Brunei’s capital is known for Islamic architecture, the world’s largest floating village and the Gadong Night Market. Discover how to make the most of 48 hours in Bandar Seri Begawan if you’re a curious tourist and or just on a Royal Brunei Airlines stopover.
Explore Central Bandar Seri Begawan
We recommend staying at the centrally located Capital Residence Suite. Start the day early and get down to the compact city centre. Most attractions are within walking distance; it’s easy to see the best of the capital in the first morning of your 48 hours in Bandar Seri Begawan. First, head to Omar Ali Saifuddien, the capital’s most famous mosque. Snap a few photographs of its artificial lagoon and ceremonial royal barge. Next, stroll around the centre in loop ending at the Waterfront. Enjoy the views of the Brunei River and floating village. Piccolo Café sits near the Waterfront, which makes an ideal spot to cool down with a cold drink.
Pro tip: Some hotels provide their guests with a free driver. It never hurts to ask.
Take the water ferry to the world’s largest stilted village
The sprawling conglomeration of stilted structures in the Brunei River is called Kampong Ayer. Known as the ‘Venice of the East’, it houses more than 13,000 residents. The world’s largest floating village has several villages along with their own mosques, shops and schools. Wooden boardwalks connect the villages above the water as speedboats ferry passengers from one place to the next. Water taxis cost around B$1 ($0.66 USD) from the Waterfront to Kampong Ayer.
Pro Tip: If money isn’t an issue, try to negotiate a price for a one-hour boat trip through the village.
Shop for bargains
In the early evening, head to The Mall Gadong. Apart from offering several floors of goods, it also provides an air-conditioned haven to escape from the stifling heat outside. Brunei has lower taxes compared to its neighbours, which makes designer clothes and electronics more affordable. You don’t have to visit the shopping centres on your 48 hours in Bandar Seri Begawan, but it does offer a window into the pastimes of locals. And you might be able to get that new phone or camera for a fraction of the price elsewhere.
Pro Tip: Freshen up beforehand and combine a trip The Mall with Gadong Night Market.
Grab some local food at Gadong Night Market
Gadong Night Market is a short walk from The Mall over the river. The market consists of multiple stalls with a tent-like roof as vendors cook up local dishes. Stroll through the cloud of smoke and aroma of fried rice, noodles and barbequed chicken. Try the Bruneian favourite nasi katok (white rice and fried chicken served with a spicy sambal sauce).
Pro Tip: Bring a waterproof jacket and an umbrella in case it rains.
Enjoy Bandar Seri Begawan’s Architecture
Wake up bright and early and either hire a taxi or arrange a private driver from your hotel. First, head to Brunei’s largest mosque, Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah. Plan to spend 20 or 30 minutes strolling around the outside and snapping photographs. Next, visit Istana Nurul Iman, the Sultan’s official residence. With a total of 1,800 rooms, this is the world’s largest house. Get photographs from the river or at the nearby park.
An afternoon of culture
At the time of writing in 2018, most of the museums in Brunei are free. This is the perfect excuse to soak up some of the local culture on your 48 hours in Bandar Seri Begawan. First, visit the Royal Regalia Museum in the city centre. This houses all the extravagant gifts given to the Sultan of Brunei in a two-storey, air-conditioned building. Visitors need to remove their shoes at the door and sadly you can’t take pictures. Other worthwhile museums in Bandar Seri Begawan include the colonial Twelve Roofs House and Brunei Museum.
Pro Tip: Visit the museum around lunchtime to avoid being outside at the hottest time of day.
Hit the beach for Borneo’s world-famous sunset
Save the best for last: witnessing one of Borneo’s famous sunsets. Brunei doesn’t have an international reputation for white-sand beaches, but it does offer a few quiet spots along its South China Sea coastline. Muara Bach lies approximately 30 minutes from the capital by car. You might need to either hire a car or get a driver (there aren’t many buses and they stop running at 6:00 pm). After the sunset, return to the capital and enjoy a meal in one of the restaurants along the Waterfront overlooking Kampong Ayer.