Bandar Seri Begawan
With a low crime rate, the capital of Brunei is peaceful and safe. The city comprises largely of charming water villages.
Ruled by an absolute monarch who is one of the world’s richest men, the oil-rich Sultanate of Brunei (officially Brunei Darussalam) is a peaceful, modern nation whose identity revolves around respect for Malay culture, Islam and the monarchy. The sultan is from a long-surviving dynasty and serves as the country’s prime minister, defence minister and finance minister. The month-long celebration of his birthday in July is an interesting time to visit.
Bruneians have among the highest GDP in the world and there is a pervasive sense of well-being and very low crime. However, with only 200,000 people, Bandar Seri Begawan, or BSB as it is commonly known, feels more like a small town than a capital. It takes no more than 15 minutes to walk from one side of the centre to the other. A large part of the city comprises water villages collectively known as Kampong Ayer, historic testament to the beginnings of human settlement here.
Islam is strictly observed. For visitors, this manifests itself in the dominance of mosques, the banning of the sale of alcohol and no nightlife. However, the two main mosques in the capital are stunning and opulent architectural works, well worth visiting. Increasingly, Brunei is capitalising on being in the biodiversity treasure trove that is Borneo. Thanks to remarkable conservation policies, its primary rainforests are rich, pristine and surprisingly accessible.
The variety and quality of Bruneian food is also very good, drawing from local, Southeast Asian as well as Western traditions.
Bandar Seri Begawan has a moderate equatorial climate with temperatures ranging from 23°C-32°C. September-January and May-July are traditionally the wettest periods, and March-April the warmest.
Visitors must have passports that are valid for at least six months at the time of entry, plus onward tickets and sufficient funds for their stay in Brunei. Generally, no visas are required for stays of up to 14 days, but requirements differ, so check the Immigration Department website www.immigration.gov.bn for details.
The Brunei dollar (B$) is pegged to the Singapore dollar at 1:1. Both currencies can be used. Banks and money changers are in Bandar. Credit cards are widely accepted. For ATM withdrawals, banking networks include Maestro, Cirrus and Plus.
The Brunei International Airport is about 12km (8 miles) from Bandar Seri Begawan. Taxis will take you to town or hotels will arrange pick-ups.
The Brunei Bus Service has six routes in Bandar running at intervals of 30-40 minutes between 6.30am and 6pm. The bus terminal is at the Jalan Cator multi-storey car park. Water taxis operate 24 hours a day between the Bandar Seri Begawan waterfront and Kampong Ayer.
Buses also depart from the bus terminal to other towns such as Tutong, Seria and Kuala Belait. The only public transport to Bangar (Temburong district) is by water taxi. To get to attractions, as taxis are few and expensive, it is better to arrange local transport with tour agencies or rent a car; petrol is cheap.
Brunei has high health and hygiene standards. Unlike in the rest of Southeast Asia, there is no risk of malaria, dengue, cholera and small pox. Hospitals in the capital are good and there is a nationwide network of smaller hospitals and clinics but visitors should still buy medical insurance before travelling. While water is potable, visitors are advised to drink bottled water. Crime rates are low.
|How are you?||Apa khabar?|
|Fine, thanks||Khabar baik|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Maafkan Saya!|
|Thank you||Terima kasih|
|What's your name?||Apakah nama anda?|
|My name is…||Nama saya ialah…|
|Pleased to meet you||Gembira berjumpa anda|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Awak ada Facebook/Twitter?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Di manakah kafe internet?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Di manakah saya boleh mendapatkan teksi?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Di manakah stesen bas/keretapi?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Tiket sehala/ulang-alik ke…|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||Ada bilik untuk seorang/dua orang?|
|When's check out?||Bilakah untuk mendaftar keluar?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Bolehkah anda mencadangkan sebuah restoran/bar?|
|A table for two, please||Sila berikan meja untuk dua orang|
|A menu, please||Sila berikan menu|
|The bill, please||Sila berikan bil|
|Where's the toilet?||Di manakah bilik air?|
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With 30,000 inhabitants, Kampong Ayer is the world's largest collection of water villages, built entirely on stilts on the Brunei river. A complex network of pathways links houses, mosques, shops, schools and a hospital. However, boat travel is the fastest way to get around. The villages have all the modern amenities but the community remains traditionally tightly knit.
