If for some super random reason you find yourself in this tiny oil-rich sultanate, there are some places I’d definitely recommend to visitors.
“But what can you even do there?!”
Yes, Brunei does have a reputation for being such a ‘boring country with nothing to do’, unlike its neighbouring destination superstars like Malaysia and Indonesia… but that doesn’t mean it’s completely true.
When my overseas friends visit Brunei, the main activity planned for them is eat, eat, eat. I always joke that our pratas and chicken rice are even better than Singapore’s, but the truth is… it’s true. HAHA. If you’re a fan of nature, Temburong is definitely the place for you to explore. Rich biodiversity, thick rainforests, endless mangroves, rivers, crazy mosquitoes, you name it!!!
Other than eating, there are a few unique and beautiful places I enjoy showing my non-local friends.
The Empire Hotel & Country Club
Ladies and gentlemen, the famed Empire Hotel of Brunei! This luxurious, fully-integrated 5-star resort cost a whopping USD$1.1 billion to build. The beachfront resort overlooks the South China Sea and is complete with an 18-hole golf course, cinema, private villas, country club, the list goes on. After 15 years, locals like me still get awed by its grand architecture. Gold and marble everywhere… it’s like you are stepping into a dreamy palace.
You can choose to stay here and fully immerse into the Empire experience (with the cheapest rooms roughly ranging from USD150~200 per night), or just take a stroll around the resort grounds, which is enough to see the whole place.
Start from the hotel lobby!
If you’re feeling fancy, you can have your high tea session in this beautiful setting. High ceilings always look super grand!
Panoramic view of the South China Sea from the lobby
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
When it comes to mosques, Brunei really knows what’s up. The islamic mosque is often considered one of the most beautiful mosques in Asia Pacific. Its picturesque dome is actually plated with pure gold!! Did you know that no buildings in Brunei are allowed to be taller than the mosques?
The mosque is built on an artificial lagoon overlooking the water village (Kampong Ayer), so there are scenic spots for you to wander around outside of the mosque, too. Also, robes will be provided at the entrance of the mosque to cover up when inside the prayer halls.
Kampong Ayer (Water Village)
One of the most prominent sights of Brunei Darussalam is definitely the iconic water village. Roughly around 40,000 people stay in these water villages, which represents about 10% of the whole Brunei population!! These wooden houses are built on stilts over water, and connected by bridges all around. Even the hospitals, schools, mosques and supermarkets are on stilts.
Apparently, it is the largest water settlement in Southeast Asia! Its residents travel around via speedboats. Tourists can also get a taste of that life by going on the speedboat tours around this area, too! There are mangrove tours, which take you along the Brunei river to hunt for monkeys and occasionally, crocodiles, and then back for a cruise around the water village.
Monkeys are usually around here, but we didn’t get to see them in this particular mangrove stop. We saw some monkeys from far along the river coastline though. You can also opt to go for the night time crocodile hunting tour (I’m too scared, lol!).
Shahbandar Forest Recreational Park
If you are a fan of hiking, or maybe you just want to burn off some fats from all the food indulgence, this is the place to be!!!! Hiking is almost like a national pastime here. Situated just across the highway from The Empire Hotel is the Bukit Shahbandar, notorious for its challenging trails.
It is better to enjoy this hike with a friend, as the unfamiliar might have a high chance of getting lost inside if you intend to tackle the extended trails. For the shorter hikes (such as 3 or 6 pondok trails), you can definitely get by with asking for directions as you are likely to come across hikers along the way. The sun sets at about 5.45pm here so it’s recommended that you don’t start your trail hike after 5pm.
Starting off with an innocent short stroll through this forest.
An introduction to the rest of the climb, because this is where it goes on a sharp uphill ascent. Before you know it, the next moment you’d probably be like, DAMN I’M SWEATING SO MUCH.
The checkpoints of the trails are marked by ‘pondoks’ (shanty).
Be rewarded with a nice panoramic viewpoint from one of the checkpoints.
In my opinion, the Shahbandar trail never gets boring. Sometimes you’d be climbing over sand and rocks, sometimes you might be descending over grass and soil with the help of a rope, or crossing a wobbly bridge across a stream!
Back to the starting point (playground and carpark). Usually by the end of the day, around 5~6pm there’ll probably be lots and lots of monkeys hanging around the playground. Sometimes there’ll be like around 50 of them (I saw once!!) just walking in one direction towards another lake. I think someone was feeding them or something.
The above were places I decided to elaborate on, but there are also a few more things you can see or do in Brunei.
- A daytrip or overnight trip is available for Temburong National Park, which is a great place for rafting, hiking, camping and exploring the rich ecosystem and biodiversity of Brunei
- If you are a fan of mosques, you can visit the biggest mosque in Brunei – the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque.
- Yet another mosque shaped architectural attraction is the Royal Regalia Building Museum in the Bandar area
- An alternative to hiking in Shahbandar is Tasek Lama
- My absolute favourite is renting the ATV (quad bike) and riding along Jerudong Beach and Tungku Beach. Super scenic!
Although not as strong as its counterparts, Brunei still has a lot to offer – even just for a day or two. Have fun!