Brunei - 1 Day in Brunei is enough

Now I'm on this journey, a whole 2.5-hour flight from Indonesia to unknown Brunei on the island of Borneo. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Borneo, but at that time, I was on the Malaysian side in Kota Kinabalu. I remember contemplating a trip to Brunei by motorbike, but the distance deterred me, it was too far.

Now many years later it's time to visit.

Is 1 full day really enough to see Brunei?

With only about 48 hours in Brunei, or better said, only 1 full day for sightseeing, I won't have much time to see much. Some "travel books" suggest 2 full days, whereas they suggest spending a day at a beach. But spending a day at a beach in Brunei? I think there are better places for that.

In addition, it's not as easy to simply "add another day", as flights to and from Brunei are a rarity. Adding another sightseeing day could mean automatically waiting 2 more days for the next flight departure.

So, the country is tiny and I’ve discovered that most tourists don’t spend more than a few days here. This suggests that Brunei may not be the most time-consuming or most spectacular country to visit, it certainly holds its unique appeal.


The airport, while huge but basically empty, operated with impressive efficiency, and seemed to have its act together. But Brunei isn't exactly a bustling metropolis. Not a ton of international airlines clamoring to land here in this serene corner of Southeast Asia.

Upon landing, I ventured out to the famed Nightmarket - a place rumored to be the largest in the entire country. And what did I find? To my surprise, the Night market wasn’t the sprawling, bustling affair I had envisioned. Instead, it was more like a quaint gathering of stalls, illuminated flickering lights. The air was thick with the smell of grilling meat and spices. But it was a good place to eat as there aren’t many restaurants around anyway.

Next to the Nightmarket was this behemoth called the Shopping Mall. I walked there expecting, I don't know, chaos? But surprise,—it was modern and clean, even a Mcdonald's nearby. A far cry from what I had imagined.

I had expected Brunei to resemble an average neighborhood in India—a chaotic blend of sounds and people. But this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Day 2 - The Center is Modest Yet Significant

Brunei’s center may be small, but it holds remarkable structures. As I explored the area, I noticed a mix of relatively unique buildings—likely of great importance—and then there are the malls, which are kinda small, considering the piles of cash this country's sitting.

It's easily possible to walk the whole center. There is not much traffic, extremely quiet for a capital city.

$1 Boat Ride to the Water Settlement

Took a ride on the $1 boat to the water settlement called Kampong Ayer. Walked around on those rickety wooden planks. It looked like a deserted town for 60000 people, like everyone just vanished or got relocated.

Quiet as a ghost town, with a few older people hanging out in those wooden shacks. No land access or bridge, just gotta wait for the motorboat to ferry you across. 

$1 for a minute ride, gas is practically free at 50 cents a liter.

The Boaty Mosque 

Then off to the boaty mosque, with a boat parked in front of the mosque, because why not? No clue what that's about, but it did add a nice backdrop to the scene. 

The building is officially known as the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Silver Jubilee Mosque.

Museum - a  Shrine to the Sultan (only?)

A 10-minute walk led me to the Regalia Museum. A massive joint for just 5 BND entry. But it's basically a shrine to the Sultan. "My boat, my car, my sword, my cooking pot,". The exhibits showcased the Sultan’s possessions and how he's the king and his peeps (the royal entourage) gotta pull the carriage, emphasizing his status. 

I had the feeling it was more like a biography of the king, not necessarily much about the country, its traditions, or its people. 

Other museums take a different approach, focusing on broader narratives. But this seems to be Brunei's way of museum-ing.

Through the streets again to see what there is to see.

Glimpse Denied at Sultan's Palace

And the Sultan's palace, well, you can only gawk at the entrance gate. Guards don't mind you snapping a zillion pics, though. I wondered about the opulence within those walls.

Still a shame you can't get a peek at the complex with 1800 rooms (yes 1800!).

Checked out a few mosques, they're a dime a dozen here, but some pretty impressive ones. Brunei boasts an abundance of mosques. 

The Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, with its golden domes and turquoise tiles.

Finished off with another quick spin around the lake of water settlements. The stilts, weathered by tides and monsoons, held steadfast and the Tutong River flowed silently.

All in all, not bad for a day's sightseeing, but could use a bit more substance, if you ask me.

Day 3 - Yes, 1 day in Brunei was enough

Can't say there's much else to see in Brunei, honestly.

Locals told me the rest of it is just some rainforest and a couple of beaches. Still, it was kinda interesting, pleasantly surprised by the country's positive aspects. Expected it to be way different, way less luxurious and high-standard. There are not many flights between Vietnam and Brunei and I'm glad I didn't spend another 2 days in Brunei for my next flight to Vietnam.

Off to Vietnam now.

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