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The Bandar Seri Begawan Rundown

The State of Brunei Darussalam is a singular Sultanate and gateway to Borneo's mystical natural wonders. Though completely dwarfed by the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah and the Indonesian provinces that round out the rest of the third largest island on the planet, Brunei is far from small where it counts most. The crude oil and natural gas-rich fiefdom has a gross domestic product per capita bested by few nations and a human development index topped only by Singapore in Southeast Asia.

Yet as you stroll through the immaculate, perpetually rain drenched streets of the Brunei capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, there’s no doubt about who rules the roost. The tiny country has been the sovereign domain of the same absolute monarchical line since the 14th Century. The current head of state, General Haji Sir Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, the 29th Sultan of Brunei, is most famous, or infamous rather, for a once unparalelled fortune that still tops £12.5 billion. The oil wealth has bankrolled countless extravagances, from the biggest private residence in the world, the Istana Nurul Iman, to a revolving-door harem of worldwide C-list beauty queens.

While much of this moneyed gloss coalesces in Bandar Seri Begawan, the small capital is not studded with glimmering spires, high performance luxury sedans and upscale shopping malls. BSB, conversely, is a relatively modest city where, despite the lack of a free press and the constraints of sharia law, residents quietly revel in state-funded perks like free health care and education. With gilded mosques, river villages suburbs, primary rainforest reserves and smatterings of Malay and native culture, all surrounded by Borneo’s hyper-biodiversity, BSB surely ranks as one of the most unusual cities in Southeast Asia. Show up at a propitious time and you might just gain rare entry to the Sultan’s palace, where, among other goodies, you can gape at an automobile collection worth £2.5 billion.

Bandar Seri Begawan’s Top 10

10. Malay Technology Museum vividly recreates traditional Malay kampung village architecture.

5. Istana Nurul Iman is the gargantuan riverside palace of the Sultan of Brunei. The compound is three times the size of Buckingham Palace.

9. Taman Peranginan Tasek is a lovely public park and picnic area, with waterfalls and the odd primate.

4. Kampong Ayer is a remarkable stilt-house water village where 1 in 10 Brunei residents dwell.

8. Bukit Subok Recreational Park provides a lush sanctuary for a scenic stroll or hike.

3. Royal Regalia Museum provides fascinating insight into the Sultanate’s seemingly boundless wealth.

7. Twelve Roofs House chronicles colonial history in a former British High Commission residence.

2. Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque was a spare-no-expense present to the people of Brunei to commemorate the Sultan’s silver anniversary in power.

6. Brunei Museum and Islamic Art Gallery is 4.5 km from BSB proper but well worth the trip. The museum and gallery exhibits some extraordinary works of art and overlooks a picturesque water village.

1. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is the most venerable and dominant landmark in BSB and point of origin for a consummate, sonorous call to prayer.

Bandar Seri Begowan History

  • Royal Regalia Museum – This museum is full of enthralling exhibits showing the history of the sultans of Brunei.
  • Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque – This gold-domed mosque is a wonderful piece of Bandar Seri Begowan architecture.
  • Brunei Museum – This museum is an intriguing experience for all ages with many interesting artefacts.
  • Twelve Roofs House – A fantastic old house, which was once the home of the British High Commissioner to Brunei.
  • Tomb of Sultan Bolkiah – The resting place of the fifth sultan of Brunei provides a fascinating experience.

Bandar Seri Begowan Art & Culture

  • Istana Nurul Iman – Visit this palace during Hari Raya Adilfitri, when the public is invited to greet the royalties.
  • Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque – A richly decorated complex and the largest in Bandar Seri Begowan.
  • Kampung Ayer (Water Village) – Often referred to as the “Venice of the East,” these structures on stilts are charming and captivating.
  • Lapau (Royal Ceremonial Hall) – This is where the current sultan was crowned in 1968.
  • Arts & Handicrafts Centre – This was built to encourage local skills in arts and crafts and offers the chance to purchase some of the creations.

Bandar Seri Begowan Shopping

  • Kg Kianggeh – This open-air market has nearly 100 stalls selling a variety of food products.
  • Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex – Contains the largest selection of shopping facilities in not just the city, but all of Brunei.
  • Hua Ho Supermarket – This large market is full of local treats that have to be sampled.
  • Jalan MacAurther – Buy your Bandar Seri Begowan souvenirs here.
  • Chin Chin Goldsmith – A good stop for top-quality jewellery and watches.

