By September 17, 2012 Read More →

Bypass Brunei its Boring

Getting from Kuching to Brunei by Bus

After a wonderful week exploring Sarawak and all it has to offer we were ready to make a move.  Our original  plan had been to get to Brunei before dropping in at Kota Kinabalu (KK) and tackling the highest mountain in Malaysia on a two day trek.  Alas my injury on our last trek in Bako National Park put paid to that little plan.

We decided on a trip to Brunei, before we left the island of Borneo.  We could have flown from Kuching, but the cost exceeded our flashpacking budget so we decided on a bus journey with an overnight stop in Miri.  The oil town just south of the border crossing.

There are plenty of buses plying the route from Kuching to Miri, but only one that takes you direct from Miri to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei’s capital.   These direct buses operate just twice a day and leave at 8.15am and 4pm.  We decided on an overnight stay in Miri, before heading off the next morning early bus to Brunei.

There is not a lot to say about Miri, it is an oil town and is close to the border with Brunei which mean its economy is maintained by the oil business and local tourism from those wanting to escape Brunei for a little nightlife (trust me they need that escape – see later). Miri also has the obligatory smattering of designer Malaysian shopping malls, where most of the street life seems to take place nowadays.

We had less than 24hours in the place and our highlight was finding a good cheap place to stay (the Walk Inn) and a great fresh Chinese seafood restaurant where we again enjoyed some succulent crab and prawns at bargain prices.

Next morning we were up early and made it to the bus terminal at Pujut Corner, a few kilometres from the main town. The bus is operated by PHLS Express, for the four hour journey to Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB for short).  Tickets are purchased at the station counter, no need to pre-book.   The trip through Malaysian and Brunei immigration is painless, your main luggage stays on the bus as you get off and pass through the checkpoints.

The journey through Brunei will not be your most memorable trip in Asia, apart from counting oil well pumps dotted about the fields next to the road.  Some are even placed in the middle of housing estates.   An unusual  sight unless you live in Texas I presume.

The bus drops you next to the main bus terminal in BSB which makes it easy to get to your downtown accommodation, or hop on a bus if you have booked something further out of town.

What to do in Bandar Seri Begawan

The short answer is not a lot.  We had read some online guides and travel blogs about Brunei before we left Sarawak, and were aware it was not the most exciting place for any traveller.  There are some impressive mosques to visit, but what is lacking in BSB is any real atmosphere or soul.

On our bus ride here from Miri, we had bumped into Valentia for the third time on our travels in Sarawak and we agreed that serendipity had brought us together so we should play out together touring around the city.  We are so glad we did, as we had a great day mostly giggling at the lack of sights or exciting ambience of this most boring of Asian capital cities.

Here is how we managed to entertain ourselves for a day in BSB which is about all you really need.

We made our way to the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque situated on the water in the main town centre, but not before we had visited the post office and availed ourselves of some stamps and chatted to the very friendly counter clerks there.   I guess they were just pleased to see someone, as the place was deserted (much like most of downtown BSB) and were happy to chat while we discussed between ourselves how awful the postcards on offer were.

The mosque is very photogenic, perched on a lagoon, just off one of the rivers running through the city.   The golden domes and the white exterior lend themselves to being photographed from every angle.   Which is what we pretty much did both in the day light and when we returned later in the evening as the sun set.   The three of us also caused a minor religious incident by entering the mosque via the wrong doors without our robes on and tried to take a picture inside the building.  Internal photography is banned in all the Mosques here which is a real shame  as both this and the Jame’ Asri Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah further out of town have stunning interior plaster work and architecture.  Strange this, as we have been able to photograph inside all the mosques we have visited so far across Malaysia, obviously outside prayer time and in specific areas with permission.

From here we wandered to the waterfront and got hassled by the various tour boats and water taxis and got offered a whole array of prices for a one hour trip around the waters of BSB.   We declined, but not before John had seen how low he could get the price down from a starting offer of Bruneian $60 (US $45)  per person.   Brunei $10 was a parting shot from one boatman as we walked away.

We decided instead to pay a visit to the Sultan’s Palace and hopped on one of the local buses at the main bus station.  Bus travel in Brunei is cheap, but is limited to daylight hours as the bus services stop at about 6pm each evening.   You also won’t meet any Bruneians on the bus, they are in their fancy cars guzzling the cheap petrol and diesel on offer here (astonishing at 53c a litre  – US 40c) which is about half the price per litre of a bottle of mineral water!  I guess they do have plenty to go around given the wells dotted about the kingdom.  You do however meet lots of charming workers from the Philippines and India.  It appears that the bus service operates merely to allow these immigrant workers to get to their places of work in cafes and in the homes of the  rich Bruneians.  That may sound harsh, but I challenge you to ride a bus and find a Brunei local.

Getting into the palace was also a disappointment, all you will get to see is some very impressive gates, guarded equally as impressively with a police and honour guard present, but no palace as it is buried deep behind trees.   Valentina managed to spot some excitement through the gates as the guards were changing, and we got to see a little flurry of activity as they changed places just before a minor member of the royal family sped out the gates in his supercar off to buy some fags no doubt.

