Being the Sultan in Brunei

By Mark Wiens 14 Comments

In my single day stay in the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, I walked around Bandar Seri Begawan, sped through Kampong Ayer in a speed boat, gawked at Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, twirled Ambuyat Sago starch, and triumphed at feeling like a Sultan.

Traveling in Brunei
Traveling in Brunei

I arrived at about 4 pm in the exotic Aladdin feeling city of Bandar Seri Begawan fresh off the ferry from Kota Kinabalu to Brunei.

Where to Stay?

Although there were mixed reviews of the cheapest and only youth hostel in Bandar, after checking-in, I realized it was much nicer than most places I had ever stayed.

The air-cons pushed cold air and the bunk-beds were amazingly stable and comfortable.  If you need highly adequate but not at all fancy accommodation, Pusat Belia Youth Hostel is a good enough place to bunk for $10 Brunei dollars per night.

Kampong Ayer Water Village
Kampong Ayer Water Village

Kampong Ayer Water Village

Kampong Ayer is a huge village built on stilts above the Brunei River that houses around 39,000 residents.

Where most water villages around the world are home to the poorest of the poor, Bruneian’s who live in Kampong Ayer are actually quite well off.  Many of the stilted homes are outfitted with electricity, satellite televisions, and internet access.

Many inhabitants in this oil driven country even own cars parked ashore.

Brunei
Kampong Ayer Water Village

During our kingly boat cruise, our skipper pointed off into the horizon to a glistening somewhat ostentatious golden dome poking through the tree line on the banks of the river.  “This is the Sultan’s palace,” he proclaimed.  With 1,788 rooms and 257 bathrooms it’s a shame I couldn’t test the quality of the sewage system (Only open for 3 days to the public on Eid al-Fitr).

Sultan's Palace
Sultan’s Palace

A speed boat cruise through Kampong Ayer can be arranged by one of the many boat taxi’s eagerly waiting to give you a tour.  The price will be around $20 Brunei Dollars for an hour boat ride tour (don’t expect to really bargain, people are not overly desperate for money in Brunei).

The water village is equipped with schools, hospitals, police and fire stations, Mosques, and the one-of-a-kind Shell petrol station above water on stilts.

Floating Shell station
Floating Shell station

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

In full daylight, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in the center of Bandar Seri Begawan is an audacious and remarkable display of design and construction.  In the late afternoon as the sun crept lower and lower with every second, the mosque became even more fascinating.

The electric colors from the golden dome ricocheted off the marble walls and minarets and I felt like I was a part of some extravagant surreal painting.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Mosque in Brunie
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
Sunset at Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
One more view

Bruneian Cuisine

After an hour of glossy eyed staring at the mosque and the surrounding skies, I realized my stomach was crying out for food.  Luckily, I was able to locate a local Bruneian dish made from the Sago palm, known as Ambuyat.

This sticky glue like substance was a novelty to twirl into bite sized pieces and further dip into the bizarre but awesomely bursting cacah binjai sauce.  If you are in Brunei you would be missing a lot to neglect an authentic Ambuyat feast.

Bruneian Cuisine
Bruneian Cuisine

If you have a minute, check out this 1:51 short video to get a  better feel for some of these images!

Though I was only in Brunei for a single evening, I had a luxurious time wandering around and seeing a few of the famous existing sights.

The incredible views from Brunei in such a brief time left me shocked and feeling like I was the Sultan of some exotic fairy tale.



14 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Emma

    6 years ago

    I was feeling kinda homesick this morning and was looking for places I could find the ingredients to make Ambuyat here in Brisbane, but I stumbled across your blog. As a Bruneian (born and bred!) it makes me really happy to see someone really enjoy visiting my country (:

    But I suppose if anyone’s reading this now, I’d definitely recommend going to the Temburong District for some canopy-walking, camping and bathing at the waterfall. Or if you’re an ocean-type person, there are quite a few fishing spots and diving areas just off the coast.

    Thanks so much for your post, you should definitely go back there soon and recruit a local to show you all the sights and sounds!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks so much Emma. I did really have a great time in Brunei. Too bad I didn’t get to travel around the country. If I return, I will definitely visit Temburong District, sounds great!

      Good luck with the Ambuyat!

  • MeryG

    6 years ago

    Thanks for the great comment re ferry and Brunei, so much detailed info-my friend and I will be in KK in February and would like to go by boat to Brunei, like you we will only be spending part of the day of arrival and night in Brunei then pushing on to Kuching the following day – any assistance in doing this sector will be appreciated.
    Paulo like you i am facinated by water villages so for future travel, if you have not yet been, Inle Lake in Myanmar has one amazing water village on stilts – the waterways even have names and there are some fabulous hotels – on stilts – its still a very cheap country to travel – Im a solo female mid-life BP and i felt quite safe, the locals very friendly and chatty.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing MeryG. I was just in Burma, but I didn’t make it to Inle Lake. It sounds amazing though, I would love to return sometime!

  • Dave and Deb

    7 years ago

    Beautiful photos! I wish that we would have hopped over to Brunei when we were in Borneo.

  • Gourmantic

    7 years ago

    I once worked with a guy who had contracted in Brunei. Found the place unlike any other in customs and traditions.

    Great shot of the mosque at dusk! I like the way you’ve framed it.

  • Mark Wiens

    7 years ago

    Thanks Paulo!

    @Arepeace
    You can e-mail them at: [email protected]
    I sent an e-mail but never got a response, so I just showed up mid-afternoon and there were many vacancies. I think probably the best thing to do is send an e-mail to let them know you are coming and if they don’t respond, just show up and there should be open beds. Hope this will work out!

  • Arepeace

    7 years ago

    Heyy..do you have the email or contact number of Pusat Belia Youth Hostel. I wanna make a booking and unable to find it anywhere..? Thanks 🙂

  • paulo

    7 years ago

    Never even thought of visiting there however Kampong Ayer has my curiosity up. I’m intrigued by places that develop their culture on water locations. Nice report. Travel on buddy! Stay safe.