The Perfect Brunei Getaway
Executive summary by darmansjah
It is after all just a hop and a skip away but Brunei remarkably brings visitors to another world, words by Albino Christopher chua.
A skyline dotted with golden domes and opulent palaces. Ancient villages on stilts dubbed by colonial explores as the ‘Venice of the East’. Jungles so lush and thick playing host to a symphony of natural sounds and colors. As a small and prosperous nation in southeast Asia, Brunei might share more than a few similarities with Singapore, where I am from.
I recently had the pleasure of being invited to a fascinating weekend trip to Brunei. The timing could not have been more conducive for weekenders. Royal Brunei Airlines has a Friday evening flight from Singapore as well as a Sunday evening flight back. The amenities that came with the full-service airline were advantageous for those on a short getaway, as one is never lacking of creature comforts during the relatively quick flight.
After being greeted by our guide and spending the first night in Brunei, our Saturday was dedicated to adventure and exploration. We went for an early morning ride on a water taxi to take us to Ulu Temburong National Park. It was an exhilarating experience. The water taxi passed through an extensive network of mangrove forests and rivers in and around Brunei Bay at an incredible speed, and at one point our small speedboat was out in the open sea. It took us almost an hour to arrive in Temburong District. The highlight of the park is the 60 metre tall Canopy Walkway, a series of slender towers linked by a narrow metal bridge. After completing the thrilling climb, the view from the top – that of the verdant rainforest enveloping Brunei across all side- is nothing short of fantastic.
We made our way back to Bandar Seri Begawan after recharging in the river camp. Following a sumptuous steamboat dinner by the riverside, we moved to the glitzy Empire Hotel and Country Club for the night, Brunei’s 7-star hotel and undoubtedly one of the grandest resorts in the region. Its marbled floors, palatial dimensions and spectacular architecture certainly could not be any more unlike the jungle canopies where we were earlier, and this served as a fitting reminder how it’s possible to enjoy the best of both worlds in Brunei.
With the excitement of the previous day’s escapade still fresh in our minds, our Sunday was set to be more relaxing. We went around the main sights, including the awe-inspiring Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah mosques as well as the Royal Regalia Museum. The latter gave us a glimpse into the history of the royal family as well as a deeper look into the life of Brunei’s most famous resident, His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei.
With the water never too far away in this contry, we ventured to Kampong Ayer which means ‘water village’. The community is actually made up of thousands of houses built on stilts, segregated by wooden planks and reachable only by boat. We went up to one of the house, and were amazed upon witnessing the impressive interiors which the humble wooden façade failed to indicate. “Welcome to our home! Please help yourselves to the food,” said our host while a copious spread of Malay dishes was laid out in their dining room. It was an authentic taste of the local life and truly a perfect ending to a memorable trip.