After a month-long hiatus, I’m finally back to blogging! I have a lot of travel stories to share but first on my list is my thrilling yet worthy solo travel experience in Brunei.
Brunei Darussalam is one of the less-visited country in Asia. Yet, it houses some of the world’s hidden treasures, one of which is the Sultan Omar Ali Saiffudin Mosque – a beautiful mosque covered in gold. In fact, many people who haven’t visited Brunei thought that it is a city where even the floors are made out of gold! Just thinking about it, it’s like a living paradise on Earth! So, without hesitations, I booked a roundtrip ticket to Brunei last October.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I love going on solo travels! Aside from the freedom I get from it, what I love about solo traveling the most is that *this may sound cliche* for each travel, I’m able to realize my potential as a social being given that I only get to depend on myself for directions, introducing myself to people, and for such simple things as buying food or merchandise in local stalls.
In Asia, it’s usual to hear horror stories about females traveling solo especially in rural areas of the region. But this did not stop me from exploring the riches of Asia on my own as I personally believe that there’s more to life than being worried all the time! Of course, you have to consider your safety as well so here are some few tips on solo traveling and what you can do if you have decided to fly to Brunei.
Solo Traveling in Asia
1.) Wherever you go, always bring with you your passport.
This is a no-brainer. Your passport is literally the only official document that identifies your status as a tourist in a foreign country. In cases of emergency, having your passport with you will spare you with any questions as to your purpose in visiting the country, your legitimacy, and affiliations. Sometimes, you also need to present your passport to avail of tax-free discounts in shopping malls! Forget anything but not your passport!
2.) Prepare a detailed itinerary beforehand.
I honestly have a hard time doing this one. Most of the time, I only have a list of the places I want to visit on my phone just in case the immigration officer asks where I am heading. When it comes to traveling, I love being spontaneous. It’s part of the journey! But to first time travelers reading this blog, I do suggest that if you have time, prepare for a detailed itinerary – which takes into consideration the schedule of public transportation/s, places to visit and how to get there, as well as the costs of transportation. This saves you time, ‘ayt? Although if you’re more of an adventurer like me, you can always plan your trip at the airport where there are maps and information about famous tourist stops and food recos!
In Brunei, unfortunately, my spontaneity led me to spend the night at their airport. I have no idea that their public transportation operates only until 5pm. I arrived at the airport at 12mn and if you don’t have a friend to pick you up at the airport – just like me, then better book for an early flight.
P.S. Brunei is a small country so most tourist spots can be reached by walking. Thus, there are few means of public transportation and I only went around the city through bus, a lot of walking, and a boat/water taxi. Yes, I’ll tell more about the last one later.
3.) Know your basic English.
Almost all Asian countries communicates in English – except China and Japan with few English speakers. So, it’s better to equip yourself with the language just in case you get lost in the process.
4.) Rent a Wi-Fi/ 4G LTE Sim Card.
Again, this is another tip which I DON’T FOLLOW. You see, I’m a postpaid subscriber in the Philippines and so my phone is locked to a specific service provider. I finding renting a Wi-Fi more costly than buying a 4G LTE Sim Card – which unfortunately doesn’t work with my phone. So, in most cases, actually in ALL CASES, I am totally offline when traveling abroad except until I reach the hotel/hostel. You may ask, how do I navigate through the city? I use traditional maps. I swear. No kidding. And fortunately, I’ve survived. All the time. But, again, I highly recommend being online when touring around Asian cities. Unlike first world countries where most shops and public spaces offer free Wi-Fi, in Asia, it’s highly unlikely. You don’t have to guess why.
In Brunei, it’s my being ‘offline’ that almost led me to an unfortunate incident. When I reached the city, I only have a list of the places I plan to visit that day. As I was walking to my first stop, I met a tourist guide offering his cheap services. At first, I was hesitant to talk to him because he’s a total stranger. But I got to know him more as he followed me to Brunei History Center. Surprisingly, he was able to convince me to come with him. I thought I could use some friends and a photographer for this trip so I conceded. To make the story short, I survived the trip, obviously. But it’s something I wouldn’t do again in the future. I was enjoying the trip so much, I forgot I had let my guard down. To be fair, the tourist guide was really friendly and he really takes nice photos I actually thought he was a gay! So, the idea of being raped or killed by him and thrown in the river did not cross my mind. Also, Brunei punishes death penalty for whoever is proven guilty of heinous crimes. I’m not saying that this is the primary reason behind their low crime rate, but based on my discussion with the tourist guide, it’s one of the deterring factors for committing a crime.
