Brunei Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Nestled on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, Brunei, officially known as the Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace, offers a unique and serene travel experience. Despite its small size, this oil-rich sultanate boasts a rich cultural heritage, stunning rainforests, and striking Islamic architecture. From exploring the opulent Istana Nurul Iman, one of the world’s largest residential palaces, to wandering through lush national parks and embarking on river safaris, Brunei promises a tranquil escape into a world of natural beauty, spirituality, and royal splendor.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Brunei as a tourist is during the dry season, which typically spans from December to April. This period offers pleasant weather and is considered the high tourist season in Brunei. Here are some reasons why this time is ideal for a visit:

  1. Dry Weather: Brunei experiences less rainfall during these months, providing a more comfortable and enjoyable travel experience. Rainfall is minimal, and you can expect plenty of sunny days.
  2. Festivals: The dry season aligns with several cultural and religious festivals in Brunei, including Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Eid al-Fitr) and the Sultan’s birthday celebrations. These events offer unique cultural experiences and colorful celebrations.
  3. Outdoor Activities: The dry season is perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, exploring rainforests, and visiting national parks. You can enjoy nature walks, river cruises, and wildlife spotting in more favorable weather conditions.
  4. Clearer Skies: The dry season often results in clearer skies, making it an excellent time for stargazing and enjoying views of Brunei’s lush landscapes.

While the dry season is the most popular time to visit, it’s also essential to keep in mind that this is the peak tourist season in Brunei, and accommodations may be in high demand. If you prefer to avoid crowds and have a more budget-friendly experience, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons, which occur in November and May. These months may still provide decent weather with fewer tourists.

The wet season, which runs from May to October, can bring heavy rainfall and humidity, making outdoor activities less enjoyable. However, if you don’t mind occasional rain and want to experience Brunei with fewer tourists, the wet season may offer unique advantages and opportunities for a quieter visit.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Brunei as a tourist is relatively straightforward, as the country has a well-maintained transportation infrastructure. Here are the best ways to explore Brunei:

  1. Taxis: Taxis are a convenient way to get around the cities and towns in Brunei. They are metered, so you can be assured of a fair fare. Taxis are readily available at airports, hotels, and popular tourist destinations. Negotiate fares for longer journeys.
  2. Public Buses: Brunei has a public bus system that operates in major cities and towns, including Bandar Seri Begawan. The buses are clean, safe, and relatively inexpensive. Be sure to check the bus schedules, as they may not operate as frequently in some areas.
  3. Water Taxis: In Bandar Seri Begawan, water taxis are a unique and scenic way to navigate the waterways and explore the city. They connect different parts of the capital, and you can enjoy beautiful views along the Brunei River.
  4. Rental Cars: Renting a car is a good option if you want more flexibility and plan to explore outside the cities. Roads are well-maintained and driving is on the left side of the road. Rental agencies can be found at the airport and in major cities.
  5. Cycling: In the capital and some other towns, you can rent bicycles to explore at your own pace. Some hotels and hostels may also offer bike rentals.
  6. Walking: Brunei is a compact country, and many cities and towns are pedestrian-friendly. Exploring on foot allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture and discover hidden gems.
  7. Private Tours and Guides: To make the most of your visit, consider booking guided tours. Experienced local guides can provide insights into the culture, history, and natural attractions of Brunei.
  8. Airport Shuttle: Bandar Seri Begawan has an airport shuttle service that can take you from the airport to various city hotels. Check the schedule for the shuttle service.
  9. Apps: Consider using ride-sharing apps if they are available in Brunei. This can be a convenient and cost-effective way to get around, especially in Bandar Seri Begawan.
  10. Domestic Flights: If you plan to visit the remote areas of Brunei, you may need to take domestic flights from Bandar Seri Begawan to destinations like Labuan and Belait.

Brunei is a small and safe country with a well-organized transportation system. Your choice of transportation will depend on your itinerary and preferences. Whether you’re exploring the capital city, visiting cultural sites, or venturing into the rainforests, there are options to suit your needs as a tourist.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of Brunei is Malay, and Standard Malay is widely spoken throughout the country. Here are some common Malay phrases and words that can be helpful for tourists:

  1. Hello – Selamat pagi (morning) / Selamat tengahari (midday) / Selamat petang (afternoon or evening)
  2. Thank you – Terima kasih
  3. Please – Sila
  4. Yes – Ya
  5. No – Tidak
  6. Goodbye – Selamat tinggal
  7. Excuse me / I’m sorry – Maafkan saya
  8. How much is this? – Berapa harga ini?
  9. What is your name? – Apa nama anda?
  10. I don’t understand – Saya tidak faham

