(I asked an Aussie friend, Jonathan, to be a guest blogger and write about Things To Do In Brunei where he lived and worked there as a teacher in a local school. We used to work together in Beijing before he moved there. Read on his experiences and find out if life in Brunei, a country we know little of, is in your bucket list, or is it one of those intriguing places you would like to visit one day? Is Brunei really a country of no fun? At all? )
With my wife giving birth to our son in 2008, I was looking to stay on the international teaching circuit, but live in a cleaner and greener place than Shanghai; our home of the past four and half years.
After receiving an employment offer from an international school in Brunei, I accepted and made the move there in August 2010. In my research, I came across a video called, “Brunei: The Land of No Fun”. This seemed to be a harsh title that basically focused on the lack of Bruneian nightlife in the traditional sense of bars and nightclubs.
Nightlife in Brunei – What is like?
It is certainly true that Brunei, as a devout Muslim country, has strict rules when it comes to alcohol and alcohol consumption. It is strictly forbidden for locals and other Muslims to bring alcohol into the country and there are no (shop front) bars open for business. As a foreigner, however, you are allowed to import six cans of beer or two bottles of spirits every 48 hours. This means that most (alcohol related) entertainment is in the form of house parties and most expats in Brunei are very friendly. If it is a bar environment that you are after, then a quick trip across the border into Malaysia is the easiest option, otherwise making connections with the local Chinese community will get you access to a number of underground bars (and other, somewhat more salacious, activities).
Walk through the jungle
If the bar scene is not really your thing (and to be honest, if you are visiting Brunei, it had better not be), there are a many other ways to keep your days occupied. Over 80% of Brunei is still virgin jungle and walking through this is to take a walk back in time. On my many walks through the jungle, I gained an appreciation for the efforts of the soldiers of World War II who fought on this front. The jungle is tremendously lush, dense and humid and patrols must have been nerve-wracking, with visibility very low. There are rewards to be had however, with some nice waterfalls to be found for the adventurous.
Follow the trail and enjoy the flora, fauna, natural wonders and the monkeys
If you don’t want to walk through the virgin forest, then nice walks exist at Tasek Lama and Bukit Shabandar.
Tasek Lama is located right near the centre of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city. On a walk through Tasek Lama, you will see monkeys flitting through the trees and a lovely (albeit) man made waterfall coming off of the city’s main reservoir. This park is a popular park with locals and you will see many people getting their morning exercise here. It is also popular with families as there are many playgrounds interspersed throughout the park for the children.
Bukit Shabandar is a large hill that has many walking trails around it. Once again, monkeys abound and it is a popular place with locals to get their daily exercise. Many people use Bukit Shabandar as a place to train to climb Mount Kota Kinabalu in neighboring Malaysia. After you finish your walk you can reward yourself with a lovely fresh juice from sellers located at the bottom of the hill.
Another popular natural attraction is Temburong National Park. Here you will find a tree top walk over the forest canopy along with waterfalls and interesting flora. On the boat ride there, you may even see some proboscis monkeys which are surely some of the strangest looking monkey you will ever see.
Join a barbecue
Barbequing is a popular cooking form in Brunei and many public barbeques can be found at the beaches of Brunei. Muara Beach and Berakas Beach are two very popular places to go and cook up some food and indulge in a game of ultimate frisbee or soccer. If you don’t wan’t to cook yourself, then you can get some very good barbequed chicken or fish at the Gadong night market. Food here is very fresh and very cheap, with a serving of chicken and rice costing about US$1. There is also a wide variety of fruits available for sale, including the ever-popular durian (which is very nice if you can get past the smell!)
At the upscale end, a buffet dinner at the Empire hotel is always a pleasure where you can be rewarded with a spectacular sunset whilst eating your meal in the outdoor cabana.
Visit a mosque (and don’t expose your flesh)
As mentioned before, Brunei is a devout Muslim country and as such there are two magnificent mosques that are well worth a visit. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque was donated to the country by the current Sultans father and stands like a sentry at the base of the main shopping district in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. Made of marble and topped by a magnificent gold dome, it is an imposing statement of faith. The Jame Asr’ Hassanal Bolkieh mosque (also known as the blue mosque to tourists and expats) was built by the current Sultan and contains magnificent chandeliers, extravagant carpets and wonderful mosaics. It is possible to visit both mosques outside of prayer times, which are published in the local newspaper, the Brunei Times.
See the life in water village
No trip to Brunei is complete without a walk around Kampong Ayer. This is a water village located on the edge of Bandar Seri Begawan which is a mixture of old and new. Here you will find people living quite a traditional village lifestyle on stilted homes located in the river, but with modern conveniences such as the internet and satellite television. People are very friendly in the village and you may find yourself invited in for a cup of tea or to try some traditional sweet snacks. Walking around the village is a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Brunei, the land of no fun, is not quite true. On the surface, there may not appear to be many things to do in Brunei. But a bit of digging reveals the country to be a friendly, hospitable place that is well worth a visit for a day or two.
(Thanks Jonathan for the text and amazing photos!)