9 Places You Should Visit When Travelling to Brunei
Look beneath the surface of this well-ordered and tightly regulated sultanate and you'll see the underlying warmth of Brunei’s s people and the wildness of its natural environment.
This quiet Darussalam (Arabic for 'abode of peace') has the largest oilfields in South East Asia, and thanks to the money they've generated, Brunei hasn't turned its rainforests into oil palm plantations. Old-growth greenery abounds, especially in verdant Ulu Temburong National Park.
The citizens of the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan BSB), are mad for food and shopping (booze is banned). Here magnificent mosques contrast with the charmingly haphazard water village, while the nearby mangrove forest is home to proboscis monkeys and crocs.
This tranquil (sometimes somnolent) nation is the realization of a particular vision: a strict, socially controlled religious state where happiness is found in pious worship and mass consumption. Visit and judge the results for yourself.
1. Kampong Ayer
Home to around 30,000 people, Kampong Ayer consists of 42 contiguous stilt villages built along the banks of the Sungai Brunei (Brunei River). A century ago, half of Brunei's population lived here, and even today many Bruneians still prefer the lifestyle of the water village to residency on dry land. The village has its own schools, mosques, police stations and fire brigade. To get across the river, just stand somewhere a water taxi can dock and flag one down (the fare is B$1).
If you look to the main roads on the banks opposite the village, you'll see luxury cars lined up on the shoulder of the road; many of these cars belong to water-village residents. That said, Kampong Ayer is also home to a sizable population of the undocumented immigrants who constitute Brunei's underclass.
2. Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Completed in 1958, Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien – named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei (the late father of the current sultan) – is surrounded by an artificial lagoon that serves as a reflecting pool. This being Brunei, the interior is pretty lavish. The floor and walls are made from the finest Italian marble, the chandeliers were crafted in England and the luxurious carpets were flown in from Saudi Arabia. A 3.5-million-piece glass mosaic overlaying real gold leaf covers the main dome.
3. Brunei Museum
Brunei's national museum, with its Islamic-art gallery, exhibits depicting Brunei's role in Southeast Asian history from the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese in the 1500s, and natural-history gallery, is a decent place to blow an hour of your time. It is situated 4.5km east of central BSB along the coastal road, at Kota Batu; to get here take the 39 bus. At research time the museum was closed for ongoing renovations.
4. Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque
Built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of the current sultan's reign, Brunei's largest mosque and its four terrazzo-tiled minarets dominate their surroundings. It's impossible to miss as you head towards Gadong, about 3km from the city center. The number 1 bus goes here.
It's certainly an impressive building; because the sultan is his dynasty's 29th ruler, the complex is adorned with 29 golden domes. At night the mosque is lit up like a gold flame.
5. Royal Regalia Museum
When called upon to present a gift to the sultan of Brunei, you must inevitably confront the question: what do you give a man who has everything? At this entertaining museum you'll see how heads of state have solved this conundrum (hint: you'll never go wrong with gold and jewels). Family photos and explanatory texts offer a good overview of the life of the sultan, who is himself depicted in myriad forms (including a hologram) in a series of portraits.
6. Pulau Selirong Recreational Park
At the northern tip of Temburong District lies this 25-sq-km mangrove-forested island reachable only by boat (45 minutes from BSB). Interpid Tours runs half-day guided trips for around B$80 to B$100 per person depending on group size. Two kilometres of elevated walkways lead through the mangroves, the untamed habitat of proboscis monkeys and flying lemurs – if you're lucky you might spot one gliding down from the trees. Pulau Selirong is also known as Mosquito Island; bring repellent.
7. Brunei Darussalam Maritime Museum
A gleaming building, ship-like in both style and proportion, houses this interesting museum opened in 2015 at Kota Batu, 4.5km east of the city centre (take the 39 bus). On display are some of the more than 13,000 artefacts excavated from a shipwreck discovered by divers in 1997. The ship is believed to have set sail from China sometime in the late 15th or early 16th centuries before being struck by stormy weather as it approached Brunei.
Items exhibited in the well-presented shipwreck gallery include ceramics and glassware from China, Vietnam and Thailand, which would have been brought to Brunei to exchange for local products including spices, rattan, sago and camphor.
8. Twelve Roofs House
The one-time residence of Britain's colonial-era high commissioners, said to be the sultanate's oldest extant building, is now a museum dedicated to the longstanding 'special relationship' between Brunei and the UK. The evocative photos include views of Brunei as it looked a century ago. It's situated 1.5km southeast of the city center, on a hilltop overlooking the river. When we stopped by in mid-2015 the museum was closed for ongoing extensive structural work (the building had been on the point of collapse).
9. Forestry Museum
The Forestry Museum is located down the Simpang 50 turn-off. It's a small, simple place with seriously thorough information for visitors about the local forest. Exhibits detail the history of logging and conservation in the area with labelled examples of more than 50 types of wood found here, along with taxidermic examples of the resident wildlife – sadly, it's the closest you're likely to come to seeing a clouded leopard in Borneo.
Source : Lonely Planet
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