Often referred to as the land of Gold and Oil, Brunei is an interesting destination in Southeast Asia. Brunei is a strict Muslim country with a Sultan known for his extravagant palace which has over 2,000 rooms and houses his collection of 5,000 cars. The country is located in the middle of Malaysian Borneo, and if you are travelling from one side of Borneo to the other, chances are you’ll pass through here. This country is small but worth stopping in for a day or two to explore the main city of Bandar Seri Bagwan.
Brunei is on the pricey side when it comes to accommodation and in Bandar Seri Bagwan (BSB) there is really only one budget hostel to stay in, Villa Dadap. Here a hostel bed is around $15 USD and when we visited the owner was very helpful with transportation and pick up/drop off from the airport or bus station. That is pretty much the only budget option, other than that hotels in the centre are between $30 – 150.
Money Saving Tips
Apart from accommodation and food you will find it difficult to spend money in Brunei, buying alcohol is next to impossible, food is pretty cheap and there are no expensive activities or any unique shopping options.
Buses run frequently between Brunei and Malaysian Borneo, whether you are heading North or South buses are easy to come by. Similar to Malaysia check www.easybook.com to see bus timetables in and out of BSB.
TIP: If your passport is short on pages, you may want to consider an inexpensive flight. The bus ride will pass through approxiately 7 checkpoints between Malaysia and Borneo and you will receive 13 stamps.
Public buses run all around Brunei, any journey costs $1 (Brunei Dollar) no matter how far you go, so getting the public bus is an easy way to get around BSB. However buses stop at 6pm. The locals are very friendly and many will stop and offer to give you a ride if you are staying on the outskirts of town like we did at Villa Dadap.
In the whole of Brunei there are only 50 taxis and most of these are camped out at the airport so getting a taxi at night is almost impossible The people of Brunei are incredibly helpful so hitchhiking is always an option.
Where To Eat
The food in Brunei is almost identical to that in Malaysia, which surrounds the country and as such is pretty delicious but not as cheap. Local restaurants serve up decent sized meals for $2, and there is a night market where pretty much everything costs $0.70, so it’s easy to get a decent meal for under $2.
Best Time To Visit
Between June and September is high season, with January through May being the cooler months to visit when the climate is more dry with lower temperatures. We’d personally recommend you avoid visiting during Ramadan as the laws are strictly enforced so you can’t eat or drink anything in public (including water) between sun up and sundown.
If you visit at the end of Ramadan the Sultan opens his palace for 3 days and invites everyone in the country for an end of Ramadan party and a chance to see the palace up close.
Surprisingly Malaysian sim cards don’t work even in their close proximity to Borneo. If you are only visiting for a few days don’t bother trying to get one, they are the most expensive sim cards in Asia and will not be worth the investment for a short visit.
Alcohol & Smoking
Banned in Brunei, you need a license to bring any alcohol into the country (which is easy to acquire at the airport or borders). You can’t drink in public and can only drink in your private residence or hotel room, there is one secret bar in Brunei which is incredibly hard to find, research online and you may have more luck than we did. Smoking is also not allowed except on private property and away from public roadways. You will not be able to purchase any alcohol or tobacco products in this country.
FUN FACT: Brunei Currency is interchangeable with Singapore Currency. The two currencies are considered “customary tender” and are accepted as a form of payment in the other country.
Good morning: Selamat Pagi
How are you? Apa Khabar
Thank-you: Terima Kasih
Yes / No : Ya / Tidak
How much? Berapa Harga
All of the museums and cultural centers in Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan are free. In 2 days we spent less than $45 (USD) per person. Accommodation and food are the only major expenses.
A strict Muslim country, where there are also 13% Buddhists and 10% Christian. The Sultan has been working on implementing Sharia Law and during Ramadan the rules are strictly enforced.
Malay & English
Situated on the river is Kampong Ayur, sometimes referred to as Venice of the East. Venice needn’t worry about the competition but it’s well worth a boat ride over to see the houses built on stilts in the middle of the river. It’s the largest water settlement in Southeast Asia and people have been living here for over 1,300 years. You can navigate around using a network of boats and wooden walkways. Don’t pay for the guided tour, just get the boat across for a small fee and walk around the village yourself, once you’ve had enough hail any boat and they’ll take you back for the same price. There is a Tourist Information and Visitors Center located next to the main dock of Kampong Ayur with a viewing tower you can climb that overlooks the river and BSB.
See Proboscis Monkeys along the River
Hire a boat from the river side and cruise along the river at sunset for an excellent chance to see the proboscis monkey in the wild. Boats can be hired for $10, so splitting the cost with other travelers is economical, just make sure you negotiate with the driver until you find one that will take you for that price.
There are many Mosques in Brunei, but two that are particularly the highlight to visit. Firstly Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, particularly impressive because the golden dome on top of the mosque is worth over $34 million! The second, which is equally as impressive, Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, located a couple of kilometres outside the centre of BSB. It’s a magnificent building, the architecture is beautiful meaning the photos you can take are out of this world.
TIP: If visiting during the month of Ramadan you will not be allowed inside the mosques, and not even through the gates.
There are several museums in Brunei, all of which are free. The highlight is the Royal Regalia museum in the centre of BSB. This museum is where the Sultan houses all of the gifts that have been given to him by governments of other countries which he doesn’t have room for in his palace. There is also a good slice of local culture and history to learn about within the museum.
The Sultan’s Palace
For only 3 days a year, directly following Ramadan, entrance to the Sultan’s Palace is an offered attraction. Time your visit correctly and you will be in for a rare treat. The Sultan opens his palace to everyone who is in Brunei, there is a banquet and the opportunity to stand in line to meet the Sultan and the Queen, upon which everyone receives a small gift.
Spot the Sultan in his Black Mercedes on his Daily Outing
Although few will ever see the Sultans impressive car collection, we’ve been told by several locals that every day in the afternoon the Sultan takes a stroll in his Black Mercedes down the main drive of town. By camping outside the palace gates or waiting along the main strip you can catch the Sultan between 3 to 5pm.