Submitted by Alison Winward May 2004
Not half as glamorous as you might expect, given that it's home to one of the world's very richest men and stacks of oil. Mind you, I only saw the 15 miles between the ferry port at Muara and the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB). There's more to Brunei than BSB, including national parks of untouched jungle, although I don't think too many visitors venture beyond BSB. The best place to find out about stuff outside BSB is probably the tourist office, which, I think, is on Jalan Elizabeth Dua, near the post office.
You can fly to Brunei; it's a long, and apparently complicated, bus journey from Miri in Sarawak, or you can take the ferry from the island of Labuan.
Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB):
Has a kind of 1950s feel to it, for some reason, even though there are a couple of modern shopping centres. Budget accommodation BSB-style is around 65 Brunei dollars (around £30) for a comfortable room in a nice hotel, such as The Terrace, on Jalan Tasek Lama. The only cheaper alternative, in February 2003, was the Pusat Belia youth centre, also on Jalan Tasek Lama, where you pay B$10 for a bed in a single-sex aircon dorm. You can pay more for classy food, or you can eat pretty cheaply in kepai kopi (coffee shops).
The most beautiful building in BSB, and probably the whole of Brunei, is the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, on an artificial lake in the centre of BSB. It's large, brilliant white, with a gorgeous golden dome; it's sometimes closed to non-Muslims.
Also in the city centre is the Royal Regalia Building, where the Brunei crown jewels and regalia are displayed, along with hundreds of gifts given to the Sultan over the years, a sobering sight for anyone who thinks they've got too much clutter in their life!
There's also Kampung Ayer, called a 'floating village' but more like a floating town: a sizeable area of wooden houses on stilts, complete with fire station, schools, petrol stations, shops and cafés. It's worth chartering a boat for a brief excursion, especially if you divert off for a view of the Sultan's Palace with its vast gold (solid, apparently) roof. It's open to the public, but only during Ramadan.
A little way from the city centre is the Brunei Museum, with exhibits about archaeology and culture and, next to it, the Malay Technology Museum, with some kitsch tableaux. I wouldn't rate either among the world's top museums, but they're diverting enough for an afternoon.
On the other side of town there's the Jame'Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque, big and blue. Impressive from a distance, and the grounds are nice too, although the interior isn't as impressive as the exterior suggests.
Jerudong Park Playground, a little way out of the centre, is your chance to feel like Michael Jackson, with not a small boy in sight. Because, just like Michael, with his Neverland Ranch, you too can have a theme park all to yourself. Jerudong, the Sultan's 48th birthday present to the nation, is massive, and all the rides are only about B$1 each, but we counted fewer than three do