Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, the landmark of Brunei

Brunei in one day. Is it worth it? It is for many unknown destinations and a bit different than the rest of Asia. So if you want to get away from tourism and get to know another side of Southeast Asia, Brunei is worth the time.

I have been planning to visit Brunei for a long time, but it wasn’t easy to get there as it is not on the route for most airlines. And the flights were expensive. So while planning our winter trip to Southeast Asia, I plan to fly straight to the Philippines to visit the family and spend Christmas with them.

As we have three weeks, I wanted to combine the trip with India and Brunei before flying to the Philippines. The plan was only to stay for three nights in New Delhi, just a short experience with the Indian culture. But the entire program was changed and became twelve days in India.


So after reviewing the itinerary, we only have one night left for Brunei. I tried abbreviating the itinerary to add more nights in Bandar Seri Begawan. Unfortunately, we will miss Christmas, that I have a plan with the family. I don’t want to skip Brunei either now that we’re so close to it. So I was struggling when making the itinerary to include Brunei.

 

One of historic monument in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
One of historic monument sits at a large square

Flights to Brunei

There are not many airlines flying to Brunei; if you find one, it’s pretty expensive. I booked a ticket with Qatar Airways for our India and Philippines flights but looking at their price for Brunei, I found too much. 

So we flew with Air Asia – the budget airline of Malaysia was the cheapest to Brunei. But we had a bad experience this time. 

It is not the first time we have flown with Air Asia, and typical for budget airlines can change their schedule anytime on short notice. They are cheap but unreliable, and nothing much you can do. And it wasn’t a direct flight; we had a six hours layover in Kuala Lumpur, so we lost an entire day on the trip. 


That said, whether you pay for the expensive or cheap tickets, it doesn’t matter. But one thing I can say is that it was worth the trip! Of course, not everyone has Brunei on their list, so for me, it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. 

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei by night
The beautiful Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque at night

Tourist Visa for Brunei

I haven’t thought about the tourist visa when planning this trip. My thought was like going to UAE or Qatar; because we can enter the country without a prior visa. 

We were at the check-in counter in New Delhi while they were printing our boarding pass. Suddenly the staff asked for our visa. I’m surprised! My answer was, do we need a tourist visa with a Belgium passport? I’ve never been jolted once during my trip. 

I thought we were not going to make it to Brunei. And while he’s tagging our bags, I’m doing a quick search on my phone. However, he doesn’t know either if we need a visa or not. 


So before handing us the boarding pass, he asked someone to look into their system. So he came back and gave us the boarding pass. Apparently, Belgium nationals don’t need a prior visa to travel to Brunei. But receive a tourist visa on arrival for free and can stay for three months. For other foreign nationals, check here for a tourist visa.

 
The city looks like a ghost town on a Sunday morning
The city looks like a ghost town on a Sunday morning

The Facts about Brunei

Brunei is known as one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The benefits of this wealth are the residents do not have to pay taxes. Education and health care are free for everyone. Therefore Bruneians have a happy life, friendly and honest people.

You don’t have to worry about crimescams, and thievesVisitors can freely move all day and night without being vigilant – Brunei is a very safe country.

Since a few years ago, the capital has been implementing a car-free every Sunday morning. The government’s initiative to promote a healthy lifestyle so families can enjoy walking or biking: A lot is going on a Sunday morning in Bandar Seri Begawan. As for visitors, you can take this opportunity to enjoy the city without cars.

The sultan's palace, Istana Nurul Iman
The sultan's palace, Istana Nurul Iman

No drinking alcohol and ban smoking!

Brunei is a rigorous Islamic land. Some may find it a boring country because there’s no nightlife. Additionally, drinking alcohol and smoking are prohibited. Nevertheless, nobody forbids anyone from drinking inside their house or hotel room.


But somehow, you must bring the alcohol from somewhere there is no alcohol available throughout the country.

Furthermore, you will notice that the capital is very clean. I haven’t seen any waste on the ground. Bruneians have the orderliness to keep their city clean. Cigarette butts are the number one cause of dirt on the terrain.

Smoking in Brunei is prohibited. There are designations about fines everywhere! The infringement cost 300 BND for the first time – the second offense is 500 BND – which is quite a lot of money. Although smoking is prohibited in the country, locals still conceal smoking. Just don’t get caught!

Downtown Park Archway - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Downtown Park Archway

What visitors wear in Brunei?

I find Brunei living in the present time, compared to other Islamic countries like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Although Brunei is Islamic land, not everyone wears it according to tradition.


I see women and men wearing long pants and a t-shirt; Short pants are also adequate but should be beyond the knee. Besides, nobody judges you on what to wear.

But if you genuinely respect the culture, avoid revealing attire if you don’t want to get attention from people. Brunei has a tropical climate and sweltering all year round. When we were there in December, the temperature was above 30 degrees. So the message – packing light garments!

 
Beautiful buildings across the water - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Beautiful buildings across the water

How expensive the food in Brunei?

Prices in Brunei are higher than their surrounding countries – comparable to Singapore. For a less expensive meal, if you’re not fussy, indulge a delicious food inside the food court at Yayasan Shopping Mall. It’s a place to mingle with locals.

Like any other Asian country, Brunei has street food but is not as big as compared to the one in Bangkok. You can get a cheap bite for 1 dollar, uh, I mean Bruneian dollar. 


They also have fast-food restaurants like KFC and Mc Donalds. It may be strange that you don’t see many restaurants in the City center. However, the first one you see might be a little too pricey. 

 

The Royal Regalia Building Museum
The Royal Regalia Building Museum

How about accommodations?

There are no extensive choices of accommodations in the capital. And the prices of the hotels are a little bit more compared to other Asian countries. But if you do a lot of research, you’ll be lucky to find an affordable room.

