Surrounded by equatorial rainforest and the Chinese Sea, Negara Brunei Darussalam appears like a tiny dot on the map of Borneo. However, the size of the country is not equal to its wealth and international importance. This tiny coastal “Oil Sultanate”, ruled by one of the richest people on earth, has endless resources.
Brunei is also a stunning travel destination for families, couples, architecture and nature lovers. From the grandiose mosques to the depths of the Bornean jungles, there is more to discover than one would expect.
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – THE CAPITAL CITY
Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) is rather a big town than a city but it is the capital of Brunei and the Sultan`s residence. Very clean and neat, it is a modern city where no tuk-tuks 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 Adhan echoing throughout the city.
THE HISTORIC LANDMARKS
Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is the symbol of Bandar. As sumptuous as can be; whereas its snow-white exterior gloriously reflects 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- n a 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.
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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 Brunei`s past. 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.
PARKS AND NATURE RESERVES
Taman Peranginan Tasek is a pleasant retreat from the city and sightseeing. Close to the city centre, this peaceful park has nice walks with waterfalls, a small reservoir and lovely picnic areas. The central Jelan Tasek Lama has similar features and a 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 Kampung 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.
Kampung Ayer is a strange mixture of a 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 ENTERTAINMENT
Brunei`s official name is Negara Brunei Darussalam, translated as the “Abode of Peace”, and already its name implies that it would not boast parties. Being a strictly Muslim enclave there is neither alcohol nor nightlife to be expected in Brunei. The city offers traditional dance performances, luxurious shopping malls, theme parks, vibrant markets and lovely restaurants instead.
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 and it is perfect for trying some local goodies; Beef Rendang, Nasi Lemak & Ambuyat – the national dish.
Jerudong Theme Park is a popular and the most expensive amusement park in 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.
BEACHES OF 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.
The western part of Brunei`s landmass is easily quickly to reach by car. The region offers pristine rainforest, gorgeous waterfalls, natural reserves, decent beaches and traditional longhouses.
Tutong Region is known for the Merimbun Lake – the largest in Brunei. Tourists come to the reserve to observe birdlife from the wooden boarded walkway. Also, the Andulau Forest Reserve is a nice swamp park with good wildlife spotting.
Seria is known as the “oil kingdom” on the southern coast of Brunei with a huge Shell Petroleum installation and the Billionth Barrel Monument.
The inland village of Labi is a good starting point to the indigenous Longhouses, and the favourite Rumah Panjang Mendaram Besar, located in the jungles of Labi Forest Reserve. Continue driving towards Teraja to enjoy the views of Malaysian Sarawak and the highest hill of Brunei Bukit Teraja. There is a 2-hour easy walk to the hilltop through primary forest and waterfalls.
The eastern part of Brunei, Temburong, is surrounded by Sarawak and it is only accessible by boat from the capital. Speedboats depart from Bandar Seri Begawan in the open sea until it joins the milky-brown Temburong River and arrive in Bangar, in about 45 minutes. This is the starting point to the Ulu Temburong National Park.
The journey itself is an attraction: a labyrinth of mangroves and swamps, virgin rainforest and dense jungles in the background remind of a scene from the “Tarzan” movie.
Peradayan Forest Reserve is ideal for rafting, kayaking and jungle walking. The most visited is the Ulu Ulu Eco Resort and the 3-hour loop jungle walk to Bukit Patoi, Bukit Peradayan and back.
Batang Duri has an Iban longhouse and a small Zoo. Travellers, are interested in a more serious, multi-day jungle trekking are advised to stop by at the Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre – they can arrange such an adventure.
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 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. We suggest staying in Brunei for 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 and humid 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
For all flights go to www.momondo.com or www.skyscanner.com
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