Royal Brunei Airlines / GTMC Trip – April 2016
I was delighted to be able to join this trip and excited to be visiting a place whose capital city had stuck in my mind from when I first started in travel – Bandar Seri Begawan!
I found it interesting that a lot of people I spoke to before I travelled had no idea where this beautiful country was, with most people thinking it was somewhere in the Middle East.
The group met at the dedicated Royal Brunei area in T4 and were quickly checked-in by welcoming staff before heading off through fast track security to the sumptuous Etihad lounge within 15 minutes. Pre-flight drinks were served by attentive hosts and a wide variety of interesting snacks were available – the WIFI meant that we could check our emails one last time before boarding the aircraft.
On boarding, we were met by beautiful attendants in traditional dress who showed us to our spacious business class seats taking time to learn our names, provide hot towels and ensure we had a welcome drink. Although Royal Brunei is a “dry” airline, the juices offered were delicious and you can bring your own alcohol on board if desired. The 18 business class seats are wider than most others I have seen and the whole cabin had a light airy feeling about it.
After take-off on the first leg of our journey to Dubai, our tables were set up with linen tablecloths and we were served our chosen meal before settling down to enjoy the latest movies (and some classic ones too). Pillows and duvets were provided for those who wanted to sleep. The transfer process at Dubai was easy and we had time to stock up on essentials from duty free and enjoy the spacious lounge before re-boarding the aircraft for the second leg of our trip. We were met by a new crew who took just as much care of us and the 8 hour flight passed quickly. Immigration was a smooth process (remember to declare any alcohol and cigarettes being bought into the country) and our bags were first off the plane enabling us to head off within 30 minutes of landing. Although you cannot purchase alcohol in Brunei you are permitted to bring your own as long as it is declared.
We were met by Richard and a driver from Sunshine Tours for the short drive to the luxurious Empire Hotel. Originally built as a palace, this sumptuous hotel has over 500 rooms (including the Emperor Suite with its own swimming pool, steam room, movie theater and grand piano!) with an impressive atrium overlooking the pools and the South China Sea. We were greeted by the management and accompanied to our spacious Ocean rooms which included a secluded balcony, dressing area and large bathroom with a separate wet room and toilet along with an enormous bath. After a quick freshen up we were taken to a local restaurant where we met Karam Chand (CEO Royal Brunei) and his team for an enjoyable introductory dinner.
After a refreshing sleep in the wonderfully comfortable beds it was an early start for our visit to the Ulu Ulu National State Park. We enjoyed a filling breakfast in the E Club lounge with fantastic views before meeting up with Richard from Sunshine Tours to start our adventure into the Rainforest. The journey involved a 45 minute trip on a covered speed boat down wide rivers, a transfer in a minibus followed by a 30 minute longboat trip to the resort through narrower rivers enjoying the beautiful lush scenery along the way. On arrival at the resort, which is one of the few places in the world where the eco-system remains intact and untouched, we were shown round the surprisingly well equipped accommodation including meeting rooms, a theater, games room and comfortable bedrooms with verandas overlooking the river. There is no internet or television enabling guests to take part in the wide range of activities available (trekking, bird-watching, team building, kayaking, discovering flora and fauna) or simply sitting back and indulging in the magical experience Ulu Ulu Resort has to offer.
We were then challenged to take the 1800 steps required to reach the tower leading to the canopy walk – no mean feat in the humid heat! Although four of us made it (just!) up the steps, only two were brave enough to climb the tower leading to the overhead walkway with spectacular views over the rainforest. The decent was far easier and we returned to the lodge for our next activity – tubing! This involved floating down the river in a large rubber ring enjoying the scenery being swept along by a surprisingly strong current and was most welcome after the heat of the climb to the canopy walk. After struggling to shore, we trekked to a natural waterfall to enjoy a “shower” with fish nibbling at our toes before heading back to the lodge for a lunch made from locally sourced natural ingredients including herbs and fruit grown at the resort. All too soon it was time to make the return journey to reality – tired but with great memories of a fantastic experience. Anthony Chieng from Sunshine Tours then kindly took us to his favorite Thai restaurant but unfortunately the planned tour of the night market had to be abandoned due to a tropical downpour.
After another great night’s sleep and wonderful breakfast, it was time to find out more about Bandar Seri Begawan and the history of Brunei. We were met by Richard who took us on a tour of the city including the breathtakingly beautiful Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque where I had to wear a robe coverings me from shoulder to toe, the colorful market and the Royal Regalia Museum with its stunning display of the Sultan’s treasures and the history of his coronation and reign. Our next stop was a tour of the water village – housing over 39,000 people, it is the largest of its kind in the world. It is actually 42 villages connected by 29,140 meters of footbridges with houses surprisingly enjoying luxuries such as plumbing, electricity, air conditioning, internet access and satellite TV. We felt like we were on a James Bond film set weaving our way through the village in a motorboat before alighting to walk along the narrow footbridges to a typical house where we enjoyed another fabulous lunch of local produce.
After returning to the hotel, we were given a tour of its extensive accommodation and facilities including the Ocean, Superior & Deluxe rooms and the ambassador suite along with their two screen cinema, 18 hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus and their country club which has a spa, bowling alley, badminton & squash courts, lap pool and outdoor tennis courts. We were joined for an excellent dinner in the Pantai restaurant at the hotel by Jeanne Chan and members of the team which made for an enjoyable, relaxed evening.
Our final day saw the men test their skills on the golf course whilst fending off monkeys trying to thwart their progress by attacking their buggies whilst I sampled the Signature Massage at the luxurious spa. Both activities were fantastic and followed by lunch in the country club before reluctantly checking out of the hotel. After fond goodbyes and a grand send-off we headed off to Royal Brunei’s Head Office to meet with Hanif Abdulla (Head of Revenue Management), Christina Chua (Head of Sales), Angeline Lim (Sales Support Manager) and Alirahim Haji Abdul Rani (Manager Marketing) for feedback of our experience and discussions on how we can work together to promote the airline and Brunei as a destination.
Check-in at Brunei Darassulam International Airport was seamless and we were impressed by the comfortable dedicated area reserved for Business Class passengers and the spacious lounge with WIFI that allowed us to check our emails and reconnect with the real world. The return flight via Dubai was as comfortable as the outward leg and we all managed to sleep on the wonderful flat beds ensuring we arrived into Heathrow fresh and ready to face the day.
I would like to thank Adiel Mambara who accompanied us on the trip along with everyone at Royal Brunei, The Empire Hotel and Sunshine Tours for inviting us to experience their services and the beautiful country that is Brunei. Bandar Seri Begawan is an excellent stopover destination on the way to Australia or as an additional stop on a tour of Malaysia and Borneo with plenty of culture and activities to interest all ages and Royal Brunei Airlines has a great product with excellent attention to detail.
Author: Julie Cooper, Manager Membership, GTMC