Brunei never made it to my bucket list. Nor any of my friends’. But here we are, spending 4 days, 3 nights in its capital, Banda Seri Begawan. I knew absolutely nothing where we are booked, which hotel we are staying in and who’s coming. It was a case of a couple of friends going with a few more at a time free of any travel and personal plans. Swell! I joined on the solitary reason that I’d be in good company. These fun trips with friends never fail!

When I think Brunei, I think gas, oil and Bolkiah. It’s a tiny but very wealthy nation off Borneo ruled by one of the world’s oldest reigning monarchies. As in the last 600 years! Sultan Bolkiah’s fame is rooted on his wealth and extravagance. Think 9,000 cars, 17 planes including a custom-designed 747, a private zoo, his own golf course, and an air conditioned stable for his 200 polo ponies. This man and his family lives in the world’s largest royal residence — even bigger than London’s Buckingham Palace. And guess who was the architect of this royal abode. No less than our own Arch. Leandro Locsin whose iconic masterpieces in the country include the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theatre, PICC, Sofitel, Intercontinental Hotel (now demolished), Hyatt (now Midas), Mandarin Oriental (likewise demolished), Saint Andrews Church in Makati, Philamlife and Filipinas Life Insurance Buildings, to name a few. I’m a big fan of this National Artist and would always be enthusiastic to find more of his masterpieces. Especially this royal residence built in 1984 which established his masterful international calibre.

Banda Seri Begawan is easy to navigate. Most landmarks are located in the City Center, and I suspect every interesting site is only 2 hours or so away by car. Aside from the royal palace, I am curious of the 2 mosques here: the Sultan Omar Ali Saiffudin Mosque, more famously called the Brunei Mosque, and the Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque or simply, Bolkiah Mosque but likewise called Kiarong Mosque owing to its location. The 2 mosques were built by the current Sultan and the one before him. Brunei has Malay traditions and deeply rooted in its Islamic faith. Its people are principally Malays, with a small minority of Chinese and Indians. Its cuisine is largely influenced by neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia — heavily spiced!

So, what to do after hitting a royal palace and 2 mosques? Well, there is the Royal Regalia Museum housing many of the Sultan’s memorabilia including the chariot he used in his coronation ceremony in 1967. The chariot was held and supported by 24 men in front and 24 more at the back weaving through the capital for a good 2 hours! Quite interesting to know more of this man who now rules this tiny wealthy kingdom.

We also checked out the Water Village or “Venice of the East”. If you ask me, I think the village is nothing more than stilt houses lining the river that spills out to the South China Sea. Some cost Bn$10,000, others maybe more. I can give this a skip and instead enjoy tea or coffee in Empire Hotel And Country Club instead. Or maybe a better experience can be had in either Gadong Market or Kianggeh Market. Wherever, so long as the group enjoys. 👍