Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei – Travel Guide

The capital of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan, is a city that has long divided travellers. Some blast it as sanitised and soulless, whereas others claim it is wrongfully overlooked – even touting it as a ‘hidden’ gem in Southeast Asia. 

I implore you now to forget everything you have ever heard about Brunei. If you’re considering visiting, you’ll need an open mind to truly enjoy what the country has to offer. While undoubtedly more compact and culturally different from its neighbours, Brunei offers a range of travel experiences for those willing to venture off the beaten path and find them.

If you’re planning your own trip to Bandar Seri Begawan, affectionately shortened to BSB, this guide will reveal everything you need to know, from the top things to do, how much you’ll need to spend (it’s less than you think!) and where to stay. 


Bandar Seri Begawan Map & Resources

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Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), Brunei – Backpacking Guide 🇧🇳

Best Time to Visit Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei ⛅

January to May marks the high season in Brunei and signals the best time to visit. This is the dry season and daily temperatures are cooler than at other times of year. February and March are the driest months. It is best to avoid June and July because it is very hot around this time. 

If you are looking for a unique experience, head to Bandar Seri Begawan at the end of Ramadan. For three days every year, the Sultan’s palace is open to both locals and tourists, an incredible opportunity to take a peak inside the world’s largest residential palace. Read more about visiting the Sultan’s Palace during Hari Raya. 

Bridge, Brunei
January to May is the best time to visit Brunei.

September to December is the wet season in Brunei. If you are only visiting BSB, your travel plans should not be too disrupted but trips to elsewhere in Brunei become more logistically difficult at this time. Naturally, heavy rainfall makes it much harder to spot wildlife.


Where to Stay in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei 🛏️

Brunei has a reputation for being a very expensive destination but this isn’t entirely reflective of the truth. While it is undoubtedly more expensive to travel around than in countries like Vietnam or Laos, a visit won’t break the bank if you do your research.

The cheapest area to stay in Bandar Seri Begawan is the Gadong neighbourhood, close to the night market. There are a handful of budget accommodation offerings here but be warned, they may not be the quality that you are used to. 

While it is possible to travel Brunei on a budget, your money won’t go as far as elsewhere in Southeast Asia so prepare for a lower standard of cleanliness and very basic amenities. Couples looking for cheap private rooms will find very limited options with ensuite bathrooms – compromise is necessary to avoid splashing too much cash.

Waterfront BSB, Brunei
Most of the accommodation options are located close to the waterfront.

It is worth noting that those staying in Gadong must travel to the waterfront, leaving them reliant on public transport or ride-hailing to get to the centre. Factor in these additional costs when weighing up where to base yourself. 

Pusat Bandar is the most popular area to stay in Bandar Seri Begawan as it is smack bang in the centre, close to the waterfront. Most of the main attractions are within walking distance and there are a range of restaurants close by. As it is the prime tourist area, accommodation in this part of the city is more expensive. 

Alternatively, there are limited offerings in Kampong Ayer, Brunei’s famous water village. Don’t expect hotel quality though, this will be much more of a homestay experience. 


Top Accommodation in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Disclosure: Some links on this page are affiliate links. We always write our articles before checking if affiliate links are available.

Kunyit 7 Lodge

For a cultural exchange you’ll never forget, head to Kunyit 7 Lodge, located in Kampong Ayer. Offering a range of rooms with access to shared bathrooms, this is your chance to experience life in Brunei’s famous water village. The city centre is just a quick boat journey away and the hosts are able to give you insider tips to help you get the most out of your visit to Brunei. 

Miniinn 

If you’re looking for cheap accommodation in the Gadong area, Miniinn is a decent option. The rooms are compact and basic but offer everything you need. Nearly all rooms have access to a shared bathroom. While this place is fine to lay your head, it isn’t the cleanest. However, for the price, it is likely the best you’ll get. 

Miniinn Brunei
Miniinn is located in Gadong.

Higher Hotel

Nestled in the heart of BSB, close to Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, Higher Hotel is within walking distance of the city’s main attractions. While a stay here can be a little impersonal, it offers spacious and comfortable rooms at a good price. 

Bad’iah Hotel Brunei 

Just 10 minutes from Brunei International Airport, Bad’iah Hotel is a good choice for those who want easy access to the main attractions without being situated smack bang in the middle of the city. A stay here is pretty basic (although there is a swimming pool) and the staff are super friendly. It’s located by a main road so bring your ear plugs. 

EZ Lodgings

Another accommodation offering in Gadong, EZ Lodgings is good for budget travellers. The rooms are small but it’s generally quiet and you’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep. While you’ll need to use Dart or one of the public buses to get to the city centre, there are plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance. 

