It wouldn’t cross most people’s minds to go to Brunei on holiday – it’s small, mostly unknown and the focus of Brunei’s economy is oil, not tourism. Yet, whether you’re there on business or stopping over on your way to your destination, there are things to do in Brunei that are off the beaten track, different and fascinating.
1. Stay at the Empire Hotel
The hotel has been a witness to controversial turns of modern history. It was built as a residence of Prince Jefri, brother of the sultan and a finance minister at the time, known for his wasteful and extravagant policies. After his family fired him, the palace was turned into a hotel in 2000 and now its visitors get a chance to experience a display of wealth and luxury previously reserved for those of royal blood.
2. Learn about local culture
There are two museums worth visiting, where you’ll learn a lot about the local traditions as well as the Royal family. Brunei is an Islamic country and the most famous mosques to visit are the Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque and the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. Both are very richly adorned, with the main dome of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien covered with pure gold.
3. Visit a water village
Kampong Ayer is the world’s largest and oldest water village. The houses are built over the water, the streets are wooden bridges and the only way you can get there is by boat. The village has its shops, restaurants, schools and even a hospital, and you’ll discover a completely different way of life.
4. Walk the canopy of a rainforest
From the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, take longboats to Ulu Temburong National Park. The trip to Ulu Temburong is already a breath-taking experience and an opportunity to view mangrove trees, birds and, if you’re lucky, even crocodiles and monkeys. If you take a break somewhere on the way, you’ll see another side of life in Brunei. You’ll be struck by the contrast between the extreme display of wealth at the Empire hotel and the city mosques and the poverty in these remote areas. In the national park, prepare for lots of walking, but the effort is well worth it. The rain forest is stunning and once you get to the top point of the canopy walk, you’ll enjoy dazzling 360 degrees views of Brunei’s mostly untouched nature.
5. Spot Proboscis monkeys
The Proboscis monkeys are an endangered species and can only be found in Borneo island (where Brunei is located). In Brunei most of the economic wealth comes from oil and there’s hardly any industry or agriculture, so the forests are in pristine condition and Proboscis monkeys thrive. To spot them, you need to take another boat tour and your local guide will take you near the banks where those monkeys are found. There you’ll sit quietly and watch, and if you don’t scare them, you can get a really close look.
There are so many things to do in Brunei, and because it’s not a well-known tourist destination, you won’t find hordes of visitors anywhere. You can truly experience what Brunei has to offer without feeling like you’ve arrived in another crowded, touristic place.
Image via Pixabay