Brunei Darussalam is a small country located in the midst of Malaysian Borneo that often gets overlooked by travelers. This little sultanate country has some of the best-preserved and most pristine rainforests in Borneo. Unlike its neighbors, Brunei has some of the largest oil fields in South East Asia. Its wealthy state is not represented with flashiness but instead is relaxed and quiet.
The capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) has a very different feel than you’d expect. With a population of around 200,000, Bandar is the largest city in Brunei yet it feels very empty and quiet. It is easily accessible by boat or road and only requires a day to see the sights. Finding a reasonably priced guesthouse is a little harder here as there are mainly nicer hotels in the city. Joy’s Rest Station proved to be a very hospitable and reasonable accommodation close to all the sights. The owner Joy is very helpful and like many Brunei people, eager to show you a good time.
Bandar is home to a few key attractions. The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is one of the city’s prized possessions. Every Friday between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm the entire town shuts down so every Muslim is able to attend mosque. All store fronts close and everything comes to a standstill. Visitors can explore the mosque properties and are only allowed inside during specified non-prayer times. The Royal Regalia Museum is nearby and provides endless information about the sultan and Brunei royalty.
The Kampung Ayer water stilt village is a unique aspect of the city. In previous times many people lived on the water. This is still the case today as it is considered the largest stilt settlement in the world. This community has all the aspects of life on land, including police stations, fire stations, schools, and mosques. The best way to view the water village is on a boat tour that costs around $15 USD (so it’s better to have as many people as possible to split the cost). On the boat tour you will see the water village, grand palace, mangrove forest, and plenty of monkeys.
The people of Bandar are aware that they do not have the booming tourism culture that other capital cities possess. Brunei is a dry state so there is no nightlife in Bandar or elsewhere. Despite this, the locals are very interested in food and you can find food stalls with local delicacies. Locals are also very interested in speaking with visitors and ensuring that everyone who visits has a good time. While browsing in a boutique shop, the owner saw me looking at the scarves and other trinkets. When I purchased a small item, she presented me with a scarf and another small item as a gift, and thanked me for visiting her city. The kindness and gentleness of the people of Bandar make this an interesting stop while visiting South East Asia.
Photo Credits: Author’s Own