The Empire Hotel

If you’re looking for a taste of luxury and grandeur, look no further than The Empire Hotel. A truly stunning feat of architecture combined with first-class views to boot, you will want for nothing at this 7* offering. Five swimming pools, plus mouthwatering food and an expansive golf course – it is all at your fingertips when you stay at The Empire. 

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Good to Know!

You’ve probably read or heard rumours, that Brunei is a country that operates under Sharia law. This new penal code was enacted in 2019 and caused much controversy at the time, introducing severe penalties for ‘crimes’ such as gay sex and adultery. While you should definitely be culturally considerate and conservative when visiting Brunei, the reality is a little different from how it sounds on paper. During my time in Brunei, I saw plenty of people, locals and tourists alike, dressed in short shorts with their shoulders exposed. There was also no expectation for me, as a non-Muslim woman, to wear a head covering while I was out and about. While I wasn’t officially allowed to share a bedroom with my boyfriend (we’re not married), no one ever questioned us when we checked into the hotel room, even after presenting our IDs. As with any country, you should not partake in any illegal activity while in Brunei. Don’t be put off though, if you keep your head down and follow the rules, you’ll likely have a trouble-free visit. 


Things to Do in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei 🕌

1. Visit Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The focal point of any visit to Brunei’s capital, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the world. Easily recognisable for its whitewashed exterior and golden domes, it is a truly stunning example of Islamic architecture. 

Mosque opening times, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
The opening times of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque.

The mosque was built in 1958 in honour of the 28th Sultan of Brunei and there is a law stating that no other building in BSB is allowed to be taller. Entry to the mosque is free for visitors, however, non-muslims are not permitted to enter during prayer time or when official events are taking place. If you do visit, you will need to cover up using the robes provided.

2. Walk in the Golden Jubilee Eco Park

This riverfront park is a wonderful example of BSB’s green spaces. Spanning 12 hectares, the picturesque waterside area is a great place to take respite from the sun and provides great views of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and Kampong Ayer. 

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, BSB, Brunei
Wandering through the Golden Jubilee Eco Park.

“Before I visited Brunei, loads of travellers told me there is nothing to do there. I couldn’t disagree more! BSB alone offered more than enough to fill the three days I spent there, with wildlife spotting, museums, trekking and more! I’d go back in a heartbeat.”

Sheree Hooker, Editor at South East Asia Backpacker

3. Learn about the Sultan at the Royal Regalia Museum

Costing $5BND to enter, the Royal Regalia Museum is a great introduction to Brunei’s Royal Family. Crammed full of heirlooms and artefacts, the museum offers a fascinating insight into the Sultan and his family. 

With plenty of English signage, this place is a must to learn more about Brunei’s path to independence, royal ceremonies and the individual members of the royal family. With golden chariots, ceremonial outfits and priceless gifts, it makes you wonder… if this is what is in the museum, what is in the palace?!

No bags are permitted inside the museum so visitors will have to leave them in lockers close to the entrance. Visitors also need to remove their shoes and submit their passport information upon buying a ticket. 

4. Check Out Istana Nurul Iman

Meaning ‘Palace of the Light of Faith’, the home of the 29th Sultan (Hassanal Bolkiah ibni Omar Ali Saifuddien III) needs to be seen to be believed. The largest residence of any monarch in the world, the immense complex spans over 200,000 m2 and contains over 1,800 rooms! 

Sultan's Palace, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
The Sultan’s Palace is more than four times the size of the Palace of Versailles!

While the palace is only open to the public for three days at the end of Ramadan, it is possible to get photos at the gate any time of year. Be aware that the main entrance is manned by several security guards, however, they are very welcoming and happy for you to take photos. If you are not visiting during Hari Raya Aidilfitri, your best bet to catch a glimpse of the palace is on a boat tour to the mangroves. 

5. Wander Through Brunei’s Water Village

Also known as the ‘Venice of the East’, Kampong Ayer is the largest stilted settlement in the world. It is believed that this water village is home to 10% of the population of Brunei – a pretty staggering statistic!

A water taxi to the village costs just $1BND and a boat trip around costs approximately $10BND per person. Ask to be taken to Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery, the on-site museum. This will provide a good introduction to the village and its history. 

Kampong Ayer 4, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
A floating mosque in the water village.

The area around the visitor centre is all concrete walkways, however, the further back you wander through the village, the more boardwalks you’ll find, some with rotting steps. Be sure to watch your feet and maybe avoid wandering too far if you don’t like heights! 

