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View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.


I enjoy a very naughty breakfast of waffles with sugar, cinnamon, and maple syrup this morning. Sugar overload!


Today we have a sightseeing tour of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital and largest city of Brunei. Originally known as Brunei Town, in 1970 it was renamed Bandar Seri Begawan, which means 'honourable leader' as homage to the Sultan’s late father, Omar Ali Saifuddien

I am grateful the sun is not out today, as my cold sore is quite raw this morning, extremely unsightly, and rather painful, so I put on a mask when leaving the hotel.


Brunei is an independent Islamic sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.


Kota Batu

Believed to be an ancient burial site from the 14th - 17th century, Kota Batu is an important archaeological site. The name translates as ‘city of stone’, as a result of the rock structures found here, which would have served as walls of a fortress. It is believed that this site was the capital city of Brunei, and the site also played an important role as a center of government, trade, and settlement in Brunei during that time. While the park is of great importance as a hub for archaeological research, there is not that much to see for visitors.


Mausoleum of Sultan Bolkiah

Bolkiah was the fifth Sultan of Brunei, who reigned from 1485 following the abdication of his father, until his death in 1524. This era is said to be the golden age of Brunei, with Bolkiah expanding Brunei’s territory to include present-day Sarawak and Sabah in Borneo, and Manila and Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines.


Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Bridge

Commonly known as the Temburong Bridge (or SOAS Bridge from the initials), the 26-km bridge is the longest in Southeast Asia, connecting the district of Temburong with the rest of Brunei.


Before the bridge was completed in 2020, the eastern half was separated from the rest of the country, and to reach the capital, they would either have to take a boat across the bay or a two-hour drive via Malaysia involving two complicated border crossings.



Using a traditional longboat, we explore the mangroves that surround the capital.


The mangroves play an important part in protecting the city, by stopping the tidal waves from reaching the built-up areas.


The virgin rainforest is also home to many birds and animals – I tend to forget that this is part of Borneo.

Chinese Egret, a new species to us

Proboscis Monkeys

As I pick up my long 400mm lens to point at the monkeys in the tree, all I can see is grey. The lens it totally steamed up, and however much I try to wipe it off, it makes no difference.


It turns out, the condensation is on the inside of the lens, not the outside.


That is rather worrying (for any long-term damage), and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it now. I use my 24-105mm lens to take some photos, but as the monkeys are a very long way away, by the time I have cropped the images to the point where I can distinguish the monkeys from the rest of the tree, the quality is so-so.


Royal Tomb

The area around this old tomb is said to be haunted, and local people fear coming out here at night, as there have been a number of strange occurrences.


Kampong Ayer

We return to the city to see the world’s largest settlement on stilts, housing close to 12,000 people in an area of 10 km² (less than four square miles) spread across 30 villages connected by 30 km of wooden walkways.


As a major historical and cultural heritage of Brunei, Kampong Ayer is believed to have been inhabited for at least 1000 years, and in the 1500s it was a bustling port, known as Venice of the East. Over the last few decades, the population based in these water villages has decreased, with many people preferring to move to land-based accommodation. The diminishing population, added to the busy modern lifestyle, is threatening the survival of the customs and traditions practiced in Kampong Ayer. While it would be a shame to lose this cultural heritage, I can fully understand people wanting to move with the times and make life easier for themselves.


The houses here at Kampong Ayer are mostly built of wood in the traditional Malay style, but we also see a brand new housing estate!


Most of the houses, even the old traditional ones, have running water, and electricity, with fast wifi and air conditioning.


There are mosques, schools, a police station, and a fire station.


Fire Station

Police Station


The secondary school in Kampong Ayer, Awang Semaun Secondary School, is the only school of its kind where its buildings are built on water.

Fires are a common occurrence, unfortunately, mostly as a result of faulty wiring, and with so many wooden buildings in close proximity to each other, the fire spreads easily and quickly.


Bandar Seri Begawan

The central district of the city is modern and luxurious as many of the buildings have been reconstructed after the city suffered serious damage during WWII. Around 180,000 of the country’s 500,000 population live in the city. I have to confess that I knew very little about this small kingdom prior to this trip, including that it didn’t gain its independence from United Kingdom until 1984.


