Bandar Seri Begawan is the ultra-wealthy and very laidback capital city of the Brunei Darussalam. Despite of the city’s well-publicized wealth accrued by oil money, Bandar Seri has adopted a humble appearance and character, and the locals have been content with it for many years. The capital city features a small center, which lies on the northern bank of Sungai Brunei (the Brunei River). It houses a couple of malls, shopping complexes and restaurants, but none of which are too flashy or grandiose.
It is rare to see a large group of people walking around the downtown area. In fact, there are certain times of the day that the center and its wide, well-cemented streets appear to be like a ghost town. But if you do encounter a local or two they are usually polite, albeit a little shy.
Interesting Fact: It is quite noticeable that there are plenty of foreigners working in the commercial establishments around town. Most of them are Filipinos who are contracted to work for a company for a designated period of time. The large population of Filipinos in the city is most likely the reason why Jollibee, (the biggest fast-food chain in the Philippines), decided to establish a restaurant here.
If you are wondering which structure is the most luxurious and striking; the answer is undoubtedly the King’s Palace, officially called Istana Nurul Iman. Unfortunately, everyday tourists won’t get a chance to see the interior of the palace because the doors remain closed except for three days at the end of Ramadan (Muslim fasting month), during the Hari Raya celebration. But make no mistake Bandar Seri Begawan has a few other surprises and delights of its own to show visitors. These attractions will really impress you and exploring them within a day or two is certainly worth the time and planning. Here are the top things to do while in the Bruneian capital.
1. Go Museum Hopping
Visiting Bandar Seri Begawan is all about discovering the country’s rich spiritual and cultural heritage. These are truly precious treasures of the Bruneians, so they make a point to honor and treasure them by building museums to show off to the world. Some of the most prominent museums include:
- The Royal Regalia Museum: Highlights the magnificence of the Bruneian monarchy. It features some of the Sultan’s most precious possessions such as jewelry, gifts, and the royal regalia.
- The Brunei Museum: Home to the Islamic Art Gallery, the Oil Gas Gallery and the Brunei Traditional Cultural Gallery. This museum is located at 4.5 kilometers east of the city center.
2. Visit the Largest Stilt Village in the World
Shying away the glitz and glamour embraced by other small oil-rich countries in the Middle East, Brunei chooses to hold on to its traditional ramshackle villages. Thus, it’s not surprising that the country managed to preserve Kampong Ayer– the world’s biggest stilt village. For many tourists, hiring a water taxi to cruise around Kampong Ayer is the highlight of their visit to Bandar Seri Begawan.
By looking at the wooden houses in the floating village, you will not believe that most residents here are more well-to-do than the average Southeast Asian citizen. Aside from the wooden homes with strong pillars rising above the water, the village is also equipped with schools and a cultural center.
Despite having some rustic houses, Kampong Ayer is quite the sight. It is especially photogenic during sunset, when the sun’s rays hit the wooden structures and mirror their reflections on the water.
3. Drop by Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Set in an artificial lagoon, the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is an expensive and magnificent piece of architecture. With millions of US dollars spent on building it, the mosque’s spectacular exterior can arrest the attention of any passerby. Named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, the mosque’s most striking feature is its 44-meter minaret, which is easily the tallest structure in the country. Apparently, the Bruneian Sultan wants the minaret to remain that way to solidify its status as the iconic symbol of the country.
Like other prominent mosques, Omar Ali Saifuddien has a simple yet elegant interior. The floor and staircases are made of the highest quality Italian marble but it does not have too many decorations.
4. Make your way to Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkian Mosque
Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkian Mosque is not the only the largest in the country, but it was built in honor of the current Sultan. With four major minarets and two golden domes, the Mosque has the power to catch the attention of anyone walking around the city at night as it shimmers brightly in the darkness. However, most travelers will agree that the true beauty of Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkian lies in its grandiose and very spacious interior. The floor of its prayer hall will astound you as it is covered with several exquisitely woven rugs.
Take note that non-Muslims can only enter the mosque outside of prayer times, although the external compound is open from 8 am to 8 pm. Visitors are advised to dress conservatively. (Pants and polo shirts for men and covered knees and shirts with sleeves for the women)
5. Go for a river cruise to track down some Proboscis Monkeys
If you walk to the river shore where most boats are docked, you can easily ask a boatman for a river cruise tour. This boat tour consists of going through Kampong Ayer then to Pulau Ranggu, which lies in the middle of the river, to catch a glimpse of the famous Proboscis monkeys. Since they have most likely done this tour so many times, your boatman will know which parts of the river to take you to. Proboscis monkeys have very distinct features and are very elusive animals. Unlike some macaques, Proboscis shy away from human eyes, which is why seeing one in their natural environment is a rare and special experience.
The best time to go on a river cruise is during the late afternoon when the monkeys will be out feeding. During the tour, you can ask the boatman to bring you close to the backyard of the King’s Palace. You can also request to be dropped off at the Taman Persiaran Damuan, a landscape park that has an okay view of the palace.
Where did we stay in Bandar Seri Begawan?
We stayed at Jubilee Hotel. We stayed there because we wanted to be within walking distance to the waterfront area. Since we are not directly affiliated with this property, we can say that is was clean and the staff were friendly, but it could be renovated. At the time of writing it had a score of 7.3/10 based on 1o48 verified guest reviews. If you have the budget, I would suggest staying closer to the waterfront at a newer place such as:
Want to find the cheapest rooms in Bandar Seri Begawan?
Accommodation in Bandar Seri Begawan is more expensive than in most Southeast Asian cities. Therefore, be sure to shop around online well in advance to secure the cheapest prices. Try using www.agoda.com or www.hotelscombined.com. Agoda.com is always a solid choice in Southeast Asia due to its massive selection and competitive prices. If you’re on a budget while visiting Bandar Seri Begawan give www.hotelscombined.com a try. You can quickly compare prices before booking which has saved our backpacking readers some serious cash over the years. Be sure to enjoy Bandar Seri Begawan! I have created links to their respective property lists in Bandar Seri Begawan to save you some time:
Alternatively, you can quickly find the cheapest room using the search box below: