Exploring Bandarseri Begawan: Ish Meets Brunei Darussalam

When it comes to Asia, Brunei is not exactly on top of the list of places to visit for Filipinos, other Asians or Westerners alike. I got my opportunity to visit Brunei a couple of times because of work and was pleasantly surprised.

The Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque
In general, visiting a Muslim country is very intimidating to Filipinos and Westerners because of the misconceptions surrounding the rules implemented there. We have all heard the horror stories of people getting beheaded, kidnapped and jailed for all sorts of violations in other Muslim states. (I have been watching “Locked Up Abroad” waaaay too much). Although not as much a  victim of bad publicity as other Muslim states, not many good things are know about Brunei either. I thought I should share all the good experiences I’ve had there.
First of all, the people there speak perfect English. We used to be proud of our English in the Philippines but since the discovery of tagalized shows (dubbing everything in Tagalog), the level of English in the Philippines has suffered a great deal.  Bruneians speak perfect English and with a vastly more neutral accent than the Singaporeans 🙂
Here are a few observations that made an impact on me:
1. The population is very small- Even during what would be rush hour in most places, the streets in Brunei were always close to empty. A welcome sight after Manila.
2. Infrastructure is perfect- The Sultan obviously takes care of his country. everything was spotless  and of the highest quality
3. People are happy- I can’t be sure how true this really is but everyone there seemed to be satisfied with their living conditions and their lives in general.
4. Safety- Coming from a country where you need to watch your pockets and your purse at all times, It was weird in a good way that we could trust anybody here.
5. Everyone had money-It seemed like everyone lived comfortably. Bruneians seemed to all have nice homes and cars. I never saw any public transportation. Can someone enlighten me? How do people get around in case they have no cars? haha.

6. Brunei has been invaded by Filipinos- The malls are filled with them. Not just shopping but all the stores had Filipinos working in them. The hotels too! I called room service and was disoriented because the person who answered greeted me in Tagalog. I was like, ‘Where the hell am I again?”
Yup, there’s a Jollibee.  You can’t be more comfortable than that 🙂
Our trips always came at the invitation of  Crown Prince Al Muhtadee Billah to compete in a big Pool event with the support of the Philippine embassy through Ambassador Virginia Benavidez and subsequently Amb. Alexander Yano pictured below:
Friends from the Ministry of Sports and our Taiwanese colleagues Simon Chang and Steven Lin also worked towards putting up the event. In previous years. another dear friend, Leonard Lim always invited our team to come to the events organized for the Crown Prince. Needless to say, we have never been treated as nicely in any other country than we have been in Brunei.  Thanks to everyone in the embassy and of course our handlers who were assigned to take care of us:
Here’s the Crown Prince giving a blow-by-blow of a match:
The participants with Prince Malik:
What made my trips to Brunei special over the years above all things was the hospitality both by the Bruneians and the Filipinos living there as well.  We have been invited to the homes of so many people and have shared their food and ALCOHOL. Yes Alcohol. It isn’t prohibited for Christians to consume alcohol if they do it in the privacy of their own homes contrary to popular belief. 🙂
Our European companions were left to settle for expensive cans of beer while we were happily gulping away elsewhere hehe.
I want to give a special shout-out to Leonard for taking such good care of us and the Victoria family who treated us like relatives.
No Filipino party is complete without videoke:
What was Efren Reyes singing?  What else:
In the future, I’d like to do a few more touristy stuff in Brunei. Here’s a to-do list::
1. Visit the Royal Regalia Museum
2. Go to the Taman Peranginan Tasek Nature Reserve
3. Take a boat trip through the water villages.
4. Get inside the Royal Palace 🙂
Until next time, Cheers!!!!