Cultural Notes and Observations: Brunei

  • Brunei feels extremely safe
  • The people are very friendly and always say “Hello!”
  • The men are very clean shaven
  • Many people offered to drive us places because the public transportation is so poor
  • The bus system is inefficient. Infrequent buses only cover a minimal number of routes. Designated stops and the ticket is only valid for 1 trip.
  • It is illegal to drink (unless you are a tourist and bring your own alcohol into the country)
  • In the downtown of Bandar Seri Begawan the streets are spotless, no music can be heard from the shops (because one must be able to hear a mosque from any point in the city), and the city streets are mostly void of people after 7:00pm
  • No building is permitted to be taller than a mosque
  • It seems like most socializing is done in people’s homes
  • There is absolutely no nightlife – the downtown core is deserted by 7:00pm
  • Beautiful mosques (although we did not have a chance to go inside because they are used so regularly for prayers)
  • Young girls, even 4 years old, wear hijabs
  • Even when swimming, one must wear conservative clothing. I witness a mother wearing a hijab in a pool.
  • The cuisine and beverages are largely the same as the rest of Malaysia
  • Some Arabic script on signs
  • Most people speak English



Dec 4-6, 2016 – The Country of Brunei



The Empire Hotel & Country Club

See more photos here:

Brunei is like no place I have visited before. It is a strictly Islamic society in which Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has imposed Sharia law on the country’s Muslims, which is approximately 60% of the population. It is difficult to describe my experience there. However, Adventure Kate does a good job shedding some light on the situation:

Franki, Ranah, and I arrived via ferry from Kota Kinabalu which was lovely! We did have to transfer once in Labuan, but overall it was a very enjoyable experience. From our research, taking the bus to Brunei had many more security checkpoints and stops.

After waiting over an hour at the ferry terminal for a bus, a kind man offered us a ride to the bus stop. From there we reached Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital. While exploring the city centre, we ran into an English and Drama teacher. He was very kind and offered to drive us to the seafood market dinner. We gladly accepted and the food was great! He also gave us lots of tips on what to see during our stay.

The next day, we explored the Sunday Market. It was lovely to see that lots of people had ridden their bikes to it. You could purchase food, clothing, trinkets, and more. I picked up some delicious takoyaki (a Japanese food)!

Afterwards, we walked to the waterfront and a man with a boat approached us asking if we needed a ride. How convenient! We carefully got in and were off to Kampong Ayer, the largest stilt settlement in the world and home to 30,000 people. On the wooded walkways we only saw a couple people, otherwise the place seemed deserted. Some areas are dilapidated and much of the dirt below is occupied by garbage.  This is severely juxtaposed by newer and more modern concrete home are being built in the same area.

Shopping in one of the main sports in Brunei so we hopped on a bus to “The Mall” and looked around. The building itself was architecturally stunning. Many of the good were much cheaper than in Canada, even though the Brunei dollar is almost on par with the Canadian dollar.

The following day we bused to the National Museum but it was closed for renovations. Luckily, the three of us got a ride back into the city with a gracious couple (the bus system is not reliable at all). We took another bus to The Empire Hotel & Country Club which reminded me of the Ritz Carlton I had visited in Maui. It was all marble and absolutely stunning. Oddly, there was almost no one in sight. I maybe only saw 20 visitors and I don’t believe all of them were staying at the hotel.