Trip Index (what we have published so far):
I’m sure you have that too – there are certain countries and or places that you just need to see – even if others keep giving the place a bad rep.
Well Brunei is such a place for me and I was glad I finally got to see it last week.
Table of Contents
Things to do in Brunei – Understand
Brunei is a tiny country with just about 500,000 citizens in a country that sits just off the West coast of Borneo (yes that huge, largely uninhabited island). The British administered most of the area at the turn of the 20th century but Brunei opted to not join the Malaysian Federation and just got full independence in 1984!
Think of the country as a mix of Singapore, Malaysia and Doha but with much more friendly people than all these places. The official languages are Malay, Arabic and English. The level of English is much better than in Malaysia though. There seems to be a continued educational effort into English here.
The country is taking Islam seriously and is therefore free of alcohol or any ‘sin’ 🙂
The currency is pegged to the Singapore dollar but the price level is comparable to Malaysia not Singapore.
The people of Brunei appeared extremely kind to me. The country is certainly NOT ruined by mass tourism. The willingness to help out when I got lost was unprecedented.
Brunei is a rich place – so no traffic or honking scooters in this city. You will not find a tourist tout in this city.
However Brunei is a sleepy backwater and isn’t a hotbed of entrepreneurship and innovation.
Things to do in Brunei – Logistics for a Layover
The Brunei International Airport is located just a few miles from the city center. However the locals never leave home without a car so taxis or buses (or sidewalks) are a bit of a rarity. I opted to use the local bus which is rather comfortable and just one dollar per ride (irrespective of distance). You only really need two bus lines and a few dollars in local currency.
You can also rent a car for about $50 which has the advantage that it cools you down.
Taxis are expensive and can’t be hailed on the street. You will need a local taxi app. MyTeksi and Uber DO NOT work. Also you will need a working data connection which T-Mobile does not offer in Brunei (it is out of coverage for the SimpleChoice plan).
Keep in mind that attending the Friday prayers is mandatory for the citizens of Brunei. All shops close at noon Friday and only reopen at 2 PM. This goes for restaurants as well or the Seven Eleven. The whole city shuts down and the city will look like a ghost town.
I was in town on a Friday and found it very interesting!
Things to do in Brunei – Sights
From the airport watch out for the bus stop (on the left) and grab any bus and ask for ‘Bandar’ or ‘bus station’ – any bus should take you there in about 15 minutes.
This much photographed mosque is a Brunei landmark. Like other mosque’s it is surrounded by a lake which – at the right angle – makes it look like it is floating. The mosque is quite stunning with its Golden Domes.
The mosque is usually free to visit – it is however closed on Friday before and after prayers. As with many mosques they are more impressive from the outside than from the inside. You won’t miss much by not going in. Dress modest if you can though!
The area has a number of cheap eating stalls and you can take a water taxi to cross the river to Kampong Ayer. I skipped that part for my visit as I ran out of time.
Go back to Bandar Bus Station and board the Circle Line. This will take you to the other huge mosque that forms the Brunei skyline. I went just before the Friday prayers and while this made the interior off limits – it created quite a special atmosphere.
I found the singing Imam blasting the prayers from the enormous speakers echoed by the buildings almost a mile away quite an impressive thing to see (and hear). Prayers here come in a mix of Arabic and Malay.
Only in Brunei are things called for what they really are – ‘The Mall’ is the city’s biggest mall. It’s worth stopping by for food and some small purchases.
Things to do in Brunei – Food and Drinks
This cool little coffee shop sits right across the Brunei waterfront. The Wifi is fast, the service very friendly and the coffee decent. Great place for a pit stop.
I really wanted to have lunch here but could not make it – it gets great reviews!
This simple but delicious eatery specializes in chicken rice and Laksa. Both are extraordinarily yummy and it’s just B$2.50 per dish!