Something you probably picked up on from my social media & the odd blog post is that I spent most of my life (fourteen years) living in Asia, and the last three years of my high school education in Brunei, hence the holidays out there! I'm actually heading to Brunei again at the end of March for a good few weeks but thought I would share a few things from when I was there in December.
Brunei is a bit of a bizarre country, I love it and the people to pieces but I feel like I need a bit of a disclaimer. It's a dry country and alcohol free. This is normally the worst thing people think about the country, but honestly, you get used to it and get over it. Expats are able to bring a quantity of alcohol into the country (they can grab more every 48 hours) so honestly, build a bridge and get over it. I would hate to think that people won't get the chance to experience Brunei just because of one niggle.
But this post is about things you can do - and in a very bloggy/social media twist, I'd like to think this is an instagram guide to Brunei. I'm not going to feed you the same spiel you'll get when you google "visit Brunei", but can hopefully shed light on a few things (once you've hit all the key 'touristy' things). But if you are planning to visit Brunei, I would highly suggest renting a car- I'm able to drive one of my parent's cars when I'm over but it's really not the same if you're reliant upon fairly minimal public transport/pricey taxis. Rent that car and let the fun begin!
One thing Brunei is guaranteed to do well, is the food & drink. It seems that since I left in 2013, a new coffee shop or restaurant has popped up each week. Fortunately, my mum has had these places on her radar so she took me to some of her faves (although I now have a long list for when I'm back in March!). My favourite has to be Alter Ego. Located in Kiulap near Regent Square, it's in a block of shops and could be easily missed if it wasn't for the blue-painted exterior. They serve great coffee and have a huge range of tea, cakes and lots of lighter food options - it's definitely more of a lunch/nibbles place than a main meal but it's worth a stop! It's beautifully decorated - all of the copper, plants & marble and there were loads of people sat around working which is a great coffee shop vibe.
On the theme of food, Brunei pretty much can offer everything. From the famous Nasi Katok (knock knock chicken) which is never more than BN$5 (UKGBP£2.50) to fancy italian at Fratinis, you can find whatever you want. And Bruneians appreciate good food. Personal favourites of mine include Delhi Darbar (image on left) in Sengkurong just off Jerudong Road, near the Courts furniture store. It's a south Indian restaurant and does amazing Tandoori, Roti, Naan, curry - you name it, they have it. This reminds me so much of the food I used to get in Malaysia and it's fairly cheap. My family of four can normally eat there for less than BN$30 (£15). Would totally recommend it as it's authentic unlike some of the other Indian places in town. I would also recommend going out for Japanese as there is a chain called Excapade Sushi (image on right) which I love. Excapade is a chain in Brunei (and now in Miri) so they're pretty much everywhere. Our favourite is the one in Regent Square in Kiulap. I know it's not authentic Japanese food but it's kind of like Yo Sushi but nicer. If you're really into your sushi and sashimi, I would suggest Kaizen instead which is on the waterfront in Bandar Seri Begawan.
Not directly in Brunei, but only about 30 minutes from the Kuala Lurah border are the Kampung Meritam Mud Pools. We definitely weren't expecting to have as much fun as we did, as they were a bit of an unknown as all the information we could find on them was from years ago. But they were fab. My family were the only people in the whole place (aside from the lady who worked there) which made it even more fun. To get there, all you need to do is drive straight on from the border until you see a sign for "Kampung Meritam" and follow it left. Just follow the road till you see the next sign and turn right and follow that little road till you see what looks like a power station.... And there you are. The area looks mostly dried up aside from a few puddles, but have a little wander and there are some bigger pools that allow yourself to be completely submerged! My whole family could easily all fit in one of them! There is a shower complex (the showers don't work but there is a tank with a hose attached) which is more than enough to clean you off. I would suggest bringing plastic bags, water, towels and flip flops as you need things that you don't mind getting mucky in! It's the ideal morning out as Limbang town is only a further 30 minutes away and offers sufficient food options and has a pretty walkway along the waterfront.
Tasek Lama is a national park (?) located in the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei. Compared to other walking & trekking options like Bukit Shahbandar, this is the best option if you're not familiar with the route or are on your own. Tasek Lama is far more developed and the paths are far more obvious which means that despite being in the midst of the rainforest, you're less likely to get lost! There's a picture perfect waterfall and a good amount of greenery which provides the ideal walk. Unless it rained, standard trainers are fine - just make sure you take enough water with you! I'd advise going early morning or after 4pm to avoid the heat.
A visit to the Empire Hotel & Country Club should be added onto any agenda for Brunei as it's so stunning. You can find pictures of the actual building all over google but it's the beach side pool and lagoon that makes any visit feel like a tropical paradise. In Brunei, the sky is nearly always blue so any picture taken here, looks next level. The afternoon tea here is meant to be incredible (and I can testify to the food as I had my sixth form prom here!). There's also a bowling alley, gym, golf course, tennis courts, cinema and a separate stand alone ballroom so you could easily spend the day! Being Brunei, it's nearly always quiet so you feel like you have it all to yourself.
So there you have it. A few of my favourite (and instagrammable) places in Brunei. I'll be doing a few more posts there soon as I'll be there for almost three weeks so will be sure to share what I spent my time doing! Have you been to Brunei? If you would like anymore recommendations, I would suggest tweeting me @elliegdickinson and I'll be sure to get back asap!