Things to Do in Brunei on a Budget
Brunei is a really unique place to visit and makes for a great detour on any Southeast Asian trip. There are plenty of things to do in Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan mostly), but the most interesting aspect of the country for me is the atmosphere. It’s incredibly quiet and peaceful, the people are extremely friendly and the balance between tradition and modernization seems almost perfect. There is a storm on the horizon however, with the Sultan outlining his plans to bring Sharia Law to Brunei. It puzzles me why he’d want to change the dynamic of a country that seems to have a lot going for it; it’ll be very interesting to see what happens in the next couple of years.
Here are some things you can do if you take my advice and wedge Brunei into your itinerary.
Be amazed by the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
This is definitely the most impressive mosque I’ve seen. It would probably be in my “Top 5 buildings in Asia list”, if I ever decide to compile one. It’s a decadent building – the dome at the top is made of pure gold – but the Sultan (whose family has ruled Brunei for over 600 years) hasn’t just decided to blow his oil wealth on grand projects like this, he’s also looked after his people pretty well by the looks of it.
Take a local bus
I wanted to go to Tasek Lama park, so I did some research and jumped on board bus 38. About 45 minutes later I arrived at the park. That 45 minute bus ride was great, but when trying to get back into town I noticed a building up ahead that looked very familiar. On closer inspection it was the hostel I was staying at. It turns out I did almost an entire loop of town on the bus and ended up about 10 minutes walk from the hostel. Normally this would have frustrated me, but it was a really interesting bus ride. I was surprised how quickly the city turns into the country. There were some really idyllic neighbourhoods, full of traditional Malay houses and big gardens.
Go to Tasek Lama park
Tasek Lama is a little slice of jungle within Bandar Seri Begawan. You can walk there from the city centre in about 10 minutes (or take a 45 minute bus ride), and once you get there you’ll have most of it to yourself. It’s a popular place for locals to walk and jog, but venture onto one of the jungle paths and you’ll be all alone. I was having a great time until it started raining heavily. Some advice – always carry an umbrella in Brunei. There is a waterfall at the park which is pretty impressive for an inner city park – you usually have to go into some proper jungle to see falls of that quality.
Visit the biggest water village in the world
I wrote a full post about Kampong Ayer, you can read it here. It’s an amazing network of boardwalks and bridges that connect the houses of over 39,000 residents. It’s been inhabited for over 1300 years, and seeing the traditional way of living is a great experience. Exploring Kampong Ayer is definitely one of the best things to do in Brunei, don’t miss it!
Go to Ulu Temburong National Park
Well, assuming you’re not as cheap as me. I asked about the tours to Ulu Temburong National Park, and I got quoted $180 for a day trip (it would have been $125 per person if I was with someone). That’s just about the most expensive day trip I’ve heard of in Southeast Asia. I thought about trying to reach the park myself but from everything I’ve heard it’s next to impossible, especially if you want to get there and back in one day.
Walk around town
Downtown Bandar Seri Begawan is really easy to get around and there are some interesting things to see. The market by the river is worth checking out, as is the riverfront walkway. It’s extremely quiet, even at what I thought would be peak time (around 6pm) there weren’t many people around – the riverfront cafes and restaurants were all empty. Maybe the fact that no alcohol is sold means that people are a little less social and a bit more family orientated in Brunei – alcohol does seem to help bring people together in the west, for better or worse.
There’s plenty of things to do in Brunei on a budget
I always thought Brunei was an expensive place to visit, but it’s easy to do it on a budget. My Air Asia flight cost $80 return from Kuala Lumpur. I stayed at the youth hostel, which cost $10 a night (the Brunei dollar is exactly the same as the Singapore dollar) and food was similar to Singapore prices. I didn’t need a visa and I think a lot of countries are the same. All up I spent about $140 Singapore dollars (including flights) for 2 nights and 2 full days. It was such a small price to pay to see this unique country, and I recommend everyone travelling in Southeast Asia to consider making a slight detour to check out Brunei.
Further reading: Looking for more things to do in Brunei? Check out the Wikitravel page!
Have you been to Brunei, or are you planning to go? Let me know!