Gay & Lesbian Bandar Seri Begowan

  • As a predominantly Muslim country, sexuality in the city is very conservative and displays of public affection are frowned upon.
  • There are no advertised gay venues, so to find somewhere would require word of mouth.

Bandar Seri Begowan Outdoor

  • Muara Beach – This beach is perfect for a relaxing stroll or family picnic in stunning surroundings.
  • Tasek Lama Recreational Park – Features a natural waterfall in a wonderful setting.
  • Serasa Beach – This beach is a good starting point for those who love water-based sports and activities.
  • Taman Peranginan Tasek Nature Reserve – This nature reserve makes for a great day out in Bandar Seri Begowan.
  • Jerodong Park Playground – This family attraction has many exciting rides to keep everyone amused.

Bandar Seri Begowan Sport

  • Kayak along the beaches.
  • Scuba dive along the many shipwrecks in the vicinity.
  • Visit a bowling alley to enjoy a sport that is gaining increasing numbers in the city.
  • Play tennis at the courts throughout the city.
  • Golf at one of the challenging golf courses in Bandar Seri Begowan.

Bandar Seri Begawan Local

With a total area of 5,765 km<sup>2</sup>, Brunei is smaller than the county of Lincolnshire - and with less than half the population at that. As such, a discussion of Bandar Seri Begawan local is practically on par with a discussion of Brunei local.

BSB incorporates the vast majority of Brunei’s population of 400,000. Almost 280,000 people live in the capital region alone and, needless to say, the diminutive core of the city contains most bellwether landmarks of note. Outside of the city, river settlements, national parks and forest reserves provide a different kind of attraction.

Four districts - Belait, Brunei-Muara, Temburong and Tutong - comprise Brunei’s administrative divisions. Districts are further divided into mukim, or sub-districts, and from there, kampung, or villages.

Brunei-Muara is the district home of BSB and, as such, of vital importance to Brunei tourists. Aside from the capital proper, other urban areas include the BSB suburbs of Gadong, Jerudong and Berakas. Of the many water mukim in the district, Kampong Ayer is by far the most famous. The popular tourist village and “Venice of the East” is home to 40,000 people and dates back more than 1,300 years. A series of coastal islands in Brunei Bay are also part of Brunei-Muara.

Temburong is separated from the rest of Brunei by Brunei Bay and the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The sparsely populated district is notable because of Ulu Temburong National Park - the first and best national reserve in the Sultanate.

Tutong district contains significant numbers of Borneo’s indigenous tribes and a gem in the ASEAN Heritage Tasek Merimbun Wildlife Sanctuary.

Bandar Seri Begawan Eat & Drink

Ethnic Malay and Chinese cuisine dominate the restaurant scene in Bandar Seri Begawan, with a few notable European, Indian and Thai restaurants for good measure.

Nyonya Restaurant (Yayasan Complex) serves grandmotherly Malay comfort food.

Hau Hau (48 Jln Sultan Town Centre) .

DeRoyalle Café (Jln Permancha Town Centre) is a cosy, casual nook to linger over a leisurely breakfast or lunch.

Piccolo Fratini (Ground Floor, Unit 4A, Bangunan Aman Complex, Lot Jalan Muara) is the most popular Italian trattoria in the Brunei capital.

Nur Wanita (Unit 10 Block B, Kiarong Complex) is all the rage at lunchtime and tantalises tastebuds with excellent Thai fare.

Ayamku Restaurant (Grand City Hotel, Batu Bersurat) serves addictive and affordable chicken and rice.

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (Jln Sultan & Jln Permancha Town Centre) is expat and backpacker central, thanks to reliable Wi-Fi and espresso.

Kianggeh Food Court (Jalan Residency) is hawker paradise for hungry travellers who like to pick and choose, sample and move on.

Zaika (Town Centre Block C, Yayasan Complex) is a good bet if you stick to curry and naan.

Aminah Arif (Spg 88 Kiulap Unit 2-3 Block B Rahman Bldg) is the best place to try Brunei’s national dish, the tapioca-like ambuyat.

Bandar Seri Begawan Events

The modest ensemble of events in Brunei centre largely on royal and Islamic tradition.

National Day is a vibrant public holiday in Brunei that takes place on February 23 with much colourful ceremony.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri, or Id al-Fitr, is the annual celebration to mark the end of Ramadan.

Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day is a notable event every May 31 with a lot of military pomp and circumstance in the capital.

Hari Raya Aidiladha, or Id al-Adha, is one of the most important religious holidays on the Muslim calendar.

