Brunei Darussalam’s compact size makes exploring a breeze.
The tiny oil-rich nation is famously singled out for having a head of state who was once the world’s richest man. Take away the mystic and you’ll find a country rich not only in oil money but also cultural heritage. It is perhaps the last bastion of Malay tradition.
If you have 6 hours: Head to the centre of town to Kampong Ayer, the unique water village that gave birth to present day Brunei. Wooden houses on stilts hearken to Brunei’s early days as a water community, and residents still travel in boats to get to land and downtown.
Hire a water taxi and have the boatman point out the different villages, the clinic, school and firehouse.
Back on dry land, make your way to the Royal Regalia building, a museum of sorts, filled with the sultanate’s royal regalia. The Royal Chariot used during His Majesty’s coronation and Silver Jubilee celebrations is on display, together with many other royal objects of interest.
Take a break at the annexe of the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex and sip Fratini’s freshly brewed coffee while you watch the water taxis zip by along Brunei River. From here, it’s just a short stroll to the sultanate’s most iconic landmark, the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, where you’ll get awe-struck by the gold-leafed dome and minarets made from Italian marble.
If you have one day: Extend the above activities to include Tamu Kianggeh, an open air market that has impressed celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson and is popular with locals. You’ll find fresh produce, fruits, local handmade crafts and clothes offered by various vendors. Depending on the season, you may be able to tuck into Brunei’s renowned durian kuning, which the locals tout as better than Malaysia’s durian kampong.
In the evening, head to the Waterfront Promenade, Bandar Seri Begawan’s latest hotspot, for dinner and watch the locals come out in droves – mom, dad, grandpa, grandma and kids in tow as they ramble around to enjoy the evening breeze.
If you have more than 2 days: Hire a guide and explore Brunei’s lush protected park, the Ulu Temburong National Park. Travel along the water borders of Malaysia before making your way back into Brunei, passing mangroves and verdant forests, including a thrilling river ride up the Temburong River.
Sign your name at the last border control in the park. (One famous visitor was Prince Charles.) The park has scenic trekking trails and a canopy walkway that offers a striking view of Borneo’s rainforest.