Now rich from oil (Brunei has the second-highest Human Development Index among the Southeast Asian nations, after Singapore). Crude oil and natural gas production account for about 90% of its GDP


I ask Farez, our guide about living standards, and he tells me he still considers Brunei to be a Third World Country.


Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

Back on dry land, we visit the most famous mosque in the city, alongside a replica of the boat Sultan Bolkiah used when he colonised Borneo and the Philippines.


The mosque, which was built in 1958, has 28 real gold domes to celebrate him as the 28th Sultan. Up to 5,000 people can pray inside the mosque on any one day, and the construction features a number of tunnels under the city that are frequently used by the current Sultan to journey through town.


While Brunei is a Muslim country, other religions are also tolerated.

St Andrew's Church

We see a huge Land Monitor crossing the road. Farez explains how they are a real nuisance, having killed three of his cats over the last year or so.


Jami Asri Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

Named after the 29th and current Sultan, the mosque was inaugurated in 1994. The tiles used in the construction of this extravagant building came from the Middle East, the marble was sourced in Italy, and the wood was transported from the Philippines, with the stained glass imported from Britain! It is said to be the Sultan’s favourite mosque, and he is often found here on a Friday, praying and shaking hands with the people. Known for his compassion and generosity, the Sultan is approachable and will often help everyday citizens in trouble if asked.


The Istana Nurul Imam Palace

Behind this ornate fence, is the royal residence, the world’s largest residential palace as per Guinness World Records. The palace contains 1,788 rooms, with 257 bathrooms, a banquet hall that can be expanded to accommodate up to 5,000 guests, and a mosque that can hold 1,500 people praying. The palace also includes a 110-car garage, an air-conditioned stable for the Sultan's 200 polo ponies, and five swimming pools. In total, the buildings contain 2,152,782 square feet (200,000 m²) of floor space. Istana Nurul Iman has 564 chandeliers, 51,000 light bulbs, 44 stairwells, and 18 elevators. Outside the queen has her own garden, there is a polo ground and football field, plus a private airfield, where the Sultan is often seen flying his own helicopter. Over 1,000 are employed within the palace.


You can see an aerial image of the property in this article.

Malay Technology Museum

This museum is not at all what I expected it to be – I thought it was going to be all about technology, but what the museum does, in fact, is focusing on the traditional lifestyle and artisanship of Brunei’s ethnic groups through recreations of tribal villages and cottage-style industries.


Royal Regalia Museum

A visual representation of the immense wealth of the Sultanate, the museum is home to heirlooms and regalia such as crown jewels, ceremonial gowns, golden chariots, olden-day symbolic weapons, and shields.



On my recommendation, David orders the Pulled Beef Panini, BBC Sauce, Jalapenos, American Cheddar, Mustard Mayo, with chips

My Penne with Pesto, Cream, Garlic and Chicken

We both have Banoffee Bread Pudding for dessert, I have vanilla ice cream, David chooses coffee


Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible Grand Tour of South East Asia


Posted by Grete Howard 10:40 Archived in Brunei Tagged mosque church museum haunted water_village royal_palace mausoleum egret waffles mangroves monitor brunei sultanate proboscis_monkey bandar_seri_begawan kampong_ayer undiscovered_destinations grand_tour_of_south_east_asia cold_sore kota_batu sultan_bolkiah sultan_haji_omar_ali_saifuddien tempurong_bridge soas_bridge steamed_up_lens royal_tomb stilt_village sultan_omar_al_saifudding_mosqu st_andrews_church land_monitor jami_asri_hassanil_mosque istans_nurul_imam_palace malay_technology_museum royal_regalia_museum

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Brunei seems interesting! I really love the pictures of the mosque, they are amazing!

by Ils1976

Thaks, Ils, Brunei was definitely worth a short stopover. ♥

by Grete Howard

I knew nothing about Brunei so this was a fascinating read. All those stats about the palace are amazing, but it was Kampong Ayer that fascinated me the most. I would never have guessed to look at them that those houses had wifi and A/C!

by ToonSarah

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