Brunei, a small but mighty country located on Borneo island, often goes overlooked by travelers. But if you travel there, you will be rewarded with a unique blend of traditional culture and luxury, from the breathtaking mosques to the stilt villages built on water, to fantastic hospitality.
We took the opportunity and visit the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan during our month in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
In this post, we will share our 3-day itinerary that will help you answer your question Is Brunei worth visiting?
The short answer is Yes, but read more if you want to learn why!
Day 1 - Flight to Bandar Seri Begawan and first impressions of the city
There are a few options for getting from Kota Kinabalu to Bandar Seri Begawan.
We decided to fly there since it's the fastest way. This was probably the shortest flight, altogether less than an hour. We flew with Royal Brunei Airlines. The price for the return ticket was about 100 USD per person.
Our second option was to go by ferry, which can take about 6-7h. There is no direct ferry; you must change in Labuan. The price for one way would be roughly 19 USD.
The third option is taking a bus, which would take about 8 h, depending on the traffic and season. You must also consider the border crossing and leaving the bus several times. The price for one way would be about 25 USD.
You can also rent a car, and you can drive from Kota Kinabalu to Bandar Seri Begawan in around 6 hours.
Check-in at The Capital Residence Suites
Our accommodation offered a free airport pick-up, which was very convenient, as there was no Uber. They do have Dart, which is similar, but with a bit less convenient app interface.
We stayed at The Capital Residence Suites . Lovely hotel in a central location close to Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and Royal Regalia Museum. Besides free airport pick-up and drop-off, they also do daily drop-offs and pick-ups to the main attractions, and you have breakfast included. The rooms are cozy, the bed comfortable, and the shower amazing. That's all you need for a weekend trip.
The price is very affordable, and we could recommend it when visiting BSB.
We visited Brunei during Chinese New Year, so the streets were, to our surprise, quite empty. It was nice, especially appreciated after spending the last few months in crowded and loud cities like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Phnom Penh.
An evening stroll along the waterfront promenade
During the day, the temperatures were quite unbearable, but in the evening, we had an amazing walk along the Brunei river next to the impressive Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. It was a great time to practice our night photography.
This is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the country. It is named after Omar Ali Saifuddien III (1914–1986), the 28th Sultan of Brunei and the father of the current monarch Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. The mosque serves as a symbol of the Islamic faith in Brunei. Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. (2022, October 11). In Wikipedia.
Day 2 - Visiting Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque and Gadong Food Market
We started our Saturday slow; we didn't have an exact plan, as we like to go with the flow. This is the way we like to travel. On the way to breakfast, we stopped at the reception. The receptionist told us they had a van taking a couple of people to Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque and Istana Nurul Iman in half an hour, and we said: why not. We will tag along.
The first stop was Istana Nurul Iman - the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, and the largest residential palace in the world, with a total area of 2,152,782 square feet. The palace is open to the public 3 days per year, and to our bad luck, we didn't come during those 3 days.
Here is what we were able to see from the street:
After this first, slightly disappointing stop, the driver took us to Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.
The mosque was built in 1992 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Sultan's reign and is known for its unique and modern architectural design. The mosque has 29 golden domes and four minarets with height 190 ft (58 m).
It's a truly impressive building; we could not go inside but got some nice shots from the outside.
Gadon Food Market
Our afternoon destination was the Gadong food market. We heard such nice things about it that we had to try it. We took a Dart driver as it was a bit further from our hotel. The market is close to Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. If you are in the area, you can visit both.
Gadong food market was one of the loveliest food market experiences until now. It is very clean, has a lot of space, and has amazing food served by smiley and warm people. We tried some refreshing juices, fish, potato, sweet corn with butter, and 2 different desserts. Everything was delicious.
After all the delicious food, all roads lead back to our home. It was a chill Saturday with great food, just how I liked it.
Day 3 - Boat trip to the jungle and Kampong Ayer Water Village
Day three was also the day when we left BSB. However, since we had our flight in the evening, we decided to check out, leave our luggage in the reception and take a boat taxi to drive to the jungle and visit the Kampong Ayer Water Village.
For this tour, you don't need to pre-book anything. You can walk to the harbor of Brunei River (anywhere around Yayasan Boat Jetty) and pick a boat waiting around there. Better said, they will approach you as soon as you step close to the dock.
We told the taxi boat person we would like to tour the jungle to see monkeys and have a ride around Kampong Ayer. He said that the price for one hour is 16 Brunei Dollars. We also confirmed a couple of times that it was 16 dollars.
😃 Fun Fact: Under a Currency Interchangeability Agreement in 1967, the Brunei dollar is interchangeable with the Singapore dollar at par. As such, the Singapore dollar is accepted in Brunei as "customary tender"; likewise, the Brunei dollar is accepted in Singapore.
When we established the price was 16 Brunei Dollars, and we were good to go, we hopped on the boat and drove to the jungle. It was a lovely trip, with no people, no other ships, just us riding along nature. The driver (I forgot his name) was great; quiet and not intrusive, but he explained a bit about the area and took us to a place where we could observe Proboscis monkeys in their natural habitat.
After spotting two different monkey families, we drove around Kampong Ayer. We don't have any pictures of the monkeys, so you will have to believe me by word. 🙊 Kampong Ayer, also known as the Water Village, is a historic settlement on the Brunei River.
It is a collection of over 40 traditional villages built on stilts over the river, home to around 30,000 people. It has a rich history dating back to the 15th century. It is considered to be one of the oldest settlements in Brunei. The residents live in houses built on stilts connected by wooden walkways and bridges.
The town also has schools, mosques, shops, a fire station, a police station, and a post office, making it a fully functional community within the city. All on concrete stilts.
This was the last part of the tour, and after that, he dropped us in the harbor. To our surprise, when the time for payment came, the price suddenly jumped from 16 dollars to 60 dollars. Little language trick that he used on us. I guess we were not the first ones that fell for this.
Anyway, we settled for 30 dollars in the end without any bad feelings. He got a bit more than we agreed on, and we got a great experience that will stay in our memory forever.
Overall impressions of Brunei as a travel destination
This quick trip to Brunei was a great experience, and we hope you like our recommendations on what to do in Brunei in 3 days.
Is Brunei worth visiting? We spent time in Bandar Seri Begawan only, but we can definitely recommend it for a weekend trip. Especially if you are staying in neighboring countries. If you are coming for longer, and you want to explore the jungle, we are quite sure that you will not be disappointed.
It's so different than other places that we visited. You can feel that Brunei is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Compared to other countries in SE Asia, the city is clean and easy to walk around. Also, the prices are very affordable; I expected them to be more expensive. Comparable to prices in Malaysia.
We also love these quick weekend trips, where we can leave all our luggage and belongings behind and just take a small backpack and travel light.
👀 Recommendations for other things to see and do in Brunei 👀
We only had a little time to visit, but we recommend the places mentioned in this article.
Besides that, we also want to share some recommendations that we skipped but are on our list for the next time we visit Brunei.
- Visit the Royal Regalia Museum, which showcases the history and culture of the Bruneian monarchy, including its royal regalia, artifacts, and gifts from world leaders.
- Check out the Jerudong Park Playground, one of the largest theme parks in Southeast Asia, with exciting rides and attractions for visitors of all ages.
- Take a scenic drive to the Ulu Temburong National Park. This tropical rainforest offers stunning views and opportunities for hiking, jungle trekking, and wildlife watching.
- Visit the Tamu Kianggeh, the bustling traditional open-air market where you can buy fresh produce, local crafts, and street food.
- Enjoy some water sports and beach activities at Muara Beach, which offers a long stretch of sandy beach and clear waters for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking.