So, is Brunei worth visiting as a tourist? Well, fair question. When I first received an invitation to go on a Brunei trip. I had questions like, What’s in Brunei? What am I going to do there? What’s to see in Brunei? Why should I go to Brunei? And from my friends when I shared it with them: Is that in the Middle East? No guys. That’s Dubai.
Brunei is one of the 11 countries in Southeast Asia. And if compared to the other colorful countries in the region (i.e., Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, Philippines, East Timor), Brunei may pale in comparison, especially to the more famous backpacker destinations.
But if you love learning about new cultures, admiring gorgeous mosques, and meeting friendly people from diverse backgrounds, I’d say that Brunei is worth visiting as a tourist at least once in your life and only for a couple of days.
Where is Brunei Darussalam?
Brunei Darussalam is located on the north coast of the island of Borneo and is a Southeast Asian country. If you’re traveling from Southeast Asia, you can fly directly to Brunei from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines.
Do you need a tourist visa to travel to Brunei?
Is there much to do in Brunei?
Honestly, you don’t need weeks to explore the top tourist attractions in Brunei. Brunei is a small country, and you can plan your trip to the top tourist destinations in the country for just a couple of days. Here are some of the places you can visit in 48 hours:
- Day 1: Visit the top tourist attractions in Brunei, including Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, Kampong Ayer (Water Village), Istana Nurul Iman, and Royal Regalia Museum.
- Day 2: Go on a Brunei River Cruise and get a chance to encounter Proboscis Monkeys.
Things to do in Brunei
After browsing through blog posts of travelers who’ve previously visited the country, the pictures of Brunei didn’t excite me as much as when I saw photos of famous attractions in other countries I’ve visited.
So, when I decided to visit Brunei, I didn’t have a lot of expectations. ‘Cos that’s also one of the things that traveling taught me: you must allow yourself to experience the unexpected. And so I did.
1. Visit Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.
One of the places that I wanted to see was the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the largest mosque in Brunei.
Built for the 25th anniversary of the current sultan’s reign, Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque is adorned with 29 golden domes.
It is gorgeous in the morning. But, visit it in the evening, too, when the entire mosque is lit up, and you’ll see how majestic it is.
It was a pity that we didn’t get to see what was inside Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque because we weren’t wearing the proper attire then. But we walked around the outer grounds and got to see some of the details of the mosque up close. Lovely details, yeah?
2. Visit Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien.
On Fridays, between 12 noon and 2 in the afternoon, all shops in Brunei are closed for prayer time. At this time, some of our Muslim brothers and sisters visit Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien.
Completed in the 1950s and named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien III, this mosque’s most enormous dome is gold-plated, and its tower is made of marble.
Being in the vicinity gives you peace and tranquility. We loved it so much here that we visited it daily and stayed on its outside grounds for hours during our visit.
3. Kampong Ayer
Another must-do for us was visiting Brunei’s water village, Kampong Ayer. We hired a guide and boat, referred by our driver, Irwan, to tour around the water village for 15 BND per pax. The tour lasted for about an hour as we went around the village.
Situated in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, Kampong Ayer houses roughly 10% of the country’s population.
In the past, its population comprised half of the entire nation. But because of the demands of education, work, and convenience, the number of people living in the village slowly dwindled to its current number.
There were buildings constructed on stilts above the water of Brunei Bay. To preserve the village’s heritage, the government has provided facilities for the residents of Kampong Ayer, like its own electricity supply, water pipes, mosques, clinics, schools, and police stations.
The government also built footbridges for the residents of the village. In some areas, boats also use the gaps between the stilts of these bridges to pass through.
Those blue boats beneath the jetty? They use those to clean the garbage off the water to keep the water village clean.
As with the places we visited in Brunei, the people in Kampong Ayer would wave hi or give you that sweet smile. 🙂
4. Tamu Kianggeh
Located on the banks of the Kianggeh River, Tamu Kianggeh is one of the markets of Bandar Seri Begawan that is popular with tourists.
