Being an expat is all about travel, for me at least, and I thought I would dedicate the first Sunday of every month to one of my favourite destinations in South-East Asia.
I have been reading a lot of travel blogs recently, and this led me to realise that I haven’t posted anything about the sights and attractions that Brunei has to offer. Whereas neighbouring Malaysia is becoming increasingly popular with tourists, Brunei isn’t very touristy. But it does have some attractions. So what is there to do here?
Brunei is mostly covered in rainforest. The settlements are mainly built along the coastline, with the capital – Bandar Seri Begawan – on the North-East side of the county and Seria, where I live, at the other end. Some people live in the interior but most of the settlements are clustered somewhere along the coastline. You can see a map of Brunei here, courtesy of Google.
Brunei has some tourist attractions, but these are not particularly developed or easy to find. Therefore, Brunei remains largely quiet and most tourists only stay for a few days.
By far the grandest place to stay is the Empire Hotel; the most luxurious hotel I have ever seen, featuring a bowling alley and cinema. Although pricey, it certainly is cheaper than many bog-standard hotels we have stayed in during visits to the UK and it’s worth going to as a tourist attraction alone, even if only for one night. You can’t enjoy a cocktail as the sun goes down, but the mocktails are pretty good and the sunsets can be spectacular. Even wandering around the hotel itself can occupy a couple of hours, or you can take a golf buggy tour instead!
I mentioned that Brunei is mostly covered in rainforest, and Temburong National Park is the best place to visit to see the unspoilt forest. I visited as part of a tour which took in the canopy walkway – the world’s tallest (all canopy walkways in Borneo hold some kind of record, be it longest, most natural, tallest…) – and took us through the forest in traditional longboats. Be warned that during dry season you may have to get out out of the boat and push!
Temburong and The Empire Hotel are probably the only places you will see any tourists.
The other main sights are all in the capital. There is a traditional water village which is well worth a look; you can take a boat across from the jetty and explore on foot or the boat drivers are happy to tour you around.
We took a tour which called at the water village on the way back from a trip to the mangrove swamps in search of proboscis monkeys – a species native to Borneo. We not only saw the monkeys, but one had a wee on us!
The photos of the monkeys didn’t come out too well, but we got a good one of a monitor lizard who thoughtfully kept still for the camera!
Brunei also has a few museums, magnificent mosques, parks and jungle trails. My favourite spot is Lake Merimbun, a place which is always deserted when I visit although unfortunately there are too many mosquitoes to risk taking a baby.
Like many of Brunei’s attractions, Lake Merimbun is not very well advertised and is off the beaten track. As there are few taxis, tourists would struggle to get to this place by themselves. A lot of Brunei’s parks have fallen into disrepair, such as the lakeside park near us which would have been great when it opened but the walkway is now crumbling into the lake and most of the bridges have collapsed meaning you can no longer get very far at all. I doubt Brunei will ever make a significant mark on the tourist trail. For now, it is mostly enjoyed by its inhabitants and their families, which at least means that it’s nice and quiet! Sadly, there are few places in Brunei which are baby-friendly so we don’t venture out as much as I would like anymore.