This brings us on neatly to our next challenge for the evening.   After making our way back and snapping a few juxtaposing shots of the town centre mosque and the old stilt houses we tried to buy some cigarettes in the downtown of the capital city of the country.  Trust me you can’t. Apparently, there are none for sale since a hiking of the ‘cigarette selling licence’ by the government some months ago.   The next day John set out on a three hour, four bus ride journey into the suburbs to find a place that actually sold cigarettes.  Bizarre.  We were ready for the dry ‘no alcohol’ difficulties of this country but not that.  Bloody ridiculous especially as we were told that most people now take the few hours journey into Malaysian Borneo at Miri and stock up instead.

The town centre after dark is also a ghost town, everyeone has driven their cars out to their fancy houses in the suburbs and most of the restaurants bustling by day are closed with only a handful of restaurants and coffee shops left open to amuse those daft enough to remain in the centre.  We recommend an excellent Pakistani restaurant, opposite the central mosque, which served us some incredible food.

We didn’t really take to Brunei did we?  It is probably the only place we have visited where we really can’t find anything nice to say.  Ok the Mosques are pretty impressive as are the sunsets, but we don’t think that can allow us to recommend this place for a visit.

The people here just seem bored and a bit lifeless.  We did jump in the car of a local, after the last bus didn’t turn up (apparently this is a common occurrence) which was our most exciting experience in Brunei.  Every lock on the car had been made inoperable, so you couldn’t open the doors from the inside.  The poor guy was a little strange and obviously very lonely, he was totally disillusioned with his life in Brunei.

He was extremely fascinated by John’s legs in shorts (I did say he was a little strange) judging by the amount of time he spent clutching and rubbing them. After arriving at our destination, we said our thanks and refused his offer of taking us on a free tour.   For us the most friendly and interesting characters are the migrant workers.  We asked one Bruneian, who we met at a mosque, what do people do for entertainment?  He said they cross the border south to Miri or visit Labuan Island in Malaysia, and entertain themselves there.  That about says it all really.

If you want an extra country stamp in your passport, have a look in on your way to other Malaysian destinations, but don’t make the mistake we did and book more than one night here.

We couldn’t wait to get to the airport and fly to KL. Only problem was the dignitaries attending the royal wedding, on the day of our departure, delayed our flight.  Would there be no end to this misery.  Our least favourite around the world travel destination to date.

You will notice a lot of images of the mosques in the gallery, that’s because there is little else of note architecturally in the city apart from these impressive places of worship or government buildings.

*** UPDATE *** Since publishing this post we’ve received quite a few suggestions of things to do in Brunei, we promised that we would put together a list of your suggestions, which we’ve now done.  Thank you for taking your time to share your ideas of what to do in Brunei with us. 

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Posted in: Brunei

42 Comments on "Bypass Brunei its Boring"

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  1. The proud citizen of brunei says:

    Hi:) I am a bruneian and feel kinda shocked on the way you described your visit to my beloved brunei,the kingdom of the unexpected treasures.No,i am not mad and I accept that you have your rights to express what you feel.But I feel the need to explain and stand up for my country.Because I realised what you have been saying in your entry is not totally true.I’ve been staying in brunei my whole life,but at the same time i’ve been to europe to study as well as malaysia.Not trying to be rude,but I think you havent seen the best of brunei:) Im sorry u met the strange guy.Perhaps u should try to go to the famous places in brunei where u will find lots of fun,friendly people..I realised you’ve mentioned places in brunei and those places arent the best yet.

    I’ve been travelling alot.stayed in europe,asian for a period of time.But if u asked me if I enjoyed other places more than my country.Well,i would say no.Yes,if you compare other country with brunei.There’s alot more entertainment in other country.Night life,busy city,noise pollution and so on?well,in brunei.we dont have that:) thats what make us different.We have our peaceful,quiet life here.The green environment.Why did u say boring?because theres no tall buildings?Sorry to argue with that,but isn’t it if u wanna see those tall buildings u cn see it in other countries?and u should have come to brunei during july.the festive seasons.Where we celebrated our sultan’s birthday like no other places in the world.The sultan came to visit in every district of brunei.Get together and we even get to perform for the sultan.Correct me if im wrong,but in other places.It would be a 0% probability to meet their king right.But here in brunei,we could meet our leader easily.Also during this festive season,there will be night stalls selling brunei famous food,clothes,accesories and many more.something you couldnt find elsewhere.There will also performance from the locals and u will get to see how different brunei traditions are.That would be something good right?I would like to apologize if at any point,i sound rude or harsh.This is not my intention in commenting this entry.instead i feel so glad that you have spent at least some of your time in brunei.

    There’s alot of more fun things you can do in brunei where you cant find it in anywhere else.Oh,did you know that during the eid seasons.The sultans will open up his castle and throw an open house for everyone to come and see him?There’s alot of fun things one can see and done in my beloved country.Im not saying you are 100% wrong in your entry,but i dare to say that you havent seen the best of brunei yet.This is not something we are proud when tourists expressed their boringness in the web about our kingdom.So come to brunei again,but this time.Post an entry about it.Im sure I am one the best person to be your tour guide.Coz i am not a strange person:) Too bad you met the wrong tour guide.Till then,enjoy your visit around the world:)

    • Thank you, we appreciate the time you have spent replying. This travel blog offers people the opportunity to share travel tips and advice. We express our opinions about the destinations we visit. In Brunei, this was for a very limited time. We can only comment about what we see and experience during our stay in a place. These were our personal opinions of our time in Brunei. Our view is not universal, and others we’ve met have enjoyed their visit to Brunei, but the majority of travellers we’ve met have suggested not spending more than an overnight stop here. Obviously, we didn’t expect to meet the Sultan of Brunei! However, it is a bit strange that many of the countries riches are not displayed to visitors as in most countries, e.g. seeing the crown jewels in the Tower of London (except for a a few days annually in the case of Brunei). I respect your passion and patriotism. Perhaps the most useful thing you can do is to outline the top five or ten things to experience in Brunei, as a visitor, so our readers can appreciate a more balanced view than our limited impression of your capital city. I look forward to hearing your must do things to do when visiting BSB.