At the end, the tourist guide I was referring to happened to be a stalker. The morning after our whole day trip, he was looking for me at my hostel! He also got a bit of touchy while we were on the boat, and right there and then I knew something was wrong. Glad I managed to convince him to drive me home before 6pm. If there was an emergency, I have no means to contact my friends and family because I was offline. By now, I hope you understand why I recommend being renting a portable Wi-Fi/buying a 4G LTE sim card when traveling solo.
5.) Do a little research about your country of destination.
Asia is known for its rich history, diverse culture, and unique practices. To get the most out of your Asian trip, it’s better to do a little research about your country of destination, the places to visit, what food to eat, and the do’s and don’ts to avoid any culture shock or problem with the locals.
What to Do in Brunei?
1.) Pay visit to mosques.
Brunei is a predominantly Muslim country, it is not surprising therefore, that it houses some of Asia’s beautiful mosques. Top on the list is the Sultan Omar Ali Saiffudin Mosque – named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei (the late father of the current sultan) – is more than just a famous tourist destination in Bandar Seri Begawan but more importantly, a symbol of unwavering Islamic faith in the country. This is where large congregation prayers for Muslims are held and it is also used for royal solemnizations like the royal marriage ceremony.
It’s also worthy to visit another mosque in the city, known as the Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque. I happen to pass by this tourist destination several times on my way to the hostel, unfortunately though, I failed to take a photo of it.
2.) Learn about Brunei’s history and monarchy in the Royal Regalia Center and Brunei Museum.
These famous spots are at few meters away from each other so it pays to visit both when in Bandar Seri Begawan. The Royal Regalia Center is a large gold-dome structure that houses the regalia of the Sultan and the royalty and commemorates the rule of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah in Brunei. If you want to see a lot of gold items and memorabilias given to a royalty, you definitely have to visit this place.
3.) Ride a water taxi around Kampong Ayer.
Remember when I told you we went around Brunei through river? This is why. Kampong Ayer is one of Brunei’s important heritage offering tourists a glimpse of the Asian traditional way-of-living around coastal areas. It is the largest water village in Southeast Asia with actual stilt houses and wooden walkways – reminiscent of Asia’s old civilization. There’s even a museum that exhibits the traditional way of living of the Bruneian within Kampong Ayer. You can have access to this by way of a water taxi.
If you go deeper into the mangroves and farther into the Brunei river, you’ll catch a glimpse of the proboscis monkeys – those with noses as long as Pinocchio – and…some crocodiles!!! So, if you’re into adventure, this is a must visit!
4.) Try out their local dishes and order all you want in Gadong Night Market.
Borneo cuisine is an interesting mix of Chinese, Malay, and Indian dishes. For breakfast, I went for their version of Chinese fried dough, also known as “youtiao” which is best partnered with soft-boiled egg and a cup of tea.
For lunch, I highly recommend Thien Thien Restaurant’s Nasi Ayam or Hainan Chicken Rice!!! I SWEAR, THIS WAS THE BEST CHICKEN RICE I HAD IN MY LIFE!!! BETTER THAN SINGAPORE & HONG KONG’S (*personal opinion)!!!
Where to find Thien Thien Restaurant: Seri Kompleks, Bandar Seri Begawan BA1712, Brunei Darussalam
Lastly, for dinner, you might as well want to try their “dollar night market” in Gadong! Everything is literally sold for a dollar (1 Brunei Dollar = 0.74 USD)!!! If I were with someone, I had probably ordered a lot.
5.) Shop at their Sunday Morning Market.
I always make it a point to visit a country’s local market and eat/shop where locals go. For me, this is the simplest way to know about one’s culture. Interestingly, Bruneians go grocery shopping by boat/water taxis? HOW COOL IS THAT?!
So that’s it! It’s quite a long blog post but I hope you have learned a lot! If you want to know more about the places to visit in Brunei, go check their official website.
If you have questions, feel free to reach out! I’d love to give more tips on solo traveling if you want to?