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Despite its modest size, the sultanate of Brunei Darussalam has a wealth of natural resources and worthwhile tourist attractions. It's also one of Asia's safest and most environmentally pristine countries. Travellers will find much of value within its borders.
Culturally speaking, Brunei's identity flows from its Malay majority and deeply entrenched Islamic traditions, bound together by the sultanate's uninterrupted 600-year royal heritage. Its citizens enjoy one of the world's highest standards of living, receiving free healthcare, housing and education from the Sultan, who is the sole beneficiary of the country's oil reserves.
Essentially, the country is divided into two halves. Most of its population lives in the larger western territory, where the modern capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is located. The rest of Brunei's people are residents of the mostly rural and mountainous eastern region. Adventurous travellers will relish its virgin rainforest.
Travellers should also visit the country's architectural treasures, such as the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, the fascinating traditional water villages, and the Sultan's palace, Istana Nurul Iman, which is the world's largest palace still in use. BSB has some worthwhile beaches, too, most notably Jerudong.
Known for its stunning mosques, its virgin rainforest and the world's largest floating village, this tiny Southeast Asian destination is tailor-made for short, unforgettable getaways. Many of Brunei's best attractions have to do with the outdoors, and nature lovers will find an abundance of fun activities.
Those who venture out into the lush, tropical rainforests (which are perhaps the best preserved in Asia) can enjoy canopy walks, firefly boat trips and encounters with fascinating endemic animal species such as the extremely shy proboscis monkey.
Stops at the country's breathtaking mosques should also be high on any visitor's to-do list. The wonderful, Moghul-style Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is worth seeing in particular. Other marvellous sights include the Bandar Seri Begawan Waterfront, which is the ideal place for an evening stroll, and the Istana Nurul Iman. With almost 1, 800 rooms, the Istana Nurul Iman is officially the largest house in the world.
Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) is something of an anomaly for a capital built on oil money, where the cityscape is virtually free of showy places trumpeting wealth. All it has along these lines are a palace, an ostentatious hotel and a few enormous mosques. Still, it is the commercial and political centre of Brunei. The city's stunning mosques should feature in any sightseeing trip, and its many royal buildings are worth stopping at as well. No visit would be complete without seeing the Water Village (Kampong Ayer). Best reached by water taxi, the village comprises houses on stilts, with the community appearing to float on the water.
The Mosque is named after the 28th Sultan, Omar Ali Saifuddin, and took four years to build. Finally completed in 1958, its design takes much from the Mughal architecture of India, with nothing but the finest materials used in its construction. Shanghai granite, Italian marble, stained glass and crystal chandeliers from England come together in this exquisite structure, along with fine trimmings such as carpets from Saudi Arabia, and a dome covered in gold leaf. The mosque welcomes non-Muslim visitors every day bar Thursdays and Fridays. Silence must be observed at all times; visitors are forbidden to take photographs of people in prayer.
Physically separated from the rest of Brunei by Sarawak's Limbang division, Temburong is the country's green jewel and a nature lover's dream destination. Just a short boat trip away from Bandar Seri Begawan via the mangrove-lined Brunei River, Temburong is home to breathtakingly beautiful flora and fauna, and eco lodges that promise tranquil escapes from everything. Things to do include visiting centuries-old botanical towers in Bangar Town, exploring the upper reaches of Brunei's rainforests on the Belalong Canopy Walkway, and relishing delectable local dishes such as salted duck eggs at the main market, Tamu Bangar.
Brunei has a distinctly tropical climate, with year-round hot weather and high humidity. Uniquely for the region, Brunei has two monsoon seasons, and experiences heavy rainfall from October to February and from May to June. Rain showers tend to be heavy but short-lived.
Rainfall drops to nearly nothing over March and April, when drought conditions characterise the coastal areas. Temperatures have been known to rise extremely high, making this an uncomfortable time to visit. Conditions can also be uncomfortably hot and humid from September to January.
The best time to visit is from June to September, though travellers should avoid visiting Brunei during Ramadan, as many businesses are closed.
The Brunei Dollar (BND) is the official currency, and it's divided into 100 cents. The currency is pegged to the Singaporean Dollar, which is accepted as legal tender throughout Brunei.
