BRUNEI IS THE GATEWAY TO BORNEO … AND ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS!
You may not have heard of Brunei before (…it’s not in the Middle East!). This tiny country is situated on the wonderful island of Borneo amid rainforest, tropical beaches and other areas of outstanding beauty.
Locally known by its full name Brunei Darussalam, it is here that you can get from city to rainforest by boat in less than two hours. The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is a modernised centre with large public buildings. The rest of the country: 70% of beautiful, untouched jungle.
Brunei is situated just north-west of Borneo, with the South China Sea at its north and the Malaysian State of Sarawak surrounding all other sides. The climate is hot with high humidity and heavy rainfall. There is no distinct wet season, rainfall occurs throughout the year, but is heaviest between September and January. Temperatures are usually between 24 and 31 degrees Celsius and with the average humidity at 79% this tropical country is a pretty warm and humid place to be!! This small Islamic country has derived much of its wealth from its precious oil reserves, but any association with the Middle East couldn’t be further from the truth.
A warm climate encourages an outdoor lifestyle within Brunei and sports such as Sailing, Windsurfing, Scuba Diving and Running are popular. As the majority of the population live across the coastal strip, access to beaches and water sports is relatively easy.
Brunei’s location provides an excellent base from which to travel further into the surrounding areas Sabah and Sarawak, often referred to as the Heart of Borneo. The obvious western influences throughout Brunei make it the perfect mix of East meets West and a good introduction to Asia!
Brunei has a healthy and generally safe lifestyle. The country has never experienced earthquakes, typhoons or severe floods. Alcohol and drug abuse is almost totally absent. The crime rate and degree of pollution in the capital are among the lowest in the world. The residents of Brunei are well looked after with free health care, education and public facilities; not to mention cheap loans and high, tax free incomes. In return Bruneians respect the Islamic culture, with their conformist lifestyles and total abstinence from alcohol. The Sultanate of Brunei (Full name: His Majesty the Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin Waddaulah – now that’s a mouthful!) is a very important figure.
Compared to other parts of Asia, Brunei is a bit more expensive, but here and there you find things that are cheaper. A variety of local delicacies, fruit and vegetables can be bought at reasonable prices from the local tamu (market) alongside the Kianggeh River in the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan where traders arrive with their goods in small boats at sunset.
Brunei Darussalam has a population of about 300,000. The official language is Malay, although English and Chinese are widely spoken. Evidence of a strong belief in the Islamic religion is everywhere in Brunei – impressive mosques line the streets and the sound of prayers can be heard throughout the day. Islam is an important part of life in Brunei and should be respected by any tourist who visits the country. Locals are generally peaceful and tolerant of the practice of other religions.
Although the sale of alcoholic drinks is not permitted in Brunei (and with that it means there are no bars or nightclubs), the nearest bars are only 25 minutes away across the border. So instead of popping down the road to a pub, you can pop into another country instead! There are plenty of other things to do as well, and locals are not short of clubs or activities to get involved in. A large community of expatriates live in Brunei, but the alcohol restrictions pose little problem for them as non-Muslims can enter the country with limited quantities of alcohol provided that it’s for their own use.
Because Brunei has a wealth of natural resources it has not had to enter into the logging industry that has caused so much destruction to the neighbouring rainforests of Sarawak and Sabah. The result of this is that Brunei’s jungle remains untouched and unspoilt offering visitors the perfect place to see small wildlife and birds.
To read about the extensive Support & Backup we provide in our countries, please click here. .About Brunei and the voluntary projects you can do there with Travellers
Glorious beach in Brunei and the voluntary projects you can do there with Travellers
Teaching: You can work in a school in a village, or one by the beach, or a rural school in the rainforest … or even a school in a water village.
Bandar Seri Begawan – The Capital City
With 60,000 inhabitants and plenty of room for more, Bandar Seri Begawan is a modern and clean city, with wide roads and large buildings. One of the most impressive mosques to visit here is that belonging to Omar Ali Saifuddin. This gold domed mosque, built in 1958 and situated close to the Brunei River, is just as impressive inside as out.
Also in Brunei you will almost certainly visit the impressive empire hotel, the world’s only 6-star resort hotel with gold lined wallpaper!
