brunei street sign sultan

Should I Go to Brunei? 8 Points to Ponder

Well folks, this is my final post on Brunei before my blog travels back to Japan. It’s time to close the chapter on a country I thoroughly enjoyed 😦

Now you might be considering a trip to Brunei but perhaps you’d heard quite a bit of negativity and have some doubts. Yes, Brunei isn’t a popular spot to travellers and ironically it doesn’t do much to promote itself either. This happens when you have a lot of oil I guess 😛

So let this farewell post aid you in your decision. I’ll talk about why Brunei is worth going to and also why it isn’t from the viewpoint of others. Hopefully this mix of aye and nay will help you reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Let’s start with the aye first – four of them.

1. It’s a very happy place.

To me, this is the #1 reason why you should go and why I’d go again. The city felt so quiet and relaxed and its slow and contented charm got to me instantly. It was an eye-opening experience, really! And I in turn wish to open your eyes to this rarely-held view on Brunei.

I mean, when considering whether to travel to a place, we usually look for concrete attractions like famous buildings or delicious food. The Bruneian experience made me realise that sometimes it’s not these tangible attractions, but rather the overall feel of a place that counts.

And Brunei has a feel which I really love. This is one place where you could live fully at the present moment, without any worry for tomorrow. If you’d always thought that happiness always flies by so quickly, Brunei’s different – time and joy pass by very slowly there. An ideal place for retirement IMO.

And oh if you want something tangible here’s this: Brunei is the No. 9 happiest country in the world! The people are well-fed with proper homes and jobs and their currency is strong, yet there’s nary a hint of urban stress so common to developed countries which are wealthy outside but suicidal inside.

haji-hassanal-bolkiah-sultan-of-bruneiBrunei probably has the happiest man on Earth too: the man with the largest palace, private jet, huge collection of Ferraris and once largest wealth – the Sultan himself. (Photo from Reuters)

So why bother about the attractions or things to do list when Brunei offers the most important element: happiness? I certainly enjoyed Brunei more than India though the latter creates a thicker travel book, and you might end up agreeing too.

2. It’s not touristy.

If you’re very adamant in wanting to be a ‘traveller’ and not a ‘tourist’, then Brunei is the way to go. Since it’s largely unexplored by the travel community, it adds a perk to your resume for taking the road less taken.

Of course this wasn’t one of my reasons for going there, but it was really exciting to be exploring the unknown. It felt a little like discovering a whole new world because unlike other more popular destinations, Brunei has very few spoiler photos or info from travel guides.*

*though things might change a little since this blog gives in-depth articles on the country. Sorry, I feel so much love for this place that I just had to spread it 😛

And what I experienced is 100% authentically Bruneian. Unlike Singapore, which is constantly putting a country’s equivalent of makeup to attract tourists, destroying its unique culture in the process, Brunei comes to your face as it is, without the need to impress. To both traveller and tourist, Brunei presents itself with utmost sincerity.

Isn’t this what we want? Don’t we travel to see a country’s authentic unadulterated culture and not something that’s deliberately morphed and hyped?

Brunei Sultan's portrait and flag in Bandar Seri Begawan

They probably spend more on their King’s portraits and national flags than tourism.

3. It’s safe.

Granted, safety isn’t something that fuels a burning wanderlust for a certain place, but it plays a part nonetheless. As a traveller, you know how it really sucks to have all the fun replaced by fear when you spend more time observing your surroundings for an entirely different reason.

In this sense Brunei scores because it’s a very safe country. From my own experience and what’s written on travel guides, there aren’t a lot of crimes going around. You can walk around alone at night without feeling that there are eyes somewhere prying on you. It’s peaceful, quiet and safe.

Which is why it’s so happy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The only ‘crime’ committed by these men is ‘stealing’ jobs from locals. Is that even a crime?

4. It DOES have some good attractions.

It’s true when they say that Brunei doesn’t have much when it comes to the touristy department. But that doesn’t mean there’s absolutely nothing there. Brunei does have places worth seeing and I thoroughly enjoyed them all.

I call these places ‘Brunei’s Top 3’: Kampong Ayer, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. Together with its happy factor, these three brought out the best of the country.

I’d recommend at least 3 days there as you cover the Top 3 and its other attractions as well. Those outside the Top 3 don’t have that much merit, but do go there to know what Brunei is all about.

Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque – an absolute must.

Right, these are the main reasons why I think you should give Brunei a chance. Now let’s hear out the other side of the story shall we?


5. No I’m NOT happy. I’m @#!$% bored!!

bruneian people

As they say, one’s man meat is another man’s poison. Unfortunately for Brunei though, this ‘another man’ turns out to be most people out there.

