Thursday, September 22, 2011

Brunei Trip 2011: Kampong Kiarong Mosque (Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque)

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda


Location: Kampong Kiarong (Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque)
Date: September 2-3, 2011


* Visit to Brunei Darussalam or Bandar Seri Begawan with papa, mama, brother Joel, friend couple Jojo and Alexis Aubrey last September 1-4, 2011.



There isn't much to do at night in Brunei Darussalam. Well, yea for those who love to party and bar hop. But for me and my family who love every golden opportunity (to see gold that glitters that is!), Kampong Kiarong is the right place!

Kampong Kiarong near the capital Bandar Seri Begawan is home to the magnificent Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque also locally -known as the Kiarong Mosque because of its location. With its glittering golden domes and minarets, it was truly stunning at night and could be every photographers dream!

Opened on 14 July 1994 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the accession to the throne of His Majesty, the Sultan and Yang Di Pertuan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, the whole edifice was so impressive that we took lots of pictures at every angle.

No doubt this mosque is the grandest structure I have ever seen during my world travels and was a real treat to the eyes for my family during their first trip out of the country. For Brunei, the Kiarong Mosque is the largest monument to Islam.

The architectural artistry of the exterior is so meticulous, and the landscaped gardens and fountains made it even more impressive. We would have wanted to see the interior but the mosque was closed during our visit. The visiting hours is from Sunday to Wednesday at 8am to 12noon, 2pm to 3pm & 5pm to 6pm.

Because of our limited time in Brunei we weren't able to come back during day time and totally missed seeing the inside of the Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. But our consolation is this picture taken aboard the bus going to Kampong Kiarong. With its sea-blue roof, slender minarets and golden dome, the Kiarong Mosque is by no means magnificent both day and night!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Brunei Trip 2011: Kampong Ayer (Water Village)!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

Location: Kampong Ayer (Water Village)
Date: September 2, 2011
*Branding and cliches of comparing tourist spots with that of another country reminded me of our recent visit to the so- called Venice of the East - the Kampong Ayer of Brunei! Honestly, it was the branding that made us include the place in our itinerary.


But truth be told, Kampong Ayer or Brunei's Water Village is no Venice, not even the water taxi that we took came close to being Venice's well decorated, fascinating water taxis!


Were we disappointed? Of course not.On the contrary, we had the most enjoyable and culturally enriching scenic boat ride around the 4,200 structures (i.e. homes, mosques, hospital, schools, restaurants and shops) on stilts on Brunei River.


Kampong Ayer has its own charm and could easily find its way to every traveler's must-do/must - see list during their trip to Bandar Seri Begawan.


It was the second day of Hari Raya Aidil Fitri when we headed to Kampong Ayer. That means, most of the 30,000 inhabitants of the water village were either attending the sunnah prayers at the mosque or attending the Open House at the Palace. But we were lucky to spot a water taxi whose driver was a willing tour guide!


Also our tour guide/driver is a Kampong Ayer resident who gave us a lesson on Brunei's history and culture during the one hour tour that cost us $25 Brunei Dollars (Php 850) for six persons. It was worth it!

What we learned:



1.Kampong Ayer consist of 42 clusters of homes organized into six (6) water village mukims (or districts) for administrative purposes. Each of the districts are connected by wooden walkways and foot bridges and provided each with a school and a mosque. (Bruneian's put premium on education and religion!)

2. Kampong Ayer is a living heritage of Brunei's river dwelling origin as people have lived there for over 1,300 years! As such it is far better than going to a museum in trying to understand the country's culture and history.(This is our justification for not trying so hard to check the Brunei museum!)

                                            (in Kampong Ayer old and young do mix well!)

