"Mythbusters" Bandar Seri Begawan by Hewer
Bandar Seri Begawan Travel Guide: 316 reviews and 1,048 photos
Anyone who tunes in to the Discovery Channel from time to time will be familiar with Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, two special-effects experts who make a television show out of debunking popular myths using modern science. I think that if these guys ever branch out into a travel show, the first episode will be on Brunei. There seem to be a few popular misconceptions about this place. Never have I been to a place and felt so misled. Most of what I read was off the mark and the image I had formed in my head was of another place.
Myth #1: "It's too expensive to stay there. Hotels are expensive, food is expensive, everything is expensive."
Where did this one come from? The Miri or Kota Kinabalu hotel owners' association? I just don't understand it.
Hotels might be a little bit more expensive than over the border in Malaysia, but it is quite easy to find budget accommodation. When I first saw hotels advertised for $30 or $40, I thought I had discovered something. But then cheap hotels became the norm rather than the exception.
Food in local restaurants was cheap. You can get a meal for one or two dollars and food stuffs in the supermarket were also cheap. Pizza Hut was a bit pricey, but no more so than in other neighbouring countries.
Myth #2: "The public transport system is wonderful. The buses are regular, always on time, immaculate and easy to use. They are expensive though".
Brunei's public transport system is one of the most bewildering I have ever encountered and among the most inconvenient. In fact, I take that back - it is the most inconvenient (pushing Liectenstein's buses down to silver and Prague's metro to bronze). Take the departure and arrival times with a grain of salt. Buses can either be late, cancelled or leave ten minutes early. I asked about this at the central bus station in Bandar Seri Begawan. The answer: a big grin.
The buses themselves are usually rickety, creaking old hulks with uneven seats, musty interiors and rust.
Happily, the fares are very cheap considering the distances you travel. A one-way ticket on a scheduled service from Kuala Belait to Bandar Seri Begawan (3 hours) is only B$5.50.
Myth #3: "The people of Brunei are somewhat wary of westerners. They are stern and humourless."
A very friendly, chatty bunch. I would be sitting at a bus stop (as I often did: see Myth #2) and one of the locals would approach and strike up a conversation. Often in south-east Asia (I am sad to say), these random overtures of friendship from a stranger lead to a hard sell of some kind but not here. The Bruneians were genuinely warm and welcoming people. Even the immigration guy struck up a conversation with me.
NB: The hard sell does exist in Brunei - but bus stops are a safe haven. See my warnings and dangers tip for details :-)
Myth #4: "You can't buy alcohol anywhere and if you are caught with it, you'll be arrested".
Non-Muslims can bring alcohol into the country and the high end hotels sell it in their restaurants. Other than that, you're stuck. Brunei is the only country of the 37 I have been to where I didn't have a single drink.
Myth #5: "The capital is so clean and well-ordered. There are beautiful shopping centers and big department stores. It's like a mini Singapore".
I can't remember where I heard this but it is obviously a hot one. With a population of 67,000 people, it's pretty clear that the scope for multi-level air-conditoned shopping malls is fairly limited. There are a couple of malls, but my mother's hometown in rural New South Wales has a couple of malls too and it doesn't remind me much of Singapore either.
I'll bust (most of) a few more myths when I come back and add more content to my tips later...
- In a nutshell:Don't believe the hype
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