Why would you want to visit Brunei?

Enclosed on the island of Borneo, between the two huge Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, and just above the sprawling dense jungles of Indonesian Kalimantan, Brunei Darussalam is a tiny sultanate that is rich in oil reserves. But what else does this miniscule state have to offer backpackers (aside from some of the cheapest petrol on the planet)?

The Sultan of Brunei
The Sultan of Brunei

I enjoyed my time in Brunei Darussalam. I was lucky enough to stay in a good hotel in the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan for a few nights before an overnight adventure trip into the Ulu Temburong jungle. Brunei doesn’t have a wealth of tourist attractions, but what it does have is an abundance of local life and culture from the tropics, such as water villages, Islamic mosques, and lush rainforest.

Local Bruneians are friendly but very career-focused
Bruneians are friendly but very focused on religion and their careers

Unfortunately, Sharia Law was reinforced in 2014, and this means that among other things, flogging and stoning to death is now part of the official law in Brunei. Whether this dissuades tourists from coming here is one matter, but for the regular Bruneians who live here, they have to contend with this legislature on a daily basis. Another bad thing with Sharia Law in Islamic Brunei is that alcohol is completely banned. You cannot even order any beer or wine in hotels, although I think I did see some in the duty free shops at the airport in Bandar Seri Begawan. Overall, I found Bruneians to be very conscientious towards me, although the younger ones were almost always too busy to interact with, as they were career men or university students, and as such, didn’t have much time for tourism.

The Empire Hotel and Country Club
The Empire Hotel and Country Club

Tourism to Brunei is not very common, and this is a great shame, as the country has a lot to offer. There are resplendent hotel resorts, such as the 5-star Empire Hotel and Country Club beside the South China Sea, which cater to the richer tourists, but if you’re backpacking in Brunei then you may have a tough time finding suitable accommodation. Hostels do exist, but they are not very high in quality. Taxis in the Sultanate are also very expensive (and there aren’t many of them), so getting around from site to site is not easy.

A typical Bruneian beach (Meragang Beach)
A typical Bruneian beach (Meragang Beach)

Brunei has a handful of beautiful beaches. They do not compare to those of southern Thailand or the Andaman coast of Malaysia, but they are on par with the more famous beaches in Bali. Meragang Beach was my personal favourite and it was nice to enjoy the sights and sounds there without crowds of tourists.

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Brunei has some peaceful parks. My personal favourite was Taman Tasik, which reminded me of some of Singapore’s green parks, especially Bukit Timah. You have to watch out for the cheeky macaques in the park, but most people use Taman Tasik for bird-spotting (and bat-dodging!) or jogging routines.

Heading into Kampong Ayer
Heading into Kampong Ayer

There is a famous water village in Brunei called Kampong Ayer. It gives a fascinating insight into locals live on the stilted houses above the water. You can take a speedboat ride around the villages and even pay a visit to go inside one of the local’s houses. For me, this was one of the main highlights of Brunei.

Bandar Seri Begawan's main mosque
Bandar Seri Begawan’s main mosque

Brunei has its fair share of resplendent mosques, and none are more resplendent than the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. It is one of the major attractions of the country and a huge tourist destination with its great example of modern Islamic architecture. The dome of the mosque is made of pure gold, which is in stark contrast to the water villages of Kampong Ayer which surround the mosque.

Deep in Ulu Temburong
Deep in Ulu Temburong

Jungle expeditions are also common in Brunei. From the capital Bandar Seri Begawan, you can take a longboat ride into the jungle at the Ulu Temburong National Park where you can enjoy the sounds of nature while camping out in a tour group. There are overnight treks available, and also tours of many days which will give you a better understand of jungle life, including canopy walkways and river rafting. Entry to the Ulu Temburong National Park is only by longboat through deep rivers, as no roads lead to the park. Read all about my personal overnight experience at Ulu Temburong!

Compared to some of its more illustrious neighbours such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, or even Singapore, Brunei Darussalam may not always be on the radar for backpackers in the region. However, if you make the effort to take a cheap flight out there, and if you can find some good value accommodation (the backpacking industry is yet to flourish here), then you will discover that Bruneians will be honoured that you are taking time to come and visit their country.

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10 thoughts on “Why would you want to visit Brunei?

  1. Nice bro. I am going there next Friday. As you said, backpacking is something that Brunei has yet to pick up which means less chap accommodation options. As such, for the first time in my backpacking life, I am going to stay at a homestay in Brunei coz what they offer is fair for me. 🙂

    Can’t wait to be there, my 8th ASEAN country 😉

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      1. One correct and one incorrect. ;D The two remaining ones are Myanmar and the Philippines. Ahh… I don’t think so mate. Coz of limited time, I had to skip Ulu Temburong, but reading your post, I think I would go there for my next visit!

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  2. oh dear.. reading this make me so excited to backpack.. but i have no experience at all.. do mind doing blogging Backpack for dummies.. hee

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    1. Hi Murni! I think backpacking is very exciting if you don’t plan everything out all at once. Just make the trip and see where you end up! If you need any advice, just let me know on my About Backpacker Lee page 😉

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  3. I decided to visit Brunei simply to add an extra stamp to my passport visiting from neighbouring Malaysia (Kota Kinabalu). I consider myself very well traveled and lucky to have been to more than 89+ countries and counting so I consider myself open minded when seeing other places. I grew up in a Muslim country so know the general train of thought of similar religious countries. I am as well someone who cannot get bored easily even if placed in the middle of the Sahara. So spending 2 nights in Bandar Seri Begawan was indeed an experience and in my book thee most boring place on the face of our blue planet. I tried so hard to figure out the best time when locals come out as I lived in the heart of the city. I failed to see anything that could be called a crowd. Not in the morning, not at noon and definitely none in the evening. Friday (weekend) that should have the main mall packed had 6 people inside at 6pm… Every shop with staff ready but no one buying anything. A couple of fast food outlets and always with no more than 2-3 people inside. The so called main street has a couple of shops with nothing to offer, forget about postcards, a couple of pharmacies, a Burger King and a KFC and The End…

    Nothing really of interest … Let’s say a couple of pointless museums, the mall, the river side, the mosque are all within one square bloc (no more than 500x500m). In a way its almost possible to photograph the whole place holding the cam and taking shots 360 and you got it! The center is manageable in less than 15 minutes walk with NOTHING interesting to see. The only audible thing was the main Mosque all day and all evening and nothing else. Even the Mosque isn’t that all impressive and you can find more interesting architecture elsewhere…

    I think the Sultan is definitely a smart guy and as he wants to create a true Muslim country, he found the best way to get people to follow. He is simply boring them to death! Having nothing else to do has them flock to prayers just to kill time!

    If Brunei is ever on your list… just pass it… Not worth the visit and I am surprising myself as I never had this experience anywhere else…

    In less than a day I gnawed my left leg from utter boredom and was wise to keep my right leg intact as I needed it to escape the next day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the detailed response. Lots of great info there. Brunei can be a little boring to some people, as it doesn’t have the major attractions that nearby countries have. But I still loved it! 😀

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