Where to Stay in Brunei
There are only a few hotels in the entire country, and most visitors choose to stay in Bandar Seri Begawan. From the affordable Brunei Hotel you can easily walk to most landmarks, including the waterfront. But if you’re up for a splurge, book a room at the stunning Empire Hotel & Country Club. It’s a little ways out, but the hotel is absolutely five star, featuring beautiful rooms, a spa, golf course, indoor and outdoor pools and access to one of the best beaches in Brunei.
Places to Visit in Brunei: Istana Nurul Iman
One of the top things to do in Bandar Seri Begawan is admiring the spectacle that is the largest residential palace in the world: Istana Nurul Iman. The official residence of the Sultan of Brunei, the palace has nearly 1,800 rooms, including 257 bathrooms, a 110 car garage and five pools.
The only caveat for visitors is that the palace is only open to the public during the three-day celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, or during the 10 days of Ramadan to perform prayers. Those who aren’t in Brunei during that time will have to make do by peeking through the front gates or to taking a water-taxi cruise.
Sultan Omar Saifuddin Mosque
© ¡kuba! / Flickr
Continue your jaunt with a quick walk over to the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, a beautiful landmark that makes for some incredible photos—both during the day and at night, when it reflects off the water in the manmade lake surrounding it. Completed in 1958 Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddin – named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei (the late father of the current sultan) – is surrounded by an artificial lagoon that serves as a reflecting pool. The floor and walls are made from the finest Italian marble, the chandeliers were crafted in England and the luxurious carpets were flown in from Saudi Arabia. The grand building is painted a bright white, and features a brilliant golden dome that can be seen from kilometers away. A 3.5-million-piece glass mosaic overlaying real gold leaf covers the main dome. Visitors are allowed inside during select days and hours, and women are asked to cover their head and shoulders.
Royal Regalia Exhibition Hall
Pay a visit to the Royal Regalia Exhibition Hall, which is a fascinating museum full of a collection of items from the royal family. The display includes the colourful royal chariot, sultan’s crowns and gifts given to the family from countries all around the world. There’s also a collection of memorabilia related to the history of Brunei, and best of all admission is free.
Jerudong Park has bragging rights as the largest amusement park in Borneo, featuring a musical fountain, food court with dozens of restaurants, and 34 attractions in the Jerudong park playground. Perfect for all ages, adults love wandering through the beautifully landscaped grounds, while kids might enjoy cooling off in the waterpark.
One of the most interesting places in Brunei is Kampong Ayer, which means ‘water village’ and is exactly what you can expect to see. It costs about BND1 per person to catch a boat there from the main waterfront (be careful as you board, as the stairs leading down can be slippery), and more to do a full tour.
Hundreds of shanty-type homes joined by rickety bridges are perched on stilts, making it the biggest settlement ever built on stilts. While it may look like a slum, homes actually have plumbing, electricity, air conditioning, even internet access. After touring Kampong Ayer, have your guide take you further down the river, and keep an eye out for monkeys in the trees. This is also a great way to enjoy the sunset.
Tamu Pasar Besar Gadong - Night Market
© Neil Peel / Trover
The Tamu Pasar Besar Gadong, better known as the Night Market, is the place to visit when the sun goes down. It's open from 4 pm until late and is essentially a market selling fresh local food. You cannot miss it, it's right next to "The Mall” near the big roundabout in Gadong or the Circle of Death, as it is fondly known to the expat community. You will see an assortment of coverings over stalls and a lot of smoke. You may even think the whole area is on fire, but don't worry it isn’t. It is fresh fish and chicken being grilled over open fires.
Brunei Travel Tips
Alcohol in Brunei: Being a strict Muslim country, there is absolutely no alcohol in Brunei, so teetotalers will be out of luck and have to make do with virgin cocktails. However, non-Muslim visitors can import up to two litres of alcohol provided they claim it at customs.