Brunei may not be on everyone’s bucket list when it comes to Southeast Asian destinations. It is not just the tiniest country in the region, but also the least visited. Despite its small land mass, there are enough things to do in Brunei to keep you occupied for a few days.
Brunei is on the island of Borneo, which it shares with Indonesia’s Kalimantan and Malaysia’s Sarawak and Sabah. Most of its people live in the east, where its capital, Bandar Seri Begawan is. Only 10% of Bruneians live in the western part of the country. This area is entirely made of virgin rainforests, the best preserved in Asia. It is also not connected to the eastern part and is surrounded entirely by the South China Sea and Malaysia.
On the surface, Brunei might seem devoid of any interesting activities. As a Islamic country where Sharia Law is implemented, there are no parties, dancing or alcohol. However, if doing ecotourism tours in the pristine rainforest, going wreck diving and seeing some of the region’s most stunning mosques sounds like your cup of tea, read on for our top things to do in Brunei.
1. Explore Ulu Temburong National Park
Unlike its neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia, where logging and palm oil plantations are a big concern, Brunei’s jungles are pristine and free of deforestation. One of the biggest draws for visitors is visiting Ulu Temburong National Park. The ecosystem here is unspoiled and great efforts are taken to protect it. Only about 1% of the park is open to the public, while the rest is closed off to researchers and park personnel. You will also have to book with a tour company to make a trip here, as independent visitors are not allowed.
Ulu Temburong is primarily known for its canopy walk, a suspended structure hanging high atop the jungle. We hope you’re not afraid of heights! The panoramic views of the thick jungle gives you an idea of what the world would be like, if only logging and plantations are not a thing.
2. Visit Kampong Ayer and spot proboscis monkeys
One of the most interesting things to do in Brunei is renting a boat and visiting the world’s largest floating village, Kampong Ayer. Contrary to what you may think, Kampong Ayer is actually a very wealthy part of Brunei. Some of the refurbished homes have their own concrete jetties and can cost as much as $100,000!
If you can, you should visit both in the day and night as the experiences are different. During the day, you can head out to the mangrove area and spot proboscis monkeys. At night, you will not only be able to chase fireflies, but also see the red eyes of crocodiles resting on the shore!
3. Go macro and wreck diving
Most people visiting Brunei neglect its waters, but diving is actually one of the best things to do here. Although Brunei’s beaches leave much to be desired, the country has its fair share of underwater attractions.
Now, this is not where you’ll see schools of barracuda. But if you want to see some WWII wreck sites for yourself, then you should definitely add this to your list! Brunei Bay is especially famous for its four wreck dives, but in total there are over 60 dive sites to choose from, many of these untouched and secluded sites. Although you won’t swim with big fish here, expect to meet critters such as nudibranch, frog fishes, blemies, gobies, cowries, crabs and shrimps.
4. Eat like a local
For a taste of local life, head over to Pasar Gadong. Every day, dozens of stalls serve up delicious local food. It is housed within a sheltered, airy building, just as clean and organised as Singapore’s hawker centres. Expect a variety of dishes such as char kway teow, satays, barbecue fish, kueh melayu and more.
While we’re on the topic of local food, make sure to try ambuyat, a very unique local dish. It is a glutinous sago dish that is eaten by rolling the thick and starchy mixture around a bamboo fork and dipping it into a sauce. It is also usually served with a side of vegetables. If you are in the capital, Aminah Arif is one of the most popular restaurants serving ambuyat.
5. See its beautiful mosques
You cannot visit Brunei and not see one its most famous tourist attraction: Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien. In fact, it is impossible to miss, as it is the tallest building in the center of the capital city and surrounded by a lake. Built in 1958 in honor of the Sultan’s late father, the mosque was inspired by India’s Taj Mahal and made of pure gold and fine marble.
Another huge attraction is the Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. Its driveway is lined with palm trees which leads to the building’s four minarets and 29 golden domes. It is impressive in the day, and glowing at night. With a capacity of 5,000 people, it is also the largest mosque in the country. Both mosques are open to visitors outside of prayer time. Make sure to dress appropriately – no shorts and sleeveless tops and women should also cover their heads.