The Sultanate of Brunei (Full name: Negara Brunei Darussalam, with Darussalam meaning “Abode of Peace”) is a small but — thanks to natural gas and petroleum resources — very rich country on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It is a country of tranquil mosques, pristine jungle, and friendly inhabitants.
Brunei is a pint-sized oil-rich sultanate with a population of 450,000 as of 2016, strategically positioned on the South China Sea, close to vital sea lanes linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Its oil resources have generated great wealth for the Sultan and some of the local people, and the best evidence of this is seen in the palaces and mosques. However many Bruneians, including those who live in the water village (Kampong Ayer), still have relatively simple, albeit comfortable livelihoods.
The description of an “oil-rich sultanate” might conjure the images of Dubai or Qatar, but travellers with such expectations will likely be disappointed. Brunei does not have much in terms of grandiose man-made attractions, and although excellent diving and jungle trekking are available, it does not have mind-blowing natural parks as the neighbouring Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak do. Many people that visit Brunei actually do so only for the sake of “country collection” or “passport stamp collection”.
If there are attractions particular to Brunei, it is perhaps the absence of crowds, the comfortable but relaxed atmosphere, and the way that society remains religious and conservative, refusing to embrace modernity and globalisation despite having the material wealth to do so.
Top Things to see in Brunei
- Ulu Temburong National Park in Temburong
- The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan
- Bandar Seri Begawan has a couple of museums dedicated to the history of Brunei and that of the monarchy.
Top Things to do in Brunei
There are many eco-tours which typically go to the Temburong district by boat then to a native “longhouse”. It is then followed by a powered boat (by the natives) up the river to the Belalong National Park, a reserve in the Borneo rainforest. There is a canopy walk and research centre at the park headquarters.
Jerudong Park was once a decent theme park with a multitude of rides. Sadly, a downward cycle of neglect, declining admission and unaffordable maintenance costs led to the closure and sale of most of the big-ticket rides, including the three roller coasters. This has given the park a sad “circus left town last week” air about it. Most people who visit only go at night to avoid the heat during the day. Outside the park, but very close, is a small complex of restaurants which is open at night, though only a few of the stalls are still operational. The local papers have reported plans to renovate the park with a new selection of attractions.
Brunei offers some great diving. In addition to coral and fish, Brunei is home to several shipwrecks and many species of nudibranch – one of the best places in SE Asia for macro photography. Water temperature is generally around 30 °C and visibility is usually around 10-30 metres, although this can be changeable during the monsoon season. As diving here is not overly developed, it means that the sites, and especially the coral reefs, are unspoiled and in pristine condition.
Popular dive sites include the American Wreck, Admirable Class Minesweeper, USS Salute (AM-294) lies broken in half on a sand bottom at 30m after hitting a Japanese mine on 8 June 1945, during pre-invasion sweeps of the Brunei Bay, with the loss of nine lives. Australian Wreck, In 1949 while on a voyage to Manila it struck a mine off Brunei and sank. The wreck lies in 33 m of water and is roughly 85 m. Dolphin 88 Wreck Malaysian commercial vessel sunk in bad weather in 2013. Experienced divers will enjoy exploring the interior of the wreck. Oil Rig Wreck, a decommissioned oil rig. There are 9 structures to be explored, each seeming to be home to one dominant group of fish. Baiei Maru Wreck was a Japanese oil tanker that sank in October 1944 in Brunei Bay after hitting a Japanese mine. Discovered by the Brunei Shell Petroleum during a survey, the wreck sits in about 50 m of water. Other dive sites includes Labuan Wreck, Bolkiah Wreck, UBD Wreck, Amai Wreck, Arun Wreck, Stone Wreck to name a few.