Saturday, January 28, 2017

Bandar Seri Begawan (Part 3): Good Eats

I forgot to mention that the main reason we were in Brunei was to compete in a sports event. Basically, my teammates took care of the winning (gold and silver in their respective events), whilst i focused on the eating (arrangements, that is) :D  

I'm actually pleased as punch that we got to have some good eats, considering we were just in BSB for 4D3N!

Here's some of the memorable meals we had: 

1. Alter Ego Fusion Cafe

We literally stumbled upon this new (just 2 months old), gorgeous-looking cafe, having gotten lost looking for another restaurant (more on this later) and were super famished.

The interiors were pretty interesting. Eclectic. Here below is their piece de resistance. I don't know about you, but in an instant, i felt like i was transported to a cafe in Amsterdam. I love this love this love this.

 Their food was pretty good, too! We ordered some rice bowls, which proved to be quite filling; as well as the Chicken Wings appetizer, full of flavour and nicely presented.


 2. Sate House

Now, this was the resto we were looking for! Our taxi driver couldn't find it (despite calling the resto 3X), hence we ended up at Alter Ego.

Undaunted, we tried again the next night. And this time, our taxi driver "Uncle" [check his calling card in my previous post] easily found it. 

We ordered the ff: Ayam Bakar (Grilled chicken marinated in homemade sauce), which looked good and was finger-licking good!

The Sate Kambing (Lamb Satay) was delicious, too.

 But the best dish, IMHO, was the beef ribs (sorry, forgot the local name). Falling off the bone tender!

 3. Kaizen Sushi

Before the trip, i checked out reviews of local restos and Kaizen Sushi tended to be described as the most posh Japanese resto in BSB. Which meant we had to visit it :D 

Location was along along the waterfront of the Brunei River (not that there's a lot to see on the river), and it looked every inch a classy joint. Spiral staircase led to the main dining areas; and upon our request, the staff graciously allowed us to seat at a tatami table. 

We ordered a lot of food (the hungry athletes that we were *cough*).   Salmon sashimi always hits the spot. 

Spider rolls proved to be crunchy. 

Beef with pepper sauce.

Classic Ebi tempura.


Beef rolls with vegetables. Extremely good. 

Kamameshi rice. It takes around 20 minutes to cook at the table. 

Oh, here's all of us looking famished despite eating all that food. ;-D

Despite its high-end reputation, i felt the prices at Kaizen Sushi can be considered reasonable.

4. Piccolo Cafe

We took a leisurely post-prandial walk along the waterfront, and came upon this cafe. This was amongst the cafes recommended to me by local food/coffee blogger Coffee Girl BN.

Their mascot is so cute, no?  Piccolo is known for its specialty, the Lavender Latte (below). Basically regular cafe latte with some bits of lavender on the top.

The lavender taste is subtle (no, you won't feel as though you were drinking lavender lotion), and it wasn't too sweet. 

Their waffle and New York style cheesecake are good options to go with your coffee as well. 

Sate House Brunei 

Kaizen Sushi
FB: Kaizen-Sushi-Japanese-Restaurant-Waterfront-BSB

Piccolo Cafe
IG: piccolocafebn

Alter Ego Fusion 
FB: alteregofoods

Coffee Girl BN 
IG: coffeegirlbn

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bandar Seri Begawan (Part 2): Teksi!!

I'm not going to sugarcoat it. If  you're an independent tourist in BSB, getting around can be quite a pain. Why? There are hardly any options for public transport. Buses are available, but rather infrequent. No subway or tricycles or other means, so the only recourse was to take taxis ("teksi"). 

Unfortunately, as i had mentioned in my earlier post, there are only 40 official taxis in the entire country. So, if your idea is to stand on a street corner and hail a passing cab, good luck. You will be standing there for eternity, my friend. 

So, what to do? Here was what we did to get around this inconvenience. We always asked our hotel front desk to call us a taxi in advance, since it would take 20 - 30 minutes for one to arrive. 

Then, once we were on the way, we asked the driver for his card so we could have him pick us up at a later time. (Sometimes, it was the driver himself who volunteered his card) 

Here was one taxi driver i heartily recommend (check his card below). "Uncle" drove us for 2 consecutive nights; he was on time, he was very knowledgeable about directions; and his service was exemplary. 

