Brunei Darussalam is a tiny sultanate covered in jungle and nested in South East Asia. Tuck between Malaysia and Indonesia, the country has less than half a million inhabitants. Many have never heard of it but some will venture, to complete their tour of Borneo, to get a new stamp in their passport or out of sheer curiosity. It is an extremely rich nation (oil), citizens do not pay taxes (oil) and the Sultan is one of the wealthiest men in the world (oil). Honestly, there is not much to do or see in Brunei, but if you are curious here are some suggestions.
- It is easy to reach the city center from the airport by bus which are cheaper than taxis. Withdraw money at the airport, step outside and confirm with the bus driver that you are heading for the bus terminal. It will cost you $1/person like every other bus journey in the city.
- The airport personnel will check the weight of your luggage twice at the airport upon leaving the country so make sure to pack accordingly.
- Do check the visiting hours of the different mosques as they are restricted.
- Do not hesitate to ask for help and direction, Bruneians are warm and speak English. I personally got on the wrong bus and relied on a friendly bus driver to find my way back into town.
- Avoid wearing short or revealing clothing.
- It is a safe country for solo female travelers. Criminality is almost non existent. I was traveling on my own and did not encounter any problem.
What is there to do on a weekend in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei’s capital city ?
Kampong Ayer (Water Village) & the jungle
Ten of thousands of people live on this floating village in the middle of the capital. There are schools, supermarkets, mosques…all connected by taxi boats. The houses are equipped with electricity and clean water. When you get closer to the water, you will inevitably be accosted by boat drivers who will offer one-hour tours to go to the village and the jungle. The local fauna is extremely diverse and I could see long-nosed monkeys and crocodiles in a deeply green mangrove.
They are the most beautiful buildings in the country. Photographies are forbidden inside therefore visits are rather short. Entry is free and visitors are given large robes to cover themselves. The two national mosques are worth visiting.
Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque : located in the city center, it is small, lively and busy. The building is surrounded by a lagoon and well-lit at night.
Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque : it has 29 golden domes in honor of the current Sultan, 29th of the dynasty. The main room is both bare and majestic. It is out of the city and reachable by bus.
Take your time
The full name of the country is Nation of Brunei, Abode of peace. There is no doubt, it is q peaceful country. It almost feel like nothing either good or bad ever happens in Brunei. On Sundays, the center of the capital city is closed to vehicles, a market sets in and families gather around the water to watch boat races. So one has to adapt, make time for contemplation, slow the pace, observe the activity in the parks, engage in conversations, wait for sunsets or read on the marble public benches.
Suggestion of a day in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Start with one of the museums of the city such as the Royal Regalia Museum.
Have lunch in the city, there are a few options both local or more Western.
Get to the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque before 2pm and visit when it opens
When you are back in town, get on a boat and cruise to the water village and the jungle. You will be able to peek at the Sultan’s palace, the biggest private residence in the world.
From 4:30pm to 5:30pm, you can visit the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque.
I suggest you enjoy the end of the day around that mosque, waiting for the sun to set and the call to prayer to be heard. Evenings in Brunei are pleasant and sweet and you will be in good company.