Bandar Seri Begawan: Brunei’s Not-So-Bustling Capital

Brunei is a tiny nation, sandwiched between Indonesia and Malaysia on the massive island of Borneo. Most people don’t know it exists nor where it is; literally no one I told we were going had heard of it. It’s home to the largest oilfield in Southeast Asia, and thus the sultan (yes, a real sultan) is one of the wealthiest rulers in the world. The prince of Brunei is also an interesting character, famous on Instagram for [being attractive] and posing in photos with a tiger. And obviously being a prince.

Brunei is one of the few remaining Sultanates, and the scenery evokes just the kinds of images you might imagine. But please, don’t ask if Aladdin is there.

Not many people visit Brunei, and those who do generally purchase the standard packaged tours offered by the government. We saw few backpackers, and but a handful of foreigners milling about at night when their tours concluded. If you’re going to stay in the city you don’t need long; you can easily see the entire country in 3 days.

Airport Arrival and First Look

We landed in Brunei and were greeted by a pristine, modern and sparkling airport with lightning-fast wi-fi. The brand spanking newly-rebranded Royal Brunei Airlines planes showed their yellow tails through the window as we deplaned our suddenly lame-looking Air Asia flight. It was so fancy! Excitedly, we headed outside. Taxi prices were obscene (in general prices in Brunei are high), so we took the bus for a mere .73 cents. The scenery changed a bit from our airport impressions, and felt like Malaysia. Which makes sense given it borders Malaysia. Strangely, people were speaking English. 

Exploring Bandar Seri Begawan

Bandar Seri Begawan, or BSB as the cool people call it, is a small capital. We started with the Royal Regalia Museum, boasting a collection of fancy artifacts and gifts to the Sultan. The museum is modern and pristine, golden and air-conditioned beautiful, boasting myriad facts and new government initiatives.

Back outside with our shoes back on (the museum, like many places, was a bare feet zone) we headed downtown to wander around and see what we could see.

Of course, we spent a good deal of our time in Brunei visiting the many beautiful mosques located all around the city.

Kampong Ayer: “World’s Largest” Water Village

Located in the heart of BSB is Kampong Ayer, which is according to a likely-untrue superlative the “world’s largest water village.” Regardless, Kampong Ayer is very impressive and was a highlight of our visit. It is so impressive, in fact, it’s dubbed the “Venice of the East.”

It’s easy to get there by flagging down a man with a boat in the water ($1). There is a free museum and observation tower, but the best part was wandering around through the village. There is a huge range of houses, from modern homes recently built by the government in an effort to keep it safe, to some older and quite dilapidated-looking all wood buildings.

We saw people walking around, children in their uniforms returning from school – because yes, there are schools – and police stations, and stores, and restaurants, and municipal buildings, and mosques – all built out on the water. Wanting to enjoy the unique town, we ate lunch at a local restaurant ourselves.

Afterwards we took another boat ride to try out luck at glancing the proboscis monkeys, which are notorious for their obscene-looking noses. Our driver was very nice and told us many tales of his life in Brunei. We also discovered we were wearing matching bracelets! He took us way, way down the river in an attempt to find the monkeys – so far we almost (definitely) started to become scared – but he knew what he was doing and finally we glimpsed a whole bunch of them up in the trees! On the way back, he insisted on photographing us repeatedly in an alarming series where he instructed us hold hands. Reader’s Note: These photos will not appear on the blog.

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