The Best Things to Do in Brunei
The little Sultanate of Brunei is seldom considered as a travel destination because, quite frankly, there aren’t a whole lot of things to do in Brunei. Rather than being known for its (non-existent) tourism industry, Brunei is mostly recognised for its wealth, being one of the richest countries in the world thanks to a very prosperous oil industry.
We had very little expectations when traveling to the sultanate, since we knew so little about the country, and had absolutely no idea of whether there were any things to do in Brunei at all! We gladly discovered that although there is no need to spend much time in the country to explore most of the interesting parts, there were enough activities, sights and fun attractions to keep us occupied for a couple of days.
Admittedly, our main reason for traveling to Brunei was the fact that it was the only country in Southeast Asia that Michelle had not yet been to, and flights from Kuala Lumpur (where we were based at the time) were pretty cheap. There was also a direct flight from Brunei to Kuching, China, our next destination, which was the same price as that from Kuala Lumpur, so stopping for a few days in Brunei seemed like a reasonable decision! Check the latest prices for flights to Brunei here.
What really surprised us about Brunei was the immense cleanliness, order and how well-curated the whole of the country looked and felt. One of factors that contributed to our amazement, was also the fact that we had just spent four months in Indonesia, so cleanliness and order had become a rather alien concept to us! Even though there may not be many fun things to do in Brunei, strolling around Bandar Seri Bagawan, the capital, was pleasant enough!
Brunei’s official name is actually Negara Brunei Darussalam, translated to Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace, and we can easily attest to its peacefulness and tranquillity. Unlike other Southeast Asian neighbours, there is no garbage scatted around the streets of Brunei, there are no loud noises and madness, and absolutely no visible poverty.
Instead, Brunei is home to a community of very friendly and polite individuals, who we found to be incredibly helpful! They also speak perfect English, and finding ourselves in a country where we could communicate so easily was finally of great relief! It actually didn’t feel like being in Southeast Asia at all!
Fun Things to do in Brunei
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Is a budget stay in Brunei possible?
When we were searching for accommodation, we realised that there aren’t many budget options in Brunei. We booked EZ Lodging very randomly, based on price and location. The guesthouse is located in Gadong Town, and consists of a collection of small rooms with shared facilities.
The rooms are small but the facilities are immensely clean and the place is nicely set up! We really recommend this place if you don’t mind using shared facilities once in a while! The room cost B$30 (Brunei dollars)/night or around €18. We booked through Airbnb. If you’ve never used it before, follow this link to have €20 off your first stay above €60!
What are the best things to do in Brunei?
Although the country is better known for its wealth than for its attractions, there are a few things to do in Brunei which sparked our interest. Here are the top things to do in Brunei!
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
If there is only one attraction that you have to visit in Brunei, it is this. The gorgeous mosque is probably one of the most beautiful that we have come across, being set around an artificial lake near the Brunei River. The main dome of the mosque is covered in pure gold, which stands proudly against the white marble, and glistens brightly against the bright blue sky, if you lucky enough to experience good weather!
A bridge leads from the mosque to the replica of a beautifully decorated royal barge, and the whole structure is surrounded by trees and flower gardens, making the prominent landmark a very beautiful place to spend some time in! It is important to dress appropriately, and if you’re a non-Muslim, don’t visit on Thursdays and Fridays as you will not be allowed access! This is easily one of the best things to do in Brunei!
Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque
Although the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is more famous than the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the latter is larger and more elaborate, being able to house up to 5,000 worshipers. This mosque is not as ‘pretty’ as the former but is more grand and impressive than the smaller mosque and equally worth a visit.
This area is often called The Venice of the East because of the waterways and houses on stilts, however we thought there is very little truth to this claim. We found that the stilted village does not resemble, and is in no way as attractive, as the Venice canals.
Putting comparisons aside, we believe the area is still worth a visit for its particularity, since it is home to multiple dwellings as well as buildings such as a school, mosques, and police and a fire station, which are all set on stilts!
We noticed a huge abundance of cats casually strolling along the wooden walkways, which greatly added to the charm of the already colourful village, making a visit here, one of the best things to do in Brunei. A boat ride to the village (a few minutes) costs $1 but all the boatmen will try to sell you an hour’s boat tour around the village for much more.
Royal Regalia Museum
This museum mainly gives an insight into the royal history of Brunei and exhibits include gifts presented by heads of state of other countries, as well as items used during the coronation of the Sultan. The entrance is free, shoes need to be left outside, and bags, cameras and phones need to be stored in a locker.
photo credit: MrBudgetPhotography
Ulu Temburong National Park
Often called ‘The Green Jewel of Brunei’, this park is home to pristine rain forest and jungle which see very little visitors. One can only access the park by boat. It’s about an hour’s ride away, during which you can observe wildlife such as crocodiles, lizards and monkeys. The highlight of the trip is a canopy walk across the park, with great views of the surrounding jungle. You can book a trip to the national park here.
photo credit: Pen_Ash
Take a walk down Gadong Town
The town is where we were based in, being also the commercial hub in Brunei with lots of shops, supermarkets and restaurants. The Pasar Pelbagai Barangan Gadong (or night market), where we spent all of our evenings (eating), is also located here!
Activities to avoid in Brunei
Some attractions are simply not worth the effort, and some activities are not allowed!
Istana Nurul Iman
The royal palace is supposedly gorgeous containing 1800 rooms, a 110-car garage, and its own mosque, but don’t get too excited about seeing all of this! The palace is only open to visitors during the three days of Hari Raya Aidilfitri when more than 100,000 people visit. Unless you’re in the country during this time, you can only go as far as the guarded main gate and its surrounding high walls. You will see little else besides the wall, gate and sentry post – not worth coming here at all!
Brunei is a dry country. Technically, non-Muslims can bring in up to two litres of alcohol into the country, but sale of alcohol and drinking in public is illegal, so be sure to respect this! If you are going to drink any alcohol which you might have brought in, you need to do this in the privacy of your hotel room.
How can I get around in Brunei?
Because almost everybody in Brunei drives his own vehicle, the public transport structure is not very developed and taxis are scarce. Our guesthouse organised our airport transfer, which ride cost B$15 (about €9.50). Taxis hired directly at the airport will normally charge about B$25 (about €15.50). We normally prefer using public transport but there’s none available from the airport.
We did manage to figure out how to use the little buses for sightseeing, especially after we got hold of a map at the guesthouse (after finding none at the airport). We caught a bus in Gadong town, which stopped us at the main terminal in Bandar Seri Begawan, where most attractions are located. We eventually took a second bus to the Istana Nurul Iman, which as we mentioned above, is not worth visiting.
The bus system was pretty easy to navigate, and English is widely spoken so you should really have no problem, should you wish to try out the public transport system yourself. At $1 (about €.60) per ride, it is easily the cheapest way of getting around, and the best way of going local so as to experience the best things to do in Brunei!
Where should you eat in Brunei?
Our favourite place to grab food was without doubt Pasar Pelbagai Barangan Gadong or the night market, with stands of all kinds of barbequed meats (including beef lung), the usual fried rice and noodles, rice steamed in banana leaf with a variety of fillings, and lots of different fruit shakes.
The food is tasty, filling and very affordable!
Our second favourite place to go to was Thien Thien Restaurant, a few doors down from the guesthouse, where Michelle used to have her favourite laksa for breakfast every single day! Nikki’s daily breakfast of chicken rice was hit or miss, but when it was good, it was to die for with just the right touch of sesame flavour!
There are not so many things to do in Brunei but there were certainly enough to keep us occupied for a few days. We recommend visiting the country if you have a few days to spare, and if you find affordable flights to your next destination!