Travel off the beaten path and let the unexpected quirks of Brunei take you by surprise.
The tiny nation of Brunei nestles on the island of Borneo and is often considered as an atypical destination by most tourists. Don’t let the unassuming presence of this sovereign state deceive you as there are plenty of attractions as well as refreshing sights to include in your itinerary for three days.
Istana Nurul Iman or The Royal Palace offers a glimpse into the very opulent, almost magical world of Brunei’s monarch. The palace grounds are off-limits to the public though, save for the three days during Eid celebrations. However, you can still make this your first quick pit stop if only to marvel at its grand brilliance from the outside, as the palace is located only 15 minutes away from Brunei International Airport.
Continue your jaunt with a visit to the Royal Regalia Museum just nearby. The museum showcases a vast selection of royal regalia and relics from the monarchy. This is where you can dive deep into the illustrious chronology of the current Bruneian head of state and His Royal Highness’ achievements and honours.
Meanwhile, just a 15-minute’s drive away is the hard-to-miss Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and its gold-gilded dome in the centre of Bandar Seri Begawan. The famous landmark was built on a man-made lake, thus casting magnificent golden silhouettes that reflect off the water be it day or night. When visiting the mosque, please be mindful of all the etiquettes that you must follow, such as dressing moderately and taking off your footwear when entering the prayer hall.
Start your second day by exploring the biodiversity of Brunei. Plan your journey to Ulu Temburong National Park where unspoilt, pristine greenery awaits you. It will take about 45 minutes from Bandar Seri Begawan to reach there via the traditional temuai boat, which makes the trip all the more thrilling. Spanning across approximately 50,000 hectares of virgin rainforest, the national park boasts an infinite variety of flora and fauna unique to the deep forests of Borneo.
At the national park, have a go at Belalong Canopy Walk here to enjoy a 360 view of the Bruneian jungle - though here’s a bit of a fair warning: it’s not for the fainthearted! In fact, at a staggering height of 43 meters above the ground, crossing the walkaway will rattle even the bravest of adventurers. If you’re more of a water sports person, though, check out the water tubing and white water rafting activities there instead, which are equally as satisfying to do.
When back at the city centre, swing by Gadong Night Market to really do as the locals do. You’ll easily find yourself sucked into the lively and vibrant atmosphere, often wafting with a gentle smokeyness from street vendors and their skewered snacks. While you’re here, do sample the Bruneian favourite Nasi Katok, which is essentially rice with fried chicken, served with a dollop of sweet savoury sambal. Another dish worth seeking out is Ambuyat, which is the Bruneian national dish derived from the trunk of a sago palm tree, and served with a sour and spicy dipping sauce called cacah.
At first glance, the shanty-type homes of Kampong Ayer by the Brunei River may seem impoverished. However, these clusters of colourful timber houses - believed to date back to over 1,000 years ago - actually are equipped with utilities such as proper plumbing, electricity and even internet connection. Do make time to visit this interesting location on the last day of your trip to gain new insights on Bruneian culture as well as the rich heritage of this intriguing village - where the houses are built on stilts over the river, giving it the honour of being dubbed the “Original Venice of the East” due to its long history.
Before you leave, stop by the cafes in Brunei for a cuppa, and for that Instagram photo op. Three Light Coffee Bar interestingly shares a space with an interior design company, and they serve a selection of espressos, including their famous ‘Boujee latte’. Bloom Café at One Riverside brings floral flair to the cafe scene, while offering an assortment of pastries, cakes and pancakes that complement their wide range of artisan coffees and smoothies. Many may think that Brunei has nothing to offer to tourists, yet if you find yourself here, you’ll be surprised at what a great time there is to be had here, just relaxing and taking in the sights, sounds and culture at a leisurely pace