BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN - So much has been said about how undesirable the state of Brunei’s public transport system is. The taxis are quite non-existent on the streets for a flag down, and a princely sum when taken from the airport or booked via phone.
For example, a short 10-minute trip from the Brunei International Airport to The Mall or Rizqun International Hotel in Gadong can cost BN$25 (US$18). Nevertheless, we still have an active public bus system here, although it can be quite a pain to wait for one especially if you are not from around the Bandar Seri Begawan area – which is around Bandar itself, Gadong, Kiulap, Berakas and the airport.
So much optimism and faith I have in the bus service – from seeing an increasing number of them on the road now from around three years ago – that one fine morning, I decided to leave my car at a safe parking lot at the waterfront in Bandar, and take the public bus instead to go to some of Brunei’s most interesting and tourist-friendly places.
I’d been wanting to embark on this ‘bus adventure’ for awhile now as I feel this is something that we all should include in our bucket list in Brunei. Seriously.
For the information of those still clueless, there is one main bus terminal in Brunei-Muara district, and it is located at the heart of Bandar, at Jalan Cator.
It is just a stone’s throw away from the famous Tamu Kianggeh market located along the canal, or should I put it, behind Brunei Hotel.
At the bus terminal, you can find maps of the different bus routes that begin from there. Not that hard to read, the maps have Brunei’s major attractions included with the relevant bus number indicated for our convenience.
But what’s missing is the bus schedule and, more importantly, an information counter at the terminal. I decided to head to the lavish The Empire Hotel & Country Club in Jerudong.
The map shows bus service 57 and 58. So I moved over to where the buses were parked, but to my disappointment, couldn’t find any bus 57 or 58.
This is the part where I feel the existence of the information counter is very much needed. So that I can ask for the exact location of the bus or if it will come anytime soon.
Since I did not have that option, I asked the driver of the nearest bus from where I stood. The friendly driver, who is not local, welcomed my question with a smile; he shook his head indicating that both services were not available and suggested that I take a different bus service instead, which also goes to Jerudong.
I was unsure if I wanted to proceed to Jerudong via that recommended bus service. But, realising from the digital board on the front of his bus that it goes to The Mall, I decided to hop on instead. So, there I was with my family beginning our maiden bus adventure.
The bus route is not bad, really, as it brings you through a scenic journey in Bandar, passing by Tamu Kianggeh, where you can see the ‘life’ of the tamu vendors and visitors. Though I’ve taken that same road many times in my car, driving and taking the bus is so much different in a sense that the latter offers you a glimpse of the tamu from a different perspective. I guess, it’s because when I’m taking the bus, my eyes are free to roam and really have a good look around, as opposed to driving, where you need to stay attentive on the road in front of you.
It’s almost 11am and the tamu is still packed with people, probably, those who know that coming to the market at this hour could get them whatever they need at a cheaper price as the tamu vendors tend to be more generous in their discounts before they close shop.
Next, the bus service 20 that I’m in passes by the Royal Regalia building. I have been to this large museum twice and remember being in awe with the many gift collections that the Sultan and other royalties had received from world leaders. It is definitely a place to visit for tourists, and if you have friends or relatives from other countries visiting Brunei, this is the place to bring them. A big plus point is the powerful air-conditioning in the building, which makes it the place to be if you want to escape from the heat outside.
Throughout the journey, the friendly driver never stops chatting with me, sharing his 14 years experience as a bus driver in Brunei. He has seen how the public bus service here progressed, although he admits that more can be done to make the whole bus system better. He also points out that locals should start taking buses more often. More demand will only mean more improvement, he says.
His sentiments are shared by a Filipino lady passenger whom I have the pleasure of speaking with. She is a frequent bus taker and enjoys it when taking a bus service that serves the Bandar area. But not when in the suburb, where she had experienced waiting for almost an hour for a bus in Salambigar!
As we enter Kg Kiulap, the driver asked if I want to stop at Masjid Jame’ ‘Asr Hassanil Bolkiah. Even though, it is not part of the bus route, but he is actually kind enough to make a turn just to drop us there since we will be passing by the mosque. But I politely rejected his offer as I do not want to waste the time of the other commuters.
The prominent sight of the grand mosque at the major Kiulap roundabout is photo-worthy.
It’s hard to resist the temptation of taking out your camera, or in my case, smartphone, just to take few snaps of the majestic golden dome and minarets – something that’s hard for me to do when I’m behind the wheel.
From Kiulap, the bus goes through the famed Pasar Gadong – a wet market by day, a food haven by night. And just a stone’s throw from Pasar Gadong, stands the pretty looking building called The Mall, which adjoins the Rizqun International Hotel.
We alight right in front of the main entrance of The Mall. There is neither proper bus shelter nor bus signage in sight though. I feel this is something that needs to be looked into as there could be visitors who are not familiar with Brunei’s ‘hippest’ place and could be searching high and low for a bus stop. The journey takes around 15-20 minutes from Bandar to The Mall. Not bad, really, considering it is like a nice sightseeing trip. And have I mentioned that it costs only BN$1 (70 US cents).
US$1 = BN$1.33