Brunei: Royal Empire State of Mind

In the last part of this travel series, Malcolm ventured into the finer side of life with a night stay the grandest hotel in Brunei, his two cents worth on the service by Royal Brunei Airlines as well as his experience as “Prince Charming” when he rode a horse through the woods.  DSC02601 If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned about my flight experience with Royal Brunei Airlines, well, I’m saving the best for the last. The royal treatment from Royal Brunei Airlines began before our departure flight. Upon reaching Changi Airport Terminal 2, we were welcome by Royal Brunei Airlines’ Country Manager for Singapore, Ms G.Wen Lim who gladly ushered us to the Premier Check-In Lounge for our check-in. IMG_1615 The Premiere Lounge is usually reserved for those flying First or Business Class but we had the privilege to experience the express check-in service. This new lounge offers premium passengers of participating airlines the exclusivity of checking in at a private lounge with direct access to the immigration area. Passengers also get to enjoy the lounge’s luxurious facilities, including lounge seating, light refreshments, television and a variety of newspapers and periodicals. IMG_1618 We’re given specially assigned seats and I was seated on the front row and there were a lot of leg room for my long legs to stretch during the 2-hour flight to Brunei. Religion (in particular, Islam) is an integrated part of Brunei’s culture and before taking off, there is an in-flight blessing. I was actually looking forward to it as it’s an cultural experience to me. IMG_9346 IMG_9349 Royal Brunei Airlines offer a wide selection of special in-flight meals to cater for different needs. I pre-selected the Low Calorie Meal while Tiffany had the High Fibre Meal. On the return flight, I chose to go with the regular selection. One travel tip to share, always order a special meal, in that way, you always get the food serve to you first. IMG_1635 Low Calorie Meal (above) – with grilled salmon, salad and fresh fruits  IMG_1636 High Fibre Meal (above) – With chicken breast, seasonal vegetables and fruits  IMG_9543 Normal In-flight Meal – Beef (above) with cake and coleslaw  IMG_9544 Normal In-flight Meal – Chicken (above) with cake and coleslaw  Upon our arrival at Brunei International Airport, we were welcome by Royal Brunei Airlines Communication Officer, Muaz Al Rashid and our tour guide, Tom Chong from Sunshine Borneo Tours. Tom has been a wonderful guide, very knowledge in terms of his country’s history and culture and very professional. He was always the first time to arrive and had to wait for us to get ready. IMG_9377 IMG_9326 Fast forward to the last evening of our tour, we arrived at Brunei’s most magnificent hotel – The Empire Hotel & Country Club. This was my love-hate part of the trip. I seriously wish I had arrived in the grandest hotel in Brunei in style, with my suit on and looking hot for a date, but instead I was dressed in wet T-shirt with damp shorts after our snorkeling trip. DSC02409 I tried to behave nonchalant when the hotel staff served us our welcome drink and attempted to soak in the beauty of the sunset as the backdrop of the lobby balcony. Soon after, we were personally escorted to our individual rooms where we’ll get to enjoy for the night. DSC02466 DSC02413 DSC02416 Having worked for The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore and stayed a few times there, the feeling of stepping into The Empire Hotel’s room was still very impressive. Indeed, it is comparable to a Ritz but with a style of its own. I went under the warm shower to clean off the sea water and still had time to make myself a mocktail consisting of Perrier and mango juice from the mini bar, with compliments from the hotel. DSC02446IMG_9491 IMG_9490 While waiting for our van to pick us up to meet the Bruneian bloggers, we spot a car with the Singapore flag. Upon enquiry, we realised that President of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan was in Brunei for meeting and he was staying in the same room as us. What chance! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA But too bad I didn’t manage to get a photo with him. But one of my friends who is working in Brunei was invited to a dinner with President Tony Tan the next day. How lucky! DSC02462 DSC02464 After having breakfast like a king, we were all excited about the next part of the itinerary which is the site inspection of the hotel. We were first brought to a deluxe room at the other side of the wing. DSC02471 DSC02472 DSC02473 Of course, all of us were mesmerized when we came to the Empress Suite. The suit itself is bigger than the 4-room flat I live in. And we also had the chance to view an Ambassador Suite, of which our President was hosted in one Ambassador Suites. DSC02480 DSC02482 DSC02484 DSC02503 DSC02505 DSC02508 DSC02599DSC02586 DSC02597 DSC02587 DSC02588 DSC02590 DSC02593 We also had the chance to view one of the resorts and a tour of the sports and health facilities before a good exchange with Brunei Tourism officers over lunch. I gave my personal comments on how Brunei should showcase not just their eco-tourism but also as a multi-destination for golfing and scuba diving. DSC02525 DSC02527 DSC02540 DSC02541 DSC02542 DSC02544 DSC02549 DSC02563 DSC02553 DSC02557 A short break after lunch and we were  on our way for the final activity before departure –  horse riding at Royal Brunei Polo & Riding Club, which is just 5 minutes drive away from The Empire Hotel. It was my first time being on the back of a horse and doing a “gangnam style” through the woods. I felt like a prince being escorted on a horse through the forest in a fairytale. DSC02625 DSC02661 DSC02639 DSC02635 DSC02641 DSC02649 DSC02658 DSC02667 DSC02668 The entire journey has been an eye-opening experience for us, and I feel very honoured to be selected as one of the participants to go to Brunei and to share it’s hidden treasures with my readers and friends. DSC02603 Special thanks to Brunei Tourism and Royal Brunei Airlines for the generous hospitality. For more information: Brunei Tourism – www.bruneitourism.travel Brunei Tourism Logo Royal Brunei Airlines – www.flyroyalbrunei.com (website), www.facebook.com/royalbruneisingapore (Facebook) Weekend & diving SIN edm 600px The Empire Hotel & Country Clubwww.theempirehotel.com Royal Brunei Polo & Riding Club is located at Jerudong BG3122, Negara Brunei Darussalam. Tel: +673 261 0524 Email: rbprc2007@gmail.com IMG_4788 Check out my previous travel posts on Brunei and what my travel companions had to say about this trip: Malcolm Sunny’s blog posts The Charming Night Glow of Brunei Conversations with Mother Nature at Ulu Temburong National Park A Tour of Brunei’s National Treasures Andy Storm’s blog posts Brunei: A Kingdom of unexpected treasure Day 1 Brunei: A Kingdom of unexpected treasure Day 2 Brunei: A Kingdom of unexpected treasure Day 3  Brunei: A Kingdom of unexpected treasure Day 4 Tiffany Yong’s blog posts Flying with Royal Brunei Airlines Ulu Ulu Resort: Digital Detox made FUN Luxury Stay at Empire Hotel & Country Club Renzze’s blog posts Part 1: From Singapore to Brunei Part 2: Brunei Night Experiences Part 3: The Journey into the Pristine Rainforest of Brunei  Part 4: Finding peace in the heart of a rainforest Part 5: Peering above the Rainforest Part 6: Venice of the East – Kampong Ayer Part 7: Under the sea in Brunei Part 8: Meeting with Brunei Bloggers Part 9: The Empire Hotel and Country Club in Brunei Part 10: Horse Riding and a sweet farewell Deenise’s blog posts Discover Brunei: Brunei by Night – Mosque Visits and Night Markets Discover Brunei: Ulu Temburong National Park Discover Brunei: Canopy Treetop Walk, Cultural City Tour and Snorkeling Trip Discover Brunei: The Empire Hotel and Dinner with Bruneian Bloggers Discover Brunei: The Final and Bitter-Sweet Goodbyes  Discover Brunei: Travel with Me And View Brunei Through My Lens “Save time, pay less, travel more – Get cheaper air tickets and hotel rooms with Wego.com“.

