Bandar Seri Begawan is the capital of Brunei Darussalam, an oil-rich country located in Borneo, Asia’s largest island. The country shares the island with popular names, Malaysia and Indonesia, and has remained virtually unheard of. Well, the next time you plan on visiting Borneo, don’t forget to add this charming little nation to your itinerary!
The capital is also the largest city in the country and here you will find grand mosques, interesting museums, bustling markets and the world’s largest floating settlement. Note that strict Sharia laws are followed here and you will not find any bars or pubs. Be mindful of the laws and respect the native culture and traditions.
Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is one of the capital’s most iconic landmarks and sits on an artificial lagoon along the banks of the Brunei river. The opulent mosque features white walls topped with a large gold dome, displaying a fusion of Malay and Mughal architectural styles. The elaborate interior is adorned with Italian marble, Saudi Arabian carpets and English chandeliers. The tallest minaret of the mosque displays an interesting blend of Italian and Renaissance architecture. You can also admire how the mosque beautifully reflects off the lagoon’s waters. The nearby Taman Mahkota Julbi Emas park is a lovely place to spend an evening.
Kampong Ayer, which means ‘water village’, is the largest floating village in the world and houses over 10,000 permanent residents. It has been inhabited for at least a thousand years. Kampong Ayer is not a single settlement and is actually a cluster of over 40 small stilt villages located on the Brunei river. The villages are connected through wooden walkways and there are water taxis as well. You can take a stroll through this interesting village and observe the life of the people here. Though it might seem like a slum at first glance, the houses are well-equipped with electricity, internet and even air conditioning!
Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque is the largest mosque in Brunei and was built in honour of the current Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. It is located just 4 km away from the city’s centre. This imposing palatial structure boasts of 29 gold domes and four towering minarets that resemble the Turkish style of mosques. The interior is equally stunning and houses grand staircases, chandeliers and impressive stained glass works.
Istana Nurul Iman, the official residence of the Sultan and the royal family, holds the Guiness World Record of the world’s largest residential palace. This imposing structure includes 1800 rooms and 110 garages housing around 7000 cars! Sadly, the palace is open to visitors only for three days in a year during the Hari Raya Aidil Fitri festivities at the end of Ramadan. You can, however, admire the facade of the palace by taking a boat ride along the Brunei river.
Bandar Seri Begawan has plenty of shopping options including open markets and fancy shopping malls. The Gadong Night Market that opens after 4 in the evening, is a great place to experience the local culture. The market is mainly known for its mouthwatering food stalls serving native cuisine and grilled meat. The Tamu Kianggeh local market located near the Brunei river, sells a huge array of fruits, vegetables, fish, potted plants and souvenirs.
Gadong Mall and Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex are popular for clothes, designer goods and electronics, which come at affordable and cheaper rates than its neighbouring countries.
Bandar Seri Begawan features interesting museums that display the country’s past and its rich culture. The Royal Regalia Museum is the most popular and it chronicles the life of the current sultan. There are numerous portraits, photographs, chariots, weapons, jewellery, gifts and other belongings of the sultan. Looking at these priceless and expensive displays, one will surely be amazed by the amount of wealth the Sultan possesses!
The Brunei National Museum, the largest museum in the country, is located around 5 km from the city’s centre. It displays Islamic artefacts, ceramics and items related to the oil industry like maps of oil fields. The Malay Technology Museum is situated just next to the Brunei Museum and contains galleries featuring exhibits on the traditional lifestyle and occupations like boatmaking and fishing. The Brunei Darussalam Maritime Museum features over 13,000 artefacts that were removed from a shipwreck in 1997. Just before you enter the main gallery, you will find a huge skeleton of a Chinese ship from the 15th-century. Other artefacts on display include porcelain items from Thailand and Vietnam and ceramic items from China, which signify the trade relations among the countries.
Apart from serving as the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan is also the major tourist destination in the country featuring several attractions that display its grand heritage. From impressive palaces and museums to lively shopping areas and delicious cuisine, the capital has a good number of options for its visitors to enjoy.
Follow our blog for your daily dose of travel inspiration, information and tips. We try to publish atleast one article each day. Check this space for all the latest posts.