Take a slow boat ride up Sungai Brunei to Damuan to view the mangrove-dwelling proboscis monkeys. Dusk is when they come out to feed. Big-bellied and pendulous-nosed, these unusual primates can be found only on Borneo. Because they and their mangrove habitat are protected in Brunei, they are amazingly accessible here, their habitat being only about 15 minutes from the waterfront.
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
The SOAS Mosque is named after the sultan who commissioned it in the 1950s and is a fine example of contemporary Islamic architecture. Drawn from Mughal and Italian styles, it sits on an artificial lagoon in which it is marvellously reflected. In the middle of the lagoon is a replica of a 16th-century barge where Quran-reciting competitions used to be held.
The small national Brunei Museum has elaborate displays of Islamic artefacts including antique cannons, intricate daggers and a large private collection of gilded Holy Korans. There is also a gallery on oil and gas, the mainstay of Brunei's economy, and another on the country's natural history, which include dioramas of rich tropical rainforest ecosystems.
Kampong Sungai Matan
Kampong Sungai Matan is a peaceful fishing village which has opened its doors to tourists. Here, visitors can see how fisherfolk live and observe demonstrations of traditional seafood processing. A popular activity with visitors is to try their luck casting large nets. Visitors also get to see how sago is processed and made into kuih (cakes). Book this excursion with a tour company.
Impressive artefacts from the Brunei sultanate are on display at the Royal Regalia Building. Besides chariots and ceremonial armoury, look out for the replica of the ceremonial hall of the Sultan’s palace. South of here is the majestic Sultan Omar AliSaifuddien Mosque, which dominates the downtown skyline. Built by the previous sultan, its architecture features numerous arches, towers, columns and minarets. The great golden dome reaches a height of 50 metres (170ft). Walk around the lagoon to take it in properly.
Further south is the waterfront. Take a water taxi from here across Sungai Brunei (Brunei River) to Kampong Ayer, the traditional section of the capital. Dating back to the 16th century, the world’s largest settlement on water comprises over 40,000 structures and is home to one-tenth of the population of BSB. The best way to get around is to hire a water taxi (negotiate the price before getting in). Head first to the Kampong Ayer Tourism Centre and Gallery, then get off at any jetty to walk around. Villagers are hospitable and you might even get invited in for tea.
The best view of Kampong Ayer is from the 17th floor of Bangunan Persatuan Guru-Guru Melayu Brunei. Permission to enter is required from the security guard unless you are with a tour guide.
Drive west to Kiarong to see the mosque built by the present sultan. The Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque is a magnificent domed and minareted edifice, made of the finest materials – virtually all imported – and set in a landscaped garden with fountains.
Royal Regalia Building, Sultan Omar AliSaifuddien Mosque, Kampong Ayer, Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.
The Ulu Temburong National Park is a marvellous nature destination that is worth spending a whole day in. The park spreads over 50,000 hectares (120,000 acres), almost 10 per cent of Brunei's land. It is steep terrain, home to gushing crystal-clear rivers, lowland rainforest dominated by the species-rich Dipterocarp tree family, and large mammals such as monkeys and sun bears.
Most people do this tour with a tour company specialising in nature guiding. Start early from the Jalan Residency jetty and join locals in a water taxi heading to Temburong. The boat ride goes first through nipa palm-lined banks, where the lucky ones might spot proboscis monkeys in the trees or crossing the river. Soon the urban areas fall away and rainforest takes over. Changing to a traditional temuai (longboat), the ride becomes an exciting one through small rapids.
From the park jetty, steep steps take you to the canopy walkway. This five-tower steel canopy system was built by scientists to study the tops of the rainforest. Because the steps zig-zag up to the various levels, even the climb is not for the faint-hearted. The tallest tower is a sweaty-palm-inducing 45 metres (147ft) above the ground. But once you get there, the view is breathtaking.
Once you descend the walkway, therapy is available in a refreshing soak in the river and a spicy Malay lunch. There are also options for kayaking, rafting, waterfall visits and tougher adventure treks.
Ulu Temburong National Park , Canopy walkway.