Out on the streets you’ll find Brunei’s ‘community meeting place’, the tamu. This is where you get to see, feel, breathe and even buy, a little bit of the essence of this country. The tamu is where you can buy, at exceptionally low prices, homemade products such as mats, placemats, ‘tudung saji’ (food covers), bamboo ware, multi-purpose baskets, dried shrimps and cuttlefish, spiced meats, keropok (prawn crackers), local biscuits, dehydrated noodles, fruits, vegetables and so on. Tamu’s are part and parcel of the everyday life of Brunei, so finding one in the thick action would not be difficult.
Another feature of the countries capital is the area along the main river known as Kampong Ayer and meaning literally, “Water Village”.
Here, in the midst of the city centre lies an intricate maze of housing, schools and mosques, all built on wooden stilts to lift them high above the water. This area hosts 28 water villages.
Reachable by a series of wooden walkways that lead from the shore along with water taxis (motor boats!) the whole area is home to around 30,000 people and is the largest of its kind in the world.
THINGS TO DO IN BRUNEI
If you want to be ahead of the backpacker crowd and head out on your own there are islands around Brunei where you can veg out for a weekend or longer on a low budget. If you are truly intrepid, our organisers can arrange for you to visit a deserted island (with equipment, of course) and pick you up the next day or longer if you wish. You must demonstrate basic first aid, consideration for the environment, basic camp craft and be able to light (and put out) a fire.
Pulau Labuan is a small duty-free island about an hours’ boat ride from the mainland. This island, part of Malaysian Sabah, is popular with local Brunieans who go there for tax free shopping and, if they are not Muslim, to stock up on alcoholic drink to take back with them to Brunei.
On the way to Labuan small boats can stop at the picturesque island of Kuraman. This tiny idyllic paradise island has a handful of guest rooms for the use of tourists but is mostly inhabited by local families. The small fishing community that live here are very friendly and will call out “orang-putey” (westener) at you as they smile and laugh! A truly magical place to visit.
“Next morning us Gap students as we are called headed off to the island of Kuraman (an hour on a speed boat). We were greeted by 3 dogs that followed us everywhere. This is a malaysian island so they can serve tiger beer. After a few beers we walked around the island with snorkel gear and went in the HOT sea from shore. A bit of coral and a few fish. Then we carried on walking around and came across lots of villages not sure if they were Malay or from the Philipines. They had shacks!! We walked past some who were chopping up coconuts and they offered us some. There was even a tiny little girl with a knife practising.
Then the next village (about 5 huts) starting screaming with excitement as we walked passed and they all came running down smiling. We got our cameras out and they all jumped in for a photo. We for a night snorkel about 8 and it was brilliant, we had torches.” Christina Taylor on her visit to Kuraman Island, Brunei
Sailing: By special prior arrangements volunteers are able to use the facilities of the Royal Brunei Yacht Club which come is very useful after dives and for enjoying a sunset dinner or Sunday Roast lunch. If you are able to sail and can prove it, you can go further and join as a temporary member which would entitle you to sail in the weekend club dingy sailing.
Regatta and Passage Keelboat Yacht Racing: If you can’t handle a dingy but are keen then we suggest that you think big and crew on a racing yacht and work your way down! Depending on the season you may have the opportunity to crew on a yacht doing the Borneo Cup Yachting Challenge. This involves a week of regatta racing with a passage race in the South China Sea in the middle much like doing a marathon between sets of sprints. The experience of racing at night by the stars while flying the spinnaker is quite memorable. Cruising back after the race is even better in some people’s mind.
Canoeing: Sit on top canoes can be obtained at the RBYC for no charge if you are eligible to use the facilities.
Temburong district is a beautiful area of unspoilt jungle, located just 2 hours away from the capital city. Reachable by a combination of boat, car and boat, the Ulu Temburong National Park is a wonderful haven and an incredible place to experience the rainforest. The cacophony of sounds that you can hear will amaze you! Visitors here can climb a nerve wracking canopy walk that will take them high up to the top of the rainforest for some of the most stunning views across the trees.
