Brunei is a tiny country which is almost entirely surrounded by the state of Sarawak, Malaysia. It now has one of the highest standards of living in the world where people enjoy high subsidies and pay no taxes.
The landscape is made up of dense forests and swamps that are cut by rivers and lying on a slim coastal plain on Borneo Island, it also has several large beaches. I ran along the beach at Kuala Belait beach most evenings and it was extremely calming (and tiring!). It was so peaceful with barely a passer-by – the only interruption to this sunset-run would be a crab scurrying into the sand. As you can tell from the photo below, the sunsets were to die for!
Kuala Belait beach at sunset
I visited both Kuala Balait (the second largest town) and the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. The difference from one to the other is quite a contrast – whilst Kuala Balait is much quieter, Bandar Seri Begawan is far busier and built up. I was thankful to encounter both parts – though if I were limited to a small number of days then I would recommend focusing your trip on the capital. Not only is this where the airport is located but there is so much to see and do here that you won’t find yourself getting bored.
In Brunei, all sorts of nature and animals are right at your doorstep – seeing monkeys play at one side of the road whilst a giant lizard attempts to cross from the other is not uncommon. The sunsets and the peaceful nature make this a unique destination and one to certainly add to the bucket list.
Bandar Seri Begawan – the capital
It’s difficult to put into words the emotions that I felt when visiting here. There is poverty neighboured with lavish riches – driving along a street, there can be several large, impressive houses surrounding a modest wooden shack or likewise one large house neighbouring several shacks.
As the capital is surrounded by rivers, I decided it would be best to take to the water and experience this town to its fullest. This was a boat trip like no other – I was metres away from wild proboscis monkeys (also known as long-nosed monkeys), a wild crocodile, monitor lizards and a beautiful array of birds. As well as this, I got to catch a glimpse of Istana Nurul Iman palace which is the Sultan of Brunei’s official residence and the largest residential palace in the world. It supposedly contains a jaw dropping 1,788 rooms, 5 swimming pools and a garage that can squeeze in up to 110 cars.
Wild crocodile (terrible photo because fortunately it disappeared away from our boat shortly after we spotted it)
Istana Nurul Iman palace
On this river trip we were taken into the Kampong Ayer (the largest water village in the world). We sailed past several stilt houses and a floating school – I had never seen anything quite like it before! I’ll let the photos do the talking…
Kampong Ayer water village
More stilt houses
Children leaving school
Taking in as much of the sights as we could whilst we were there, we also visited Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque which was named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei and is a place of worship for the Muslim community and a major landmark and tourist attraction of Brunei.
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in the distance
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
Above is only a sample of what you can see and do in the capital. As I mentioned, there is a lot on offer – even a cinema if you feel you’re missing home slightly and want to cosy up to a good old movie and snack on a bag of popcorn! There is a range of restaurants in both Kuala Belait and Bandar Seri Begawan – from restaurants serving traditional local cuisine, to Indian food and so on. You’ll be spoilt for choice!
Just remember however that Brunei is an Islamic state and the sale of alcohol is illegal, as is drinking in public and being publicly drunk is a serious crime. When I visited, non-Muslims were allowed to bring in up to two litres of bottled spirits or 12 cans of beer as long as you declared it and got an alcohol permit on entry. I’m uncertain whether this is still the case however, particularly now with the recent enforcement of sharia law.
Have you been to Brunei? What was your experience of it?