While Malay is the official language, English is widely used and understood, particularly in urban areas and in the tourism industry. Many street signs, menus, and official documents are also in English, making it easy for tourists to communicate and navigate.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Brunei offers a range of accommodation options to suit various budgets and preferences. The majority of accommodations are located in the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan, where most tourist attractions are concentrated. Here are some options for where to stay as a tourist in Brunei:

  1. Luxury Hotels: Brunei has several high-end international hotel chains, such as The Empire Brunei, The Rizqun International Hotel, and Radisson Hotel Brunei. These hotels offer luxurious amenities, stunning views, and excellent dining options.
  2. Mid-Range Hotels: There are many mid-range hotels and boutique accommodations in Bandar Seri Begawan, providing comfortable rooms and good facilities. Examples include The Brunei Hotel and Jubilee Hotel.
  3. Guesthouses and Hostels: For budget-conscious travelers, guesthouses and hostels offer affordable and clean accommodations. Some well-rated hostels in Bandar Seri Begawan include KH Soon Resthouse and Badi’ah Hotel.
  4. Resort Stays: The Empire Brunei and other luxury resorts offer stunning beachfront locations and world-class facilities.
  5. Eco-Lodges and Homestays: For a unique and eco-friendly experience, consider staying in one of Brunei’s eco-lodges or homestays in rural areas and national parks. These provide opportunities to immerse yourself in nature and local culture.
  6. Serviced Apartments: Some serviced apartments in Bandar Seri Begawan cater to travelers staying for an extended period. They come with kitchen facilities and additional space, making them ideal for families or long-term visitors.
  7. Homestays: Experience the local way of life by staying with a Bruneian family through homestay programs. This allows you to engage with the culture and community on a deeper level.
  8. Camping: Some national parks in Brunei offer camping facilities for those who prefer to stay close to nature. Permits may be required.
  9. Floating Houses (Water Villages): In Kampong Ayer, the water village in Bandar Seri Begawan, you can find unique accommodations in traditional wooden stilt houses. These offer a glimpse into the local way of life and scenic water views.

When booking accommodations, consider factors like proximity to the attractions you plan to visit, your budget, and the type of experience you want. In Bandar Seri Begawan, you’ll find the most diverse range of accommodations, while in other parts of Brunei, such as Temburong District, options may be more limited. It’s advisable to book in advance, especially during the peak tourist season, to secure your preferred lodging.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Brunei offers a diverse range of culinary delights influenced by Malay, Chinese, and Indonesian flavors. Here are some must-try foods when visiting Brunei as a tourist:

  1. Ambuyat: Brunei’s national dish, ambuyat, is a starchy, gooey substance made from sago palm starch. It’s typically eaten with a bamboo fork, dipped in various condiments like spicy sambal, fish, and vegetables.
  2. Nasi Katok: A simple yet flavorful meal consisting of white rice, fried chicken, and a spicy sambal sauce. It’s a popular street food and a budget-friendly option.
  3. Ayam Penyet: Fried and smashed chicken served with a fiery chili paste, cucumber, and rice. The chicken is often tender and crispy, making it a favorite among locals and tourists.
  4. Roti Canai: A type of flatbread served with a variety of curries or dhal (lentil soup). It’s a common breakfast or snack option.
  5. Mee Goreng: A stir-fried noodle dish seasoned with spices, vegetables, and your choice of protein, often topped with a fried egg.
  6. Laksa: A spicy noodle soup with a coconut milk base, typically served with prawns, chicken, or a combination of both. Laksa is known for its rich and aromatic flavors.
  7. Kolo Mee: A popular Malaysian dish found in Brunei, kolo mee features springy egg noodles, minced meat, and a savory sauce. It’s often garnished with fried shallots and vegetables.
  8. Satay: Skewered and grilled meat, often served with a peanut sauce, rice cakes, and a small serving of a cucumber-onion salad.
  9. Rendang: While originally from Indonesia, rendang is widely enjoyed in Brunei. It’s a flavorful, slow-cooked meat dish, usually made with beef, in a rich coconut and spice sauce.
  10. Nasi Lemak: A fragrant rice dish cooked with coconut milk and served with a variety of side dishes, including sambal, peanuts, anchovies, boiled eggs, and cucumber.
  11. Tutong Satay: A regional specialty, Tutong satay is marinated and grilled skewered meat served with a unique peanut sauce. It’s often considered some of the best satay in Brunei.
  12. Bamboo Chicken: A traditional dish where chicken is marinated and cooked inside bamboo tubes, imparting a smoky flavor. It’s a specialty in the Temburong District.
  13. Pisang Goreng: Deep-fried bananas, often coated in a crispy batter and served as a delightful snack or dessert.
  14. Local Fruits: Sample local fruits like durian, rambutan, mangosteen, and snake fruit. Each fruit offers a unique and delicious tropical flavor.
  15. Talur Dadar: A rolled omelette filled with a sweet coconut and palm sugar mixture, making it a popular snack or dessert.
  16. Teh Tarik: A strong and creamy pulled tea, a popular local beverage often enjoyed with roti canai or snacks.

