By Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet
Who discovers luxury, golf and the primeval jungle……
MESMERIZED by the sight of unimaginable luxury, I stepped through huge glass doors into the world’s most expensive hotel. This is the Empire Hotel and Country Club by Jerudong Beach set in a 450 acre estate. It cost US$27 Billion. The closest rival is the Burgh Al Arab in the United Arab Emirates at US$14 Billion.
If you feel stressed by your mundane life chasing clients, attending power lunch meetings and working to ever tighter deadlines….you must come here to a haven of peace and tranquility. You owe it to yourself to recharge and recover so that you return fit and strong to succeed in the dog eat dog commercial world. Have you ever wished for a sanctuary against the irritations and annoyances of the maniacal madding crowd and the world of business, stress & corporate infighting? Your wish will come true when you come to Asia’s best kept secret just 1 hour and forty five minutes by Royal Brunei Airlines from Singapore. This veritable palace that just happens to be a hotel is full of sensual, superb, sophisticated luxury and extravagant opulence in the very best possible taste.
The rooms and suites are so very exquisitely outfitted you will be so gratified to sink into a lovely armchair after your tiring journey. I have stayed in top hotels all over the world as The Travelling Gourmet, and one look told me no expense had been spared. All the cutlery and porcelain ware is by Asprey of London and the ice bucket is not plastic but heavy solid sterling silver. The bed linen is of specially handwoven Egyptian cotton, so cool & comfy, you will be asleep as soon as your head touches the plush, snuggly, fluffy pillow. And the view! When you wake up…press the button to open the electronically controlled curtains, then press another one to open the day blinds…..and just feast your eyes on the stunning vista of the South China Sea with its sandy soft beaches, powder blue skies and rolling surf.
I toured the Emperor Suite which President Bill Clinton of the USA stayed in for 1 week not so long ago. It has a Fazioli grand piano hand made in Italy which cost US$30,000. Clinton also enjoyed the 15meter long swimming pool complete with a big retractable screen over the pool for the latest Hollywood movies and DVDS. Of course there is a Jacuzzi as well as 24 hour butler service. The titanic bed is out of this world and I am informed by very reliable sources that the President slept all alone without the company of the fair Monica. Well, he works 20 hours a day and has very little time for much else. I also found out that Clkinton drinks 40 cups of coffee a day which he makes himself.
If you like sports, there is GOLF for the keen golfer and this course is no ordinary one but one designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus himself. The holes are very well maintained down to the last blade of Bermuda grass but beware, it is not for the amateur golfer. No true blue golfer can resist playing here. One look and you are hooked. I enjoyed playing the fabulous course and I can tell you the sand bunkers and water hazards are no laughing matter. I found Hole 1challenging as it is well protected by sand bunkers on the right and left of the fairway. There is another deep bunker just short and right of the green. One of the most tricky and exciting holes which reminded me of some of Hawaii’s golf courses is Hole 6. Only 326 metres but from the tee off, you come face to face with the “cliff of doom”. You have to shoot at least 190 metres over a deep valley! If you stray right, it is sayonara to your ball. If you can get past this obstacle it is a tricky short iron to chip carefully on to an angled green. Three bunkers surround this green. You will have to be good to walk off with a par 4. Hole 8 is another beauty. This has a dogleg to the right and a marvellous view of the Royal Villa set in its own lake. It costs S$3850 a night to stay there. Avoid the water and the big bunker to the right of the green. It plays longer than it looks at first sight. You will find this a magnificient course that you will enjoy playing, but don’t expect an easy time. Certain holes are very challenging and you may lose quite a few balls in the water or in the ravines and rough!
There is also Tennis, Squash, an 8 Lane Bowling alley plus a state of the art Badminton court at the Country club. For those more into hedonism, the Spa is splendid for you to have your facial, mudbath, massage or whatever skin treatment you like. So relaxing, just forget all your cares and worries and emerge a new being full of vim and vitality. Ladies can get a top to toe beauty treatment here and unwind at the same time. Enjoy six different types of massage from Balinese Boreh to Taksu Massage to invigorate and relax every sinew in your tensed up body. Try also the coconut cleansing and cooling Thai body scrub. Rice powder, hand ground mature coconut, adzuki beans, vetiver root & vanilla oil to gently cleanse your skin. A giant luxurious cinema and theatre featuring the latest Hollywood blockbusters is here too. It is so grand and comfortable that the movie seems so much more exciting especially with the ultra modern sound system.
I love swimming and I spent hours enjoying the 11.000 square meter saltwater lagoon. Then I went to the 50 meter freeform pool with jacuzzi. The sculpture of frolicking dolphins on the lawn is eyecatching while children love the Kid’s Club and childrens’ pool complete with water slide.
Lots of banana trees with bunches of bananas hanging dot the lovely landscaped grounds decorated with colourful tropical flowers.
Probably the best Italian restaurant in Brunei, the traditional décor of Veneto with its rich maroon colours and red table cloths paired with warm wood panelling sets the stage for an intriguing Italian meal. A flavoursome hot antipasti is Pan Fried Calf’s Liver accompanied by tangy fried onion balsamic reduction and corn polenta. I also recommend the classic dish of Milan – Osso Bucco. The fall off the bone tender veal shank is lovingly braised and arrives smothered in a rich sauce with saffron flavoures Arborio rice and garden peas. Sweets for the sweet! Enjoy Torta Tartufata which is a rich hot chocolate mousse that chocoholics will kill for.
If you love dining with a view, check out Pantai. It means beach in Malay and it has fabulous views of the pools and the mysterious waters of the South China Sea. Perched over the water, Pantai specializes in grilled Steaks and Seafood.
Can’t live without rice and Chinese food? Don’t despair because in a separate building just minutes away by the hotel’s complimentary golf cart tranporter is Li Gong. Here, you’ll feast on traditional Cantonese specialities and cute Tim Sum.
For buffet spreads and Brunei specialities, dine in the Atrium café. Here you can really admire the glorious architecture of the hotel with its atrium stretching skywards some 150 meters above the ground. Everywhere there is the glitter of gold.
Although Brunei is a Muslim country, non Muslims over 17 years old can bring in 2 bottles of wine and 12 cans of beer. Just declare it to Customs on arrival. If you need more wine, one of the most unusual things you can do is take the short drive to Kuala Lurah, also called KL but not to be cofused with the capital of Malaysia. Just cross over into the sleepy border town of Limbang, Sarawak where they have quite an interesting selection of Australian wines in an alfresco coffee shop. Feast on chicken rice and brebequed seafood and then just bring your wine and beer quota back to Brunei.
Do you like adventure? Then you must go upriver to the Ulu Temburong National Park. I did just that and took a “temuai” or Iban aboroginal long boat deep into the virgin jungle. You have to be fit but I hiked up over 1800 steps to the top of the jungle. Then I climbed up steel scaffolding so I was 200 m above ground where I could see the whole jungle canopy spread out before me like a plush green carpet. Not a human in sight but colourful Mynah birds were flying around. So peaceful and tranquil. Those who have done NS will also know and remember the Brunei jungle. Very different from the jungles of Vietnam where there is an all pervasive stench of death.
Brunei is one place to go to relax and discover sights you have never seen before. Treat yourself to a stay in the glorious and luxurious Empire Hotel and Country Club. You deserve it!