Many travellers have dubbed the country “Boring Brunei” after they hastily passed through it as they make their way around the island of Borneo. Indeed, at first glance, this pint-sized, clean, and well-organised sultanate could seem rather underwhelming. However, once you have scraped more than just the surface and gave Brunei the time it deserves, a whole new world of wonders opens up to you.
For such a small destination, Brunei has a surprisingly wide variety of attractions. Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city, offers a pleasant walk admiring the glistening minarets and domes of magnificent mosques while culture vultures should catch a boat to Kampong Ayer and Temburong district. Further out of the city, several rainforest parks and reserves await for wildlife enthusiasts. Although severely underrated, Brunei has fantastic dive spots including two shipwrecks for dive junkies.
The small but well-managed Brunei International Airport is served by only a few other Asian airlines. However, the national carrier, Royal Brunei Airlines, offers flights from the UK and Australia, on top of other Asian destinations. You can also enter the sultanate overland from Malaysia and by ferry from Kota Kinabalu, with a change of boat at Labuan.
The official local currency, Brunei dollars (BND), is pegged to Singapore dollars at the ratio of 1:1. You can readily use either currency in both Brunei and Singapore. Many large establishments accept credit cards and ATMs are widespread within Bandar Seri Begawan but might be less common outside of the capital city. If you need to exchange money, money changers often offer better rates than banks.
Bruneians usually converse in Malay, but most people have a good grasp of English, though with a thick regional accent. Communication will not be a problem within the capital city but people living in rural areas might only have a rudimentary knowledge of English.
Brunei has a tropical climate and can be visited all year round. However, during the wet season of September to December, some places could be flooded and are thus, inaccessible. The peak travel season is between June and August when it can get incredibly hot and crowded at tourist areas. The shoulder season and the best time to visit is from January to May when the weather is relatively dry and not uncomfortably hot.
Local cuisines are very similar to Malay food in Malaysia, usually made up of fragrant spicy curries accompanied with warm fluffy rice. The national dish, Nasi Katok, is a basic meal of fried chicken or beef curry with rice, topped with a bit of chilli sauce, but comes in many creative variations. You can find this dish all over the nation, some even added cheese, buttermilk, shrimps, and can also be incredibly spicy. Beware though, the sale of alcohol is prohibited in the entire country so you will not be able to wash it all down with a beer.
Traveling in Brunei
Most places within Bandar Seri Begawan is reachable by foot, but you can hire a tour van to take you around the city or even further out within the country. There are very few taxies in the country and the fares are pretty high by Southeast Asian standards. Brunei has a good network of public buses that are quite reliable but do run rather slowly.
Brunei is a very wealthy country that does not depend on tourism nor focus on promoting itself to the rest of the world. Hence, you might notice the lack of tourist infrastructure. However, that does not mean that it is difficult to travel here. On the contrary, visiting the country is pleasant and easy without hordes of tourists even at the most popular attractions.