Exploring Brunei’s diverse culinary scene is an integral part of your travel experience. Be sure to try these dishes at local eateries, food markets, and street stalls to savor the authentic flavors of the country.

What to See? 🔍

Brunei offers a variety of attractions that showcase its rich culture, history, and natural beauty. Here are some must-see places for tourists in Brunei:

  1. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque: One of Brunei’s most iconic landmarks, this mosque is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. The mosque’s golden dome and stunning surroundings make it a must-visit.
  2. Kampong Ayer (Water Village): Explore the world’s largest water village, a unique settlement on stilts along the Brunei River. Take a water taxi and visit local houses, schools, and markets.
  3. Istana Nurul Iman: The official residence of the Sultan of Brunei, this lavish palace is one of the world’s largest residential palaces. While the interior is not open to the public, the exterior and grandeur of the palace are worth admiring.
  4. Ulu Temburong National Park: Located in the Temburong District, this pristine rainforest is a biodiversity hotspot. Enjoy activities like canopy walks, river cruises, and exploring diverse flora and fauna.
  5. Brunei Museum: Learn about Brunei’s culture and history through the exhibits at the Brunei Museum. It’s a great place to gain insights into the nation’s heritage.
  6. Royal Regalia Building: Visit this museum to view the royal regalia and artifacts associated with the Sultan’s coronation. It’s a showcase of Brunei’s royal heritage.
  7. Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque: Also known as the Kiarong Mosque, it’s another architectural gem and one of Brunei’s most beautiful mosques. The stunning mosaics and gardens are worth a visit.
  8. Tasek Lama Recreational Park: A peaceful park with walking trails, waterfalls, and lush greenery. It’s an excellent place for a relaxing stroll or a short hike.
  9. Jerudong Park Playground: A family-friendly amusement park offering a range of rides, attractions, and entertainment options.
  10. Serasa Beach: Enjoy a day at the beach and unwind along the beautiful coastline. It’s a great spot for swimming, picnicking, and water sports.
  11. Tutong and Belait Districts: Explore the serene countryside and visit Tutong and Belait, known for their rustic beauty, parks, and natural attractions.
  12. Istana Darul Hana: This new landmark along the Brunei River features traditional Malay architecture and is the site of the annual Royal Regatta. The compound is open to visitors.
  13. Kianggeh Market: Experience a bustling local market where you can sample traditional snacks, fruits, and browse through a wide variety of goods.
  14. The Empire Hotel & Country Club: Even if you’re not staying here, visit this opulent resort for its stunning architecture, beautiful beach, and exquisite dining options.
  15. Tamu Kianggeh (Kianggeh Open Market): A local food market where you can savor traditional Bruneian dishes and snacks.
  16. Tamu Selera (Gadong Night Market): A bustling night market with a wide range of street food stalls serving local and international dishes.
  17. Bukit Patoi: A hill in Tutong with a stunning viewpoint offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. It’s a popular hiking destination.

These are just a few of the many attractions that Brunei has to offer. Whether you’re interested in cultural heritage, natural beauty, or architectural marvels, Brunei has something for every type of traveler.

What to Do? 📸

Brunei offers a range of exciting activities and experiences for tourists to enjoy. Here are some must-do things when visiting Brunei:

  1. Take a Water Taxi in Kampong Ayer: Explore the picturesque water village of Kampong Ayer by hopping on a traditional water taxi. This unique experience allows you to visit local houses and experience the village’s way of life.
  2. Visit the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque: Admire the stunning architecture and serene atmosphere of this iconic mosque. Make sure to explore the beautifully manicured gardens surrounding it.
  3. Explore Ulu Temburong National Park: Go on an adventure to the heart of the rainforest. Participate in canopy walks, river cruises, and jungle hikes in this pristine wilderness.
  4. Shop at Local Markets: Discover local culture and flavors by visiting markets like Tamu Kianggeh and Gadong Night Market. Sample traditional Bruneian snacks and shop for souvenirs.
  5. Try Ambuyat: Savor the national dish, ambuyat, which is made from sago palm starch. Dip it in a variety of condiments and experience Brunei’s unique culinary culture.
  6. Visit the Royal Regalia Building: Explore the royal artifacts and regalia that showcase Brunei’s royal heritage and traditions.
  7. Take a Mangrove River Safari: Embark on a river safari in the mangrove forests near Bandar Seri Begawan. You’ll have the chance to spot proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, and other wildlife.
  8. Hike Bukit Patoi: Hike to the summit of Bukit Patoi in Tutong for breathtaking panoramic views of the countryside and the coast. It’s a popular spot for nature enthusiasts.
  9. Enjoy Water Sports: Brunei’s coastline offers opportunities for water sports, including kayaking, jet-skiing, and scuba diving.
  10. Learn About Malay Culture: Engage with local communities to gain a deeper understanding of Malay culture and traditions. You can participate in cultural tours and watch traditional dance performances.
  11. Discover Wildlife: Explore the rainforests and national parks to observe Brunei’s diverse wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, hornbills, and reptiles.
  12. Visit the Brunei Museum: Dive into the country’s rich history and culture by exploring the exhibits at the Brunei Museum.
  13. Try Local Fruits: Sample a variety of tropical fruits such as durian, rambutan, and mangosteen. These fruits are delicious and abundant in Brunei.
  14. Attend Local Festivals: If your visit coincides with a local festival, join in the celebrations. Festivals like Hari Raya Aidilfitri and the Sultan’s birthday offer unique cultural experiences.
  15. Stay in a Water Village: Book a homestay or accommodation in one of the water villages for an authentic experience. You’ll get a glimpse into daily life on the water.
  16. Take a Cultural Village Tour: Tour local cultural villages to learn about traditional practices, crafts, and history.
  17. Stroll Around Bandar Seri Begawan: Walk around the capital city to explore its picturesque streets, markets, and historical sites.
  18. Visit the Temburong Canopy Walkway: Experience the thrill of walking along the treetops on the canopy walkway in Temburong’s rainforest.