All major credit cards are accepted in shops, restaurants and larger hotels. Cash is best advised for smaller establishments and when transacting in remote areas. ATMs are widespread, especially at major banks that are concentrated along Jalan Sultan in the capital. Money can also be converted at the informal moneychangers that operate from booths at most transport hubs. If travellers choose to use this channel, they should ensure that they shop around for the best rate.
The official language of the Sultanate is Malay, though English is spoken widely and is the medium of instruction in secondary and tertiary education.
Electrical current is 220 - 240 volts, 50Hz. Plugs are of the three-pin, rectangular blade type, commonly referred to as the British three-pin plug.
US nationals: US passport holders require a passport valid for at least six months after arrival, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to 90 days.
UK nationals: UK passport holders require a passport valid for at least six months after arrival, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to 90 days.
CA nationals: Canadian passport holders require a passport valid for at least six months after arrival, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to 14 days.
AU nationals: Australian passport holders require a passport valid at least six months after arrival, and a visa. Visas can be obtained on arrival for a stay of up to 30 days.
ZA nationals: South African passport holders require a passport valid for at least six months after arrival. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid for at least six months after arrival, but no visa is necessary for a stay of up to 90 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for at least six months after arrival, but no visa is necessary for a stay of up to 30 days.
Travellers must have all documents necessary for their next destination, return air tickets and sufficient funds for their stay. Passports must be valid at least six months beyond their arrival date. Visa requirements vary from country to country.
Travellers arriving from infected areas are required to produce proof of a yellow fever vaccination, and vaccinations may be recommended for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, though these are not required. Health concerns will depend on whether or not visitors are traveling to the remote areas of the Sultanate.
Tap water is safe to drink in Bandar Seri Begawan and in the large towns, but travellers who explore the remote wilderness should drink bottled water only. They should also consider additional vaccinations for typhoid, tetanus, rabies and Japanese encephalitis, depending on the duration of their stay, and their planned activities. Dengue fever outbreaks and other mosquito-borne diseases are common. Visitors should take precautions against mosquito bites, such as using insect repellent at all times.
Though the FCDO says standards of healthcare are generally acceptable, visitors are strongly advised to take out comprehensive medical insurance that includes the option of emergency repatriation.
A 10 percent service charge is normally included in all hotel, taxi, bar and restaurant bills, and further tipping is not necessary.
Brunei ranks as one of the safest countries in the world. Violent crime against people or property is virtually unheard of and penalties for such offences are severe. However, there are occasional incidents of petty crime against travellers, and tourists should take care of their belongings. Protests and street demonstrations should be avoided. Although the risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks exists globally, Brunei is considered to have a low terrorism risk.
Visitors should observe local manners and avoid showing the soles of their feet, which is considered rude. One implication of this etiquette to avoid crossing their legs when they sit.
They should also use their right hand when pointing or passing an item. If they need to gesticulate, they should use their right hand with the other fingers remaining closed. They can greet business associates with a handshake, though not if they're from the opposite sex.
When making small talk, foreigners should be cautious about commenting on local issues, especially those relating to the royal family.
Business people dress smartly for meetings; a suit and tie is expected. Office hours are typically Monday to Thursday 8am to 5pm, and Saturdays 8am to 12pm. Shortened office hours operate during the fasting month of Ramadan. Business associates greet members of the same sex with a handshake.
The international country dialling code for Brunei is +673. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). High-speed internet access is widely available in the main towns and large hotels; travellers can purchase local SIM cards for unlocked phones.
Travellers over the age of 17 may import the following into Brunei without having to pay customs duty: 2 bottles of alcoholic spirit (maximum total of 2 litres) and 12 cans of beer/lager (by non-Muslims and for personal consumption only); 60ml of perfume and 250ml eau de toilette. Duty is charged on all tobacco products.
Brunei Tourism Website: www.bruneitourism.com
Brunei Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 237 1838
Brunei Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7581 0521
Brunei Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 234 5656
Brunei Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6285 4500
Brunei Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 20 7581 0521
United States Embassy, Brunei: +673 2 384 616
British Embassy, Brunei: +673 2 222 231
Canadian Embassy, Brunei: + 673 2 220 043
Australian High Comission, Brunei: +673 2 229 435
South African High Commission, Kuala, Malaysia (also responsible for Brunei): + 60 3 2170 2400
Embassy of Ireland, Singapore (also responsible for Brunei): +65 6238 7616
New Zealand Consulate, Brunei: +673 222 5880
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