Brunei is a tiny country of lowland and mountain rainforest on the island of Borneo. Bordering the South China sea, it is completely surrounded on land by Malaysia and intriguingly, is divided into two areas, separated by the Malaysian state of Sarawak. A wealthy country with a revered monarchy (The Sultan of Brunei), Brunei is home to a high number of European expats lured in by the oil and gas trade and has some of the highest levels of human development in the world. This my first visit and I wasn’t sure what to expect!
The capital Bandar Seri Begawan is a short 45 minute flight from Kota Kinabalu in Borneo. Most visitors seem to get no further than the airport on their way to more well-known places in Borneo, the rest of South East Asia and Australia, but if you have time for a mini-adventure I would recommend stay in Brunei.
The city itself is quite small so you can walk round it in an afternoon. One of the main tourist stops is the Royal Regalia Museum; a celebration of the Sultan of Brunei, who when I was a child was the richest man in the world. I don’t think he is anymore, but he must be somewhere high on the rich list as he has a large Lamborghini collection. Late at night you can hear super cars cruising the streets, and apparently it’s the Sultan and his family!
The museum feels like a bit of a Sultan love-fest, with an enormous golden chariot that was used to pull him round the streets during the Coronation and exhibits of all the presents he received from leaders of the world. It’s worth a visit – in fact it’s quite amusing (I’m not sure that it is supposed to be though!)
There are two impressive mosques you can visit; Omar-Ali-Saifuddien (which is the tallest building in Brunei and no one is allowed to build anything taller by order of the Sultan) and the Jame-asr-hassanil mosque which is also massive.
The city has some good night markets, the best being the Gadong Pasar Malam which is a great place to sample some local delights. I ate at a few local restaurants but by far the best food I had was at the night market. The street food here is cheap, really cheap, so cheap in fact (!) you can just try loads of things and it doesn’t matter if it’s bad! There are night markets throughout Asia but from an eating point of view, this one is definitely up there with my favourites!
It’s also the place for locals to hang out and as there’s no drinking in BSB, it’s a 2 hour drive to the border if you want that kind of fun, or you can bring in duty free and drink it in your room!
I stayed at The Radisson, which as you’d imagine is nice and clean with a small swimming pool. It’s right in the centre of town and it can get quite noisy late at night at Lamborghini o’clock(!) but apart from that it is one of the best places to stay if you want a central location.
If you want to stay outside of the capital, you cannot ignore the 6 star Empire Hotel. It’s the most opulent hotel I have ever visited, (sea food buffet – delicious), and it’s the place to be seen. Its right next to the ocean in a beautiful spot and if you have a lot of money - the Royal Suite has an indoor swimming pool the size of my house! It will be definitely be the most enormous hotel you ever stay in, and if that’s not appealing, afternoon tea will be.
Brunei has more to offer beside its capital city. A visit to the Kampong Ayer – world largest water village, is fascinating. Its home to 30,000 people, homes, schools, mosques, hospitals all joined by a massive labyrinth of foot bridges. You can get around via one of the many water taxis, including a 2-3 hour trip to visit some of the locals. From a distance, Kampong Ayer looks like a slum, but is in fact very comfortable and the heart of Brunei.
By far the highlight of my trip was my visit to Ulu Temburong National Park. We left early in the morning in search of the Proboscis monkeys who live in mangrove. These monkeys are only found on Borneo, so their habitat is closely protected. One benefit of oil revenue is that Brunei has endured far less logging and clearing of the rainforest than Borneo. Nearly all of the rainforest here is intact, which provides a home to the monkeys many of the ugly (but fascinating!) Proboscis Monkeys. It’s quite easy to find them, but harder to get close up - you need binoculars to check out their ugliness in all its glory!
We took an exhilarating speedboat ride further into the forest, followed by a longboat ride over the rapids. As there has been no logging in this area, the trees are really old and enormous which is a spectacular sight.
Our final experience was a half hour walk to the Canopy Walkway which takes you way up high above the tree tops! You have absolutely spectacular views over the rain forest whilst listening to the sounds of the jungle. What an amazing way to finish a trip to Borneo and Brunei!
If you'd like to visit Brunei or to include it as a stop on your round the world ticket - I can help. Low season fares (March/April/May) to Australia using Royal Brunei airlines are in the region of £700 including tax, giving you an opportunity to stop in Brunei. Royal Brunei also fly all over Asia and have very competitive prices. If you'd like to create an Asia multi-stop ticket, I can create a great itinerary - just get in touch with me.