We left for Brunei with a few preconceived notions about visiting a country with such strict Islamic laws. With the recent adoption of Sharia Law, I was particularly worried about what to wear and I didn’t want to offend anyone or worse yet break any rules. We quickly noticed how peaceful and quiet Bandar Seri Begawan was (BSB for short) compared to many other places in SE Asia. It’s also really clean and very safe, crime is virtually unheard of so we felt perfectly comfortable walking around the city. My worries about what to wear and what not to wear were unfounded – I saw ladies wearing capri pants, shorts, leggings, sleeveless tops, and some were not wearing headscarves. There is a small Chinese Buddhist community here as well as many foreign workers in the oil and gas industry, so there is quite a bit of tolerance.
Another thing we quickly noticed was how friendly and welcoming the locals were. We were surprised how most people were smiling, laughing, and basically just having a good time (I’m not sure what we expected exactly but we didn’t expect the people to be so outgoing and jovial). A refreshing change from other places in SE Asia was how traffic would stop even if it only ‘looked’ like you might want to cross the street. So many times we would stop on the sidewalk facing the street to decide where we wanted to go, and boom, all the traffic would stop and wait for us to cross.
Right across the street from our hotel there was a fresh market along the river (we love local markets, so we checked it out right away). As I already mentioned how outgoing the locals were…there was this guy on a boat that wanted to tour us to the water village and we politely told him not now but maybe later – well, he took that literally. He seemed to be everywhere, and as we walked along the river promenade, there he was in his boat following us and calling out to us. We finally ditched him when we left the riverfront to go sight-see elsewhere.
We visited the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in the afternoon and again in the evening. It was stunning all lit up at night.
We even saw our beautiful Canadian flag courtesy of the Royal Bank-there must be a lot of expats here!
It’s very easy to take the local bus in BSB to see other parts of the city and it’s very cheap (1 Brunei dollar) compared to taking a taxi but you have to be persistent to get to the bus terminal in the first place. The taxi drivers wait strategically in front of the bus station and try to get you to go with them instead of taking the bus. We asked the bus driver to let us know once we reached the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque and I think this was the most beautiful mosque I have ever seen. Everything was marble (finest Italian marble) and I couldn’t stop admiring the chandeliers (imported from Austria). It was so opulent and beautiful. We also went inside and it was just as remarkable inside as it was on the outside.
The next day we hired a boat (not from the stalker guy) and toured Kampung Ayer. It’s the world’s largest stilt village and each little community has their own mosque and school. Then we went up river into the rainforest to see the mangroves and wildlife. Brunei has kept much of its primary rainforest which we thought was awesome and kudos to the Sultan for that.
On our last day we visited the Royal Regalia Museum and it houses many of the gifts that other countries have given to the Sultan of Brunei. There are some impressive things to see in this museum relating to the royal family and to various coronation ceremonies and surprisingly there was no entry fee (another refreshing change).
No ‘happy hour end of the day beer’ here though, alcohol is forbidden in public and is not sold anywhere. Also everything closes here on Friday afternoons from 12pm until 2pm for prayers. We are happy we visited Brunei and it was not at all what we expected (expect the unexpected), and it was a peaceful few days away from the typical chaos of other SE Asian cities.
Where we stayed: The Brunei Hotel
Written by: Tammy Hermann…Live~Love~Travel