Three Days In Brunei. Of South East Asia’s myriad and popular options, Brunei might be the least known country in the region (well, except for East Timor). Brunei is located on the island of Borneo, which it shares with Malaysia and Indonesia. The Sultanate of Brunei was an independent nation for some centuries, whose power waxed and waned. In 1888, Brunei became part of the British Empire and did not gain its independence until a recent 1984. Yes, there are some affiliates in this post.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is an absolute monarch who has been on the throne since 1967. He is the 29th Sultan to rule Brunei, and it is estimated that he is worth over $20 billion. Brunei is ranked fifth in per capita income in the world driving its wealth from am extensive petroleum and natural gas holdings. The Sultan is known for his ostentatious wealth, including a palace with 1,788 rooms and owns 7,000 cars (including 500 Rolls Royces). Take that Jerry Seinfeld.
Brunei, known officially as the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace, is about as low key as you can imagine. There is no alcohol or nightlife to speak of. But it can be a restful respite, after visiting an overwhelming Manila, Bangkok, or Jakarta. I will provide an overview on how to spend three days in the Bandar Seri Begawan, also known as BSB.
What To See
Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
One of the best-known landmarks of Brunei is the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. It was completed in 1958 and designed in a Mughal and Malay combo. It sits on an artificial lagoon adjacent to the bank of the Brunei River. There is a large park that also abuts the mosque.
I encourage you to come to visit before sunset and enjoy the colors. The mosque is also tastefully lit up at night.
This giant picture frame sits in the large park next to the mosque. Take a selfie here with the mosque in the background.
Main Post Office
Visit the main post office and send a postcard to one of your favorites.
The Memorial Clock was built in 1959 to commemorate the visit of Malayysa’s Monarch. The clock serves as the “zero mile” point for the country.
Teng Yun Temple
This Chinese temple was built in 1918. Approximately 10% of Brunei’s population is Chinese.
Dewan Bahasa & Public Library
Stop by the library to take a look at this mural which was painted in the 1960’s and depicts life at this time.
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church
This is one of three churches in Brunei. It is painted in a distinct light blue. While predominantly Muslim, 9% of the population practices the Christian faith.
Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque
Brunei’s other national mosque is a stunning 1994 creation. Brunei’s largest mosque can hold 5,000 worshippers. It is highly encouraged for you to come before sunset. This mosque is also well lit up in the evening.
Kampong Ayer literally translates to water village. This is a historical area of traditional homes that stand on stilts on the Brunei River. This area has been inhabited for several centuries and is known as the Venice of the East. The village population has been declining over the years, and today numbers around 10,000 people. It is a fully functioning town with schools, mosques, restaurants, and police stations. Water ferries dart around picking up residents and visitors at a series of jetties spread across the village. The closest homes are only 30 seconds from the “mainland”.
Village Boat Tour
Only water ferries can double as tour boats. I hired one boat driver to provide me with an hour plus tour of the village from the water with a couple of stops. This set me back 20 B$. It is fascinating and fun to take in village life.
Proboscis Monkey River Tour
Parts of the Brunei River twist through a mangrove forest. Part of the magic of cruising on the river is to check out the Proboscis monkeys that frolic in the trees that border the river. The Proboscis monkeys have quite a unique profile, and you will note their prominent noses immediately. I negotiated with the same boat driver for 60 B$ for two hours. I suggest going either early in the morning or before sunset.
Contact Zainal at +673 722 7496 on WhatsApp. He is a good guy who speaks proficient English. You can arrange and negotiate your tours with him.
Where To Stay
This is a decent mid-range option, a newer hotel, with comfortable rooms. The rooms will set you back around $50 a night. I was told one of the Princesses of Brunei is the owner and even used to live in the hotel. There is an adequate café in the lobby. Book here.
Kunyit 7 Lodge
I highly recommend a stay at Kunyit 7 with a couple of caveats. This is a homestay at Kampong Ayer, which is the water village in BSB. A short boat ride (30 seconds) delivers you to Jetty 2 which is just a moment’s walk to your homestay. This is a traditional house on stilts on the river with an awesome veranda, where you can chill out and watch river village life pass you by. Book here.
Now for the caveats, I found the homestay to be a bit overpriced at $80. The rooms are very basic and there is a shared bathroom. My bigger frustration were the tours. Kunyit 7 priced their Proboscis monkey river tour at 120 B$, this is double the price that I negotiated on my own. So, stay at the homestay, but under no circumstance do not book any tours through the owner.
Where To Eat
This is Brunei’s answer to Singapore’s Food Hawker Markets. Gadong is a low-key food market in an open-air area. It is a wide-open venue with mostly locals and a handful of tourists. Scores of vendors have set up shop here, so you can browse and peruse at your leisure. The food is cheap, tasty, and clean. A great place to relax and grab a bite.
De’Green Sylhet Restaurant
BSB is not a foodie paradise. But De’Green was adequate enough for me to have two dinners here. The Indian food was decent and cheap.
First Emporium & Supermarket
It is not exactly Whole Foods, but there is a small snack bar. Enjoy the buttered corn and reshly made waffles. A cheap place to fill up. This supermarket is behind the Badi’ah Hotel.
Happy Cream & Co.
OK, Brunei is hot. So come here and cool off with some ice cream. I recommend Caramel ice cream. Bonus, Happy Cream overlooks the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque.
When To Go
The best time to visit Brunei is from January to May. It is dry and not too hot (but still too hot for me).
A great time to plan your trip is around National Day, which is on February 23. This recognizes the day Brunei gained independence from the UK. A fun day to see the country come out and celebrate their country.
Visit The Palace
The Sultan welcomes all to his palace to celebrate the Eid festival, which marks the end of Ramadhan. This date changes every year. I did not visit during this time, but would be very cool to meet the Sultan.
How To Get Around
While the capital is compact it is not built for walking (except for the true center). Brunei has a car culture, being ninth in the world of cars per person. There is no mass transit or metro. But, my solution was Dart Ride (the Uber of Brunei). This was an economical way to tour the capital known as BSB. Dart was a necessity for my stay. I also used Dart successfully from the airport to the hotel for 16 B$.
Google Maps lists all of the places I mentioned in this guide and is an effective way to find your way around. Three Days In Brunei.
Check out my best travel books to read, including one on Brunei.