      • Frankie says:

        Dear Mr Hickson,

        You spent all of a day and a bit in Brunei and dismissed it as boring. Did you even explore the other districts? Did you even bother going to Temburong to explore the rainforests which are amongst the last and most pristine in the world. I doubt you did. Did you bother to visit the numerous markets selling local foods and delicacies? Did you visit the Empire hotel and resort which is one of the leading luxury hotels in the world. No, you did not know that and I seriously doubt you did your homework before coming to Brunei, if not you would not have written such a pathetic diatribe excuse for a travel article. And what is even worse is your backtracking above to one of the comments.

        You have painted Brunei and Bruneians as a joke. You were not subjective nor did you even bother to try. People like you should not travel let alone be allowed to contribute to travel journals.
        Good day sir.
        Frankie Chong.

        • Frankie says:

          Oh and before I forget, based on the articles I have read on this site (Boring Brunei included), you have presented yourself as rather naive and culturally insensitive to the people and places you have visited. Whether we like it or not, when we travel, we become representations of the culture we come from. In short, you are a very poor ambassador to your people and country. I bet you did not realise that, did you?

        • Frankie, its useful if you take time to read the comments of others before submitting a comment, as most of what you are stating has been discussed before.

          To reiterate, our visit was to the capital city of Brunei (only) and was for more than one day, the quote “boring” comes from a Bruneian. As we are budget travelers we can not afford to visit luxury hotels as you suggested. You are correct in understanding that we did very little in travel planning before visiting, as previously stated, but this is usual for us. If you think by admitting our own perspective is different to that of others it is backtracking, then this is a view we also don’t share.

          We do not think Bruneians are a joke, or have we portrayed them as such.

          However you are correct in stating that our post is subjective. That is the very nature and heart of what blogging is about. We don’t publish academic or researched articles, nor are we ever influenced by sponsors or government officials, it is our own perspective (which is different to many other peoples, as it should be). I see you previously ran a blog including pictures of how beautiful Brunei is, do you not consider this emotive or subjective?

          I find your last comment offensive “People like you should not travel let alone be allowed to contribute to travel journals.” I don’t want to live in the sort of world you are advocating, and believe everybody should be afforded this freedom.

          This is why we have a comments section so people can express, learn and engage in debate but please refrain from getting personal.

          • Frankie says:

            Dear Sir,

            Thank you for your prompt reply. When I referred to the Empire Hotel, the operative word was visit. You could walk into the hotel and have a nice full tea for two for under 10quid.

            I think it is difficult not to get emotional when your country is so unfairly assessed and by tourists that have spent just under a day in the country and have also based their opinions on other travelers as opposed to experiencing the full potential of what this country has to offer. As quoted in your article “We are so glad we did, as we had a great day mostly giggling at the lack of sights or exciting ambience of this most boring of Asian capital cities.” I do understand the freedom that you express as a traveller but I doubt (and many people would agree with me) that that freedom extents to being insulting. That for me as crossed into a different threshold altogether. And the standards you have applied to your com-mentors and to yourselves seems wildly out of balance.

            I have not gotten personal. I have simply used the same techniques to assess your article that you have used to assess my country.

            We are a lot of things but Bruneians do not sit around idle while people come to our country and laugh at our collective expense. To be personal would be me saying something like, “I wouldn’t have expected anything less from a pair of mean spirited aging Pommie queens.” Now that would be personal. But I am merely referencing it in semantic terms.

            Anyway, it is exhausting having to defend my country against tourists like you.
            Enjoy wherever you are.
            P.S: You guys spent three hours on a bus looking for smokes? Really? You could have used that time a lot more constructively.

          • Thanks for your kind comments.

    • Urang Brunei jua aku ani says:

      Dude, I’m a Bruneian too and I almost feel asleep reading what you wrote. Meeting the King is not ‘fun’ man. Night stalls can be found anywhere else in these world. You’ve travelled around you say?

      Just give it up and admit Brunei is boring. Sure I like living here. Its comfortable and its ‘home’. But if I’m a tourist, I would’t want to come to Brunei either.

      Tourists want to experience fun and excitement.

    • Urang Brunei jua aku ani says:

      And obviously this blogger has been to many ‘interesting spots’ around Brunei, judging from the photos. Honestly speaking, those are the only ‘interesting places’ Brunei has to offer.

      • Johnny Ong says:

        I’m really sorry you feel this way.

        Have you ever been sailing?

        Have you ever wind surfed?

        Have you ever scuba dived?

        Sport fishing? Jet Skid? Para Sailed? Just plain fishing?

        Hiked at our recreational parks?

        Do you visit our Museums?

        Ever seen a proboscis monkey? or the hornbill?

        These must be “boring”?

        P.s. Meeting the Sultan is suppose to be fun? Is HM around your amusement?