3. In the same way as the structures are reflected on the water, Kampong Ayer is architecturally a reflection of Brunei's unique wooden homes, which without the help of our tour guide, we thought were slums. We stopped in front of our tour guide's home and although we didn't get in (since his whole family was gone), we were able to peek and see that his simple home from the outside(as with the others) is equipped with modern amenities including air conditioning, satellite television, Internet access, plumbing, and electricity.(Brunei's government put premium in preserving heritage but keeping pace with modern times)



4. In addition to the school and mosque, the government provide each of the mukims with foot-bridges, concrete jetties, piped water, electricity supplied telephones, clinics, a police station and a marine fire station in its effort to encourage Kampong Ayer residents to stay afloat to preserve Brunei Darussalam cultural heritage.



5.I believe there is a truth in the claim that Kampong Ayer is the largest Malay Water Village in the World and the most famous in Southeast Asia. Personally, Kampong Ayer could also be the most beautiful with the Omar Saiffudin Mosque in the background!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Brunei Trip 2011: Hari Raya Open House At The Palace!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda


Date: September 2, 2011
Location: Istana Nurul Aman (Brunei's Royal Palace)



Hari Raya Aidilfitri, otherwise known as Eid ul-Fitr, is celebrated in a major way in Brunei Darussalam. It marks the end of the holy month of Ramahdan (a month-long abstinence from food and drinks for the muslim community). But the start of the Hari Raya Aidilfitri (the name itself means 'day of celebration') is not fixed because it depends on when the new moon is sighted.


So Hari Raya Aidilfitri this year started August 31 and that is the most joyous day in the Muslim calendar!


Every year during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the Sultan of Brunei generously opens his palace to the public for three (3) days to 'greet and meet' the royal family. For Bruneian, foreign residents and visitors, it is only during these three days that they can get to shake hands with the royal family and enjoy a free meal for the whole year, so thousands and thousands of people flock to the palace each day of those three days!


It was a wonderful and amazing experience for me and my family to be in the middle of this colorful, festive and unique celebration in Brunei. Yes! we made it to the Royal Open House at the Istana Nurul Aman!


The process for going to the palace is that you just go to the palace either in the morning or in the afternoon. The palace starts receiving visitors from 8am for the 'meet and greet' schedule at 10am-12nn which continues for the 2pm -4pm slot. Since we didn't know much about the whole process and expected thousands of people to be there (first day visitors was 36,000 according to the news), we decided to be at the palace first thing in the morning. We can't miss it for anything! (yea,even if it means getting only a four-hour sleep).


Because this is a not-to-miss experience, we availed of our hotel's shuttle service (BND $20 one - way) which took us to the palace in 20 minutes.


From the Istana Nurul Aman gate, there are buses that will take you to the Palace Reception Hall for free. You would have to fight your way to get on the bus though because most Bruneians don't or aren't schooled in queuing. We managed to get on the fourth bus when we realized it was the case haha.The bus trip was only for about five (5) minutes.


There was a huge crowd already when we got to the entrance. I registered our names in one of the many registration tables and indicated 6 pax from the Philippines. Then as we get to the first security line, men and women were separated so for awhile it was only me, my mom and AA (with papa,Joel and Jojo in the male's line).


We have no idea where the two lines for female would lead us until I saw the gold - trimmed chinaware. The queue is for the macam buffet! Had we not stuffed ourselves with the hotel's free buffet breakfast, we would have done the Bruneian way - elbowing out to get to the food counter first!


There were about 10 different food counters,on each side where you could get rice and all manner of different dishes.


Hungry or not, I got a little of everything and a lot of my favorite sambal shrimp! I was amazed with AA who got a plateful of food (she didn't finish it but really good for the picture).

At this point too,we were able to meet the guys and shared the feast together after finding a good seat. We met a number of Pinoys (but they aren't Pinoy looking so took awhile before we noticed, but they understood all our side comments hehe).


There were plenty of sweets at the 'Cakes and Cookies' counter near our table. AA was first to notice. You can get whatever you want and some even take home (I did too coz I love the fruit cake!).

There was a 'Drinks Counter' too with all kinds of soda, juice, chocolate and milk.


