Brunei: Charming Night Glow of Bandar Seri Begawan

To many Singaporeans, simply mention Brunei and their instantaneous response would be, “It sounds boring. Is there anything to do there?” In this travel series, Malcolm explored the Abode of Peace and shares the hidden treasures from the last sovereign Malay Sultanate in the world.

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My alarm  woke me up. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. I made a quick trip to the bathroom to freshen up before making my way to the hotel lobby. I had two hours to shop and explore downtown before the agreed time to meet up with our tour guide. It was my first day at Brunei and I was curious to find out more.

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We were hosted in Rizqun International Hotel. Conveniently located  in the central business zone of Bandar Seri Begawan and connected to The Mall – one of the main shopping venues in the capital of Brunei. This four-star hotel welcomes travelers with its elaborated glass art decorations in the lobby. The swimming pool complements the needs of family with young children. Published rate for this hotel goes from B$320.00 but they run promotions from time to time with room rates starting from B$145.00 per night.

If you find the hotel’s wifi service pricy, simply hop over to The Mall to purchase a 3G SIM card. There are many shops selling mobile phones and related services. 3G SIM card are available at B$30, comes with a value of B$5. We also got a top up card of B$10, which last us through our 4 days 3 nights trip in Brunei. Special thanks to our friends at Royal Brunei Airlines who understood the needs of social media addicts like us, who cannot live without updating our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and included the 3G SIM cards in our welcome package.

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Surprisingly, The Mall and the surrounding areas of the town have every brand we have in Singapore. But instead of a spam of cookie cutter outlets in the malls of Singapore, most of the common brands have only a single shop in Brunei, at least that is true for McDonald’s.

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I was able to spot Giordano, Pizza Hut, KFC and even Jollibee in Brunei. And Sushi Tei has recently opened an outlet in Bandar Seri Begawan. I also spotted a number of men in their traditional costumes. In Brunei, it is not uncommon to see men wearing Baju Melayu as an alternative dress code for work. Unlike Singapore, our Malay men normally only wear it during major celebrations like Hari Raya Puasa.

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A chat with my tour guide, Tom from Sunshine Borneo Tours, I found that there is no goods and services tax (GST) in Brunei and Bruneians do not need to pay any income tax. Basically,they get to keep what they earn! Education is free up to university-level. Also medical and petrol are heavily subsidized as well. Bruneians only need to pay a token fee of B$1 per consultation for healthcare and if the medical assistance is not available in the country, they are sent overseas at the government’s expenses.

Another interesting fact is that Brunei practises ‘No Plastic Bags’ days  from Friday to Sunday. I was rather surprised and certainly impressed with this oil-producing country. Our thoughtful tour guide also made it a point to remind us to bring a reusable shopping bag with us.

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We began our Brunei by Night by first filling up our tummies at Portview Seafood Restaurant, a popular spot for locals. It is extremely busy at the end/beginning of the month when people received their paycheck. The restaurant offers an unobscured view of the water village at the opposite site of the bank.

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Dinner that night consists of a sumptuous seafood steamboat. Fresh prawns, fish and crab caught locally were arranged neatly together with fishballs and crab sticks on a bed of cabbage and greens waiting for us to drop them into our choice of tom yum soup or chicken both.

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After dinner, we took a stroll towards the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin (SOAS) Mosque. We froze in awe and paused for photographs as the view of the gigantic honeycomb of gold came into our view. I had seen many mosques in Singapore and Malaysia but seeing the SOAS Mosque glowing at night was a very special experience.

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Do you know that there is an International Quran Reading Competition? The national Quran reading competition in Brunei is held annually at SOAS Mosque and I heard that the winner of the Quran reading competition will be rewarded with a lifetime monthly stipend of B$2,000 courtesy of the government.

Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, or JAME Mosque for short, is the largest mosque in Brunei and is considered one of the grandest monuments in Islamic culture.  It was built to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the sultan’s reign. We managed to make it in time to snap a few postcard worthy photographs before the mosque closed for the night.

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By the request of TIffany, we made a side trip to Fitness Zone Health Club. This gym is opened by Brunei-born Taiwanese celebrity, Wu Zun (formerly) of Fahrenheit. We heard that sometimes overseas fans of this popular singer/actor will travel to Brunei and camp outside the gym in hope of catching a glimpse of their idol. At least, Tiffany didn’t have to sleep outside Fitness Zone that night.

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The final highlight of the evening was the trip to the night market at Gadong shopping area, located 5-10 minutes walk away from Rizqun International Hotel where we were staying. It offers a glimpse into the local cuisine culture and as bloggers, we entertained ourselves that night by making funny poses and engaging in food photography, much to the amusement of the locals.

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We spotted a stall selling B$1.00 Nasi Katok, a dish of hot rice served with a side of spicy sambal, and a piece of chicken or beef or pusu (anchovies). Nasi means rice in the Malay language and Katok means knock. Back in the old days, there was no 24-hour eateries, so the only way for a hungry person to get a midnight fix was to knock on the doors of a food outlet and get the owner out of bed. The sleepy owner will then prepare a simple dish which evolves into the present day Nasi Katok. (Click here to read more about the story of Nasi Katok.)

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After having some snacks from Gadong night market and tea in my hotel room, it was time for us to turn in for the night. I will be sharing about Ulu Ulu Resort and Ulu Temburong National Park tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Thank you Royal Brunei Airlines, Brunei Tourism and Omy.sg for sending me to Brunei. And blogger friends Andy Storm, Deenise Glitz, Karen “Renzze” Ashley and Tiffany Yong for sharing their travel photos.

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For more information about Royal Brunei Airlines and their fares, please visit their website www.royalbruneiair.com or check out their Facebook page www.facebook.com/royalbruneiairlinessingapore

P.S. – There are no public bus or train service in Brunei. You may take a taxi to an attraction but it will be difficult to find a cab back to your hotel. The best way to explore Brunei is to book a tour package.

“Save time, pay less, travel more – Get cheaper air tickets and hotel rooms with Wego.com“.

Taste of the Straits at Owl Cafe

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The familiar household name now has a new baby. Walking past Star Vista (shopping mall next to Buona Vista MRT station) one day with my friend, Christina, we spotted this unique contemporary style café serving fusion ‘nanyang’ cuisine.

After a history of 56 years, Owl Coffee (established in 1956) has given birth to an exciting café concept. No one knows coffee and café like Owl, with a story that goes as far back and as far away as the Straits Asia, being a melting pot of different cultures where Straits Asian coffee burst into life.

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Enjoy the various blends of authentic Straits Asian-inspired coffee that Owl café has perfected over 50 years of roasting and blending coffee while savoring Straits Asian (Nanyang) food prepared in a creative, fusion manner.

A good place for an affordable lunch or for those looking for a relaxing afternoon of coffee and chat, Owl Café has something to offer to everyone.

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Owl Cafe is a great place for lunch or dinner. Start off your meal with a glass refreshing Mango Soda or a cup of Gula Melaka Kopi follow by Hae Chor Salad with Oriental Dressing before proceeding to try their Spaghetti with Laksa Sauce.

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If you work near Holland Village, come down to this cafe located at Star Vista besides Buona Vista MRT station and try the high recommended Assam Chicken Wings or have the Assam Mango Chicken with Nasi Kuning for lunch!

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Relax the weekend afternoon with a cuppa while savoring the declicious Roti Bakar Assam Nanas (tamarind sauce topped with ham and pineapple slices) or their Otak-otak Toast. Coffee lovers should a taste of the famous 100% authentic Kopi Luwak (civet coffee served with coffee caviar).

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A meal is not complete with a happy ending. Choose between Chendol (with jackfruit slices), Glory Hitam or Soya Bean Curd. In need of a weekly/monthly dose durian? Try the recommended Durian Pengat, just remember to share it with your friends!

Happy Three Friends

One of the benefits of working in central is the joy of having to different friends to company us for lunch everyday. This is definitely a better appreciated change from my previous workplace in an ulu industrial part on the eastern shore. However, lunch is also more pricey in town as compared to other parts of the island.

Today, I went to Ramen Nantsuttei at PARCO Marina Bay @ Millenia Walk. My bowl of Golden Curry Ramen ($15) is a mash-up of the their famous ramen soup based and the unique minced meat curry sauce. The other two had the normal ramen at $12 and add-on an egg at $1.

I know Choon Liang from Katong Toastmasters Club. A jovial guy who often cracks humorous speech during our public speaking club meetings, he works at the office building next to mine. Often seem in his metrosexual chic dressing, sorry boys and girls, he is engaged and getting married next year.

Alyssa Rae works as a consultant near Beach Road. I got to know her when we were both volunteer panelists with Young Changemakers. These days, she is a food porn star, you can follow her and find out what she is having for lunch or dinner at @petrarae on Instagram.

 

I’ll miss having our Threesome Tuesday lunch together. Hur hur.

Happy “Sweet 17” Birthday to NYDC

Teen stars Edwin Goh and Jayley Woo joined celebrity food bloggers Catherine Ling (camemberu.com), Miss Tam Chiak (misstamchiak.com) and Velda Tan (belluspuera.blogspot.com) in an evening of fun, laugher and “gastronomic intoxication” as NYDC celebrated their Sweet 17 on 18 September 2012 at their Bugis Junction’s outlet.

 

 

I was lucky to win the @ChurpChurp invite for the party on Tuesday. I was even more delighted to know that fellow blogger friends, Jeremy Li (jeremysg.blogspot.com) and Valentine Low (enidlareg.blogspot.sg) were attending the event too. It’s been a long time since I caught up with Valentine and I was happy to find out on the spot that we were arranged to sit together.

 

 

 

Also on the same table were popular blogger, Catherine Ling (aka Camemberu) and connected with new friends – Amanda Lee (@__amandalee), Janice Yik (@janiceyik) and Samantha Kaylee (@samankaylee). I also took photo with William Tan (onlywilliam.blogspot.com).