Scoot Wants You to Win a Year’s Free Travel and $20,000 Cash

Ever wonder what it is like to be a jet-setter? You could be having lunch in Taipei, hi-tea dim sum in Hong Kong and enjoy a glass of wine by Sydney Opera House if you win this contest!

If you are age 18 years old and above, participate in Scoot’s World’s Longest Virtual Flight’s contest by registering yourself at www.facebook.com/flyscoot . One lucky contestant will get to win S$20,000 in cash plus S$30,000 in travel vouchers to be given away!

Last year, Scoot launched its first flight from Singapore to Sydney. To commemorate the first anniversary of its maiden flight to Sydney, stand by at 9pm on 4 June 2013 for the “take off” and “fly” back from Sydney to Singapore at 5am on 5 June 2013.

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Photo credit: http://travel.ninemsn.com.au 

Said Campbell Wilson, CEO of Scoot, “In the past 12 months, Scoot has gone from just one aircraft and one destination to a fleet of five aircraft operating to Sydney, Gold Coast, Bangkok, Taipei, Tokyo, Tianjin, Qingdao and Shenyang, with Seoul and Nanjing commencing in the next two weeks. It’s been a busy and exciting year for all of us at Scoot, and we’re incredibly grateful for all those who’ve supported us. Our online community, especially, has been fantastic, so we wanted to celebrate our first anniversary in a fitting way – and what more fitting way for an online community than to win cash and prizes for doing what they do best: clicking!”

Contestants “on board” must tap (mobile) or click (desktop) the “Scoot Virtual Flight” every 60 seconds initially…with the contestant who outlasts all others walking away with S$20,000 cash and free Scoot flights for one year! All participants will also have the chance to receive one of the S$30,000 in Scoot travel vouchers being given away throughout the contest.

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Photo credit: www.traveldailymedia.com

To participate in the “World’s Longest Virtual Flight” contest, simply register at www.facebook.com/flyscoot from now by accepting the contest’s terms and conditions, read the tips on how to stay safe, then “board” the virtual flight at 8pm on 4 June 2013 ready for “take off” at 9pm. Get ready to Scoot for S$20,000 cash!

I’m going to the Emerald of Borneo!

While the majority population were getting gear up to meet Psy, Carly Rae Jepsen, Justin Bieber and other international stars at the first ever Social Stars Concert, I’m excited about flying off to the Emerald of Borneo and close encounters with the proboscis monkeys tomorrow!

During a recent conversation with a friend, he made this observation after his recent trip to Taipei. “Take away Taipei 101 and the city feels like any other,” he commented. Indeed, for me, most big cities look and feel the same, remove the major landmarks and shopping bazaars, and what’s remaining are the skyscrapers overlooking downtown like security officers guarding a red carpet.

This is why I feel that Brunei is so special to me – offering us a chance to be close to Mother Nature and the great outdoor again. In comparison, Brunei is 5,765 kilometres square while Singapore is only 710 kilometers square, and 70% of its land mass is covered by lush rainforest. Besides oil, I believe clean air is also in abundance at the Emerald of Borneo.

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[Photo credit: borneoadventure.com]

Geographically separated from peninsular Asia by the South China Sea, Brunei lies on Borneo – the 3rd largest island in the world. Brunei occupies only 1% of Borneo, sharing the island with Malaysia’s Sarawak and Sabah, and Indonesia’s province of Kalimantan.

Besides sharing the same currency rate as Singapore and occasionally receiving the Brunei dollars while shopping, I know little about this Southeast Asia neighbour of ours. I made a trip to the library but was unable to find any guidebook specifically for Brunei, which encouraged me to discover more about this mysterious country when I arrive there.

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[Photo credit: idreamofdurian.com]

Besides being the home of proboscis monkey, the capital Bandar Seri Begawan is a juxtaposition of water villages with the grand palace, Istana Nurul Iman and majestic mosques as its backdrop. Many of my friend laughed when I show my excitement for Brunei, a country many guys only recognised as the training ground for jungle survival during their military service.

No doubt, a holiday to Brunei is unlike the usual city sightseeing, shopping and eating which we experience in Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. As a lover of nature, I had been to Mount Kinabalu in Sabah and I am really looking forward to discover what this country of less than half a million population has in store for us.

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[Photo credit: theempirehotel.com]

I have seen the draft itinerary and I am thrilled that we will be staying at different accommodations every night. From the elegant Rizqun International Hotel to the rustic-charmed Ulu-Ulu National Park Resort, and rounding off the trip with a night stay at the majestic Empire Hotel & Country Club, I’m atingle to check out the various facilities of these hotels and resort.