  2. Joyce Lee says:

    I am guessing that this post will come under massive criticism from Bruneians who read it soon so allow me to just put in my two bits.

    Firstly, a quick reminder to any Bruneians who will be offended by this post: I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion and just because you don’t like what someone says doesn’t mean that person is wrong.

    I have lived in Brunei for 30 years (since I was born) and I must admit that Brunei is not for everyone. It is a great place to live if you are Bruneian or have a young family, BUT if you are not here at the right times (as The Proud Citizen of Brunei said at Eid or Ramadhan or even payday weekend) then it is understandably quiet.

    There ARE things to do in Brunei, but if you were a tourist with limited time, funds and resources, then it would be hard to figure out what these things are. And public transport IS a problem in Brunei.

    Your trip is over and I am sorry that you had a lacklustre experience, but should you ever decide to come by again, allow me to share some advice (don’t worry, will not be offering my own services as I understand that half the fun is discovering things on your own):

    1) I have heard that American tourists coming through often make it a point to visit the university (take a purple bus there) and just by mentioning they are tourists travelling light have managed to get ‘adopted’ by the friendly students there and taken around Brunei usually in the students’ cars. I have several friends to whom this has happened and also friends who have been happy to show the best part of their country off. Perhaps hold a sign with “Adopt a tourist for the day”? 😀 hahaaa! The advantage of this would be free transport for the day, the chance to meet authentic Bruneians, a chance to see Brunei effectively where time is concerned, and if language is a barrier, a university student would most likely be able to communicate with you in English.

    2) You were in BSB for part of the day, if I am not mistaken. BSB has a pretty cool museum circuit. There is the Royal Regalia (where the crown jewels ARE on display all year long) right in the centre of town (white building with white dome near the town library – the building with the tile mosaic mural that you took some pictures of. I LOVE that mural :D) and two other museums (Kota Batu museum and Museum of Malay Technology) that are accessible by purple bus (about 10 minutes ride from town centre) and five minutes from each other.

    3) As for almost getting skinned by the water taxis – one way to prevent that would have been to step into any of the shops/restaurants on the waterfront and asked how much a boat ride usually cost. Most of our service industry can communicate in English – not enough for an in-depth chat about the history of the country, but certainly well enough to give directions.

    I admit that Bruneians are relatively hard to meet. As you say, we are mostly zooming around in our cars – petrol is cheap here, can you blame us? 😀 Bruneian tourism is mainly ecotourism (there is amazing diving and a rainforest trek to be had if you are into that kind of thing – and I love diving) and our food markets are worth a visit (but more so during Ramadhan and Eid).

    Brunei isn’t the kind of place where nightclubs and alcohol abound and most activities take place in daylight hours. It is … different. Life is slower here and depending on the type of person you are, or even the mood that you are in, that translates into boring or leisurely. I am sorry you had a bad experience, but it is hard to see a country you love being criticised and even more so not to jump to it’s defence.

    Here’s hoping the rest of your travels went as you expected 😀

    On a side note, I am glad that cigarettes are hard to get in Brunei now. Mwahahaaa!

    PS: There is, I have heard, an interesting crocodile farm in Miri and school children are regularly taken to the Niah Caves there on school trips so I imagine there must be something there worth a peek 🙂

    • Thanks for your very informative travel suggestions. Which are really useful for tourists. I think what I may do is make a compilation of all the things to do and add them to the end of the Brunei post. As you appreciate, the post isn’t a journalistic article about living in Brunei. It is a personal view based on a single visit to your country from a travel perspective. The experience wasn’t bad, it was just boring… and it has nothing to do with the fact there are no nightclubs etc as this is not something we expected to find or wanted from this trip.

  3. Johnny Ong says:

    I tried not to take offense but I failed. For such seemingly well traveled people, you seem remarkable shallow about traveling. Unwilling to spend much time, effort or money and yet expect to see everything.

    I apologize before I continue.

    Brunei Darussalam is not a touristy place. We don’t go out of our way to put on indigenous shows or erect tourist traps to attract tourist dollars. These shows exist but I like that we don’t pander to make a buck.

    If your idea of a fun place must include alcohol and/or cigarettes, there are plenty of bars, discos and other nightlife everywhere else in the world.
    IMHO these places serve the same brews and play the same songs the world over. As a Bruneian, I can say for sure I don’t miss them. (Yes, I have been to more than a few)

    For the benefit of other people reading this entry:
    You missed the Royal Regalia Museum, the National Museum, the Oil and Gas Museum and The OGDC. There is also Tasek(Lake) Merimbun, Bukit Shahbandar, Berakas, Tasek Lama and several more Recreational Parks. The one place visitors must go is Ulu Temburong National Park.

    You’ve also missed our “deserted” excellent beaches among them: Pantai(beach) Muara, Pantai Serasa, Pantai Seri Kenangan (which translate to Beach of Memories) etc. These places offer uninterrupted clean beaches with light surf. Activities available include wind/wave surfing, 4×4 sand buggies, kite flying, para sailing, sailing and of course swimming. Do I need to mention the 12 hour year round sunshine which is unique to equatorial regions?

    IN ADDITION: Borrowing an excerpt from : “The diving in Brunei is still unknown to most people from outside the region. The 4500 hectares of coral reef and coastline form oases for rays, hammerhead sharks, grey tip sharks and many tropical fish and corals. Surrounded by colourful coral pinnacles, shipwrecks and disused oil rig platforms, Brunei offers a vast selection of different diving types.”
    In short plentiful, unspoilt and tourist rare.