Once you are finished with dinner or hanging out in a coffee shop, and are preparing to leave, just give the card to the staff and ask them to call for the taxi. This way, you save on having to make a call from your (on international roaming) mobile phone. :-D

Stay tuned for our next post on some of the restaurants we tried in BSB!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Bandar Seri Begawan (Part 1): Exploring Around

Let me say right off the bat that Bandar Seri Begawan (capital of the tiny country of Brunei) has never been on any of my travel lists, or bucket list or whatever. So i'm as surprised as you that i actually went for a brief visit to this place recently.

Some fast facts: 

1. Their currency is the Brunei Dollar (BND).

2. They are ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. He has an outsized presence in this country. Aside from being the Prime Minister, he is concurrently Defense Minister, Finance Minister, AND the head of the church of Islam. 

3. Oil and gas industry accounts for some 80% of their GDP. Shell has a monopoly here, with their joint venture with the government having a 50-50 percent revenue-sharing arrangement. 

4. NO personal income taxes!

5. There are only 40 official licensed taxis in the entire country (yes, 40). More on this in a later post. 

6. Being a Muslim country, no nightlife and no alcohol (although i read online that some restaurants offer 'special tea'  [wink, wink]). 

 We booked a half-day city tour with the leading operator in Brunei, Freme Travel. Our guide, Mr. Zul (let's hope i spelled his name correctly) duly picked us up at our hotel on time; and off we went to our first stop: The Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.
Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.
Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.

Standing at the parking lot and gazing up to that golden dome and pillars, it really looked awe-inspiring. Apparently, this was the new main mosque - described by Mr. Zul as a gift of His Highness Sultan Bolkiah to the citizens of the country. 

Here's a closer look as we went towards the entrance. 

 The mosque is closed to non-Muslims on Thursdays and Fridays (Friday is considered their holy day, and all establishments are mandated to close during the period 12:00 NN to 2:00 PM)


Photography is prohibited inside, so this was the farthest point where we have photos. Also, visitors who are not properly attired (meaning shorts/skirts/sleeveless tops/etc.) have to wear a black robe for modesty. 

 Suffice to say, the main prayer hall and other parts were extremely impressive. No expense seemed to have been spared. Mr. Zul waxed poetic, and pointed out that the huge chandeliers came from Austria; the white marble on the floor from Italy; the thick narra wooden door from the Philippines, etc. 

I was impudent enough to ask how much this whole thing cost. Mr. Zul averted his eyes slightly, and replied that no one really knew - it was kept secret. But the rumour was that this mosque cost around USD400 million. 

Whew! That's some serious cash. But my friend Ricky and i agreed it was well worth it and seemed reasonable enough. 

Outside, we passed by this winsome fountain on the way back to our vehicle.


Second stop was the Sultan's Palace, known officially as Istana Nurul Iman.
To be more accurate, we were actually visiting the gate of the palace, as it is only open 3 days in a year, after their Hari Raya festival. The rest of the year, proletariat like you and me just peek over the grills of the gate. (Yes, leaping over the gate did cross our mind, hahaha!)

According to Mr. Zul, the palace has over a thousand rooms, so it is an immense compound. Incidentally, his security force has 2 Blackhawk helicopters. 

During the few days it is open, anyone can go inside with no need for an invitation. One simply had to dress up a bit; and partake of a sumptuous buffet, shake hands with His Royal Highness, and take home a souvenir, to boot!


Next was the Royal Regalia Museum, which focuses on the royal family. Exhibited were various gifts received by the sultan from other heads of state, as well as ceremonial attire, and a replica of the main ceremonial hall of the royal palace. 

Below was the carriage used during the induction as Sultan. Incidentally, this year marks the 50th year of his rule, so Mr. Zul said some festivities will definitely be in order. ("Without alcohol, of course" - i quipped in my mind ;-D)

 Next, we went to the Malay Technology Museum. which proved to be interesting, yet was a total misnomer. Its name suggested some high-tech, space-age museum. 

In fact, it exhibited the life during pre-oil age Brunei, where the citizens were living mainly on wooden houses on stilts built right on the river (i.e. water villages, or known as Kampong Ayer). Mr. Zul himself lived in the water village, and dispelled our notion that it was unsafe and unsanitary (apparently it now comes equipped with electricity, plumbing and Wi-Fi!); and he pointed out it was actually very convenient, as well as cheap (no rent!). 

Last stop was a brief phot op outside the older mosque, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque.  Lovely, isn't it? 

 Please stay tuned for the second part of this series, Getting Around BSB!