 (Sunday)
  • Late morning: Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. Try to climb the stairs of the minaret to see a great view of the city, or take the elevator (we didn't get to do this).
  • Mid afternoon: Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.
  • Early evening: Jerudong Park Playground. This amusement park is closed on Mon and Tue, so Sunday will be your only chance to visit. (We weren't able to go here since we were too tired.) It might be hard to get a taxi from the Park when you are there, so try booking the transportation from your hotel.
  • Note: if you are Catholic and want to hear mass, you can go to the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption. You can catch the 9:30 AM mass if you wake up early enough, but if you miss it, you can still catch the 5:30 PM mass.
Day 2 (Monday)
  • Early morning: Royal Regalia Museum. If you are interested in buying souvenirs, this is actually the best place to do it. A lot of items carried in their souvenir shops like post cards and magnets are cheaper than anywhere else and they have some inexpensive shirts that you can't find anywhere else. Try to go the museum at around 830-9 AM so you can leave by 1030-11 AM.
  • Late morning/Noon: take a trip to Seria to visit the Brunei oil fields. The bus terminal is in Jalan Cator and buses to Seria leave every 40 minutes. The trip itself takes about 2 hours. If you catch the 11 or 11:40 AM bus, you should get to Seria by 2 PM at the latest. Once you are in Seria, you can take photos of oil fields from afar and the Billionth Barrel Monument up close. You can also visit the Oil and Gas Discovery Centre. It is closed on Tuesday hence my recommendation to visit it on Monday. You can spend a couple of hours here before heading back to Bandar Seri Begawan in time for dinner or maybe some more souvenir shopping.
Day 3 (Tuesday)
  • Mid-to-late morning: Kampong Ayer water tour (including a trip to the mangroves for a backyard view of Istana Nurul Iman)
  • After lunch: You have the option of dropping by Istana Nurul Iman for a quick photo op outside the gates. If you don't feel the need for this, you can instead move quickly to
  • Mid-afternoon: Empire Hotel and Country Club. Take photos while the sun is still up in the afternoon. You could even have dinner here before heading back to the city center. Make sure you check out one of the souvenir shops here since they also offer some items like shirts and pewter mugs that cannot be found elsewhere.
  • Evening: you could make a return trip to the main mosques so you can take photos of them in a different light.
The important thing to remember is that some of the sights are not open daily, so make sure you map out your itinerary to take into account days and times of the day when these tourist spots can be visited.

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