“When I visited Kampong Ayer, I was dropped off at the far side, so had to try and navigate the walkways until I finally stumbled across the visitor centre. Unfortunately, it was closed but just getting to walk around the stilted town was a privilege! Just be aware that the further you are from the concrete walkways, the more precarious things get!”

Tim Ashdown, Writer at South East Asia Backpacker
Boat trip Kampong Ayer, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
A boat trip through Kampong Ayer is a must while you’re in BSB!

6. Photograph Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

While the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque attracts the vast majority of attention from those visiting Brunei, it is just one of many beautiful mosques. In my opinion, Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah is even more spectacular, easily recognisable for its golden domes, blue detailing and intricate carvings. 

Mosque in BSB, Brunei
The beautiful blue mosque of Brunei.

This is the largest mosque in Brunei and can accommodate up to 5,000 worshippers at any one time. Visitors are able to enter the mosque outside of prayer times and official events. It is worth bearing in mind that this mosque is a little way out of the centre so you will likely want to take a Dart car there. 

7. Spot Proboscis Monkeys in the Mangroves

One of the best things to do in Bandar Seri Begawan is take a tour of the mangroves. Just a stone’s throw from the city, you’ll find a network of mangroves, home to a range of Borneo’s wildlife, including the endemic proboscis monkeys. 

Monkey spotting Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
You don’t need to travel far until you’re back in the jungles of Borneo!

Boat trips upriver are offered by all the boatmen and water taxis. A visit to the mangrove, combined with a boat trip around the floating village costs approximately $40-45BND for two people. 

As well as monkeys, there is also the chance to spot plenty of birdlife and even crocodiles if you are lucky! En route to the mangroves, you will pass by Istana Nurul Iman (this is the best view you’re likely to get if the palace is closed when you visit), as well as some other royal houses. The whole trip is likely to take between two and three hours. 

8. See Istana Darussalam

This is the 28th Sultan palace and former residence of Omar Ali Saifuddien III, the father of the current Sultan. It is a somewhat modest quarters when compared to Istana Nurul Iman, however, it is still well worth a visit.

9. Hike in Tasek Lama Recreational Park

A lesser-known attraction in Bandar Seri Begawan, it is hard to believe that this pocket of nature is within earshot of the city. Home to a range of fun hiking trails, this spot is commonly used by the locals for exercise.

Tasek Lama Recreational Park, BSB, Brunei
Hiking through Tasek Lama Recreational Park.

Head there for an afternoon of trekking and to see Brunei’s beautiful wildlife up close. The area is home to monkeys (don’t feed them!), lizards, terrapins and a whole range of exotic birdlife. There is no entry fee. Make sure you bring plenty of water if you’re going to take on some of the trails!

10. Feel like a Celebrity at The Empire Hotel & Country Club

Ever been to a 7* hotel before? Us neither! Located in Jerudong, the Empire Hotel can be reached on board bus 55 or 57 for just $1BND per person.

While the rooms are reserved for those shelling out the big money to stay there, anyone is welcome to use the huge golf course and swimming pool for a (comparatively) small fee. Go for sunset to enjoy the best views.

11. Take a Day Trip to Ulu Temburong National Park

The most popular trip to take from Bandar Seri Begawan is to Brunei’s most famous national park, Ulu Temburong. Considering that Brunei is a country made rich from oil and gas, it may surprise you to know how much work they have put in to preserving the rainforest. In fact, virgin rainforest makes up 80% of the country! 

Tasek Lama Recreational Park 2, BSB, Brunei
If you want a more wild experience, head to the jungle!

On a day trip to the national park, you will be able to take on the epic canopy walk 60 metres above the forest floor. This is not one for those who are afraid of heights! As well as this, you’ll be able to trek through breathtaking scenery, jump into a waterfall and take a traditional longboat downriver. 

Freme Travel comes highly recommended for jungle tours in Brunei. As well as day trips, there is also the option to overnight if you have more time. A minimum of two people is usually needed for tours to go ahead. 


Food and Drink in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei 🍜

Gadong Night Market – An absolute must if you want to sample the local cuisine, Gadong Night Market is a favourite among locals who gather here to eat and socialise. Open every evening from around 17:00, there is a range of Bruneian, Indonesian and Malaysian food on offer. It is one of the most budget-friendly places to eat in the city. 

Fried noodles Gadong night market, BSB, Brunei
Cheap and cheerful food from Gadong Night Market!

“Only buy from stalls which have their prices openly displayed. Gadong Night Market, while visited by tourists, is a very local spot and you will likely attract attention as a foreigner. By sticking to stalls with their prices clearly displayed, you’ll avoid being charged the hiked-up tourist price.”