After the meal, male and female were again separated and so we joined the throng to a vast open-air waiting hall. There we were all seated in numbered rows, which was made comfortable with tons of electric fans, water dispenser and a huge tv.


Finally, our row was called after waiting for over an hour and we were led to another waiting room. This time it is air-conditioned and was fascinating to look at. With all the gold ornamentation, one could tell we are already in the palace!


No camera is allowed at this point.But since we didn't notice the signage and saw the Bruneian in front of us taking pictures, we took no time to get ours and clicked, clicked, clicked.

We were there only a few minutes and were led to the Baitur Rahmah Hall where her Majesty Raja Isteri Anak HjhSaleha and other female members of the family 'meet and greet' visitors. Luckier for the men because they got to meet the Sultan and the male members of the royal family.


Inside the Baitur Rahmah Hall, there was a U - shaped line where the visitors get to shake hands with the Sultan's wife (queen) and the princesses.


With literally thousands of people in line, the process was quick meet and gracious smile at most. So I was very honored when Her Majesty took time to speak to me! I greeted her 'Eid Mubarak' (Blessed Eid) which I learned from the net and memorized to come in handy for this amazing experience. She then thanked me and asked me if I were from Indonesia (not sure if it was because of my intonation or looks).Told her I am from the Philippines and she repeated Philippines and kinda looked at one of the princesses in line who looked like a Pinay. (Note: I was told that one of wives of the Sultan's cousin is a Filipina).

As we left the hall, we were ushered to a distribution kiosk where we traded our coupon given at the entrance for a Hari Raya card from the Sultan and a yellow box as a gift.


It is customary for visitors to the Istana Hari Raya Open Houses (and at all Hari Raya Open Houses) to receive a form of remembrance of their visit. This year sweet memento is packed in an embossed yellow box (one designed for women and another designed for men) consist almost a dozen individually - wrapped cookies which come in two flavors.


We were at the Palace the whole morning 8:30am till 12nn along with over 24,000 people who had attended last September 2 (Borneo Bulletin September 3 issue). It was worth it!

And whenever I see the yellow box and the card, it really felt like quite an honour to attend and be part of this wonderful ' day of celebration'. So to all, Selamat Hari Raya Aidifitri 2011!!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Golden Treasure in Brunei Doing An Extra (Extra) Mile!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda


(in front of my CS Jonathan's house in Brunei)

A week before the trip to Brunei Darussalam, even a one star hotel would be a dream luxury given my few dollar-budget, sans any credit card and paying for six (6) persons' travel expenses for three days, three nights on September 1-4, 2011.


(at Brunei Airports' arrival area)

Yes,it is my parents, brother Joel and friend couple (Jojo and AA)'s first international trip together, so I promised all the best for them with an "all expenses paid" adventure! Oh well, I thought the promise would be easy to do (not meant to be broken) when I booked for the Cebu Pacific tickets in May. What I didn't consider was the timing. Little did I realize that this much - anticipated family adventure in Brunei would be after a series of funds - depleting trips: my 6-week US vacation in June/July, a Hongkong Disneyland Birthday treat for my brother in mid - August and Kadayawan Festival adventure in Davao towards the last week of August. You can just imagine how keyed - up I was as the date comes to a close.


(just outside the Brunei Airport-I love country signs you know?haha)

Fast forward, I still vividly recall our arrival at the Brunei International Airport last September 2,2011 at around 1:40am. We saw a guy in uniform waiting patiently outside the airport holding a placard with the words "Times Hotel. Jonathan Beveridge ", exactly what I was told in the email. We came up to the smiling face' guy and he escorted us gladly to where a huge A/C van was parked, drove us for about three (3) minutes towards the city and viola, we found ourselves in the comfort of our hotel room at the Times Hotel. For the rest of our stay in Brunei, we were spoiled with the extra indulgence in three elegantly furnished hotel rooms costing $$$ per room with buffet breakfast for six people; and a lay over at a house which is much nicer than possibly the hotel room I can afford.


