It had a grand beginning and exciting glory days, Brunei’s Jerudong Park, but today it is just a remnant of the amazing theme park it used to be. It opened in 1994 and after just two years of operation, a major international concert was held at the park featuring no less than the late great King of Pop, Michael Jackson. The concert was a celebration of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s 50th birthday, although only the sultan’s family attended the mega event. The concert was held at the park’s Amphitheater, as more than 60,000 people came and found their spots throughout the park. Admission was free. The next year, Michael Jackson returned for a New Year’s Eve concert as part of his series of concerts around the world.
Today, park management is working hard to put up some kiddie shows to attract visitors. The plan is working as the park has observed improved attendance since 2007. But what happened to this once amazing theme park that was originally built as Brunei’s version of Disneyland?
Jerudong Park is the largest and most expensive theme park ever built in Southeast Asia, even larger than the Hong Kong Disneyland. It was built by the Bruneian government, and upon completion, total costs of construction amounted to about $1 billion. When it opened, there were tons of exciting rides and everything was for free. Visitors just had to line and up and wait for their turn at the Roller Coaster, Ferris Wheel and other staple rides that one would look for in a theme park. Admission is absolutely free and perhaps that was the beginning of this park’s downfall.
People simply lost interest and through the years fewer and fewer visitors arrived. Today, only a handful of people, mostly foreign visitors come and are often dismayed to see the park’s dismal condition. There are signs of past greatness but overall the park exudes a “the-circus-just-left” atmosphere. Some even described it as though one is entering an apocalyptic scenario ala “Planet of the Apes”. The major rides such as the roller coasters and Ferris Wheel have all been sold to other theme parks. The only remaining attraction is the carousel, which somehow still manages to entertain children.
Today, instead of Michael Jackson, a Filipino band of magicians and entertainers called “Giggles” entertain visitors at the park’s Mini Amphitheater. Giggles have done several school and mall tours to promote the park and their show, and so far they have had decent success. The team of entertainers also performs at several private functions. In one occasion, Giggles and a handful of local artists were able to put up a successful show that attracted 6,000 people on a single night. The program received good feedback and somehow resuscitated life into the dying park.
Any performance, show or concert must be screened by the government’s Censorship Board to make sure they do not go against cultural and religious norms. The Board also makes sure that shows are family-friendly.
Today, Jerudong Park still manages to attract tourists, who check out the place mainly to see what has happened to this supposedly great tourist attraction. Admission and the rides are not free anymore but with minimum costs. There are no great rides to talk about, except for the carousel and other minor rides for children.