What to do & see when visiting Brunei ?
I got to spend 2 week-ends in Brunei and if it was not for Alexis staying there for a few months, I don't think visiting Brunei would have made it into my list.
Yet it's a quiet and lovely place, which has enough to offer for at least a good 3 days week-end at a slow pace. It's a small oil country similar to what the UAE are, sandwiched between Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo island. The capital city is Bandar Seri Begawan where the airport is. Royal Brunei and a few flights from AirAsia from Kuala lumpur and Singapore are landing there.
If you have 3 days in Brunei, first: slow down. There are a good number of things to do, but the place is small so attractions are few and small too - there will be plenty of time to take a nap & enjoy.
Brunei applies Shariah law, therefore it's a dry country - not much international franchises but lots of local restaurants and A mall (called THE Mall...). After all it's only 400,000 inhabitants. Tourism is a drizzle and there aren't really any infrastructure to welcome you. The main tourists come with tour by bus from Miri in Sarawak, Malaysia Borneo. Brunei Dollar is indexed on the Singapore dollar, so most merchant will accept Singapore dollar as payment since the value is the same.
There are NO taxi apart from the airport. You need to rent a car for your stay. The infrastructures are great, roads are super nicely kept and there is absolutely no traffic. Parking is plenty and mostly free (or very cheap). Gas is also (obviously) affordable. There aren't many hotels in Brunei, but since, also not much tourists, booking a little ahead is a good idea but not really necessary. I did see at least two guesthouses when driving around.
We stayed in D'Angerrek apartment in Bandar Seri Begawan and also at Star Lodge in Jerutong. I did prefer the Star Lodge, as I felt the value for money was better and you had a pool, but it's 20min drive from the city center, where d'angerrek was 10min or less.
I would suggest to do this itinerary;
Arrive in the early morning ( 9ish.) get to the hotel ( which will always be within 20min) and rest a bit or enjoy the pool. Find yourself a nice place for lunch. We were recommended the Neptune SeaWorld on Jerutong Beach for fresh seafood and it's located next to the fish market. It was delicious & affordable with the usual Chinese style seafood menu consisting of fresh fish by the weight and you chose your cooking, a few shellfishes, rice dishes and fried or steamed vegies.
Then make your way to visit the Royal Regalia in Bandar Seri Begawan, this could take you 1h30 to 2h. I liked that in all Brunei museum, they give you a free locker to store your belongings and they are all free, you just need to register at the counter.
By then you should be around 4 pm and you can walk to see the beautiful Omar Ali Saifuddie Mosque and visit the inside - it's rather small so I think in less than 30min that would be done. A stone throw away is the waterfront and you can make your way there to see on the opposite side Kampung Ayer ! The village on stilts ! It's rather interesting.
From that side of the waterfront, you can find a boatman to organize a good hour to go through the village as well as down the river to see the proboscis monkey and if you are lucky a crocodile on the riverbank. Late afternoon is perfect for it's less hot. We were 4 people, and it cost 50 BND.
Once back from this short trip, we walk around the Omar Ali safuddie mosque and the beautiful garden along the waterfront and took some nice late afternoon light photos of this area. You could do the whole waterfront from the mosque to the bridge linking BSB to Kampung ayer by renting one of the small bike tandems, the whole waterfront is pedestrian, flat and well paved.
Then take your car and make your way to Gadong night market. This is a covered market hall, during the day it's fresh products, at night it's food stalls serving from satay, grilled fish or chicken, fried popiah, local desserts, drinks and from noodles to bakso soup ! Super cheap and yummy. Most Bruneien that we saw actually drive there and take away their diner back home ( not like most Asian foodcourt where you eat on the spot ). There are the each extremity and a little in the middle some tables that you can sit on to enjoy your diner while people watching. It's a quite nice and relaxed way for diner.
Close by Gadong market is The Mall, one of the very few small malls in BSB and the only movie theater. If you feel like it, you can end up the day by strolling in and finish with a movie.
Next day, just relax - enjoy your hotel facilities and sleep late. If you are there on a sunday, you can check out the Sunday Brunch Buffet at Pantai restaurant in The Empire hotel for 33 BND. It was quite good and it enables you to walk in the ground of this luxurious hotel. The view from the restaurant is an open sea. There are two long walk that circle the artificial beaches with benches at the end facing the sea. You can do a small digestive walk inside the hotel gardens and end there to take on a few contemplative minutes.
In the afternoon, drive to the maritime museum and its neighbor, the museum of technology. The maritime museum is hosting most findings from a massive Chinese merchant shipwreck back when Brunei was on the spice trade roads. The Chinese, Vietnamese porcelains and other pieces found are very interesting and this will be a good 1h visit. Right in front is the technology museum, which details the different crafts that named the villages around Brunei and showcase some masterpieces ( bronze, fishermen, roof making etc.. ). They also have reconstructed Kampung Ayer types of houses and how they were build. It's also an hour visit but it was quite interesting and unexpected for such a small place.
By then, either go back to Gadong for diner, reconsider that movie or a waterfront stroll - or just rest back at the hotel. If you were into a 2 days week-end only visit, you could pack all in one day if on the first day you were arriving super early and could start from 9am your visits.
Temburong district is separated from Brunei by Sarawak so you access this part of brunei consisting of 90% national park ( Ulu Temburong national park) you need to take a public ferry that navigates through the mangroves. In itself it's a great part of the trip.
You need to book a tour to get there or at least a hotel in the national park to arrange the transport. Because once you get to the end of the public ferry, there is no one-and nothing awaiting there to continue your journey independently onward. We use Borneo guide for this day. Beware that all tour agencies are closed on Saturday and Sunday ! So you need to book before if you wish to use their services on the week-end ! And forget about hotel support, the 2 hotels we stayed at couldn't assist in any touristic arrangements.
Brunei has a huge potential for eco-tourism, the Ulu temburong national park is beautiful and largely un-visited. Very few accomodations and tourists. The longboat ride to get to the entrance of the park ( 45min ) in the middle of the jungle is one of the best I have done. Similar to the feeling of the Taman Negara or Kinabatangan river, of being alone in this giant wilderness.
I didn't do it but I would seriously consider doing tubing down from the entrance of the park down river to the few resorts at the edge of the park - because you would be alone in the jungle - and such a beautiful one !
the day was a long one, starting from 8 am at the BSB public ferry pier under the big bridge leading to Kampung ayer, 30-45min of ferry, 20min drive to the eco-lodge, then another 45 min of longtail boat to the entrance of the park. For finally hiking 15min to the entrance of the staircase leading to the canopy walkway... It's when you start to sweat. This staircase is 700+ stairs with some stops in between, no need to be fit to climb it, albeit take your time. The canopy walk sits on top of a hill at 42m above - and the view is splendid.
We then did the way back up to a small waterfall where you could swim and refresh yourself or start tubing down. The long boat will bring you back to the eco-lodge or whichever resort was your starting point for a (very late) lunch and rest before the last stretch back to BSB.
You could extend your stay in Brunei by staying a few days in one of the resort in the Ulu Temburong National Park & enjoy other activities like hiking, tubing, kayaking etc...
Other activities that can be considered is diving: Alexis did dive a few time there and reported the coral to be very nice, with some interesting sites & turtles. It could be very well an extra day. Beware there is only 1 dive center and they seem to be able to have max 8 divers at a time. ( 2 guides )
That would conclude a good tour of Brunei main highlights. If you are living around the region that is an interesting week end to consider.