Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei has an undeserved reputation as a boring city. While researching our two day trip, we ran across several postings suggesting travelers skip it altogether. We chose to check it out for ourselves anyway and were pleasantly surprised by how much we actually enjoyed this city.
Here is our list of top things to do and see in Bandar Seri Begawan:
The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, known locally as SOAS Mosque, is conveniently located in the center of BSB and is a must see for anyone visiting Brunei. Although the 171 ft golden dome can be spotted from almost anywhere in the city, it is definitely worth taking a closer look. Surrounded by an artificial lagoon that acts as a reflecting pool, the mosque is beautiful to view both in the daytime and at night when it is all lit up.
Non Muslims are allowed to enter the mosque at specific posted times. Knees and shoulders must be covered so robes are conveniently provided for tourists to borrow. Just a note: when we entered the inside of the mosque, we were confined to a small area near the entrance.
Kampong Ayer is a large network of stilt villages that extends over the Brunei River. Once referred to as the “Venice of the East”, it is home to about 39,000 people. Kampong Ayer is much more developed than one would expect stilt villages to be – there is electricity, plumbing, a school, mosque, police station and fire station.
Access Kampong Ayer via wooden foot bridges near Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque or by taking a water taxi from the waterfront.
The waterfront offers a great view of the Brunei River, Kampong Ayer and Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque.
You can hire a boat from here to take you to Kampong Ayer – or just watch boats cross the river from an outdoor cafe on the promenade.
Tamu Kianggeh is an open-air market on the banks of the Kianggeh River. Stalls sell a variety of items from various produce, fresh catch of the day, cooked food, dry goods and even local handicrafts.
Many residents of Kampong Ayer take water taxis to shop at Tamu Kianggeh so this is a good place to observe some local life.
Tasek Lama Recreational Park
Tasek Lama Recreational Park is a large park near the center of Bandar Seri Begawan. There are walkways, running trails, a playground, exercise equipment and even a waterfall.
The shaded park is a popular place for locals to engage in physical activity or just sit around and cool off. Nice spot for a picnic.
Tamu Selera Night Market
There are a couple of well known night markets in Bandar Seri Begawan. Tamu Selera is closest to the center of BSB with a location right across the Terrace Hotel and just a short walk from the Radisson Hotel Brunei Darussalam (where we stayed). This night market is tented and has plenty of seating for you to enjoy the local fare. Food is cheap and tasty.
Jame’ Asri Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque
Jame’ Asri Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, known locally as Kiarong Mosque, is another mosque worth visiting. It is a bit outside the center of Bandar Seri Begawan but well worth a 20 minute taxi ride. Built to commemorate the current reigning Sultan, Kiarong is the largest mosque in Brunei.
The area surrounding this mosque might not be as impressive as that of SOAS but Kiarong Mosque itself is jaw-dropping. In addition to an opulent interior, 29 golden domes (in honor of the 29th Sultan) adorn the outside.
Istana Nurul Iman
Istana Nurul Iman is the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei and the largest residential palace in the world. It is located a few kilometers outside Bandar Seri Begawan, on the banks of the Brunei River.
If you would like to admire the palace from the inside, you can only do so three days of the year, after Ramadan. To view the palace from afar, your best bet is from the river or Taman Persiaran Damuan Park.
We happened to pass by the front of the palace as the gates were opening and can verify the palace is not really visible from the street- all we saw were vigilant guards.
How many days are enough for the top things to do in Bandar Seri Begawan? If visiting only Bandar Seri Begawan, we would recommend spending 2 or 3 days in Brunei. For those with less time, you can see all or most of these attractions in one busy and long day.
Where to Stay in Bandar Seri Begawan
There are several good hotel options in downtown Bandar Seri Begawan. These are our top choices:
Radisson Hotel Brunei Darussalam. This large hotel is located in downtown Brunei close to the night market and walking distance from most attractions. The Radisson hotel is one of the nicest hotels in Brunei and offers many amenities including a really nice pool, free wi-fi, fitness center. For more information and current prices click here. (This is where we stayed, here is our review).
The Brunei Hotel. This was our second choice if the Radisson was not available. The Brunei Hotel has a very central location across from Tamu Kianngeh Market. It is less expensive that the Radisson and includes free wi-fi and breakfast. For more information and current prices click here.
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