Though dwarfed in size by Malaysia and Indonesia, little Brunei — especially its capital, Bandar Seri Begawan — is a treasure trove of exciting experiences
Immerse yourself in nature
Containing three-fifths of Brunei’s tropical rainforest, Bandar Seri Begawan is a city that’s bursting at the seams with lush greenery. If you don’t manage to explore the remote Ulu Temburong National Park (Temburong), which can only be reached via longboat, head to the more accessible Tasek Lama Recreational Park (Jalan Tasek Lama) instead.
This idyllic oasis is home to several walking and jogging paths, a beautiful natural waterfall and an observation tower, which offers unobstructed views of the capital. Continue past the tower and you’ll find a challenging hiking path that will take you to the bottom of the park, where wild macaques can be spotted lazing in the shade.
Glimpse the proboscis monkey…
Seek out the weird, wonderful and incredibly elusive proboscis monkey, which is endemic to Borneo. Many tour operators in the city offer river safari cruises, during which you might glimpse the monkeys in the mangroves of the Sungai Brunei (Brunei River). Alternatively, hire a local boatman at any jetty, who will take you to the swamps for around BN$20. (We’d actually recommend the latter option, as it’s easier to navigate the mangroves with a smaller boat!) Head out during dawn or dusk (7am or 5pm), as that’s when the primates are most active.
…and other strange creatures
When the sun sets in Bandar Seri Begawan, it isn’t just the moon that comes out to play. To spot creatures of the night, head to any jetty and board a boat for around BN$15. Powering through the river in the dark is an exhilarating experience like no other — you’ll spot fireflies twinkling like fairy lights, the ominous reflections of crocodiles’ eyes, and more!
Visit Brunei’s iconic mosque
Fans of Disney might find the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque (Jalan MacArthur) familiar; in fact, many people feel that the 58-year-old place of worship bears a striking resemblance to the Sultan’s palace in Aladdin.
With its golden dome and marble minarets, the mosque is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive landmarks in Brunei. If you’re a non-Muslim visitor, you may enter the mosque during non-prayer times; do note, however, that you won’t be allowed to wander freely. Do make sure to see the mosque’s gilded interiors, though, which are a sight to behold.
Take a stroll in the park
Accessible by boat, the riverside Damuan Recreational Park (Jalan Tutong, alongside Jalan Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha) is a great place to relax and unwind. The 1km-long park is also home to ASEAN Square, an open-air museum displaying the work of a sculptor from each of the original six ASEAN member countries. The park is also a great vantage point from which to see Istana Nurul Iman (Jalan Menteri Besar; +673 238 2822; istananuruliman.org), the official home of the Sultan of Brunei and the largest residential palace in the world.
There’s no need to worry about transport back to the city. Simply head to any of the bus stops adjacent to the park, and board any bus traveling in the direction of the palace — they all terminate in the city center.
Sample the national dish
Ambuyat, the national dish of Brunei, is a sticky, gloopy substance derived from the interior trunk of the sago palm, and eaten with a two-pronged bamboo stick called chandas. As it tastes bland on its own, it’s often dipped into flavored sauces. Try it at Aminah Arif Restaurant (Unit 2-3, Block B, Rahman Building, Spg. 88, Kiulap; +673 265 3036; aminaharif.com.bn) or A’café (Jalan Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin; +673 279 0908).
Hit the market
After exploring the city, fuelling up at Pasar Gadong (Jalan Pasar Gadong) is a must. The delicious snacks include kelupis (traditional glutinous rice rolls wrapped in leaves), chicken and beef skewers slathered in zingy sauces, and more. While there aren’t any seating areas, you can head to the adjacent park to devour your purchases.
Do note that the market is located some distance from the city center, and it’ll take you around 50 minutes to get there on foot. Your best bet would be to hop on public buses 1 and 22 (both stop running at 6pm), or make use of your hotel’s shuttle service.
Get a taste of royalty
Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, is worth a whopping US$20 billion. Can’t quite wrap your head around that? Head to the Royal Regalia Museum (Jalan Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin; +673 224 4545) for a taste of what it’s like to live in the lap of luxury.
At the museum, you’ll find an array of priceless antiques, fancy regalia and lavish gifts that border on the preposterous — for instance, the president of Syria once gifted the Sultan a silver shield bearing the latter’s resemblance! But the most extravagant exhibit is without a doubt the Royal Chariot, which takes pride of place in the main hall, and was used to carry the Sultan through the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan during his silver jubilee.