Tim Ashdown, Editor at South East Asia Backpacker

Chop Jing Chew – With a tagline like ‘local all-time favourite’, you’d be crazy not to give this place a try. This Chinese coffee shop is located in Gadong and gets packed in the mornings! Best known for its hot buns and Roti Kuning Kahwin, this is a great place to try Bruneian breakfast food for good prices. Don’t miss the cheese bun.

Soto Pabo – For the chance to try the national dish of Brunei, ambuyat, don’t miss a visit to Soto Pabo. Perched right on the river, the restaurant offers beautiful views of the surrounding rainforest and Kampong Ayer. 

They offer ambuyat as a set meal, making it easy for travellers to try. Diners will be served a big bowl of ambuyat, a kind of starch with a gluey texture made from sago, along with several dipping bowls, filled with a variety of meats, fish and sauces.

Ambuyat, Brunei
A sticky surprise awaits in Brunei!

Alongside the dish, you’ll be given a pair of candas, kind of like chopsticks but sealed at one end. From there, you need to twirl the ambuyat onto the candas before dipping it in the accompaniment you desire. You’ll either love it or hate it but you should definitely try it!

“I must admit, I was not a fan of the ambuyat. I am pleased I tried it but in my opinion, the starchy gloop was much how I imagine eating wallpaper paste to be…”

Sheree Hooker, Editor at South East Asia Backpacker

Salera Babu Restoran – Offering a varied menu, this is another great place to go to try traditional Bruneian cuisine. Unlike a lot of other restaurants in Brunei, there is a good choice of vegetable dishes, making life a bit easier for visiting vegetarians. If you are yet to try the national dish ambuyat, you can order the set here. 

Little Audrey’s Café – Looking for a taste of England in Brunei? Head here for English breakfasts, proper tea and the absolute best Biscoff cheesecake you’ll ever eat!

Little Audrey's Cafe, BSB, Brunei
Bandar Seri Begawan or London?

Getting Around Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei 🚤

If you are staying close to the waterfront, you will find most of the main attractions within walking distance. For anything further afield, you can use Dart, the ride-hailing app commonly used in Brunei. Bear in mind that journeys are more expensive than in other Southeast Asian countries, commonly beginning at around $5BND for a ride. 

Water taxis to Kampong Ayer from the waterfront cost $1BND per person. Once you have finished exploring the floating village, you can simply hail another for the return journey. 

Buses leave the Gadong area regularly for the city centre. These are a very budget-friendly way to travel, costing around $1BND to the waterfront. Ask at your accommodation for the most up-to-date timetable. 


How to Get to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei ✈️

Brunei International Airport is less than a 15-minute drive from the centre of Bandar Seri Begawan. There is a bus which costs just $2BND one way.

If you are travelling to BSB from Miri in Malaysia, you won’t find any public buses running to Brunei. These stopped during the pandemic and at present, there are no plans to reinstate them. 

Bandar Seri Begawan street, Brunei
Most people either fly or drive to Brunei from Malaysia.

“There is no public transport doing that route. But you can hire a private transport across. There are also many cars doing personal goods deliveries that can let you join their car.”

Adrian, Contributor at South East Asia Backpacker Community

The best option you have for travelling to Brunei from Miri is by private hire. There are a few companies that offer return transport into Brunei. The going rate is around $40BND per person, one way, for a seat in a shared van. You can also visit BSB on a day trip from here but we recommend spending at least a couple of nights in the city!


Where to Go Next: 🌎

Ulu Temburong National Park: Nicknamed the ‘Green Jewel of Brunei’, this national park covers approximately 50,000 hectares of pristine rainforest. This is the place to go if your aim is wildlife spotting. 

Miri (Malaysia): Around a three-hour drive from BSB lies Miri, the most easily accessible city in Malaysian Borneo. Famous for being a jumping-off point for the epic Niah Caves and Gunung Mulu, the city is commonly used as a base by travellers exploring the surrounding area. 

Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia): A popular destination for holidaying Bruneians, Sabah’s capital is just over an hour’s flight from Brunei. Come here for island hopping, night markets, cheap shopping and, of course, the opportunity to travel north to hike Kinabalu Mountain


Contributors: 👥

South East Asia Backpacker is a ‘travel diary for everyone’. This article has been written with the help of backpackers and local experts. We would like to thank…

🙏 Adrian | Member of South East Asia Backpacker Community 
🙏 Tim Ashdown | Writer at South East Asia Backpacker 
🙏 Pauline | Find Me Logistics
🙏  Helen | Member of South East Asia Backpacker Community 

Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South East Asia Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind Winging The World, a blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks. In recent years, Sheree has also taken on the role of editor at South East Asia Backpacker.

Find her on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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