While we didn’t get to witness how vibrant Tamu Kianggeh is (usually in the early morning), I still love that we had the opportunity to have conversations with some sellers – many of whom are locals. Some are from other countries like Nepal and the Philippines.
Where to eat in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam
There are a lot of options. You can visit Tamu Kianggeh in the morning for breakfast when most stalls are open. We didn’t get to do this, though, since we mostly went out in the afternoons and evenings. But we still got to have one of our lunches there. And, man, it was SUPER affordable! Our nasi katok (rice + fried chicken) only cost 1 BND!
From what I heard, the Gadong Night Market is also worth visiting in Brunei. But, because it was raining in the evenings, we didn’t get to set foot in this part of Brunei.
However, we tried the Indonesian food at Aneka Rasa, the ambuyat at Aminah Arif, and delicious Japanese food at Excapade.
Where to stay in Brunei
There are accommodation options in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam, like these top-rated places:
And while finding an accommodation that would meet our minimum needs was not difficult, most are beyond our budget. In the end, though, we opted for Badi’ah Hotel.
Badi’ah Hotel is a three-star hotel owned by a relative of the Sultan of Brunei. We chose to stay here mainly because of its proximity to the places we would like to see. The price was not bad, too, especially since it had a pool we could enjoy should we decide to stay in.
Their staff could also speak English well, which was a plus because neither my friend nor I could speak Malay. But what I loved most about Badi’ah Hotel was its superb customer service, available 24 hours a day.
Going around Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam
The most convenient way to go around Bandar Seri Begawan, even if more expensive, is to hire a private car.
We got ours for 20 BND. I learned later that some rentals charge 35 BND (or 1,225 PHP) per hour. So, I suggest requesting your hotel to negotiate the price on your behalf. The price is reasonable considering we didn’t bring umbrellas and had gadgets we needed to protect from the rain.
If you are a couchsurfer, consider contacting the Couchsurfing community in Brunei. Robert, a member of the community, and his friend, Hendri, drove us around, even to places not on our list! They even accompanied us to the airport and waited until our boarding time. 🙂
Other useful tips
Best time to visit Brunei Darussalam
One of the best times to visit Brunei is during Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the festival at the end of the Muslim fasting month. During this time, Istana Nurul Iman, the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei, is open to the public.
Airport transfers in Brunei
I suggest you arrange the airport transfer before arriving at Brunei Darussalam, especially if you are on a red-eye flight. The money changers at their airport close early, and if you do not have BNDs with you, you might not get to your hotel until morning.
Badi’ah Hotel, where we stayed, had complimentary airport transfers before 11.00 p.m. But if you are arriving after that, it will cost 10 BND.
Schedule of mosques and other shops
On Fridays, between 12 noon and 2 in the afternoon, all shops in Brunei are closed for prayer time. So, it is best to plan your itinerary around these times. Below are the visiting hours for non-Muslims inside Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque and Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien.
What to wear in Brunei
Wear sleeved tops and pants/long skirts. Brunei is a conservative place, and to show respect to its people, please dress appropriately.
Is Brunei worth visiting as a tourist?
For a few days, yes, I would have to say that it’s worth a visit. If you’re on a long-term travel and are looking for peace and quiet, Brunei can be a good place for a break in the exciting world of travel.
In Southeast Asia, I’ve visited Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam multiple times. But I honestly don’t have any plans of revisiting Brunei.
It’s a lovely country with friendly and welcoming people. We made some new friends from the Couchsurfing community and met a lot of Pinoys and locals. It reminded me of how nice it is to visit other countries and experience their unique characteristics first-hand. And, as I’ve been itching to go on a trip for months, this was an excellent way to get my groove back for out-of-the-country travels.
But after visiting Brunei for a few days, I think I’ve experienced all the things that I’d like to experience in the country.
Should you still visit it? Yes, I think so! If you plan to, I recommend just planning to stay for a couple of days. That should be enough to experience most of the tourist activities in Brunei.
As for us, we didn’t have any regrets. Next stop, Thailand!