    As mentioned by a fellow Bruneian. The best times to visit is in February and July. These times are when we celebrate our National Day (February 23rd) and July 15th (our beloved Sultan’s Birthday.)
    During these events which typically last 2 to 4 weeks, the populace VOLUNTARILY perform various culturally significant shows for the benefit of each other and for our Sultan.

    These are at the moment on top of my mind. I’m sure I missed a few.
    Thank you for your time.

    • Johnny Ong says:

      P.s. Thank your for your excellent photographs of my country.

    • I’m sure you agree with me that it is important for visitors to any destination to feel welcome and get a good first impression. I wasn’t expecting to hear music or see dancing on the streets of Brunei, as you do in some other countries. However, as a visitor it is always great to see some culture and feel the ambience of place when walking around the streets. I’m a great believer in the saying “the best things in life are for free” and I failed to see much happening whilst visiting BSB for a few days. However, with yours and other peoples suggestions of things to do, my visit to your country may well have been different. Thank you.

      • Johnny Ong says:

        I certainly agree with you that visitors should be made welcome. I will too concede that there are many problems for the uninitiated.

        May I ask, how do you feel about unannounced guests who come and go with the wind?
        Guests who barely stopped to chat but felt entitled to judge as well as report a lengthy article about the exceedingly overwhelming circumstances surrounding the purchase of cigarettes.
        In less than 24 hours the writer felt enlightened enough to write “Bypass Brunei its Boring”.

        People are entitled to their opinion yes but please recognize that one’s opinion is shortsighted, condescending and insulting.

        My friend. The writer saw culture. He didn’t recognize it.
        Why do you think our mosques are our most outstanding feature?
        Why do you think Brunei does not allow the sale of alcohol?
        Why is there not much night life?
        Why is it difficult to buy cigarettes?
        Ours is a culture of intended piousness as well as galvanizing good health & safety of body, mind and soul.
        I absolutely love that I can walk around without breathing in second hand smoke. I’m also conscious of the fact that I feel safer walking around in Brunei than many of the places I have visited but I could be biased.
        The writer was offered a boat ride around our water village. He haggled but then walked away. A one hour personal tour boat ride for $10. I challenge him to find a better deal.
        I will not apologies for our cheap gasoline nor our abundant automobile culture. Cheap gas is a right for everybody. It comes from the ground where we all live.
        As for the numerous foreign laborers in and about town. What developed nation is not built upon the backs of cheap foreign labor? It is not ideal but it is hardly unique.

        As a non-Muslim, I admire that the country is fastidious about its beliefs. It may not be convenient nor exciting but its reassuring and stable.
        What ambiance is worth more than clear air, safe streets and open borders?

        If visiting please plan and come during more festive times.

        Thank you.

        • Joyce Lee says:

          Johnny, I understand you feel upset, but this is what travel reviewing is about. If you stay at a hotel for one night and had a really bad experience then OBVIOUSLY you won’t be going back there to give it a second chance. BUT this does not mean the hotel is a bad one. There could have been a multitude of reasons for a bad review. However, the guest is still entitled to write and publish the review but people who read it will know that it is just ONE opinion based on ONE short experience.

          Don’t feel that you are the only one who cares about Brunei because you are not. But criticism can be constructive if you choose to take it that way and not just be offended. I will not be responding to any more posts.

  4. I stayed in Brunei for a year and loved it….it’s far from perfect…as all countries are…and it’s certainly not a tourist trap….I can’t wait to come back…. 😉

  5. Chris Robles says:

    Craig, while this is your blog and you are entitled to your opinion, as someone writing about travel and destinations, you do have a responsibility to both your readers and the countries that you visit. There may be a number of reasons why you didn’t like your Brunei experience, the same way as there are a number of reasons why some people love their Brunei experience…tastes and interests differ among travelers, and there many travelers, especially among the more seasoned ones, who appreciate Brunei because it is peaceful, uncrowded, unspoiled, safe and not in the middle of a construction and development rush like some other oil rich nations. Most of all, seasoned travelers appreciate the fact that Brunei is one of the few places where they are not constantly reminded that they are tourists, as the difference between moneyed tourists and the visited poor does not apply to oil rich Brunei, making interactions with the locals more authentic.

