Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Brunei & Labuan Island - Overview

When I asked for recommendation on lunch, the lady staff in the Royal Regalia Building glanced at her watch, then shifted her focus to me with a sympathetic look, telling me that all the shops will be closing soon. “But they will open back by 2.00 pm,” she said.

Here is the scenario. It is about 30 minutes before 12.00 pm and the day is Friday. Welcome to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei Darussalam, where most of the shops close during Friday's lunch break for Muslim's Friday prayer. Such move was a call from the Sultan of Brunei himself, an act to uphold to image of Muslim nation.

The street of Bandar around 12.00 noon, deserted and closed shops

Brunei is truly an Islamic country, where road signs and shop names are inclusive of Jawi writing, alcohols are banned in the country, and yes, shops are close during Friday prayer. Even other Muslim countries in the region, Malaysia and Indonesia, are not to that level, which makes Brunei unique in its own way.

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, in Jawi

From Bandar (which the capital is widely referred to), I continue my journey to Labuan Island, a Malaysian Federal Territory, and the change could not be any different. Where sale of alcohols is not permitted in Brunei, the main appeal of Labuan Island is its duty free status, and yes, beers and liquors are easily accessible and dirt cheap.

It seems to me that the tourism industry of the island takes off on its duty free status. Souvenirs from the island are either alcoholic beverages or imported chocolates, or both. Kitschy items such as postcards and fridge magnets are hard to come by. That is not to say there is nothing to do in Labuan. Well, before 7.00 pm, anyway.

The prices of beers are on par with bottled mineral waters

Labuan, being an island, boasts some of the pristine beaches in the country, and for those who are into diving, the ship wrecks around the island makes it a must-go diving spot. Even if these are of not your interest, you can still drink yourself silly.

Batu Manikar Beach, one of the award-winning beaches in Labuan

I barely spent more than 10 hours in Brunei and most of the hours were on the road. My four day trip, even with the return flight was through Brunei, was focused mainly on Labuan. However, I feel like I did most of the attractions in Bandar. I still need to explore the country to get to know her better, but until then, I'm fine getting acquainted with her.


Sharing is caring. A word of advice and a piece of information.

To get to Labuan from Brunei, you have to take a ferry from Serasa Ferry Terminal at Muara, about 25 km from Bandar. Public buses go from Bandar to Pekan Muara before transiting to another bus that will take you to the ferry terminal. There are around 6 slots from Brunei to Labuan (and vice versa) and the ferry ride takes an hour plus. The ticket prices are B$ 17.00 from Brunei to Labuan and RM 35.00 from Labuan to Brunei.


  1. Brunei's a very peaceful, happy and relaxed place, maybe can try going there again :)

  2. hi, how do you get around in brunei? by public transport?

  3. @kayu log: I took their buses to move around. As for in the city itself, I mostly walked around.