(my parents in their hotel room,they didn't request a double haha)

Ooopss..rewind,rewind. Something isn't right, huh! I'm sure you were expecting a different picture, or travel stories of a family sleeping on that inflatable raft on the airport floor trying to skim a few bucks off travel expenses, then traveling by bus first thing in the morning to get to the cheapest accommodation in Brunei. Yes, that could have been our situation if we haven't found a treasure in time. A golden treasure, who is the subject of my entry to this month's Pinoy Travel Blog Carnival being hosted by Marky Ramone Go of Nomadic Photographs on the theme"Unforgettable Human Encounters On The Road" .



Yes, this may not be an encounter while traveling around the Philippines per se, but largely has to do with me and my family being Pinoy travelers and the traits that draw complete strangers to go out of their way so we can have a nice time. Pinoy's honesty, sincerity, friendliness and love for family give me every reason to believe, has played a large role why this uplifting tale I'm about to tell you happened the way it did!

Flashback,Flashback

Barely a week before the Brunei trip and still without an accommodation, I tried searching for couches again on Couchsurfing.Org, a website where I have been a member since May 2009. This website is a treasure in itself. Through it,I have experienced a number of "friends of a friend and hit it off right away" encounters both here and abroad, either by surfing their couch or hosting them when they are in the Philippines.


( with my family at the gold-glittering Kiarong Mosque at night)

Using CouchSearch last August 26, 2011, I stumbled upon Jonathan Beveridge 's profile. He is from New Zealand, an education consultant in Brunei, and pretty new in the site ( only August 2011). Given my situation, Jonathan's couch description was like a 'gold glittering in the sand'. He has two rooms, lives near the airport and interested in meeting people. I wasted no time and sent Jonathan a message, which is hopeful it will turn into something (a free accommodation at best or at least an idea where to find an accommodation I can afford), but keeping my expectation low because Jonathan like any CS hosts, has no obligation to accept my request. Besides he is so new, and may not be open to having that many people stay in his house at one time and so indicated a "max 2 surfers per night".


(a sneak photo with Jonathan at his lovely home taken by ate Vida a Pinoy househelp at Jonathan's house)

My message:
"My parents, brother,a couple friend and I (total 6 persons) are visiting Brunei on September 2-4 (arriving at 1:40 in the morning). I have not considered looking for couch because we are too many. So for weeks now, I have been looking at hotels. But all I can find is either really cheap or very expensive. There seems to be no mid range ones. I'm afraid the cheap hotel (i.e. KH.Soon Guesthouse) may not be clean and safe like the reviews but the next option like Brunei Hotel would be too costly for three days with three rooms.This trip is my treat to my family (their first international trip) so I am paying for everything. Accommodation is becoming a deal breaker haha making me a bit keyed up now.So I thought I would check some surfers for possible ideas or even possible accommodation. Your profile strikes me. And wow,you are pretty new here. Welcome! Also you live near the airport which is what I would prefer because we are arriving at 1:40 in the morning and it is my first in Brunei too.xxx"

Jonathan's reply surprises me. It was quick. truthful. welcoming. considerate.


"Thank you for contacting me. Unfortunately I am not able to help as I have 2 other couch surfers here on these dates so no room left. I am not sure if you will get somewhere for that number. I will ask around though if anyone I know has rooms. I can organise transport for you though from the airport to wherever you end up staying, no problem. I can also ask my local friends where would be a cheap, clean and safe hotel if you would like me to. I am sorry I cannot host myself but as i say I have a New Zealander and 2 Slovenians staying for those 2 nights. I am getting to meet many people..!
Please let me know if you would like me to do any of these things, no problems at all."

