Bandar Seri Begawan Sightseeing Guide
The tiny state of Brunei Darussalam has become a popular stop over destination with competitive airfares offered by the country's own airline. With a population of around 300,000 it may be small, but due to the huge oil and natural gas reserves, this is also a very wealthy little nation!
KAMPONG AYER - FLOATING VILLAGE
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
Once part of Borneo, Brunei became independent in 1984.Bandar Seri Begawan is the capital city and where most tourists will spend anywhere from a few hours to 2-3 days en route to other destinations. If you have the opportunity...take a couple of days to explore this fascinating travel destination.
If you have a long transit stopover of 7 + hours and have travelled some distance, you may be entitled to a free tour. Check at the airport where you will see these tours advertised.
There are several architectural treats around Bandar Seri Begawan including the two famous mosques. The larger - Jame'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque is a little out of the city but well worth a taxi ride to view.
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque is in the town and easy to visit. It is seen from many view points including as you ride a water taxi around the floating village Kampong Ayer.
Both really are spectacular “must visits” in my view.
With half a day to kill we decided to visit the Royal Regalia Museum. It had been mentioned by two or three locals, and it seemed to be a bit different to the more usual museums.....we were not disappointed. This was a fascinating museum....beautifully presented, with surprises round every corner.
When you tour the Floating Village your water taxi may drop you at the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery for an interesting look at the history of the local people and some of their crafts.
We could also have visited Brunei Museum, Arts and Crafts Centre or The Palace Istana Nurul Iman although it can only be viewed from the outside except on the one day a year it is open to the public.
If museums and mosques are not your thing you can take a boat round the floating village Kampong Ayer or out to see the proboscis monkeys. Jerudong Playground is an amusement park popular for families.
With more time you could do a day tour to Ulu Temburong National Park which will give you magnificent views of the rain forests and proboscis monkeys .
Enjoy the Brunei River from a restaurant or waterfront seat. The water taxis were in continual action, while the equivalent of boy racer car hoons were seen in their boats with amusing names such as Mercedes Benz or Louis Vuitton, racing up and down. This is a great way to watch the locals go about their daily lives.
Mothers and young children ferried home from school, teenagers in groups, and business men in suits and traditional garb all taxiing out to the floating village.
While we missed out on a sunset because it was raining...we were rewarded with a double rainbow instead.
At night, the main traffic routes are beautifully lit, as are the mosques. There is a night market and evening entertainment depending on the night of the week you are staying.
Sightseeing Activities Around Bandar Seri Begawan
Water Village – Kampong Ayer - on the Brunei River, is the largest water village in the world with 30,000 residents. Having been in existence for over 1,000 years Kampong Ayer is a national heritage site. Schools, fire stations, petrol stations, mosques....it is all here.
Tour the Water Village
There are tours.... but we found it cheaper to negotiate directly with the water taxi drivers. We had ascertained that a fair price was $20 (Brunei) for an hour. We had 4 drivers vying for our custom and bartered with two.
An older more mature man was our choice as he added side trips and gave us a good price. He proved to be a good choice and gave us an excellent tour, slowing to let us take pictures, giving information on points of interest and dropping us at the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery....waiting for us to go through.
This is a fascinating look at the life of the villagers. You see them at work and coming and going. The taxi service is a necessary part of their every day lives.
Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery - Opened in 2009 this gallery is well worth a look with the history of Kampong Ayer retold and a look at the traditional crafts. You will find exhibits, exhibitions and live craft demonstrations, video and touch screen displays and can go up the Observation Tower for good views.
Two Lovely Mosques
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque - Right in the centre of Bangar Seri Begawan the mosque built in 1958 can be seen from many points. Pure white with gold domes it is impressive from all angles. Cross the road from Yayasan Shopping Mall and you are there.
You will be asked to remove your shoes and they supply long black coats to put on if you want to see inside this stunning mosque. It is well worth venturing inside ...there are several very beautiful stained glass windows which with the thick wool rugs covering the floor feature the only colour.
It is interesting to see the unencumbered space....and I was amused to note stairs as well as an escalator to the pulpit. Outside there are so many interesting, picturesque architectural features...you need to allow time to wander around the whole building and out to the Royal Barge replica.
If you can get back at night I recommend it.... the building is beautifully lit.
Jame'Asr Hassan al Bolkiah Mosque - The larger of the two mosques this is a stunning mosque featuring blue tiles, gold domes and white walls. It is huge with lovely water features in the surrounding gardens.
Built to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Sultan’s accession over the country this magnificent mosque is a little out of the city and could be combined with a visit to the newly opened nearby shopping complex The Mall.
The Royal Regalia Museum - Just down from the Yayasan Shopping Mall and Sultan Omar Ali
Fascinating Museums and Culture
Saifuddien Mosque the Royal Regalia Museum is a very interesting museum with all the international gifts from other countries on display, as well as a life size depiction of the 1968 Coronation.