The Northern Interior: The Northern Interior of Borneo is one of the great places for exploration with many areas uninhabited and practically unknown. While you are unlikely to make any major discovery, new species are being discovered on a weekly basis. Our managers in Brunei occasionally arrange trips in this area for their own staff or for school and corporate clients such as the Headhunter’s trail to Mount Mulu or to long houses in the Upper Baram. You are welcome to take part in such excursions during your visits, but there will be an additional charge.
Riding: Riding is available at the Trijaya Equestrian Centre, set in the grounds of the Jerudong Polo Club. If you can play polo, or wish to learn, that can be arranged.
Parasailing: Parasailing can be done at the Marine Centre at the Empire Hotel & Country Club.
White water rafting / kayaking: White water rafting in rubber rafts can be done on the Padas River (Grades III/IV). Rafting is open by anyone of average fitness but Kayaking is available only by prior arrangement and you must have current White Water certification and experience. Our managers in Brunei occasionally bring corporate or expedition groups to the Padas and may invite you to come along as a paid logistics assistant if they think you are suitable. Otherwise you would be encouraged to do the Padas after climbing up Mt. Kinabalu.
Mountain Trekking: Nearby Sabah is home to Mount Kinabalu (4000m) and Kinabalu Park offers many opportunities to walk around the lowland and upland forest. The summit can also be attempted without technical equipment. This climb is very popular and sometimes booked up far in advance. If you want to climb the mountain speak to us before your departure and we can assist you in making a preliminary booking.
Pulau Ranggu: Situated in the middle of the river near the Sultan’s Palace is Pulau Ranggu. Here you can see the Proboscis monkey, with its large nose and rounded stomach! A water taxi will take you along there river where you can look out for these amazing creatures living amongst the trees. Particularly impressive as the sun is setting.
Jerudong: After a trip to Disneyland the Sultanate of Brunei decided to build his own amusement park in Brunei as a playground for his family! Also open to the general public, this park is large and impressive with a collection of rides for both old and young. It’s also usually deserted due to the limited number of tourists in this country, hence, this really is disneyland without the queues! Right behind Jerudong amusement park is Jerudong beach – alive with fish stands and surrounded by cliffs. Brunei also has numerous natural waterfalls, coral reefs, hot springs, fresh water swamps, beaches and forests in one of the richest cross-sections of tropical biodiversity in the world.
Diving: If you are a suitably certified diver and would like to do scuba diving you can go out with the Brunei Sub-Aqua Diving Club on their weekend dives. This long established club has a large 11m catamaran that takes 16 divers and the focus is on wreck diving. The Brunei Sea has some of the best wreck diving in the South China Sea with several modern and WW2 wrecks to explore. All are quite ‘atmospheric’ in different ways and visually exciting. If you can’t dive, you may want to consider taking a scuba course during your placement, which can be arranged locally.
Oil Platform Diving: Brunei is the only place in the world where you can dive (legally) on operating oil production platforms without being a commercial diver. Decommissioned rigs exist in California and the Gulf of Mexico but being under a working one and hearing the pressurized oil rushing up the ‘risers’ (pipes that bring the oil above the sea bed) and feeling the heat warm up the risers is a unique experience. Contrary to popular belief, diving on platforms is quite safe since you are diving inside an enormous steel cube and there is little chance of getting lost.
Described as cathedrals of steel and light, platforms are home to a variety of soft corals and other animals, including a myriad of fish from the very small to the very large, which are protected by the 500m exclusion zone around platforms. You must be an Advanced Open Water diver to take part in this activity.
Jungle walking: Over 70% of Brunei is covered by forest so there are lots of opportunities for jungle walks, lasting for a few hours or days. The terrain is varied but always interesting and challenging. Many walks take you up ridges followed by descents into ravines and crossing streams. If this appeals to you take a good pair of walking boots on your placement!
Hashing: If walking is too sedate for you then we suggest that you get on the hash. This is not an invitation to break the law but to join in one of the great traditions left behind by the departing British. Brunei is home to the third oldest hash chapter in the world and the source of several of the rituals of this jungle paper-chasing sport.
There are so many attractive places to visit and experience. From the dense Rainforest and National Parks, rich in flora and fauna, to magnificent and extravagant mosques and water villages, where whole communities live on stilts in water! This is just a taste of the uniqueness of Brunei.