Brunei wasn’t exactly hyped up by other travellers I met prior to visiting. Lots of ‘there’s nothing to do’, ‘there’s nothing to see’ from people coming out of it. I had expected this, with the country being very tiny and living off its oil money means it hasn’t really developed its tourism.
I hadn’t visited a predominantly Muslim country in a long time though, and the change or architecture and pace was what I was looking forward to. I had splashed out on an expensive airbnb on the waterfront, as I thought that if I was going to have plenty of down-time, I wanted it with a great view.
The accommodation turned out to be an absolute gem. Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, has water villages dotted around it – houses built on wooden stilts into the river with small motorboat taxis the only way to get around. The house I stayed in had a beautiful deck onto the river with views out over the domes and minarets of the mosques highlighting the small city’s skyline. It was a great spot to relax with a coffee and read. It would have been a great spot to relax with beer, but country’s strict Islamic laws meant that it was a dry country.
Not only a dry country, but a place where most places seemed to close around 8pm. Prior to the sun going down though I was treated to some incredible sunsets, the sky flooded with bright colours reflecting in the river, lighting up the mosques.
Exploring the city didn’t take long, as expected. The highlight was easily the vast mosques, the one museum I checked was very meh. The other highlight was all the restaurants and an expensive, but delicious cafe. My airbnb host had recommended her favorite local eats and they were completely my type of place. Plastic chairs and tables, locals packed in and swift service. Of course, delicious food and generous portions. The bill afterwards makes you think maybe you could go and buy another of those fancy flat whites to drink with your evening reading.
I got a great view out over the whole country when I went for a sweltering mid-morning trail run. A nearby natural park had a great selection of winding trails, with some really well maintained routes up and down several mini-peaks. The view from the highest revealed a swath of green with glints of gold and blue from the domes of the mosques. Off to the side the green subsided to pale blues of the ocean. I’d loved have to captured a photo of it, but as I was out running I was without any camera equipment.
I also got a nice view of the country from its riverside on an afternoon riding in a rented boat. Lots of wildlife – the highlight being the little crocodiles in the shallows of the water – it definitely wasn’t a swimming spot. As we kicked up the revs on the little engine our small wooden boat zoomed through the backwaters exploring the forests and more of the village.
My journey out of Brunei back up to Kota Kinabalu was a slightly ridiculous one. I’d planned to take the ferry up, but was put off my others I met who said the bus was better even though you did have to go through border control 5 times as you kept crossing between Malaysia and Brunei. At least it made my very clean new passport look a bit more used. Ten hours sat on a bus is all part of travel, but I am hoping on my next trip to get back onto the train network.
More from this trip: