I am pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Nancy, a member of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook. Nancy is from the UK, and submitted the following report about her trip to Brunei. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo travel rating: 2 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages spoken: Malay, English, Chinese
Costs at Destination: Expensive (local transportation, dining, tours, events, and attractions)
Reasons to Visit Brunei
Initially I was a little worried about visiting Brunei and how I would be perceived as a solo female western traveler. Should I cover my hair, for example? I needn't have been concerned. Everyone I met during my time in Brunei was unfailingly friendly and helpful from the hotel driver who, upon my arrival, thanked me for visiting his country to the woman I met in the post office queue, who insisted on showing me around town. While it is advisable to dress conservatively, there is no need to cover your hair unless you choose to visit the inside of the mosque.
There isn't much of a hostel scene in Brunei (I believe there is one but genders are segregated) so I stayed in a budget hotel. The decor at the Jubilee was fairly dated but it was clean and offered free breakfast (3 choices from a set menu) and free airport transfers (the driver being more than willing to show you the sights along the way).
I spent a couple of days exploring the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) although you could cover the main sights in a full day easily enough. The Sultan Omar Ali Saffuddien Mosque is the main landmark. It is an impressive building and it is possible to view the interior at certain times. I also enjoyed a visit to the Royal Regalia Museum, where you are required to leave your shoes on a rack in the street outside the entrance. The museum houses photographs of the Sultan, who is held in very high esteem by locals. Numerous priceless gifts that he has received as head of state, on his coronation, and during state visits, as well as the enormous chariot used during his silver jubilee celebrations, are all on display. Plus, it's the only museum I've ever wandered around in my socks! Another very popular and worthwhile activity is to take a water taxi tour of the water village that comprises the other half of the city. Bartering is necessary, and you should expect to pay 15-20 Brunei dollars for a stand-alone tour or more if you choose to combine this with a trip up the river to the mangroves where you can spot the extraordinary looking proboscis monkeys. If you opt for the latter, around sunset is the best time to take the tour.
Eating is the main social activity in Brunei and a good selection of restaurants can be found in the city or you can take a taxi to visit the night markets to try more local fare.
As most locals have at least one car–I was told the number of cars exceeds the number of people!–there is little public transportation available to travel outside the city. However, there are several agencies that arrange day tours. I visited Seria, the oil town, and the Ulu Temburong rainforest with Borneo Guide. The journey to the forest was first by boat through the mangroves and waterways, then a short bus ride, and finally a traditional long boat ride. The journey really is half of the adventure. The main attraction here is a canopy walkway with excellent views across the forest. The walkway itself is of sturdy construction but be aware that it's a fairly steep climb with a lot of steps to reach the first tower. On a day tour, by the time you arrive it's fairly unlikely that you'll see much animal life. As a solo traveler it is usually possible to join a group tour, which costs approximately US$115 for the day in the national park, including food. As tourism is still in its infancy in Brunei, I found that they didn't always have tours running, which meant that you would have to pay the private tour price, which is roughly double the price of a group tour. Fridays and weekends seem to be the times when it's most likely there will be a tour to join. I was placed with an Australian couple to make a group of three.
Overall, I would recommend Brunei as an interesting and less-visited destination for a weekend getaway or a short trip.
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 1 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 2 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 2 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 2 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 2 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult)