A Brief Encounter with the city of Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Bandar Seri Begawan – Brunei

A Brief Encounter with the city of Bandar Seri Begawan

I was thrilled to be invited by ASEAN(Association of  Southeast Asian Nations) to take part in the 50th Anniversary Golden Celebration campaign. As part of my trip, I headed to Brunei, Sabah & Philippines, some of the countries that make up ASEAN. I mean who would not want to take an adventure to some of these diverse destinations to experience the culture, learn the about the heritage and engage with local communities.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

The first stop on my press trip was the capital of BruneiBandar Seri Begawan, I was intrigued before I had even arrived especially because I did not know much about the country. What I did know was it was an Islamic country, alcohol was forbidden to be sold, the king of Brunei was one of the richest and he lived in the biggest palace in the world. Also, Australians use it as a transit stop because Royal Brunei Airlines have great flight deals to other destination via Brunei from Australia.

Putting this information aside, I was keen to see what this very wealthy but small Muslim country had to offer tourists in the way of attractions, to understand their way of life and to hear and learn more about their culture and heritage. I also wanted to get my head around why more people were not visiting this interesting country even just for a couple of days.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Two Mosques

There are two national mosques in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei that are worth a visit when in the capital city. Even if you don’t go inside, they are very grand to see even just for the real gold domes.

These are places of worship for the Muslim community and are major historical sites. There are a few rules that you need to be aware of before entering, especially if you are a non-Muslim:

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

 

  • Black robes are provided to women at the entries of the Mosques if they are not covered up.
  • Men must cover their legs and if they are wearing shorts, they will be required to also wear one of the black robes provided.
  • Shoes will need to be removed before entering.
  • You are not allowed to take pictures inside.
  • Check timings, as you cannot enter the mosque during prayer time if you are a non-Muslim.

 Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Jame asr Hassani Bolkiah Mosque

The first time that I saw Jame asr Hassani Bolkiah mosque was at night from a distance and I thought wow that mosque looks incredible lit up. Even when I went back the next day in daylight, I was not disappointed with its beauty. Built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of the current sultan’s reign, Brunei’s largest mosque is hard to miss.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

 

Surrounded by well groomed and maintained landscaped gardens and various fountains, this mosque is a fine example of Islamic architecture carried out with a devotion to detail. Nothing has been missed to signify that the Sultan is the dynasty’s 29th ruler from the 29 domes made from 24-carat gold to the 29 ornate minarets and inside the 29 crystal chandeliers. 

As stated earlier you cannot take pictures inside and you will be required to leave your camera outside, however, there are free lockers provided with keys before entering to keep your items safe. 

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Sitting at the end of the central shopping strip looking impressively lit up was Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. Named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, the mosque sits at the very heart of Bandar Seri Begawan city. Not to be overshadowed by Jame asr Hassani Bolkiah, this mosque is definitely impressive in its own right, set amid its own lagoon, surrounded by lush greenery and floral gardens, with its gold dome shining in the bright daylight.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Built in 1958, it’s a fine example of modern Islamic architecture. The lake and ship nearby make it feel like you just stepped back in time or into a fairy tale. It is also a great spot for taking pictures with the Brunei river in the background.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Kampong Ayer – Water Village (Venice of East)

Kampong Ayer, which means Water Village in Malay is situated on the Brunei River in Bandar Seri Begawan. It is the largest water settlement in Southeast Aisa with over 39,000 people currently living there.  A century ago, half of Brunei’s population lived here, and even today many Bruneians still prefer the lifestyle of the water village to residency on dry land.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

All of the Water Village buildings are constructed on stilts and a majority of them are made from timber. It is only the newer buildings that are constructed using stronger materials like cement in order to survive the monsoon storms. The village even has its own schools, mosques, police stations and fire brigade built on stilts.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

When we were exploring in our taxi boat, it was fascinating to see the extensive network of wooden walkways, footbridges, and boardwalks to get about when locals were not using the boats. However, I was a little taken aback by the rubbish that could be seen at low tide.

If you are not doing a tour but want to visit and experience this heritage site, you can take one of the many water taxis in front of the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah. Though you can just stand somewhere a water taxi can dock and flag one down (the fare is B$1).

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

The Royal Regalia Building (Kings Museum)

Situated on Bandar Seri Begawan’s main intersection is the Royal Regalia Building also known as the Kings Museum. It was built to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s accession to the throne and showcases various exhibits of the Brunei monarchy. The museum is well maintained and definitely a great place to visit to see the incredible gifts given to the Sultan over the years.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

While the museum is free, you can only take pictures in the main area when you walk into the building. This is unfortunate because some of the exhibits are impressive, like the life-sized replica of the Sultan’s to-scale model of his jubilee parade float with scores of uniformed mannequins encompassing it to represent his honour guard. In another room, well over twenty different countries’ military honours and decorations exemplify the Sultan’s apparent military prowess.

Like the Mosques, you will need to remove your shoes before entering and you will need to leave your bag and phone at the lockers they provide. It is also the only place in the city that I know that you can buy crude oil, as a souvenir.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Accommodation

Think of what you would expect from a top luxury hotel resort and that is what you get with The Empire Hotel & Country Club. It is like no other place I have stayed in before and the most luxurious hotel in Bandar Seri Begawan Brunei. The staff were extremely friendly, helpful and couldn’t do enough for you without being ‘in your face’ all the time.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

There is an overall feeling of refinement in the whole resort: the lavish decoration of the main building, the carefully detailed decoration and furnishing of all the interiors, the impeccably well maintained outdoor spaces and stunning swimming pools.

Booking.com

The only downside was that I never got to spend time at the private sand beach, indulge in one of the many pampering services on offer or enjoy a meal at one of the resort’s 5 restaurants.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Location

The closest international airport to the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan is Brunei International Airport. As the city is not very big, it is only 9klms (around 20mins) to the city centre via cab.


 

Australians need a visa but you can obtain one of these upon arrival in customs, which will cost 5  Brunei dollars. Not to worry if you don’t have Brunei dollars as there is currency exchange next to customs.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Tips & Essential Information

  • No photos in most of the buildings
  • You must declare any alcohol that is bought into Brunei and foreigners can only bring in 1 litre of spirits or 2 bottles of wine.
  • This is a Muslim country, so please be aware of what you are wearing when you are not in your hotel.
  • For non-muslims try to avoid any holy months or major festive seasons as most attractions are not likely to be opened during such periods.
  • Visit the night market, it is one of the cleanest, I have ever seen. Food stalls are organised well and sell a wide variety of foods.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Recommendation

Granted my time in the capital city of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan was very brief (around 24hrs to be exact), I would not hesitate to stop here again for a few days, especially if I am in transit to Australia. Yes, Brunei is a  Muslim country and they do have stricter rules than some other countries in the area, like no drinking alcohol. But don’t let this deter you from going there even just for a few days to explore and experience the culture. It is definitely not a place if you want to go party but a great destination if you want to detox and relax.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

It is also a good spot to take the family especially if you want to participate in outdoor actives, like taking a Sunset River Safari to look for Proboscis Monkeys or to go snorkelling or diving. In recent years Brunei’s diving industry has grown a lot and it is something they are pushing more and why wouldn’t they with over 60 untouched dive sites.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Thank you for reading this article, I hope it helped you to decide where to go when in Bandar Seri Begawan. Brunei is definitely an interesting and fascinating please to visit. If you are interested in discovering more of Brunei, visit the Brunei Tourism Site for information. 

Have you been to Bandar Seri Begawan Brunei before? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Disclaimer: Even though I was invited by the ASEAN to explore Bandar Seri Begawan Brunei for the 50th anniversary celebrations  All views are my own and based on my own experience in this interesting country.

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55 Comments

  1. Hi Mel,

    Nope, I have not been to Brunei but I would love to go.

