Nestled in the northern part of the island of Borneo, the oil-rich state of Brunei is one of the smallest countries in Asia and also one of the least visited. If you fancy history and amazing architecture (particularly Islamic) with a bit of the tropical vibe thrown in, then Brunei is for you. As a developed country and owing to its small size, it is relatively easy to get around and you can conveniently see the sights of Brunei within a few days. Personally, I found three nights to be enough to see Brunei. Here is my suggested itinerary for a trip to the country:
Stroll the grounds of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and marvel at its ornate marbled exterior. Do this as your first stop in the morning to “whet your appetite” on Brunei. Check out the main dome which is covered in pure gold. Admission is free and you can enter the mosque outside of prayer hours.
From here, it is just a short walk from the Yayasan Complex from where you can buy souvenirs or stock up on groceries if you are ever in need of any. The area is also filled with restaurants and you can stop here for lunch. If you’re not feeling peckish, the area immediately east of Yayasan Complex contains the Teng Yun temple (the oldest in Brunei) and has a number of traditional family-run stores – an interesting place for a short stroll.
It’s a short walk to the Royal Regalia Museum which features a number of objects including gifts the Sultan of Brunei has received over the years as well as equipment used during his coronation and silver jubilee (check out the royal chariot in the entrance hall). Opening hours: Sun-Thu from 9am to 5pm, Fri 9-11.30am & 2.30-5pm, Sat 9.45am-5pm, last entry 4.30pm.
Head over to the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. Built in 1994, this is Brunei’s largest mosque and it boasts of 29 golden domes. Surrounded by a landscaped garden as well as fountains, it’s also a noteworthy sight in the evening when the mosque is floodlit. From the city center, you can take Bus #1 and stop right by the gate. Do note the opening hours: 8am-noon, 2-3pm & 5-6pm Mon-Wed & Sat, 10.45am-noon, 2-3pm & 5-6pm Sun, closed Thu & Fri
Take the #1 bus again and head back to Bandar Seri Begawan in the late afternoon. By this time, it won’t be too hot to visit Kampong Ayer (the water village). Point to point rides around Kampong Ayer cost $1 while a one hour boat ride around Kampong Ayer should not cost more than $10. So what will you get to see within that hour? You’ll be shown places such as the floating fire station, floating mosque, floating school and plenty of houses built on stilts. You can also ask the boat man to take you for a glimpse of the Istana Nurul Iman, the residence of the sultan. If you have time, you should also check out the Kampong Ayer Museum which details the history of the area. An overnight stay in one of the houses on stilts is also possible if you wish to spend more time there.
Tip: As a rule of thumb, taxi fares from the airport to downtown Bandar Seri Begawan should cost no more than B$25. If you’re heading to Empire Hotel from the airport, the fare should be around B$15.
Morning & Afternoon
Head out to Ulu Temburong National Park – a trip which will take you the entire day. The journey is an adventure in itself where from downtown BSB, you’ll take a ride through mangroves on a speedboat to the lodge before being transferred to a longboat. Exploration of the national park generally includes various attractions such as the waterfall with “fish spa” and an exhilarating climb up a rickety set of stairs to the canopy walk for a bird’s eye view of the rainforest.
Most tours start at around 7:30AM from the pier in Bandar Seri Begawan and end at around 5pm.
Tip: Singapore Dollars can also be used in Brunei at a rate of 1:1.
Chill at one of the most resplendent hotels in the world, the Empire Hotel & Country Club – where you should give yourself a treat and stay at least a night. A self-styled 6-star property, you can either have a relaxing time inside the luxurious room or chill outdoors. There’s a decent beach with a lagoon that is good for swimming and kayaking. For sports enthusiasts, the property has actually won a couple of awards for golfing.
Afternoon & Evening
For some last minute shopping, go to The Mall at Gadong – Brunei’s largest shopping center. It’s a mostly modern affair where you can find high street brands. From Empire Hotel, #57/58 bus will take you there.
A short walk from the shopping center is Gadong Night Market. You will find a lot of interesting eats in the outdoor space from 4PM onwards. Make sure to try the pulut panggang (rice stuffed with meat and wrapped in banana leaves), local kueh (small cakes) as well as the grilled seafood.
If you have extra time in Brunei…
Not a must-see but if you find yourself with extra time in Brunei, consider making the 1.5 hour trip to Seria in western Brunei to gain a better understanding of the industry that’s powering the economy of the nation. There is a monument dedicated to the billionth barrel of oil extracted in Brunei and it’s erected in the site of the first oil well discovered in the country.