To find out more about Brunei, visit http://www.bruneitourism.travel
The oil rich Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam (Brunei, the Abode of Peace) is an aptly named little known gem of a destination nestled on the northern shores of the huge island of Borneo, which it once ruled in its entirety in centuries past, along with parts of the southern Philippines.
With some three quarters of the population professing the Islamic faith, Brunei is ruled according to the national philosophy of the Malay Islamic Monarchy, with most people practicing a pious but tolerant brand of Islam, which encompasses respect and attachment for the age old Malay traditions and culture as well as reverence for the monarchy and its members.
Brunei of course does not pretend to become the next Bali or Phuket, and in fact tries to position itself as the opposite of a bustling, busy, crowded, nightlife and party filled destination. Its strengths lie elsewhere, although there is also plenty of sea, sun and clean, wholesome family fun for those looking for it.
Brunei’s strong points are rather found in its natural and cultural assets : the vast stretches of tropical rainforests covering some 78% of the land, its rich Malay culture and traditions, an unhurried pace of life, a gentle and contented people, and the peace of mind to be in the midst of a safe, stable, prosperous and family friendly society.
This little slice of paradise is packed with a variety of easy to reach attractions, such as the welcoming capital of Bandar Seri Begawan, probably South East Asia’s loveliest capital, a green, airy and well maintained garden city free of the crowds, traffic jams, pollution, noise and trepidation found in the region’s other capitals.
Bandar Seri Begawan, often simply referred to as Bandar or BSB, boasts of the world’s largest water village, Kampong Ayer, where over 20 thousand people still live in wooden houses on stilts, linked by water taxis to the mainland and combining an age old traditional lifestyle with the amenities provided by the modern age and the wealth of the country.
Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Overlooking Kampong Ayer is one of the region’s architectural wonders, the majestic Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Mosque, built in 1958 by Brunei’s previous ruler, which is a sight to behold, especially at dusk when the fading sunlight plays with the soft toned illuminations of the dome and minarets and the call to prayer reverberates across the water village and the downtown area.
Further down by the river sits the impressive Istana Nurul Iman – the Sultan’s palace and the world’s biggest residential palace with 1,788 rooms, complete with horse stables, polo field and a private heliport, which opens to citizens and visitors alike only once a year during the celebrations marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
In addition, Bandar and its surroundings have a number of interesting museums, lively day and night markets, many parks and nature reserves, and modern shopping complexes such as the impressive Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah complex in downtown Bandar.
Bandar is located in the Brunei – Muara district, the smallest but most populated of Brunei’s four districts. Outside Bandar, in the Tutong and Belait districts, but never too far due to the country’s small size, a number of interesting natural and cultural attractions can be easily visited on day trips, such as the hauntingly beautiful Merinbun lake, a remote black water lake that is a heaven of tranquility and is recognized as an ASEAN national heritage site.
Nature lovers will want to head across the Brunei bay to the district of Temburong, separated from the rest of Brunei by the Limbang Division in Malaysia’s state of Sarawak. Temburong is the least populated, hilliest and most jungle covered district in Brunei, home to many native longhouses and to some of Asia’s best nature reserves and field study centers, such as the world famous Ulu Temburong National Park and the Kuala Belalong Field Study Center, and offering as well an exciting array of ecotourism and adventure activities.
But Brunei is not just about rainforests. There are a number of good business and tourist hotels allowing for comfortable stays, beaches and islands to frolic in the South China Sea, wreck and reef diving, sport fishing, rock climbing, mountain biking, as well as all kinds of sporting facilities including world class golfing, polo and horse riding, and invigorating health spas, among many other attractions to keep one busy while in Brunei.
Another of Brunei assets is its people. Gentle, cultured, welcoming and hospitable, Bruneians tend to view visitors as honored guests who’ve made the effort to come and visit their country, and their curiosity towards tourists is genuine as most are by and large wealthy enough and in general not involved at all in the commercial aspect of tourism. Being a former British protectorate, independent since 1984, most Bruneians are at least conversant in English, although making an effort to learn some basic sentences in Malay will go a long way in creating a good impression.
Because business travelers regularly visit Brunei, there is a good infrastructure of hotels, tour operators, travel agents, car rentals, taxis, public transport and telecommunications, making it probably the best place in the world to immerse oneself in pristine nature far from the tourist crowds, yet with all the creature comforts and facilities of the modern age within easy reach.
Brunei is also easily accessible, with direct connections to major Asia-Pacific, Middle East and European destinations via Royal Brunei Airlines, and with other airlines to most major world capitals through easy connections in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or Hong Kong.
Furthermore, Brunei has the good fortune of being free of malaria and most other tropical diseases, of having a stable government and of being one of the safest places on earth, with a very low crime rate, stiff anti-gun and anti-drug laws, no internal strife and tight border and immigration controls that make it very difficult for undesirable or extremist elements to enter the country.
With increasing efforts by both public and private sectors to enhance the promotional, product and events aspects of the destination, Brunei is poised to take its rightful place as an up-market destination alongside its more established regional neighbors, as well as to establish itself as one of the world’s most pleasant ecotourism destinations.