The pre-planned activities include a mixture of culture and outdoor – a night tour of  SOAS mosque and JAME mosque, trekking through Ulu Temburong National Park, a day tour of the water village, relaxing time at Serasa Beach, plus diving, snorkeling and horse riding. With an itinerary is packed with so many stuff to do, we dare to say that a holiday in Brunei is only just about M&M (mosque and museum).

The fun part of this trip is that I will be going with four other bloggers, Andy Storm, Tiffany YongDeenise Glitz and Renzze (click here to read her pre-trip blog post) but I haven’t met any of them before. I’m looking forward to the interesting experiences together.

Special thanks to OMY.SG and Royal Brunei Airlines for sending me there. Royal Brunei Airlines fly to all the major cities in Southeast Asia and East Asia, as well as Dubai, London and Melbourne. They are currently running their 38th anniversary celebration with promotional fares to six destinations. Sales period until 31 May 2013. 

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[Image: flyroyalbrunei.com]

Remember to check out Royal Brunei Airlines’ website for your next holiday, at www.bruneiair.com

Happy 80th Anniversary, KLM!

KLM celebrates 80 years of flying service to Singapore with the launch of “KLM Says” campaign, “Tulipmania” at Gardens by the Bay and many other special events in the month of May; bringing the scent of Holland to our Lion City!

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“We are pleased to be marking this 80th anniversary with various special celebrations for our customers, without whom this milestone would not have been possible. On 3 May 1933, a KLM Fokker F-18 landed in Singapore, making KLM the first western airline to serve Singapore with a scheduled service. Since then, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has been growing from strength to strength and we hope to continue soaring to greater heights with our customers!” said Mr Domingo De Cola, General Manager – Singapore, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.

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Founded in The Netherlands in 1919, KLM is the oldest international airline in the world, and the Amsterdam-London air link, first flown by KLM on its inaugural flight in 1920, is the oldest air route still served by the same airline.

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In the early 1930s, KLM took the lead to recognise Singapore’s strategic location in the region and allowed this city to develop into the port of call and a convenient stopover point for flights heading between Europe and Australia.

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In a special partnership between KLM and Gardens by the Bay, more than 40,000 tulips will transform the “Flower Dome” cooled conservatory into the largest tulip display in Singapore. Held between 29 April to 20 May 2013, Tulipmania is a 3-week event courtesy of KLM which feature the captivating floral display of 20,000 tulip bulbs into a myriad of red, pink, yellow, white and purple, along with other beautiful spring blooms such as lilies, hyacinths, daffodils and muscari.

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“Tulipmania takes visitors on a botanical journey into the world of tulips, right here in the tropics. Not only are we creating the largest tulip display in Singapore, we are doing so by engaging the community (as more than 100 volunteers from Temasek Junior College, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Netherlands Charity Association lend a hand with the tulip planting),” said Dr Kiat W. Yan, Chief Executive Officer, Gardens by the Bay.

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In celebration of Mother’s Day (which also falls in the month of May), “KLM Loves Mum Campaign” will be giving out 2,500 tulip stalks on 7 May at Raffles Place. So ladies, look for out the Tulip Angels on that day.

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On 11 May, the Band of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is set to serenade and entertain visitors of Singapore Botanic Gardens for free. And on 12 May, music enthusiasts can enjoy a performance of the Band of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines at the School of The Arts (SOTA) Concert Hall along with Singapore Wind Symphony. Dutch composer, Johan De Meij will be attending as a guest.

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10 Reasons to visit Amsterdam this year

  1. KLM is the official carrier of “Amsterdam 2013”
  2. Visit 400 years of Amsterdam Canals – “Canal Ring” is an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010, various Canal Parade and Canals Festivals will be stage
  3. Rijksmuseum’s opening
  4. Concertgebouw’s 125th Anniversary
  5. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s 125th Anniversary
  6. Frans Hals Museum’s 125th Anniversary
  7. Van Gogh Museum’s 40th Anniversary and reopening
  8. Netherlands / Russia-year / Hermitage Exhibit ‘Czar Peter the Great’
  9. Felix Meritis’s 225th Anniversary
  10. Artis Royal Zoo’s 175th Anniversary

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Discover all KLM offers at www.klm.sg. For reservations, please call the KLM Service Centre at 6823 2220. 

