My wife and I planned a short trip to Brunei and we were not disappointed. Finding a Club Carlson property in the city center, Radisson Bandar Seri Begawan, was a relief. Here is why we would and wouldn’t return following our Review: Radisson Hotel Bandar Seri Begawan – Brunei.
Getting to the Property
Due to the immense wealth of the country, limited population, affordability of cars and of course the cheap price of gasoline – there are just 40 taxis in the entire country. Granted, Brunei is small, but there are 480,000 citizens and numerous expatriates that work in the oil and gas business living, working and visiting Brunei so the number seemed shockingly low. That being said, taxi services were easy to obtain through a hotel or service provider and affordable.
We arranged our ride from the airport (which was ready and waiting despite an extensive delay) through the hotel and the cost was less than $20 USD each way. While Brunei is a relatively small country, I was surprised by how short the journey was from the airport to the hotel. We were in the lobby inside of 15 minutes, arriving in a well-appointed Camry (the nicest Toyota Camry I have ever seen in fact) and arranged for our return taxi to the airport as soon as we arrived for the following afternoon. We never once saw a taxi on the road while spending our 24 hours in the heart of the capital so going through a hotel really is the best way to book.
Our checkin experience was reasonably quick and efficient, however, the hotel lacked some of the recognition we were hoping for and did not honor our request for an upgraded room at a cost. Radisson properties often offer their guests a “standby upgrade” which allows guests to agree to an upgraded room at a discounted cost if it is available on the day of arrival. My wife and I see this as a really good value, often upgrading from a standard room to a small suite for $30-50/night. Though the upgraded rooms were still available at checkin we were not given the suite upgrade (nor were we billed) but we would have paid for it.
The front desk agent offered us a number of tours for our short stay and given that we had limited time and wanted to maximize our short trip, we took him up on it. We usually prefer to explore on our own but with no taxis, nor Uber, and relatively limited public transport options, we really didn’t have a better idea. The tour, by the way, was just ok, but perhaps that is a post for another post.
The one benefit we did get from our “upgraded room” due to my Club Carlson status (free status with the credit card, and not upgraded though he said it was – it was the exact room type we booked) was the ability to check out at 6PM and this was the best benefit we could have hoped for. Our flight was late the following night and this feature allowed us a little extra time to relax before heading back to the airport.
The room was clean and about the size of a European standard hotel room. The door didn’t hit the toilet when we opened it, but space was limited far more so than Kota Kinabalu (also on the island of Borneo) and fairly basic. The desk was reasonable and we were able to get all of our devices charged, they offered international plugs which were greatly appreciated.
I don’t often talk about the mini-bar except in extreme cases, however, this mini-bar (though void of any liquor of course) was well stocked and prices were reasonable at about $2-3/USD for snacks and drinks. After arriving so late, we helped ourselves and found it both convenient and a good value. I really appreciate when a hotel prices items at point where you don’t mind helping yourself, because in that instance there really couldn’t have been a more convenient option for snacks.
The bed was exceedingly comfortable. I was surprised by this mostly because the hotel was a regular Radisson (as opposed to Blu or Red, their up-market brands). I got some of the best sleep from our entire 17-day trip in that one night in Brunei.
The bathroom was clean and if anything, basic. There was no shower over tub with groping curtains, but rather a modern and perhaps recently refurbished small bathroom with everything I needed and nothing I didn’t.
The TV offered television shows in English, French, Arabic, Malay, Mandarin and Japanese, but was an odd mix of them. I wouldn’t mention the TV normally, however, this one worked intermittently at best. There was no reason to bother with trying to get a replacement or switching rooms as our stay was just one night, but at the same time, it would have been helpful to have a functioning television for times we did spend in the room, especially for our young daughter.
Breakfast was a mixed bag. Heavy on European options like bad deli meat and muesli, we were delighted to also see an omelet station with a chef cooking to order along with waffles, french toast and pancakes from scratch. Boxed juices always seems like a copout – boxed juices in December in Nebraska, ok; boxed juices in a tropical paradise, that’s not really trying.
If cereal is your thing, there were four options, plenty of breads to burn in the toaster, and baristas who specialize in only hot coffee and steamed milk (great on a cold British morning, annoying when it’s 95 degrees in Brunei). The buffet (outside of the custom order station which was excellent) was spectacularly European – and don’t get me wrong, I love Europe – in both offerings and attempts to satisfy. Cold cuts of circular meat, not to be confused with charcuterie which is aged, high quality and delicious – these were regular, out-of-a-packet, deli meats akin to bologna.
Breakfast was not included with our rate, nor as an elite benefit. On balance, for $13 USD or 10,000 points it was okay for a cash purchase. If you have access to a car, you might make a different choice but I am also probably splitting hairs.
While some hotel chains offer late checkouts of noon, 2pm (IHG, Marriott, Hyatt Platinum) and others 4pm (Hyatt Diamond and Marriott Platinum if they feel like it), just Club Carlson offers a 6pm checkout with their “business class” rooms. SPG offers My24 which could be 6pm or later, however, this is only available above 75 nights/year while Business Class rooms are available to everyone for a fee, or elites for seemingly nothing.
This benefit was huge as we had booked an evening return to Kota Kinablau and with the taxi situation, would have found ourselves in an annoying problem of being at a small airport too early with nothing to do, or wandering aimlessly around the city with our overnight bag. Instead we could stay just late enough, arrange a taxi, negotiate a rate to go through the night markets then to the airport, and off on our way.
Cost with points
The hotel night cost when paying with points was a little steep at 44,000, however, there are not a lot of chain options for Brunei outside of Radisson. Further, between promotions, and even the free Club Carlson credit card you are bound to get some anniversary points and we seemingly always have some to burn in our account. Burning points that you won’t otherwise use is always better than burning cash.
Would we stay there again?
If we were to return to Brunei we would consider staying in the Radisson again depending on the trip length. The Empire Hotel is known as a world class five-star hotel, but is not close to downtown and without taxis would be difficult to get to and from. However, if we were not otherwise going to a relaxing resort following Brunei, the Empire looks fantastic and we may give that a try.