    You may have felt bored, as it is true that Brunei is quiet, and its capital city is the least populated and quietest in the region, but maybe if you had prepared your trip a bit better, you may have found that on a 48 to 72 hours lay over, there is enough to do to keep yourselves entertained. Perhaps you should have taken the boat deal at the waterfront, and spent some time exploring the Water Village, where Bruneians can’t take their cars, or gone in the morning through the clean and friendly daily market. You could have gained some cultural insights by visiting the 3 main museums (Royal Regalia, Brunei Museum and Malay Technology) where interesting displays on Brunei’s royalty, history, nature, oil industry and ancient techniques in pre-oil days would have kept you busy for at least a good half day or even a day. You could have taken a less than 1/2 hour boat ride to go see the world’s largest, and one of the rarest, monkeys. Colonies of funny looking proboscis monkeys live just next to the city, and it is easy to see them, and as you make your way there, there are moments when you feel that you are in the middle of the Amazon, only then to turn a bend and see the back of the Sultan’s palace, before meandering into mangroves on the lookout for the monkeys and other wildlife. With some more time, and money admitedly, you could have taken a private tour to Merimbun lake, one hour away from town, yet feeling so remote, and intriguing with its crocodile harboring black waters. You could have also taken a day or overnight trip to see the pristine rainforests in Temburong, a couple of hours from downtown, and far from logging, slash and burn cultivation or dam building, and you could have climbed to the top of a canopy tower, especially heart moving at dawn, and looked at the world as if it was new. Back in town, you could have gone for afternoon tea and scones at the Empire Hotel, and gawk at the display of tasteful wealth in this beautiful resort. You could also have taken time to go diving, golfing or horse riding, if you’re into those kind of things. You could have taken time to stop and learn about the oil industry on your way in from Miri, visiting the tidy, open plan oil workers compounds, where expat wifes tend to baby hornbills or lounge at the club. In the evening, you could have gone bowling in a super modern bowling center, or taken in the latest 3-D Hollywood flick at the Cineplex, or strolled by the Waterfront and end up dining al fresco in the local stalls or at a bargain in a delicious Japanese restaurant. You could have gone to the night market to see the local’s idea of take away dinner, or you could have lounged at one of the late night cafes in downtown, meeting other travelers or sometimes one of the princes on a late night outing…

    Had you been a bit more prepared, reading the official website, or that of tour operators and hotels, or consulted the travel guide books with full chapters on Brunei, you may have found that there is more to do in Brunei than the two Mosques and the Palace, and your 48 hours or so might have passed in a breeze, and you might not have felt bored at all.

    So, it’s too bad if you felt bored, and maybe that is how you experienced it and how you want to review it in your blog, but what is unfair is the title of your entry, because those who read your post and trust your advice will deny themselves the chance to explore on their own, and perhaps, especially if they prepare better their visit, to have a completely different experience than the one you had…so to be fair to Brunei, maybe you could revise the title of your article, because I hope you can see that it is possible to have a non boring experience when visiting Brunei for a short time, and that in fact, a detour to Brunei should be recommended, because it is an endearing, quirky little nation that moves at its own pace and swims against the current unlike most other countries busy chasing after the tourist dollar and in the process loosing their soul…

    • I think it would have been useful if you had declared your interest in being employed in Brunei’s tourism industry so people can judge your comments appropriately.

      In response to your comment about our travel planning for our trip to Brunei, or lack of it, it is the same for every destination we visit and we didn’t do anything different when planning our visit to Brunei. We do this on purpose to discover things beyond the guidebooks or tourism office recommendations. You will see from our travel blogs and images of other destinations we like to interact with the local people. This is what we found difficult in BSB, we met some wonderful people and had fun with them, but they were mostly immigrant workers from India, Philippines or Indonesia.

      These are our own personal opinions, and I think your suggestion about changing the title of this blog post is mistaken, this was our experience, rightly or wrongly. You must appreciate, that others also share this view. In fact the word boring was inspired by a chat I had with one of the few Bruneians we managed to interact with, it was in response to a question we put to him about what people do in BSB. He said “not a lot its a bit boring, we go to other places”.

      It is possible that we have completely misunderstood the calm of BSB, and interpreted this as a boredom on our part. However, we have travelled to many calm and peaceful places on our journey and never felt bored, we spent the month preceding our BSB visit in Malaysia in some quiet locations and had interesting experiences.

      I do appreciate from your comments, and other responses who have listed things to do in Brunei, that there is so much more to do than we experienced. If I ever return to Brunei, I would be sure to try some of these out, especially the diving.

      When I get 5 minutes, I do plan to update this post, with all the useful comments, listing things to do in Brunei that have been suggested by commentators on this post.

      • Chris Robles says:

        Actually, I lived 9 years in Brunei, working in the tourism industry, and interacted with many people who enjoyed Brunei, including a number of travel writers, travel guide writers, TV crews from travel programs, tour operators and regular tourists. To be fair, I also met my fair share of people who did not enjoy the country or found it boring, because, well, Brunei is not everybody’s cup of tea, though I think if one makes the effort to dig a bit deeper, look for the locals and understand better the culture and the particular circumstances of the country, one might see it in a different light….Long before working for Brunei, I was also a backpacker going like you through Brunei on my way from Labuan to Miri, and found the country intriguing and interesting, despite not being much to do, and certainly did not regret going through and was quite happy to recommend the detour to other travelers. Not everyone sees the same things in places they visit…

  6. Nicole says:

    To be honest, I found this blog pretty accurate (and I’ve lived here for over 3 years). Brunei is really boring, and the only way you CAN have fun is through the friends you eventually make, who make it fun and come up with creative things to do! You really HAVE to TRY when it comes to finding things to do in this country! It is quite interesting everyone getting defensive about Brunei, and it’s good to see that there are patriotic Bruneians and residents out there. However, like some people have already stated, it is just ONE opinion. Just like some people like the fruit Durian, and some people don’t. You can’t convince people to LIKE it or change their opinion if that is how they feel. It’s interesting to see all the attempts of people listing the things you can do in Brunei. But think about, people (especially backpackers) who dont have more than 48hrs in the country and the money to spend on expensive taxis, they aren’t really going to do all those things. Especially if the public transport is only a bus and it doesn’t necessarily go to all these places directly. So already it shows public transport needs to improve so that more places around Brunei are accessible.