I thanked Jonathan for his reply, expressed understanding for his inability to host us on those dates and appreciated his offer to help. Grabbing the offer, I requested him to visit K.H.Soon Resthouse, book if he finds it ok (which means something livable (not urine or tobacco smelling room) and arrange for our transportation from the airport. At this point, I felt so relieved to find someone who is willing to help and very responsive to my queries. Even without actually meeting Jonathan in person, I knew I found a real gem. An angel.

But the subsequent email exchanges surprises me even more.


(the whole group in Jonathan's house with kuya Philip,a Pinoy working as taxi driver for ate Vida)


"Hi Mhe-anne, I checked out the 'cheaper' accommodation places around and I would not want to put my parents into these places. There are not a lot of options for nicer hotels without getting into the expensive ones. I would not suggest paying for the 3rd night as it seems a lot of money to pay just for a place to sit and store your bags. You can leave your bags at my house and wait there also until time to go to the airport.
I have booked into the Times Hotel which is near the airport. I have paid already so don't worry about the cost. The airport has a shuttle that will take you into the main city area for a fee.
I will not be there at the airport when you arrive now but there will be a pick up from the Hotel. He will be holding a sign with my name on it, Jonathan Beveridge. My phone here is ______________ in case you need to get hold of me."

Did I read it right??? Did he really pay for the accommodation? That was unexpected gesture and filled my heart with gratitude - a total stranger advancing hotel costs for me? (how trusting!). So I hurriedly replied saying thank you and assured him I will reimburse him for the amount paid. This I said without checking the type of accommodation, how many rooms and how much I owe him. Upon checking the website of Times Hotel, my happiness suddenly turned into a worry, knowing I can't afford to reimburse Jonathan. So I sent Jonathan another email.This time I was surmising a lot of possibilities, but more inclined for the worst. A true Debbie Downer.


"I appreciate so much all of your efforts and making arrangements for my family and I. But I was looking at the hotel website and it is very expensive and I'm concerned it is out of my budget hehe. Is the reservation already confirmed?"

Surprisingly, here is Jonathan's reply:


(at a steamboat resto in Brunei with Jonathan)


"Hi Mhe-anne. I have booked and paid for the hotel for 2 nights. I am not expecting you to reimburse me so don't worry about the cost, just enjoy... If you don't want to stay there and you have other arrangements, no problem, just let me know, I can cancel. But if it is just that you are worried about the money ...don't. There is not a lot to do in Brunei so you might as well be comfortable and relaxed."

Wow,it was truly a nice generous surprise! I still feel so undeserving of such, but maybe my desire for the best for my family made this amazing encounter with Jonathan happened. For the first time, I became so excited to visit Brunei (not only to check it off my list) because of the good people like Jonathan who has been very kind and a true angel even before we arrive.



Now we are back home with photographs and memories of a wonderful vacation in Brunei. We wouldn't forget Jonathan, my forever friend and the lessons of life he taught me and my family. He is the epitome of genuine kindness, generosity, 'going the extra mile' attitude,doing things without expecting anything in return and not wanting to call attention to himself. I know I could never be able to repay Jonathan, (and he isn't wishing for a payback time anyway).But I can pay him forward by being like him - a treasure to others!


(aboard a water taxi in Kampong Ayer (Water Village) with the Omar Saiffudin Mosque at the background)


For previous months blog carnivals please check Estan's site's Pinoy Travel Bloggers Blog Carnival


Lakbayan Philippines Grade


My Lakbayan grade is A!

How much of the Philippines have you visited? Find out at Lakbayan!

Created by Eugene Villar.

Trotting The Globe

Travel Map
I've been to 660 cities in 26 countries
Mhe-Anne is an explorer that:
does their own thing
doesn't mind roughing it
lives on the edge
Travel cred: high
I rank in the top...
0.1% most cities visited - Philippines
0.1% most cities visited - Brunei Darussalam
0.1% most cities visited - Asia

Travel Philippines

Travel Philippines

Travel USA

Travel USA
New York - View from the Empire State Building

Travel Australia

Travel Australia
Opera House - Sydney