Yes, it’s very peaceful, serene and relaxed, but many travellers see this as boring and severely lacking in excitement and thrill. Prominent travel blogger Nomadic Samuel gives its the Most Disappointing Country title while experienced traveller Craig Hickson advises to skip it completely.

Which is nothing wrong, really – in fact if you’re a ‘majority wins’ kind of person, then I must be just plain weird for loving it 😛

6. Lack of entertainment and nightlife.

Following from 5), it’s really easy to see why Brunei is thought of as boring with a capital B – there are few nightclubs, shopping centres and entertainment outlets there.

And let’s face it – these premises do make a place more exciting and interesting to a traveller, and probably to a Bruneian too.

The Mall Gadong in Brunei

Apart from looking nice, Gadong Mall, Brunei’s most bustling shopping centre doesn’t really have much. (Photo from Hanafi Konsaltan)

Coffee Bean outlet in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

The city centre’s most exciting night entertainment is…a Coffee Bean outlet.

Alas, the Bruneian government’s development ideals don’t centre on these racy adrenaline-rushing pleasures, perhaps conservatively viewing them as morally decadent. This costs the country millions of dollars in tourist revenue from the outside world which embraces them.

7. Besides the Top 3, its other attractions aren’t so attractive.

We’re back to square one aren’t we? Almost everyone says the same,”There’s nothing there!” and I have to concur. Well, almost.

For starters, the only Chinese temple there, Teng Yun, pales in comparison to its grander counterparts elsewhere. Its local market Tamu Kianggeh is but just that with nothing really interesting. There’s also an amusement park in Jerudong which gets so many negative reviews that to call it an ‘attraction’ for technicality’s sake is pure flattery because its opposite term ‘turn off’ is more accurate.

In its (slight) defence I did enjoy the Empire Hotel & Country Club, but then again to get to a country just to see a hotel doesn’t seem right.

So yeah if you’re the touristy type, Brunei isn’t the place for you.

8. It’s very wet but also very dry.

(As a teetotaler, I don’t think that the availability of beer should even be considered at all. Yet most travellers out there love to drink so I’ll touch on it.)

I could get myself drunk there and still end up perfectly sober because the only beer allowed there is root beer. Yes, Brunei is a strictly dry country which adheres to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol.

There’s a way to circumvent this though – some drive up to border towns in Malaysia, glug in a few bottles then make their way back. This is inconvenient of course. And this is why most travellers from a strong drinking culture ignore Brunei – to them, inconvenient access to beer is the worst inconvenience of all.

And oh, the wet part is as true as it is an intended pun – it’s very rainy there throughout the year, with the best time to go being limited to February, March and April only. Which makes planning your itinerary a little difficult.

Conclusion

The only conclusion I can draw is the conclusion that you have – it really depends on what you’re looking for.

There’s no doubt in my mind that to convince someone to go to a place mainly because of its happy and relaxed feeling is a tough job. It’ll end up like preaching a religion – very few successes and almost all failures.

However if you’re thinking of giving it a try, I say amen to that. You might not consciously be thinking of happiness or whatnot when choosing a destination. I certainly didn’t think of that too when I went there but I returned a believer.

So if you still adhere to the conventional way of choosing a place – attractions, food and all, then bypass it. Or if you’re willing to look past all that and see it from another perspective – welcome to Brunei!

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21 comments on “Should I Go to Brunei? 8 Points to Ponder

      • cepat kaya

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  1. Hi, Ruzhi.
    Thank you for the compliment about Brunei and it’s a great blog. Regarding the new Sharia law, well, I have faith with our leader and I’m sure he knows what he is doing 🙂

    • thanks for commenting! hmm where are you from I’m wondering? Though I get your point (the recent sharia law implementation and all) Sad to see that the country I love is going down just like my home country Malaysia

  2. Yeah im thinking of Going to all Asean Countries but there’s no tourist spot to see in Brunei apart from the 2 mosques

    • Other than the Mosques and the empire hotel.. i suggest everyone who does come to Brunei to go to Temburong which is one of the 4 districts in Brunei.. There you can experience the untouched jungle of Brunei.. and don’t worry, it is totally safe.. you will have guides while you are there.. there will be a lot of activities there.. As a Bruneian myself and I am now 30 yrs old, I still have yet to discover a lot of things about my own country.. and i mean a lot!! Brunei really is a country of unexpected treasures.. but if you are a person who is not in to the exploring and only like the city life.. its not that much to experience except for the night markets and the food.. 🙂

    • better to be having to live in slumps rather than being completely homeless like the people in Kuala Lumpur or anywhere else.

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  4. I was looking to visit a country where I don’t need to struggle with a sea of tourists, but just to relax and immerse myself in a culture that’s new to me. Well, I guess I found it. Going there next month!

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