The Royal Chariot and all the coronation Royal Regalia, the Silver Jubilee Exhibition, plus other exhibitions of historical significance are displayed beautifully. Allow at least an hour to go through this large museum with its labyrinth of display areas.
You are given a locker key for your own locker where you must leave your camera. After you have looked through, you can retrieve your camera and take photos in the main hall only.
Brunei Museum - Located at Kota Batu Road, the Brunei Museum gives you a view of
Islamic arts and artifacts with excellent displays
Palace Istana Nurul Iman -
- Brunei Archaeology and History,
- Traditional culture
- History of Natural gas and oil
The Royal Palace of Brunei located in Bandar Seri Begawan is the largest palace in the world. Most tourists can only view from the outside as it is only open one day a year on the Hari Raya Aidilfitri public holiday, after Ramadan.
Brunei Arts & Handicrafts Center
- is at Kampong Perpindahan Berakas about 9 kms from the centre of Bandar Seri Begawan. Opened in 1978 it was designed as a training centre to revive the traditional arts and crafts of Brunei. You can see displays of the silver and goldware, weaving, basket making and cloth including the traditional gold thread brocade.
Brunei River Proboscis Monkeys
- If you want to get away from the city you could take a boat tour through the mangroves, jungle and palms to see the rare and endangered proboscis monkeys. Only found in Borneo, these leaf eating monkeys with their long noses are a strange sight! It costs approximately $50 in a water taxi.
- If you are interested in the history and current Oil and Gas industry there is a scenic day tour to the Seria Oilfield on the coast.
I have listed some of the main tourist attractions you may be interested in on your stop over in Brunei Durassalam. There are more things to do if you have planned a longer stay including beach resorts and staying in National Parks.
Shopping in Bandar Seri Begawan
Yayasan Shopping Mall
In the central city the Yayasan Shopping Mall opposite the waterfront was the main shopping with a Supermarket, clothing, cosmetics, shoes, crafts and food. On the top level there was a department store, while the Mall interior had a range of individual stores.
The Information Centre by the water feature was helpful, with maps and information.
Out of the City was The Mall.We didn't have time to go inside but it certainly looks large and we were told it was excellent shopping.It is relatively new.
There were also small local shops lining the road with local cheap restaurants and craft shops.
There is a night market opposite the Royal Regalia Museum that has fruit and food etc.
Eating Out in Bandar Seri Begawan
There are several international franchise food chains represented in Bandar Seri Begawan, as well as a range of local restaurants offering local cuisine as well as Italian, Japanese and other ethnic dishes.
Hotel Buffets were disappointing....the food is not kept hot so many dishes are lukewarm or cold if you do not eat as soon as the dining room opens.
Lunch presented a problem as we didn’t want a meal from franchise food outlets. However, we were directed down to the supermarket in the bottom of the only Yayasan Shopping Mall opposite the waterfront.
Here there was a wide selection of self help ready made salads, sushi, breads, fruit etc suitable for lunches. There are tables and seats in the shaded side areas of the open Mall.
Fratini’s Pizza and Pasta Restaurant faces the Water Village and presented us with a place to enjoy cold drinks and a meal while enjoying the lively Brunei River.It had been recommended by other travellers we met. The food was excellent and the service very good.
Beware the sales pitch however. The waiter suggested items not listed on the menu and we ended up having a very expensive meal through lack of understanding his pricing!
In front of Fratini’s( not overlooking the water) was another Italian restaurant with 50% discount on all meals!
Otherwise you may like to try the local cuisine either in the restaurants dotted around the town or at the night market for those on a very tight budget.
Taxis, Water Taxis and Buses are the main transport options.
Your hotel may have a shuttle service – ours did, although it was limited. Taxis are not frequent but we had the name of a taxi driver originally offered by the hotel, and found it was usual to ask staff where ever we were...restaurant, museum etc to ring a taxi for us.
We found Amy of Brunei Taxi Service helpful and reliable. It is not a cheap means of transport however. Try and use the shuttle where possible.
Bandar Seri Begawan Accommodation
While there is a reasonable selection of hotels in Bandar Seri Begawan we found many were booked out by the time we came to book....I recommend booking early.
We stayed at the Orchid Garden Hotel which was a few kilometres out of the city. This was a 4 star hotel with spacious rooms, swimming pool, and large lobby and restaurant areas. Lavish marble interiors, crystal chandeliers and comfortable seating set the scene.
The main draw back was the $35 taxi fare each time we needed to get into the central city. I would have preferred a more central location, although it was not too far from The Mall and Jame'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque. Breakfast was included.
NOTE: In Malaysia , Brunei and Singapore it was important to request a non smoking room, preferably on booking. If you have forgotten, do so on checking in! Otherwise you will automatically be given a smoking room...where the corridors and rooms will leave you choking!
More Useful Borneo Information
Orangutans in Borneo
Mulu National Park
Mulu Canopy Walk
Return to Fascinating Travel Destinations - Home