    One of my Facebook friends is from Brunei. She has noted a few times how I should visit, and I am often in the SE Asia, region visiting Bali and Thailand so much.

    As for the Muslim country thingee, no worries here. Neither my wife or I drinks and we visited Qatar earlier this year so we cut our Muslim teeth, with covering everything up when we left the compound and not holding hands in public and all that stuff. No biggie.

    I’d enough a nice little hike to see those monkeys too. Sounds like so much fun.

    Thanks for sharing Mel.

    Ryan

    1. I have stopped in Qatar airport in transit on my way to Australia. I have thought about stopping there for a few days but I have mixed feelings about it. Brunei is not like that you don’t have to cover up and I am pretty sure it was ok for you to hold hands. Everyone was super nice to and as soon as they knew you were a tourist they would stop and say hi and want to know where you were from. In regards to the Monkeys, I recently saw them in Borneo and it was amazing, definitely recommend that. Thanks for your comment, Paul

  2. I’ve never been here before so this was very interesting to read. The water village is gorgeous and doesn’t look big enough for 39,000 people. Good tips on visiting a Muslim country as a non-Muslim. I remember going to Jakarta for 2 nights and was unprepared! Definitely one to add to the list!

  3. I never thought about visiting Brunei because it didn’t seem like a place for tourists. What an interesting insight you have written. Great tips too for us non-muslims

  4. Firstly beautiful pictures, what a colourful grand city. I’m not much of a drinker so l would be happy to go here and explore.

  5. I have heard about the diving in Brunei but it was not a place on my radar. Interesting read and my wife and kids would love that resort. I think l more look into diving in to Brunei more now.

  6. I have not had the pleasure to visit this country yet. It is interesting to see the different culture and customs and you provide some great tips. It is always good to be respectful of others and their customs so knowing what is acceptable dress is important. I love the suggestion of visiting a market and also was quite surprised to see the opulence mixed in with the homes on the waters which look like would not survive a strong breeze let alone a monsoon. Thanks for enlightening me to a different side of the world.

    1. Brunei was definitely an interesting one for sure and I am glad that I got to experience it. Some of those places in the water I wondering if they were about to fall down too but they don’t. I thought it was really interesting too to see the school on the water, I did ask if any of the students fall in and they said yes.

  7. I visited Brunei a few years ago, my motivation was because Michael Jackson made his last Dangerous concert there! I thought that the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque was one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen and you photographed it beautifully! I think the hotel you stayed at is a seven star hotel isn’t it?

    1. I never knew that Michael Jackson that is an interesting fact. I think the hotel is 6star and I am pretty sure that it is owned by Hassanal Bolkiah the king of Brunei and Thank you in regards to my photos.

  8. I knew very little about Brunei, but now I’m obsessed! I’ve become more interested in traveling Asia and the Middle East and I might just have to venture there next. All the sites you visited look beautiful!

  9. Brunei is such an offbeat destination. Not many tourists go there. Despite the lack of media attention, Brunei has attracted my attention for many years now. I didn’t know about Kampong Ayer though. Sounds like a nice place.

    1. I agree it is definitely offbeat destination even though it is right in the middle of other popular Asia tourist destinations. Kampong Ayer is interesting to see, even the houses look like they are falling down. Everyone seems very happy and this is their way of life. We even got to go into one of the houses and meet the locals.

  10. It’s strange to think that l go to all these other countries around it like Bali but never to Brunei. I suppose I never really thought about it being a tourist destination until now. Love your pictures of the Moques 🙂

    1. I went to Vietnam a couple of years ago and we thought about heading to Brunei for a couple of days but then we changed our minds. I am glad that I have been now and see what it was like, it was a pleasant surprise.

  11. What a colourful beautiful place. Brunei sounds like an interesting place, l especially love the water village and the Empire Hotel. I could easily get lost walking around the hotel

    1. Those Mosques were definitely colourful and grand that is for sure. LOL, would you believe that I did get lost in that hotel when I arrived as I was way down the end and couldn’t find my way back.

