I’m a believer that a visit to any new city calls for a tour.
Booking a guided tour to start you off gives you an overview of what to see and do in this new place, and usually covers the essential tourist spots. From here, you can decide which areas you want to go back to on the succeeding days of your trip if time permits. You can also get good tips from your guide on where else you should go during your stay, apart from the destinations included in your itinerary. Helpful, right?
While in Brunei, I chose to book a full day city tour. This included lunch at a local restaurant. All necessary modes of transportation were also provided, and we had a Malay and English speaking guide with us the entire day. Our package came with a bottle of drinking water for each of us, too, which came in really handy because it did get warm during the day.
Pro tip: Always stay hydrated while you travel! It’s not easy getting sick while you’re away from home. And you don’t want to miss out on the fun because you are feeling under the weather.
Our tour came at the perfect time, as the country was celebrating their 33rd Independence Day.
Brunei is divided into four main districts. Kuala Belait District, the largest, is the revenue district. It is the center of oil and gas production in Brunei. Brunei Muara District is the center for government and business. There’s Tutong District, where you will see mostly agricultural areas. And finally, Temburong District, which is separated from the mainland bay the Brunei Bay.
I was unable to visit Temburong because you need to access this area by boat. All the other districts can easily be visited in a day. Brunei is so small, only 5,765 square kilometers in size, and with a population of just over 420,000.
Here are the awesome places in Brunei that I got to see and experience during this whole day city tour, which we booked through Freme Travel.
Billionth Barrell Monument and OGDC
Brunei is an oil-producing country, and the Billionth Barrel Monument commemorates the country’s success in the industry. From here, you can see the nodding donkeys, which are huge machines used to put oil out of the ground.
The OGCD, or Oil and Gas Discovery Center, is an education center where people can learn about the oil and gas industry. Unfortunately we didn’t get to enter, but it was nice just being able to see the building, and to know that a place of learning like this exists.
After the monument, we stopped for a quick breakfast at a local restaurant called Universal Cafe. I had a simple meal of coffee, eggs and French toast. Across the street from the cafe, you can see the river with Sungai Tutong. I also saw a Jollibee branch while I was in the area!
Before leaving, we bought some rice meals to take with us. They were wrapped in leaves similar to Filipino suman, but savory, with viands mixed into the rice. Easy to eat, and in sustainable packaging, too!
Prime Minister’s Office
Our next stop was the Prime Minister’s Office. There’s really not much to do here except sight-see and take photos in the area.
Tamu Open Market
Next on the itinerary was some shopping at the Tamu Open Market. This popular place for day to day shopping has been around since the 1960’s.
I saw a lot of nice, big vegetables for sale here, as well as some local delicacies. What I noticed is that, while in the Philippines we buy things by the gram, in Open Market Tamu usually ask for your money’s worth. For example, you’d buy a dollar’s worth of fish instead of a kilo of it.
Malay Technology Museum
Photography is one of my passions, and the photo-enthusiast in me really got excited inside the Technology Museum. I enjoyed taking photos of every exhibit on every floor, which featured traditional life in Brunei and their ethnic communities.
After going around, we took a quick break to eat the leaf-wrapped rice snacks we bought earlier. We then relaxed for a bit at the Brunei Lake. It was a good opportunity for me to chat with my friend and travel buddy, Jade. We shared some memories from when we were younger, and also talked about how nice it is to live a simple life filled with family and close friends.
From here, we went off to our next destination. But first, we stopped to take photos at a new bridge that was just recently put up.
Istana Nurul Iman
Istana Nurul Iman is the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei. It is a majestic sight, stark white with gold details, and very big. In fact, the Guiness Book of Records recognized this place as the largest dwelling place of any state head in the world.
Curious about what it looks like inside? Then you should come during the end of Ramadan. During this time, the palace opens its doors to the public for three days, and people get to meet the royals and indulge in a celebratory feast.
We stopped for lunch afterwards at Pondok Sari Wangi Restaurant. The waiters and staff there were all Filipino! It was so nice meeting them all.