 

 

Hosted by my favorite YES 9.33 DJ, Lim Peifen (@LimPeifen), we’re entertained by engaging games and her energetic hosting as we sank our teeth into NDYC newest additionals to their menu.

 

 

The first game we played was “Food Search”. It was a word search puzzle where we had to hunt for the items on their menu. We were the second team to complete the task. But unfortunately we accidentally circle one extra letter and we didn’t manage to win the vouchers.

 

To keep our occupied in between the serving, we played the second game “The Moment” where teams were given a new food item and we were supposed to come out with a tagline relating to a particular moment in our live. Our entry “A Coffee Affair – A romance you can have anytime, only at NDYC”  won first prize and each of us were rewarded with a $20 voucher!

 

We also played the longest breath game. Simply said, “NYDCcccccccccccccccccccccccccccc..” My team mate and I both tried but were unsuccessful at breaking Edwin’s longest breath record.

In celebration of their “Sweet 17”, diners can look forward to two popular comeback items “Romeo & Juliet” as well as “Picasso Pizza”. Not party was complete without boozing and no one could do it better than hiding the alcohol inside the gastronomic treats. I really love the Waldorf with a Hic, Drunken Masta and Nutty Cookie Cruncher. 😀

Three lucky winners of “Post us a birthday message” contest were awarded with one year supply of mudpies! Wow, I would really love to befriend them, eat mudpies and grow fat. Hahaha…

Waldorf with a Hic… this sexy salad is Irish with whisky soaked grapes!

 

Skinny Dip Chips… have your choice of spicy chili beef, blue cheese or artichoke blend dips

 

Romeo & Juliet… herb baked rice complete with bacon and sweet corn

Picasso Pizza… make your pizza artistic by choosing your own toppings

 

Drunken Masta… choose your drunken level with one shot, two shots or three shots of tequila to accompany the seafood pasta with tiger prawns, dory fillet and clams

 

Yankee’s in Town… check out chicken chutes and sausage wrapped with delicious bacon

Cheesecakes… A Passion for Cheesecake (with passion fruit), Sourpuss on the Loose (lemon tart), P-nut Buttered Up (peanut butter included), Englishman in New York (with Earl Grey)

 

 

Mudpies… I’m Goin’ Bananas (yellow, yellow banana) and Sealed with a Kiss (minty kiss)

Goodie Old Times

Into its ninth year and gotten bigger with support from 19 corporate partners, 21 community partners and more than 250 volunteers, the Singapore HeritageFest 2012 is set to reach out to Singaporeans to “Recollect, Reflect and Reconnect”.

 

We woke up early on a Saturday morning to rush down to Velocity@Novena Square to support Irene Ang, who is the emcee for the opening of the HeritageFest. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts was present to grace the event as the guest of honour.

 

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim mentioned in his speech, “I am heartened that Singaporeans are not only demonstrating a stronger interest in our heritage, but also taking a more active role in keeping our heritage alive. This edition of the Singapore HeritageFest (SHF) has seen more individuals and community groups coming forward to participate in and shape the Festival.”

 

 

 

This year’s SHF is spread over 9 Festival Hubs and 2 Satellite Hubs around the island. With Sports as its main theme at Velocity, the exhibition showcases the sporting history of our nation and celebrates the achievements of our countrymen and women in the realm of sports.

 

The programme for the opening of SHF features the cultural richness of the different ethnic groups with appearance from some of our favorite comedians such as Patricia Mok and Suhaimi Yusof.

 

 

 

I was interviewed by Lianhe Zaobao and quoted saying that I welcomed the idea that the National Heritage Board (NHB) offers free entry to its museums in August and it will now be a yearly affair. For those of us who are sick of shopping in the malls, we can spend the afternoon of weekends visiting the permanent galleries and selected exhibitions of these museums.

 

There are really a lot of things to do from now till 29 July. You can immerse in Football Fever at Century Square (Tampines), check out Void Decks at Changi City Point, find out more about Traditional Toys and Games at Tiong Bahru Plaza, recollect memories of our National Monuments at Hougang Mall, experience Peranakan Heritage at 112 Katong or go Shopping for Gold at Causeway Point. For the movie buffs, you can relive the Golden Age of Singapore Cinema at Bugis Junction  or see Singapore through the lenses of 10 local short film-makers at Jurong Point.

Heritage Trails await you at Tiong Bahru CC, Sembawang CC, CHIJ Katong Convent and Evergreen Secondary School. The Centrepoint brings you flash back to the 1980s with music performances and movie screening. The other satellite hub at Chinatown Visitors Centre has an interactive gallery with display from Rediffusion and walking tours conduct by Chinatown clan associations.

 

 

After the launch, it was time for us to feed our soul. We discovered Curry Times operated by Old Chang Kee at #02-33-34 of Velocity. It’s a good place to relax and to soak in its retro, 1960s theme.

 

 

 

We absolutely enjoy the ambience of that eatery and on your way out, remember to reward yourself with some Sugar Gem Cookies!