  12. I met a couple from Brunei when I was in Tanzania and they were really friendly. They also got me intrigued in the country when they told me about the abundant wildlife. I’d love to visit to see it as well as the architecture and the floating village. Your hotel looks great too

    1. I would like to go back and explore the rainforest and do some diving, it is supposed to be really beautiful. You would love the hotel it is grand as the Mosques that is for sure.

  13. I’ve heard of Brunei before, but I’m a little ashamed to say that I had to double check a map to find it’s exact location. I love visiting churches of different religions and completely understand the need to cover up and not take pictures in those mosques. I would love to try snorkeling in the area. I had no idea they had so many untouched dive sites!

    1. Don’t worry, I didn’t know much about the place either until I went there. I am definitely glad though that I went as I was pleasantly surprised by the country and the people. I would be keen to go back and dive too before it becomes so popular.

  14. I have never been to Brunei and like you, didn’t know too much about Brunei. The mosques here look quite flash. I remember the flights with Royal Brunei being so cheap from Australia, but never ended up taking them. Looks like quite an intriguing and colourful place to visit!

    1. These mosques were definitely grand and I can’ believe that they are covered in real gold. I wished I could have taken photos from inside as it was just as pretty with the gold too. Btw I am Australian, so I will be keeping my eye out for flights to Australia from England for my next trip home.

  15. Despite the brief encounter with Bandar Seri Begawan Brunei you have seen a lot! For my passport its hard to obtain visa so Bandar Seri Begawan Brunei will have to wait for a while, but would love to see this in person!

  16. I have never been to Brunei, but it sounds like a wonderful place to explore. You have really great tips like avoiding to visit during holy months. I love visiting night markets and it’s great to hear that it’s very clean well organized.

    1. I think the night market was even clear than the ones in London, it was great walking around them and we were definitely an attraction to them 🙂 They were very smiley and said hi.

  17. I love how grand, and gold everything is here! Those mosques are literally insane, almost too amazing for words! Also, where are your sunnies from? I love them!

    1. It was definitely grand and it was a shame that we could not take photos inside as it was beautiful. My sunnies are from SunGod, it is a company that supplies them to me.

  18. Thanks for the comprehensive post on Brunei! Felt like I was already having a tour while reading your post. I was supposed to go here as a sidetrip while I was in Malaysia but the plan didn’t push through. Hope to go there in the future though, would really love to see what’s inside the beautiful mosques and explore the water village.

    1. You are more than welcome 🙂 I was also supposed to go here ages ago on a side trip but didn’t work out, glad it has this time though and it was definitely an interesting place to visit.

  19. So interesting to read about a country I knew nothing about! It looks like a great place to visit, also because it’s so little known and still authentic and not overrun with tourist I suppose.

  20. I agree with you – I am left to wonder why there are not many tourists blogging about Brunei. It truly is spectacular based on what you had shared about your experience. Those mosques are so grand – even though I have been to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, both of their major mosques look more grand and awe-inspiring!

  21. I’ve always wondered what Brunei is like. I’d be particularly interested in visiting the mosque – the decor is very unique. The Empire Hotel & Country Club is covered in gold – what a luxurious place to stay at!

  22. Hi Mel! I never been in Brunei, but I’ve been close, in Malaysia and Singapore but never there. Yeah their temples are so rich and vast that are incredible to see. The hotels are amazing and is so cool to have the opportunity to do snorkeling. I love it! Is absolutely a place to visit!

  23. I Mel! I never been in Brunei, I’ve been in close in Malaysia and Singapore but never there. Yeah they temples are so rich and vast that are incredible to see. The hotels are amazing and is so cool to have the opportunity to do snorkeling. I love it! Is absolutely a place to visit!

  24. Oh my – that lobby! I get the impression you were surrounded by oppulence for a few days Mel. It seems like a great place for a spot of R&R, even without the alcohol! Although I am still trying to work out why one would want some crude oil as a souvenir!?

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