Bandar Seri Begawan is rather a big town than a city but it is the capital of Brunei and the Sultan`s residence. Neat and tidy, it is a modern city where no trishaws or bicycles can be seen. The enormous wealth of Brunei is displayed in various ways, most obviously in design and architecture. The fact that this is strictly a Muslim realm is more than evident: Arabic script graces, grand mosques, golden domes and the regular Adhan echoing throughout the city.
MOSQUES AND ROYAL PALACES
Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is the symbol of Bandar. As sumptuous as can be; whereas its snow-white exterior gloriously reflect in the lagoon, the inside is covered in gold and Italian marble, and the mosque is to be entered by a bridge or a tunnel. This phenomenal architectonic jewel is regarded as the most beautiful mosque in the Asia Pacific.
Jame`Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque is the largest one in the country, the grand green Al-Ameerah Al-Hajjah Maryam Mosque is truly a man-made wonder and Ash Shaliheen Mosque is quite a unique creation since it was inspired by the Saudi Arabian design.
Istana Nurul Iman, the Palace of Sultan, is a must-visit. Especially by night, when illuminated the image that suddenly dives out is impressive. The riverside palace, also called “Palace of Light and Faith”, is built in a delightful verdant setting, outside of the city and it is claimed to be the largest palace on earth.
The Royal Ceremonial Hall (Lapau) with its royal throne is used for official ceremonies like coronations. The Royal Mausoleum (Makam Diraja) is a burial place of Brunei`s sultans and other members of the royal family and Tomb of Sultan Bolkiah and Sharif in Kota Batu are important sites for the country`s history as well.
MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES
Brunei Museum is the largest one and the major point of interest for all history lovers and there is much to learn about the Brunei`s past here. Malay Technology Museum is also quite impressive with very interesting exhibits, displays and galleries. You can learn more about the coronation of sultans and the royal families at the Royal Regalia Building Museum or the Brunei History Centre. Brunei Stamp Gallery and the Art and Handicrafts Centre are both focused on the artistic legacy of the sultanate.
GARDENS AND PARKS
Taman Peranginan Tasek is a pleasant retreat from the city and sightseeing. Close to the city centre, this peaceful park has numerous walks with waterfalls, a small reservoir and lovely picnic areas. The central Jelan Tasek Lama has similar features and a nice pond with waterlilies.
Taman Persiaran Damuan is an artificially landscaped park with a permanent display of the work of the ASEAN sculptors. There are beautiful walkways through the park, boardwalks over mangroves and shrubs where you can spot some of the endemic monkeys. The park offers the best views of the Istana Nurul Iman palace.
In the middle of the Brunei River, not far away from Istana Nurul Iman, there is a small island Pulau Ranggu and it is home to the large colony of the rare Proboscis Monkeys and Macaques.
Bukit Subok is a popular recreational with nice wooden boarded walkways area providing great views of the traditional hut in Kamung Ayer.
This collection of 28 water villages built on stilts and stretching 8 km along the Brunei River, was founded more than 1000 years ago. It has earned a nickname “The Venice of the East” and it is one of the most visited attractions in Brunei. Kampug Ayer is a strange mixture of modern and traditional way of life and an extraordinary place indeed. the houses are connected by a maze of wooden planks and the visitors can wander around randomly, even though it might seem a little awkward to promenade right in front of someone`s kitchen or bedroom. The best way to get there is by water taxi from the city wharf.
LEISURE AND ENTERTAINEMNT
Brunei`s official name is Negara Brunei Darussalam, translated as “the Abode of Peace”, and already its name implies that this is not a place of a vibrant life and fun. Being a strictly Muslim enclave there is neither alcohol nor nightlife to be expected in Brunei. However, there are many places offering traditional dance performances, markets and cafes and restaurants are available in the reasonable hours.
The food and fish Kianggeh Market, on the Brunei River canal, is an open-air venue and you can get there by a water taxi from the city wharf. The Gadong Night Market has a great selection of the national delicacies (spicy) and it is perfect for trying some local dishes, e.g. Nasi Katok, Nasi Lemak, Beef Rendang and or Sago. Although pork and alcohol are not permitted in Brunei the local coffee, tea and fresh fruit juices are divine!
Jerudong Theme Park is a popular and the most expensive amusement park in the South East Asia, it is larger than the Hong Kong Disneyland! The Mall with its Cineplex is the favourite shopping mall with the biggest cinema complex in Brunei.
If you are after some relax and beach the best spots around the city are the Berakas Beach, Serasa Beach, Muara Beach, Jerudong Beach, Manikar Beach, Layang-Layangan Beach, Pancur Hitam and Pohon Batu Beaches. Most of them feature long sand stretches with palm trees, some are decorated by luxurious resorts and pretty parks but generally, the beaches of Bandar are clean and safe for swimming.
MUSLIM CUSTOMS AND ETIQUETTE
Brunei is a strictly Muslim country and conservative behaviour is expected. Therefore, do not show affections in public, dress modestly, women should not expose their shoulders and knees, do not enter the mosques during the prayer time.
Prices in Brunei are fixed so do not try to bargain except the markets and water taxis.
Remember that pork or dog meat is not to be served or sold and alcohol is prohibited in Brunei.
Smoking is not allowed on public transport or indoors.
HOW LONG TO STAY
Brunei is a quite small country with good infrastructure and roads. The capital city and its surrounds are to be explored in 2 days and if you hire a car you can easily drive around the countryside in less than a day. Generally, we suggest staying in Brunei 3-4 days.
If you are also travelling in the Malaysian Borneo, the landscape and scenery and most of the attraction are virtually the same, except Malaysia is cheaper. Hence, skip the jungle and longhouse attractions in Brunei and do it in Sarawak or Sabah instead. In that way you can cut the trip shorter and stay 1-2 days.
WHEN TO TRAVEL
Brunei is defined by two seasons: dry season (Jan-May) and the rainy season (Oct-Dec). The best time to visit is obviously when there is more sunshine and less rain but even the shoulder season is good for travelling (June-July). However, it gets extremely hot during these two months.
July is a month of the Sultan`s birthday and there are many festivals and celebrations throughout the whole months which can make it more exciting to visit the country.
HOW TO GET THERE
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