It is said that 97% of Brunei’s income comes from the oil & gas industry
It is therefore is not a big surprise that there seems to be a lack of tourism spots and opportunity in the city. Having said, it does not mean Brunei is not trying to promote its tourism sector, something that they will need when the oil runs out one day. There are plenty of tour guides and operators available in the phone directory but the problem is there is not much for one who wishes to venture out on their own. One would hardly see taxis around and during my stay in Brunei; I think I only saw probably 2 empty cabs.
Shopping was one attractive and we went to “The Mall” which supposes to be one of the largest shopping mall in the city. Admittedly the size of the “biggest” mall in town is far smaller than some of the “smaller” one we have back in Malaysia. Within couple of minutes, I have walked the whole mall and found something was lacking. There were plenty of shops to meet almost everyone’s desire but as a tourist, a cheap souvenir shop was lacking. There were supermarkets and food malls for the local but then again, we have the same thing back at home.
Feeling somehow disappointed, I came out and decided to go for a drink in one of the cafes along the walkway. In a normal situation, I would have ordered a cold beer and a small bowl of crunchy nuts and sat at strategic angle to watch beautiful girls walking by. But here in Brunei, that was something impossible. Brunei was an “alcohol free” country although drinking alcohol is permissible in private. I end up ordering iced coffee and a muffin. This was sad indeed but at least I got the angle to watch beautiful girls walking by.
We drove around town and most of them were government buildings that looked more interesting. We reached the main gate of the Sultan of Brunei’s palace but we did not get far. The gates were locked and the palace was “hidden” from sight by trees. If I had stayed longer till Hari Raya, I could have gone into the palace during their open house and probably shook my hands with one of the richest man around. But I did not have the time and therefore had to content with a snap shot of the gates of the palace. Besides, the guards at the main gate were getting suspicious and started to focus on me.
Hotels are plenty and come in various prices, qualities and locations. The cream of all would probably be The Empire Hotel & Country Club, a short distant away from the city centre. It seems to have almost everything and it is next to the sea. I liked the main area with its huge pillars and high ceilings and marble floors. It was almost like I was walking in the Sultan’s palace but without much restrictions and protocols.
At end of the day, we went out looking for souvenirs – something that loudly says “I wuz in Brunei”. We found one small shop with a lot of souvenirs for tourists but many of things there was way too expensive, at least for budget travellers like me. A simple key chain costs about RM7 and the same thing cost less than RM1 back in Malaysia (I got 2 for RM1 once)