    People need to learn to take the feedback and find ways to LISTEN to these opinions and see how it can be improved instead of offended. It shows how their ‘tourism promotions’ needs to be more effective so that tourists on a quick visit to Brunei can access/see these ‘list’ of things to do! Or make the capital city livelier!

    I actually like the idea of traveling and exploring a country without always following what the guidebooks say and really just taking in the country as you travel, because outside of these ‘glammed-up’ travel guides, you may really discover the more ‘everyday feel’ in each country. I find it funny that in just the 48hrs you guys were in Brunei, you pretty much summed up the way it is e.g. ‘Bruneians in their luxury cars’ and only the domestic foreign workers and laborers taking public transport.

    There are many countries out there where you don’t have to go out of your way to explore and find activities, that doesn’t necessarily mean a nightlife and partying. And it’s true, besides the sunsets and the mosques, the capital city of Brunei (especially at night) does feel quite soul-less!

    In time, people can eventually discover the beauty of this country, but realistically tourists don’t have the time! Does it only have to be certain months/festitivies that tourists should come to Brunei to really experience the culture? There really needs to be more! I don’t blame you one bit for your opinion on your experience! Tourist or not, let’s admit it, Brunei is boring! Unless you want to come here and write a book, paint a painting, or have some rest and relaxation via cheap massages and spas, Brunei is not exactly a place for the fast-paced tourists.

    Happy travels!

    • Nicole says:

      One more thing to mention, of course travel guide writers and TV crews will ‘enjoy’ Brunei. They have no choice but to see and capture the beauty and positive things about every country as they have to write about it! They are also traveling with the guidance of locals and the organisation they work for, so they are well taken care of and are shown all the ‘activities’ that can be done in this country.

      Those who have money, can enjoy living in Brunei, because they love it for it’s tranquility and peacefulness, and when they get bored, they can afford to go overseas or go to neighboring Malaysia and shop till they drop etc! I know people who do this and after their holiday, they are so happy to be back in Brunei, to rest and relax again. And maybe they are the people that get offended, because they don’t really see Brunei in a tourist’s point of view, only because they can getaway every once in awhile, when it does get boring!

      And you know, Brunei is the only Asian country where I’ve experienced locals giving you blur looks because you are ‘orang puteh’ (of white race) or a foreigner who does not speak malay. They often purposely pretend they don’t speak english just to annoy you. It’s not a good look in attracting tourists! Of course you get the nice waitresses e.g. from Coffeebean cafe. You go to the Philippines, and it’s such a different atmosphere how the Filipino locals treat/welcome tourists. Here it’s almost like they are annoyed they have to serve us, making their job more difficult.

      • Great to hear your thoughts Nicole. I agree it was very difficult to engage with the local culture, we perhaps thought it was our lack of time there, but your long term residence there seems to suggest otherwise.

        • tessa says:

          I’m a Brit who has lived in Brunei for over 30 years. Most of what Nicole said is correct. It’s a shame because there is so much potential here and so many people, locals and foreigners included who would love to see Brunei blossom but unfortunately things stay stagnant so I doubt very much that we’ll see the changes we are all looking and hoping for.

        • Kiwibrit says:

          Nicole is completely correct (as is Craig!) – Brunei is boring. I am now in my 4th year living here and if it wasn’t for the regular visits to Malaysia, wouldn’t have lasted 12 months.

          Bruneians are stuck-up, stiff and pompous and not at all friendly. They look down their noses at anyone they consider their social inferior, which is every foreigner. The country is pretty much a large village, with all the gossip and intrigue of a bunch of fishwives.

          Sure there are a couple of local attractions, but seen one uniform of the Sultan’s, seen them all. For fun you have to cross to Sarawak – Chinese New Year in Labuan is more exciting than ANYTHING that happens in Brunei. And a damned sight friendlier.

          We regularly host visitors from overseas, both family and strangers and in my opinion, without transport, there is nothing to keep you here more than a day. We now have a ‘tourist’ route planned out that gets visitors to a few interesting spots, but half of that is the fun of getting there in a 4WD – the roads are dire.

          The food is only very average for Asia, the shopping is a joke – most of the goods in shops still have the RM price tags on from when the shop owners bought it retail in Miri and just put it on the shelves to sell at Brunei dollars.

          They are so puffed up and proud of their Mall (capitalised!) but it is just a small tatty set of shops – the fact that half of Bandar hangs out there says a lot about the country – there is nothing to do after dark.

          Brunei’s ‘famous’ food is, quite frankly, disgusting – unless you are dying for tasteless sago paste dipped in sugary, spicy sauces or deep fried chicken or chicken tails on a stick. Honestly the worst food in Asia.

          Hotels, taxi’s, ‘tourism’ seem by design to be purpose-made to put tourists off. What is there, 20, 30 taxis in Brunei? And they want to charge $50 to get the 10km from Bandar to the airport and not much else.

          Sorry Brunei, if it wasn’t for the reasonable salaries and tax-free living there wouldn’t be a foreigner in your country. It’s as dull as you are.

    • Tessa says:


  7. Not a defensive person says:

    Wow~you’re saying those as defensive response?You definitely dont get it girl..Yes, I admit Brunei definitely has more things to improve.Who doesn’t? But as a real bruneian(unlike you), i feel the right to explain and let others know that the author’s opinion is not the ONLY opinion about Brunei Darussalam. You must be very young,because you sound very immature about this topic.We are not mad on how the author has reacted towards Brunei.Not even slightly babe..But, we as people who knows Brunei more than anybody else should be the one who stand up and clear things up right?So, now the most important thing to improve is to improve your own attitude before trying to sound clever on the internet:) Not a defensive comment, but just a very wise advice:) and to the author..Great job in writing the article, I appreciate your opinions:) but different people has their own different opinions right.So to the readers!Lets experience this petite country on your own.Who knows,you have a different mindset;)

  8. Karen says:

    Brunei is not as boring as some of you may think. My friends from Singapore came over for 4 days and she loved every minute of her stay here. There are things to do, lots to eat and many places to see. You just need to find a good ‘tourist’ guide, that’s all. Shame…you didn’t have much time to explore the real treasures.

    • Kiwibrit says:

      “There are things to do”

      Such as? Please, enlighten us… I live here, I would love something new to do.

      Eat? Shop? And you can’t do that in Singapore much better and with a huge choice and quality?

      Sorry, you are delusional.

  9. Wufei says:

    Let be realistic and not defensive. I have been a Bruneian for 30 yrs. it is a peaceful country and I love it. But our country is not tourist friendly. U need to know someone here to get around. Unlike other countries I had travelled, I can just go around on my own with the guide book in my hand. We still have a lot of work to do if we want to build tourism in our country to help to diversify our oil dependent economy. Public tranports here really terrible. I tried a few time myself and yes it really need a lot of improvement. If there is a MRT like Singapore I would like to sell of my car. I guess we Bruneians need to work hard and work together to make improvement and take criticism in a positive way rather than defensively. Hope there will be a better tomorrow.

  10. Tom says:

    I found lots to do in Brunei, and even extended my stay. Your mileage may vary.

    Thanks for the logistical info on the buses; it helped.

  11. James Lee says:

    Hi Craig,

    Well written article from a flash packer experience.

    There are more places to visit in Brunei. Just that its not easy without a car or good public transport infrastructure. The tourist information are not well written in brochures “how to get there?” or information in the web for backpackers/flashpacker in one quick glimpse. Hence, easy to miss out. Perhaps its one item which BRUNEI TOURISM will take heed and advice from.

    Once its night time, there is no chill out place. Yes, there are no pubs, bars, nightclubs or places that sells alcohol. There are no place selling cig here. Wierd for some reason I don’t understand myself after 40 years of staying here!

    Anyway, its good that you didnt spend more $$$ in Brunei. Its worth spending in other countries. That’s what average Bruneian here would do anyway.

    I stayed in Brunei for 42 years. Good environment for raising a family. Nice, cheap and very slow pace of life. Cheap Medical, Free education and no tax. Brunei citizen gets better perks instead!!

    I simply do not understand what the big fuss is about. After all, Bruneians have been one of malaysia’s good tourist visitor. 588,165 for 6 month of 2012. Brunei’s population… 380-400K eeerrr…. that is more than our population going across to our neighbor.

    But facts are facts.

  12. Jim Lim says:

    Great articles Craig.

    I been in Brunei for the past two years, and only thing I could said is….I so bored. Only if I read about your article earlier then maybe I could show you around, I mean it : ) At least something for me to do.

    I just came back from Manila last week..and trust me, I know how it’s felt when you said BSB is lack of soul. It’s like nothing much you can expect to happen around you. But in Manila, everyday is like a new experience.

    But still, if you have friend at here, maybe me, you are welcome to visit Brunei anytime.

    Happy Travel!!

  13. mcm says:

    hey to the bruneians who cnt accept d truth of der country…open ur eyes..f u reli enjoy ir country den y every holiday u flock in kl singapore and even miri…stop defending but instead improve ur a geologist en ur country has barely 23+ yrs before ur oil ran out..u guys beter think of cn u convince other pipol 2 appreciate ur country wen even u guys prefer abroad..yes brunei is boring so wat u guys nid 2 do accept dat ir do sumtin about it..

  14. Nice comment, thanks for taking the time, getting a feel of Bruneian culture (or not in our case) was the driver for this post’s tone. I would have loved to experience it but could not get anywhere near.

  15. Om Wisnu says:

    Interesting article about travel

    I’m an Indonesian who used to work in Brunei for about merely 2 and a half years from 2002-2005 as an engineer in a construction company based in Seria Oil town.

    I have to agree most parts of what the author wrote. Unless for the dollars, honestly I would have not stayed there for more than a year. It’s a deadly boring place, almost no excitement eventhough some spots are quite unique.

    However what still made me impress is the kindness of some Bruneian families. They’re becoming my good friends up to now.

    What I’m concerning now by looking at the recent situation in the region …it’s kinda ironic, while Brunei’s neighbours Sarawak and Sabah cities developing in fast mode and aggressively transforming into more modern and bustling metropolis, the development of Bandar Seri Begawan city seems standing still despite its wealthy population. Even Brunei’s lifestyle now is considered far left behind its neighbours.

  16. We’ve managed to grab a few minutes, from touring around the world, and as promised we’ve taken your recommendations of things to do in Brunei and put them in one place, Thanks again for all your suggestions about what to do in Brunei.

  17. Ruzhi says:

    Was bloghopping and came across yours. Sorry to know that you didn’t enjoy Brunei; I thoroughly loved my brief stay there. I guess it probably isn’t for people who like adrenaline and whatnot…the slow and contented pace of life was the biggest attraction to me. Anyway, keep up the good work!