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*I spent 3 days in Brunei’s capital city Bandar Seri Begawan in July 2013. In this blog post, I am going to give you an overview of the city, and provide travel tips and recommendations for things like culture, attractions, food, nightlife and more. Everything you read is based off my own experiences.
“What is a Brunei? Is that a country?”
That was pretty much the response that I received from 99% of my family and friends, when they found out I was going to Brunei.
To clarify, Brunei is a beautiful Muslim country located on the northern point of Borneo Island. The country is made up of 90% rainforest, and it is sandwiched in between Malaysia and Indonesia.
Honestly, my friend and I only went to Brunei because I found a really cheap fight from Cebu City, Philippines (where I was traveling from before). I did some quick research online and it looked to be an interesting place, especially because it’s off the beaten path. And I like to explore places that your “average Joe” wouldn’t think to explore.
We booked our stay thru a travel agency- Freme Travel Services– which I absolutely recommend. In their affordable package deal, they covered airport pick up, hotel accommodation, an overnight trip to the wonderful Ulu Temburong Rainforest, incredible home-cooked meals everyday and a private guided hiking tour. It’s really the best way to discover Brunei rather than on your own.
After our overnight trip to Ulu Temburong and adventuring through the jungle, I had some quality time to explore Bandar Seri Begawan- the capital and largest city in Brunei. There is nothing to do in the city, and it’s one of the most boring places I’ve ever been… But I enjoyed the peacefulness everywhere, and the city was VERY clean and well-kept.
I saw two very cool mosques- the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and the Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. Also, I got to explore a little bit of the famous water village, which inhabits 20,000 people. It was cool!
–Currency: Brunei Dollar (BND)
–Language: Malay (most common), English and Arabic
–Population: The country has 500,000, and the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan has 150,000
– Brunei gained its independence from Britain in 1984
– 70% of population is Muslim.
– There are 50 taxis in the entire country
– The capital and largest city is Bandar Seri Begawan, with a population of 140,000.
– The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has an estimated net worth of $20 BILLION. He owns five thousand cars, including around 20 Lamborghinis, 160 Porsches, 130 Rolls Royces, 360 Ferraris, 170 Jaguars, 180 BMWs, 360 Bentleys, and 530 Mercedes-Benzes.
– Given that it’s predominantly a Muslim country, it is illegal to purchase and/or drink alcohol in public
– Whenever Bruneians enter someone else’s house, they always take off their shoes.
Culture & People
Brunei is a special place.
The people are friendly and they will always smile at you, especially when they realize you are a foreigner. The culture, in general, is very similar to Malay Culture (2/3 of the population are Malay). It’s a very laid back atmosphere, where everyone sort of goes about their own business.
I was there on a Friday & Saturday night, and the streets were so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop. Almost everyone speaks, or can understand, English, so you won’t have around issues getting around.
Due to the fact that over 70% of the population is Muslim, you will see many women wearing a hijab (veil) on their heads because they aren’t allowed to show their body. The men all wear nice clothing from head to tow, and are often attending religious ceremonies in one of the big Mosques around the city.
The streets are incredibly clean. Brunei is really a nice place to go if you want to escape reality and be thrown into a relaxing environment. Nature all around the country is magnificent.
I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and make some new local friends! Click this link to learn the Top 10 Malay Words to keep in your back pocket 😉
What to Do?
There isn’t a whole lot to do in Brunei. It is one of the most peaceful and quiet places I’ve ever been to, but pretty boring. You can explore the entire capital city (Bandar Seri Begawan) in just a few hours.
One of the most notable thing to see is Kampong Ayer– the world’s largest water village. Over 40,000 people (roughly 10% of the countries population) call this place home. You can take a water taxi around and see the houses up close and it’s pretty awesome. Be careful if you explore by foot, because the bridges are walkways are creeky and dangerous!
The #1 thing that I recommend to do is visit Ulu Temburong National Park– especially if you like the outdoors. Freme Travel Services hooked us up with a private tour guide, where we went on some breathtaking hikes thru the jungle and we went kayaking on the fresh river. I’ve never seen such luscious greenery in my life, as well as some sweet waterfalls! The wildlife was everything you’d expect and more. I saw lots of monkeys, crocodiles, snakes, spiders, birds, squirrels and HUGE fiery red ants that were about an inch long.
For a more complete list, check out my post on 10 Things to do in Brunei!
Bruneian Food was excellent, granted that most of our meals were provided to us by Freme Travel Services in Ulu Temburong National park.
On any given meal, you can expect lots of delicious flavors and spices, including rice, curries, fish, chicken, vegetables, soups and fresh grown fruit. You must try the fresh fruit smoothies if you see them!
If you want to learn about the other local dishes, then please check out my post on 5 Bruneian Foods to Try.
Unfortunately, there is ZERO nightlife in Brunei because the sale and consumption of beer and liquor is forbidden everywhere (almost all Muslim countries have this law).
If you get the chance, you gotta make a pit stop at this beautiful country on Borneo Island. I promise you won’t regret it!
*Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to book your hotels in Brunei on this link!