I book our room six months before the trip. You will find it below on this blog. The room was in promotion, booking and pay immediately and no cancellation or refund. So it’s a go-go price – take it or leave it.

Travelers with a tight budget will have a hard time finding cheap rooms. It is just not accustomed for people to pay a hundred dollars hotel room in Southeast Asia. Just don’t wait until the last minute to book the room.


An unusual gate in the city center - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
An unusual gate in the city center

Get around and Public transport

Sad to say that public transport in Brunei is practically non-existent, a taxi is limited. If you want a taxi ride, you need to phone or ask someone to call for you. The people were super helpful and friendly.

Besides, every resident owns a car; some will gladly give you a ride for a small fee. Despite anything, Bandar Seri Begawan is a tiny city. Most tourist attractions are within walking distance except for the sultan’s palace. You need a car or ask some local to drive you there.

Getting from the airport to city center

Most hotels have surcharge shuttles, but I ignored that. I thought we’d easily find a bus or a taxi at the airport. But there weren’t many taxis outside. 

The local bus is very cheap at 1 BND. You’ll find the bus stop on the left side towards the end of the arrival building. 


The green bus numbers 23, 24, 36,38 will take you to the city bus terminal. The trip takes about 30 minutes. And from the bus terminal, you can walk or change to another bus. The public buses operate from 6:00 AM to 600 PM.

Brunei in one day unmissable things to do!

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
The great mosque in the country

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The mosque is the most well-known landmark of Bandar Seri Begawan. The majestic building is visible from a great distance with its golden domes.

This prayer house was opened in 1958 and named after the 28th sultan of the country. Non-muslims visitors are allowed to enter a small area inside, which leads you into the center of the room. Free entry!

Hours:
Monday 8:30am–12pm, 1:30–3pm, 4:30–5:30pm Tuesday 8:30am–12pm, 1:30–3pm, 4:30–5:30pm Wednesday 8:30am–12pm, 1:30–3pm, 4:30–5:30pm
Thursday 8:30am–12pm, 1:30–3pm, 4:30–5:30pm
Friday 4:30–5:30 pm
Saturday 4:30–5:30 pm
Sunday 8:30am–12pm, 1:30–3pm, 4:30–5:30pm


Royal Regalia Museum

The hallway of Royal Regalia Museum
The hallway of Royal Regalia Museum

For curiosity about the royal family’s wealth and gifts, visit the Royal Regalia Museum. It is a glittering place with an impressive display. Rooms were filled with precious items presented to the various sultans over the centuries. 

Notice! You’ll have to remove your shoes outside, and your belongings must deposit in a locker. Photography is strictly prohibited; even the phone is not allowed inside. However, after the visit, you can take photographs in the hallway. The museum is free admittance!

Hours:

Monday 9 am–5 pm – Tuesday 9 am–5 pm-


Wednesday 9 am–5 pm – Thursday 9 am–5 pm

Friday 9–11:30 am, 2:30–5 pm – Saturday 9 am–5 pm

Sunday 9 am–5 pm

A stroll to the riverfront park

The beautiful city park and its surroundings
The beautiful city park and its surroundings

If coming out of the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, walk behind the building. Sooner or later, you will come to the park — an excellent area for a walk with broad ways along the Sungai Kedayan River.

As you continue walking through the viewing platform of the bridge, you have a panoramic view of Kampong Ayer. One of the best spots to see the houses on stilts.

Don’t forget to look at the other side – the mosque from a great distance. If the weather permits, this is the right place for a beautiful sunset if you come here late in the afternoon. If you haven’t been to Kampong Ayer yet, go down to the bridge and come to the quay where boats are going to the village.

Kampong Ayer, a village built on stilts

The village on the river
The village on the river

A large part of the population in Bandar Seri Begawan lives in a village. Many people have their homes in the city center but still spend an amount of time in Kampong Ayer. 

It is a place to spend a few hours just wandering around to see how people live in the water — the walkways connected through the houses are like a maze of alleys.  

Some houses may look rugged on the outside but nicely decorated on the inside. They have schools, mosques, a hospital, shops, restaurants, and a fire station.

To get there: walk to the waterfront; you’ll see the boatman waiting for people. It only cost 1 BND crossing to Kampong Ayer. A boat tour cost 20 BND for 30 minutes, but we got it for 15 dollars after negotiating the price.

Istana Nurul Iman, home of the sultan

Behind the gate of the palace
Behind the gate of the palace

The Istana Nurul Iman is the palace of the Sultan – the most significant attraction in Brunei. Our schedule was packed, but this was a priority on my list. You can’t go inside, so it takes less than five minutes to see it. 

Like any other palace in the world, it is also heavily guarded, and the tourists come just to have a selfie in front of the gate.

Three days a year, after the month of Ramadan, the door is opened to the public. The Sultan and his wife personally greet the visitors one by one. Thus, if you happen to visit Brunei at this time of year, take the opportunity.

To get there: The palace is 4 km outside the city. If you can’t find a taxi, ask locals to take you there in a car. We give a guy 10 dollars for bringing us to the palace.

Where to stay in Brunei

The lobby of The Brunei Hotel
The lobby of The Brunei Hotel

Where is Brunei? The capital city of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan, is not as big as any other Asian city and is also not a very popular destination, so I can understand why their accommodation is limited. So if you plan a trip, search for your hotel room in advance.

We stayed at The Brunei Hotel – located in the capital’s city center. This hotel is on the list at Booking.com, so check them out. 

The ideal location is within walking distance of everything. The bus station is just a few meters away, very convenient if you take the bus to the airport. By the way, the hotel offers airport service for 20 BND one way. 

They have excellent, friendly staff and are very helpful. Although the room is simple – it was nice and clean with free wifi, tea, and coffee facility. 

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