Brunei offers a blend of cultural, natural, and adventure experiences that will leave you with lasting memories of your trip. Whether you’re exploring the capital, immersing yourself in nature, or enjoying traditional dishes, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in this charming nation.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Culture:

  1. Respect for Religion: Brunei is an Islamic country, and respect for Islamic customs and traditions is of utmost importance. When visiting mosques or other religious sites, dress modestly, remove your shoes, and behave with decorum.
  2. Greeting Customs: Greetings are significant in Brunei. The common greeting is “Salam sejahtera” (peace be upon you). When greeting someone, it’s customary to offer your right hand for a handshake. Use your right hand for giving and receiving items or food.
  3. Public Behavior: Displaying affection in public, such as hugging and kissing, is considered inappropriate. It’s essential to maintain a conservative demeanor and avoid public displays of affection.
  4. Conservative Dress: Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites and rural areas. Women should cover their shoulders, and both men and women should avoid revealing clothing. Swimwear is suitable at beaches or pools but not in public areas.
  5. Photography: Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, particularly in rural areas and markets. Respect the privacy and traditions of the locals.
  6. Greetings and Titles: Use titles like “Encik” for Mr., “Cik” for Miss, and “Puan” for Mrs. when addressing people, followed by their last name.

Safety:

  1. Low Crime Rate: Brunei is known for its low crime rate, making it a safe destination for travelers. However, exercise common-sense precautions such as safeguarding your belongings and avoiding poorly lit areas at night.
  2. Health Precautions: Ensure you have adequate travel insurance that covers medical emergencies. Check with your doctor about necessary vaccinations or precautions. Mosquito repellent is advisable due to the presence of dengue fever in the region.
  3. Conservative Behavior: Being respectful of local customs and traditions is key to safety. Avoid behaviors that may offend local sensibilities.
  4. Environmental Awareness: Brunei’s natural beauty is a point of pride for the country. Respect the environment by following the “leave no trace” principle and adhering to the rules in national parks and nature reserves.
  5. Road Safety: Be cautious when driving in Brunei. Roads are generally well-maintained, but traffic rules and local driving practices may differ from what you’re used to. Wildlife, such as monkeys, may cross roads, so drive carefully.
  6. Currency and Payment: The local currency is the Brunei Dollar (BND). Credit cards are widely accepted in urban areas, but it’s a good idea to carry some cash for smaller towns and rural areas.
  7. Emergency Contacts: Familiarize yourself with local emergency numbers, as well as the nearest embassy or consulate’s contact information.
  8. Travel Advisory: Check your government’s travel advisory for Brunei before your trip, as situations can change.
  9. Respect for Customs: When visiting Brunei, it’s important to remember that the country adheres to conservative Islamic practices. Alcohol is strictly regulated, and it is essential to respect local customs and laws.

By embracing the cultural norms and respecting the local way of life, you can have a safe and rewarding travel experience in Brunei. The country’s warm and welcoming people, coupled with its natural beauty and cultural heritage, make it a memorable destination for tourists.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to Brunei offers travelers a serene and distinctive experience. From the grandeur of its royal palaces to the untouched beauty of its rainforests and rivers, Brunei is a destination that combines cultural richness with natural wonders. The country’s strong Islamic heritage and the warm hospitality of its people make it a peaceful and enchanting place to explore. Whether you’re touring opulent mosques, enjoying river cruises, or immersing yourself in the country’s lush greenery, Brunei is a destination that leaves an indelible mark on those who seek its unique charm.