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Brunei Darussalam on Borneo Island offers rainforests, some of Asia’s most beautiful mosques and almost a complete lack of tourists. But sadly, the tiny Sultanate doesn’t register on most travellers’ radars. Here are our favourite reasons to visit Brunei and why you should put it on your Southeast Asian itinerary.
Brunei is among the least visited countries in the world. Few can even point to the Sultanate on a map, let alone consider taking a trip there. Those who have experienced the mass tourism in Thailand and Vietnam will appreciate the refreshing tranquillity in Brunei. And the locals haven’t sold out to get a slice of the tourist pie.
Another one of our top reasons to visit Brunei relates to its location next to Malaysian Borneo. The tiny slither of land lies sandwiched between Sarawak. Buses connect Miri to Bandar Seri Begawan within two hours. Daily flights pass between cities in both Sabah and Sarawak. Visitors can take the ferry from Bandar Seri Begawan to duty-free Labuan too.
Kampong Ayer holds many titles and nicknames, and is a national heritage of Brunei. The floating village stretches across the Brunei River in Bandar Seri Begawan, housing approximately 13,000 residents. Separated into different neighbourhoods, Kampong Ayer has its own schools, libraries and mosques. Locals use speedboats to get from the land to the village in the same way we use a bus. Getting lost in the labyrinth and snapping photos of this traditional lifestyle is one of our favourite reasons to visit Brunei.
Unlike other destinations in Southeast Asia, Brunei is probably the safest. With ultra-low crime rates (apart from the occasionally petty theft), solo travellers always feel safe in Bandar Seri Begawan at all times of the day and night. The country’s alcohol ban eliminates the drunken and loutish behaviour so common in cities around the world. While visitors still need to use their common sense, Brunei is much safer compared to its neighbours.
Southeast Asia suffers from the all-too-common problem with litter. Brunei is different. The Sultan and his government put a lot of effort into keeping the country clean and litter-free. Stroll through the streets and you won’t see (and smell) rubbish. Apart from the inevitable film of gunge at the edges of the Brunei River from Kampong Ayer, Bandar Seri Begawan is in an immaculate condition.
As Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo chopped down their rainforests, Brunei was tapping oil in the South China Sea. Flash forward to today and Brunei’s dense jungle is deforestation-free. Approximately 80% of Brunei is virgin rainforest. Most of the jungle remains in the same condition as it has for thousands of years.
Ulu Temburong covers a whopping 500 square kilometres. In context, this is almost 10% of the country’s surface area. Only 1% of the virgin rainforest is open to visitors. Longboats ferry passengers in and out of the national park on tightly regulated tours. Activities include jungle trekking, canopy walks and swimming in natural pools. Scientists recently discovered the fascinating exploding ants in this national park too.
One of our top reasons to visit Brunei relates to the country’s serendipitous beauty. From the elegance of both Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah and Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosques to Kampong Ayer, the country bursts with photogenic scenery. Stroll the capital or head to the markets to capture the essence of Bruneian life or snap pics of the Bornean rainforest.
It’s no secret that the Sultan of Brunei bathes in wealth and lives a well-documented opulent lifestyle. But he also makes substantial investments into the country. As a result, many of the attractions and museums (at the time of writing in 2018) are free. Water taxis to and from Kampong Ayer typically cost B$1 ($0.66) too.
Another one of the top reasons to visit Brunei is its food. The Sultanate’s strong cultural ties with Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia blend to create a delicious fusion of food. Restaurants in Bandar Seri Begawan sell typical Malay-style fried rice and noodles mixed with Indonesian favourites like spicy Rendang. Brunei combines the best of all regional cuisine, making it easy to find Bornean treats, fiery Indonesian food and local snacks.
And finally, tourists who visit Brunei will instantly notice the welcoming nature of local Bruneians. With a humble and dignified personality, almost everyone goes out of their way to help a foreigner. Hotels might offer airport pickups and even drive guests around the city free of charge!