His Majesty the Sultan’s Birthday, on July 15, is a time of mass prayer and royal ceremony in Bandar Seri Begawan.

Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad is a solemn occasion in the Muslim world and Brunei.

Chinese New Year is fervently celebrated every year by BSB’s considerable Chinese community.

When To Go

The weather in Bandar Seri Begawan is nothing if not predictable. Temperature fluctuation is minimal throughout the year and, invariably, from month to month, it rains. A quintessential tropical rainforest city, BSB gets close to 3,000 mm of precipitation, on average, every year. To emphasise the extent of the city’s equatorial nature, consider the fact that the month with lowest average rainfall, March, still receives well over twice as much rain as any given month in Greater London.

Since it only rains 12 and 11 days, on average, in February and March respectively, the two months represent as good a time as any to visit Brunei and BSB. The rest of the year featues at least 16 days of precipitation a month and as many as 20 days a month from October to December.

Despite the lack of a discernible dry season, few complain about BSB’s consistent temperature range of 73°F (23°C) to 91°F (33°C).

What To Miss

If you fly in to Bandar Seri Begawan, do not change your money at the airport. Banks in the capital offer more reasonable rates on the whole. Furthermore, be conservative with the amount of currency you exchange. If you have Singapore dollars on you or plan to visit the city-state after BSB, use them in Brunei. The Brunei dollar is forever at par with the Singapore dollar.

Jerudong Park is probably the most conspicuous and controversial gift the multi-billionaire Sultan has built to placate the people of Brunei over the years. While the colossal playland is impressive in sheer ambition and scope alone, avoid it at all costs. Theme parks and Borneo make patently awkward partners.

As much as locals beseech visitors to enjoy Brunei’s few beaches, the harsh truth is that for the most part, they remain in pitiable shape. Skip the coast and discover the Sultanate’s forest reserves and national parks instead, with Ulu Temburong National Park the indubitable standout.

Getting Around

Bus access from the town of Miri, Sarawak is a popular, if not slightly convoluted, option to arrive in Bandar Seri Begawan, with a few bothersome connections to complete the 4 hour journey. The main highway in Brunei links up with the rest of Malaysian Borneo and is a comfortable drive, despite the requisite immigration checkpoints. To explore the Sultanate’s rural interior, car hire is the only viable option. A decent vehicle and driver do not come cheap but the petrol is alarmingly affordable.

Brunei International Airport typically handles over 1 million passengers a year, with regular flights to and from nearby destinations like Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Bangkok, Singapore and Jakarta. Royal Brunei Airlines also provides regular service to London-Heathrow.

Unsurprisingly, travellers can take a boat to BSB as well. Regular ferry and speedboat service runs between various points in Sarawak and Sabah.

Within the BSB proper, a few travel options abound. Water taxis are always a fun way to get from one Brunei point to another and are eminently hailable from just about any dock in the capital. For the ins and outs of BSB’s modest bus network, grab a schedule from the main tourist information office in the middle of town. Last but not least, taxis are a dime a dozen in downtown BSB.

General Information

Much of Borneo's wild splendor is accessible to visitors who venture into the State of Brunei Darussalam. The UNESCO World Heritage Kinabalu National Park for one, is a mere 200 km from the city of Bandar Seri Begawan. The small capital has less than 75,000 people and is the official home of the Sultan of Brunei, a man whose vast fortune is infamous the world over. The Sultan and his entourage live in Istana Nurul Iman, by far the most immense residential palace in the world. While his $4 billion-plus automobile collection may not be open to the public, the Sultan has been known to open the palace doors on auspicious occasions. When in Bandar Seri Begawan, be sure to take a day trip out on the Brunei River to visit the water village of Kampong Ayer. The Temburong district of Brunei has also made strides in the realm of eco-tourism.

Attraction & Activities


  • Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
  • Malay Technology Museum
  • Istana Nurul Iman
  • Water Village
  • Lapau


  • Hari Raya Aidilfitri
  • Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day
  • His Majesty the Sultan's Birthday
  • Chinese New Year

Restaurants & Nightlife


  • Shikai
  • Savy's Brasserie
  • Kimchi
  • Jin Chiew Kopitiam
  • Tarindak d'Seni


Brunei is dry country, in strict adherence with Islamic religious law. As a result, nightlife in Bandar Seri Begawan is restricted to the modest restaurant scene.


The capital of Brunei has an equatorial climate, with heavy rainfall and temperatures between 23°C and 32°C for the year.

Hotels in Bandar Seri Begawan

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