For more details on Tulipmania @ Gardens by the Bay, log on to www.gardensbythebay.com.sg

More information and to purchase tickets for “Journeys of Inspiration” concert by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Band and Singapore Wind Symphony, please visit: http://www.sws.sg/1/post/2013/04/journeys-of-inspiration.html

Escapade to KL

With fare as cheap as a bus ticket, a flight on budget airplane takes only 45 minutes to bring us to a rewarding weekend escape to Kuala Lumpur.

I always booked my flights on Tiger Airways half a year in advance to take advantage of their wonderful sales fare.

Touching down at KL’s Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT), I was welcomed by this scenic sunset.

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After a restful sleep at my friend’s place, I was all ready to meet up with Arran Fong. He’s a famous fashion blogger in Malaysia and has done numerous reviews on labels.

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Since I was early, I headed to Starbucks for my breakfast but to my horror, I realised that they do not have Breakfast Pairing at Starbucks Malaysia. I order a yucky multi-grain apple muffin which I didn’t manage to finished.

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While waiting for him to dress up, I grew bored and entertained myself by camwhoring.

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We spent a full day shuttling between KLCC and Pavilion shopping mall. Thank goodness for the newly built link bridge between the two malls, we were sheltered from hot sun at noon and shielded from the heavy downpour in the evening.

We dropped by the “atas” (ah-tahs) fashion mall, Starhill. Arran immediately fell in love with the Alexander McQueen boutique. He spent an entire hour trying and deciding which Kenko loafers to add to his private collection.

 

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After shopping at Starhill, we headed back to Pavilion to have lunch at Wang Kok cafe. It’s a Hong Kong style cafe serving a fusion of Malaysia-Hong Kong dishes.

With a strong currency exchange rate of 1 Singapore dollar to 2.48 Malaysia Ringgit, I was smiling from ear to ear as I order my value lunch meal for only RM9.90. The meal will cost the same in Singapore but it will be in Singapore dollara. How can we not fall in love with KL?

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Feeling full from our lunch, we went to watch The Amazing Spiderman as our stomach took time to digest. The seats in the theatre was really comfy. I felt that I had paid RM9 (student price) for premium GV Gold Class seats.

Dessert followed after. I order a fresh papaya with harsmar and coconut milk while Arran had a Mango Romance.

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We planned to run around KLCC park but it was raining heavily as we exited out from Pavilion.

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Despite a whole day of shopping, my bag was empty. Determined to walk back with new clothing for my wardrode, I pulled Arran into Zara store with me.

I was happy that I bought a sleek shirt for work. 🙂

$78 Getaway to Batam

Alright, I confess. I am a converted now. Groupon deals are great!

For only $78 per person, our package includes return ferry tickets to Batam, one night stay at Planet Holiday Hotel & Residence with breakfast, seafood lunch plus bonus one-hour massage. Now, say wow!

 

The deal also includes a half day city tour. It’s not all just about visiting factory outlets, we also get up close with some local cultural attractions like Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya Temple (one of the biggest Chinese temple in Batam) and Thoa Pek Kong Temple.

Of cos, no trip to Batam is not complete without getting souvenirs from the Chocolate Factory Outlet and local dry goods shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch at Golden Prawn 555, we were treated to a cultural show with fire-swallowing and glass-chewing shaman. But we also witnessed a cruel monkey show. To me, capturing animal to perform for entertainment is cruel. I don’t support such animal trade. The poor monkey was hugging the audience and begging us for help.

 

After a tiring day of traveling and shopping, we were treated to a relaxing body massage. For additional $8, we could extend the massage for 30 min or change to one hour aromatherapy massage or body scrub. I paid extra $10 to upgrade to aromatherapy massage for 90 min.

We checked in to the hotel around 7.30 pm. Planet Holiday was an awesome hotel with a fabulous view and pool. We had our dinner at MacDonald’s being chilling in the jacuzzi to end the night 🙂