25 Sept 2013
And so I am back to Brunei (Negara Brunei Darussalem) on my third business trip- making that the 2nd visit within 2013. Located in Southeast Asia, Brunei is known as the only sovereign state located on the island of Borneo , with the remainder of the island forming parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. It primary religion is Islam and the population is said to be shy of 500,000. (Did you know the price of oil is 53 cents a litre ??)
The last two visits to the sultanate had not been massively exciting given I would fly the red eye which would touch down and get me to the hotel somewhat before 1am , squeeze in business meetings the following day and then fly the last evening flight back home. Flights to Brunei could be either on the Singapore Airlines or the Royal Brunei Airlines. Unlike the Royal Brunei Airlines, Singapore Airlines does not fly to Brunei on a daily basis and the timings often do not quite sync with business meeting schedules. I have faced this in the recent trips to Brunei. Morning flights departing Singapore to Brunei at about 9ish are only available on 2 days or so in a week. They would otherwise depart at about noon and thus touch down about 2ish in the afternoon. Singapore Airlines departing Brunei to head back home typically depart about mid afternoon and do not have late evening flights, making it slightly difficult to do day business trips to Brunei. I have therefore, once again flown the Royal Brunei BI422 to Brunei today.
It’s my first taking a morning flight out to Brunei. The check in staff at Changi did not seem too busy and were generally polite. Both the Borneo Times and The Straits Times were available for all passengers on a stand prior to plane entry door. The flight was barely full and there was a half hour delay in the take off – resulting in a 15 minute delay for arrival. Service on flight was good with the crew having a good command of English. One is given a number of options for fruit juices – mango, apple, pineapple, tomato, etc. For the avid alcoholics out there though, an important point to note is that no alcohol is served on Royal Brunei – and oh , in Brunei in general 🙂 It is said though that you could bring in a certain amount of alcohol should you not be able to live without it. Lunch was served and I was offered a choice of either roast chicken with potato salad or rice with beef – hungry, I opted for the rice option. The meal came complete with the bun, vegetable salad, rice with beef and a cheesecake for dessert. They do say when one is hungry anything might taste good- not quite the same in my case quite sadly. It could have been an individual preference but the taste of the rice and the beef and the salad did not go down too well with me. Well, after a few pecks at the rice , the call of the cheesecake was too loud to ignore – thank god for cheesecakes that do not go wrong!
The seats in the plane, interior and the toilets were clean, and provided adequate space. There was nothing spectacular but it was sufficient for a good decent journey. Flight take offs also begin with a short Islamic prayer.
Landing in Brunei airport , the weather looked somewhat cloudy. It had apparently been raining hours before we landed. The airport is easily a far cry from the likes of Changi or Narita or Suvarnabumi in Bangkok. Imagine the airport in Penang, if you have been. It is a simple and basic airport. As I had carried my luggage along with me in the flight, I made my way straight to the exit and met the airport pick up staff from the hotel I had booked my stay- the Radisson Hotel. The driver was local and spoke basic English. The journey from the airport to the hotel at about 3pm in the afternoon took just ten minutes.
The Radisson has an elegant touch to its look – not too posh but not too basic either. Staff at the check in were polite and the check in was one of the fastest I have experienced. My room was on the 5th floor opposite the Suites. Although the rooms are not large, they were functional and well furnished. The toilet and bath areas were clean and the wifi connection in the room was amazing!
As the day drew to a close following the end of our meetings we headed for a buffet dinner at the restaurant on the first floor in the hotel – Tasek Brasserie. We had been chauffeured around for our meetings in a taxi arranged by the hotel – though the staff are polite and helpful, a word of advise would be to arrange for the cabs or cars to arrive about 10 minutes prior to the time you would actually want to leave the hotel. (The service though helpful, is not fast unfortunately) The spread at the restaurant was good – with a mix of Asian and Western. Pasta, noodles, fried rice, baked potatoes, bread and cheese selections, meat platter, seafood and of course dessert! Honeydew pudding- unique but worth a try 🙂 interestingly the staff were Filipino and offered good service. To make up for the lack of alcohol, the restaurant offers a mock tail of the month- nothing close to alcohol but good. Check out the decor in the pictures!
Good food, good ambience, good chat – that leaves you with almost nothing else to do in the hotel. The food was cheap and worth the value. We paid about BT 30 dollars which is SGD 30 per person for the buffet spread and the mocktail inclusive. There is a swimming pool in the first floor which is not used by anyone. The hotel has in addition a gym and a spa, known as Cantik Spa (Cantik in Malay means “Beautiful” ). It was disappointing though that most of the staff in the spa operated in the morning hours and hence could not slot in massages or facials for the evening. Have managed to slot a manicure for the morning of the following day though :)!
26 Sept 2013
Rise and shine to a new day, and a little sadly, there is not much of a scenic view from the hotel room – at least the one I am staying in. It looks out to the pool and the hills surrounding the hotel area, with some construction around the corner as well. C’est tout. I had the whole morning to myself, and given it was not much time to venture out for some sight seeing, I got down to the first floor of the hotel for the spa services I had arranged for. A manicure and a neck and shoulder massage. No wonder they say every girl needs some pampering 🙂 It was brilliant start to the day. The key reception area for the Spa was somewhat small and included an area within it for the manicure and pedicure services. The rest of the rooms in the first floor cater to the other services such as the massages and the facials. I was ushered to one of the rooms and how I wished I was staying in that room. it had a bath with rose petals, a single bed lined with the towels for the massage a dressing table and the relevant items sitting on it, I could go on 🙂 The lady who worked on my massage was obviously very skilled and very good with her fingers. I would not say the same about the manicurist, but hey, it is still part of the pampering. Did I mention the massage was possibly half the price I would pay back home? It was BT 35, and the manicure was BT20 (did not quite feel it was worth the value for the manicure though).
Massage and manicure done, and looking and feeling every bit wonderful, it was back to business meetings in the afternoon. This time, we had a car arranged for us, and Clifton was our driver. He looked and sounded Filipino and was a friendly guy. We were all done in a couple of hours and it was back to the airport for our flight back home. What would have been usually a whizz past the check in and immigration turned out to be a very different story this time. There were loads of people in the airport and the queue for the baggage check in seemed unusual. 530pm – an hour before the flight takes off. We managed to chat up the lady staff at the airport and get into the shortest queue meant only for the Online check in passengers. All done, we were finally at the gates. Looking out , I could see the Royal Brunei Airlines (or Raja Brunei as they call in Malay) waiting to fly us home. Although admittedly I may not have seen much of Brunei, I am glad this trip turned out differently compared to the previous – the weather was awesome as well (cloudy, but no showers). Perhaps I could say, I am looking forward to yet another trip to Brunei to discover a bit more again? 🙂