Brunei: Less of a layover and more about monkey-watching.

Why Brunei?

Well, have you heard of Proboscis Monkeys?!
A picture of that nose, and the potential opportunity to see one in the Borneo jungle… the challenge was on!

Some of flights between Manila and Ho Chi Minh City included a layover in Bandar Seri Begawan. Never one to pass up the potential to explore somewhere new, I started googling Brunei as a longer stopover and up popped some images of proboscis monkeys and an amazing looking stilt village on the river. It didn’t change the cost of a flight for us and sounded like a fun mini-adventure to check out part of the Borneo jungle! Besides, being the smallest country in South East Asia it doesn’t usually register on many tourist-radars, and that made it sound extra special. Well, that, plus the chance to spot one of the most unusually-nosed monkeys made it a great sounding stopover destination!

The best of Bandar Seri Begawan

Kampong Ayer

This is a historical settlement right in the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan, where the houses are all built on stilts, extending out over the water.

It is home to over 30,000 people with each village cluster including schools, fire and police stations!

It is easy to find a water taxi long boat on the riverside – they will likely approach you as soon as you head anywhere near(!).

We ended up finding a driver who took us out two days in a row – day one to Kampong Ayer, and the second day to find monkeys!

Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

The Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is often considered one of the most beautiful mosque in South East Asia, for its glittering gold and iconic modern Islamic architecture style. The gold minaret tower is the tallest structure in all of Bandar Seri Begawan; and it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city!

Everything closes in Brunei on Friday between 12:00-2:00pm for religious time and prayer. We were slightly too late on our first day out exploring, and couldn’t enter the mosque, as it closes to non-Muslims during this time.

BUT, before it closed, and after much sign language and ushering, the boys had a chance to join and copy the other men washing at the ablution block as part of the ritual before entering the mosque for prayer (and appreciating the secondary chance to cool down while doing so!)

Proboscis Monkeys

“It’s the best day of my life!” We asked Oscar if he was pleased we found some of the monkeys we came to Brunei to see; and that was his response!  We weren’t sure if we would see the monkeys, as we heard there haven’t been so many sightings lately…

But we saw two! I haven’t got any photo evidence, but they are cool looking things, with their huge noses, hiding right up in the treetops…

And I have to say I think it made the day for all of us!

One challenge in Brunei?

We forgot about Friday being the Holy Day! Everything closes from 12:00-2:00pm with a lot of shops shut for the rest of the afternoon. Well, we forgot!

It was 11:50am on Friday; swelteringly hot, and we had just walked the 40 minutes into the centre of town to see the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque… which we hadn’t thought about, but of course was just about to close. We had run out of drinking water by then and were suddenly alerted to the fact that in 10 minutes time, every single shop would be shut for the next two hours, and no taxi’s would be running…

I ran!
(As fast as I could in the 35°C sun…).

Harry was bright red and looked near collapsing due to overheating, and I knew we needed to find something to drink. The town centre was about five minutes away, but for the life of me I couldn’t recognise any convenience stores… The only shop I could recognise within a 200m radius was KFC!

I don’t think I have ever been so grateful to see KFC in my life. I pulled up panting at the doors, just as the lady was heading towards them to lock up, and begged to be let in to buy a drink.

We spend our travels refusing straws and bottled water, but in the hour following that dramatic learning curve, drinking cold water and KFC orange juice on the steps outside the locked restaurant, tasted like the best thing out.

Getting around

We landed on a night flight from Manila and were picked up by our hotel. Getting around the city of Bandar Seri Begawan in the day time is easy, and we actually walked into town each time. They have a Uber/Grab-like system called ‘Dart’ which is easy to use, though due to the size of the Sultanate, there aren’t a huge number of taxis or Dart cabs around and they do require booking with a little more notice than usual.

And for Kampong Ayer… you need a water taxi!

Where to stay

Three nights accommodation at Le Gallery Suites Hotel cost us $298 NZD ($196 USD) and was a fantastic location to explore Bandar Seri Begawan from. The hotel is right next door to the restaurant My Town Eating House, where you are given vouchers for breakfast… Breakfast was amazing! We looked forward to it each morning. The hotel is also on the same street as a small convenience shop, a friendly laundrette, and a gorgeous little bakery selling all kinds of treats.

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