One of the Filipino waitresses helped me identify what was on the menu. Based on her list, we had Soto Ayam Surabaya, Ayam Bkr Sweet, Beef Rendang, Mix Sate, Kangkung Garlic, Claypot Seafood, rice, fruits, coffee, and peanuts.
Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque
After our meal, we were off to see more places. Our next stop was the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. This is the largest, and one of two national mosques in Brunei.
One of the stops that I really enjoyed was the Water Village. It was mesmerizing! To get there, we had to take a motorboat from the port. Boats are their mode of transport in the village, and some households have their own.
The village is fully equipped with a school, a fire station, a restaurant and a supermarket. The homes here, which the government provides, are nice and modern. While in the water village, we got to visit one of the houses. The owners were gracious, and even served us food.
About 39,000 people live in this village, which lies over Brunei Bay. If you think this is a lot, you should know that a many years ago half of the entire population of Brunei lived on the water. Isn’t that fascinating?
Back on dry land, we drove by Jerudong Park Playground, the largest and most expensive theme park in Southeast Asia. I couldn’t resist having my photo taken at the entrance, which resembles a giant engagement ring!
Royal Berkshire, Jerudong Park & Polo Country Club
Overlooking the beach, Royal Berkshire, Jerudong Park & Polo Country Club is a great venue option for events like weddings and parties. You can also come here during the day to relax and unwind by the pool, play sports, and have a meal at the restaurant.
This is also where the sultan’s horses are housed. While there, keep an eye out for the lonely elephant!
Other notable stops we had on the tour were:
- The Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, which is best seen at night because it “‘glows in the dark”!
- The 5th Sultan’s Tomb
- The Brunei Museum
- And The Royal Regalia Building
Apart from the tourist attractions on our itinerary, here are a few other highly recommended destinations that you should consider visiting if you have time to spare, while in Brunei.
- Ulu Temburong National Park
- Igat Anak Tarang’s Longhouse
- Arts and Handicraft Training Centre
Also, prepare your tastebuds for the delicious cuisine of Brunei. Here are some must-try restaurants, and what you should order from each:
- Kaizen Sushi for their Salmon Teriyaki
- Tarindak d’Seni for excellent grilled meats and a buffet of local Brunei favorites
- Chop Jin Chew, where you should order the Zhima Kway Teow. Unique to this coffee shop, this is a dish of blanched flat noodles topped with a tangy spicy-sweet-sour dark sauce, and a generous portion of crispy-fried fish pieces. It’s finished off with a sprinkle of spring onion and toasted sesame seed
- Aminah Arif for Chendul Selasih, which has fermented glutinous, green jelly basil seeds, and rice flour porridge all mixed in chilled coconut milk, and sweetened with palm sugar
- Mekong Coffee Shop for their Kolo Mee noodles with roasted or minced chicken, and Fried Losu Fan Thai-style hand-made noodles fried with tom-yum spices
- Villa Mauri if you are craving for pasta, such as lasagna, ravioli, and gnocchi
- Fratini’s Restaurant, Brunei’s first Italian restaurant, which serves delicious pizza
- Sorriso Restaurant and Pizzeria, a rustic Italian option
- Nur Wanita Restaurant for Chiang Mai Curry Noodles
- And Sawadee House for authentic Thai iced tea
As far as souvenir shopping goes, local handicrafts are the best option in Brunei. Handwoven textiles, silver and brass items, gongs, woven baskets, and even the traditional dagger known as the Keris are some examples of things to buy. As for where to go for shopping, here are some excellent options:
- The Arts and Handicraft Centre
- Mesa Gifts & Souvenirs
- Handy Handicraft
- The Mall
- Kompleks Bangunan Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanl Bolkiah
- And Pasar Gadong
I hope you’ve enjoyed virtually touring Brunei through my post. Please also check out my other stories about Brunei here:
Always remember, travel enriches life. It teaches us to enjoy moments, to say goodbye to stress and embrace joy instead. Experience has taught me this, and I’m happy that I get to share my journeys with you now, too. Anytime you need help and tips finding worry-free, budget-friendly places to see, I’m here to help!