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Auckland Cruises

About Bandar Seri Begawan (Muara), Brunei

Officially named “Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace,” this independent country on the island of Borneo holds endless fascinations. Most of Brunei lies within Borneo’s lush rainforests, yet the tiny sovereignty is one of the richest nations in the world. The port city of Muara is the gateway to the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan (Bandar, or just BSB, to locals).

The city has long enjoyed a strategic location on the north bank of the Brunei River, just eight miles inland from Brunei Bay. But its situation did not attract outsiders until the 19th century, with the arrival of Britain. The conquest ended a long rule in the region by the Bruneian Empire; the Crown’s rule lasted from 1888 to 1984. Oil was discovered here in the 1920s and has been the basis of Brunei’s economy ever since.

Bandar Seri Begawan Lifestyle and Culture

Though Bandar Seri Begawan was built on the shoulders of oil titans, it does not flaunt its wealth like some of its Middle Eastern counterparts. Aside from the Istana Nurul Iman palace and a pair of massive mosques, locals live a modest life that revolves around family, career and shopping. The small nation is a multicultural stew of ethnic groups from throughout the region. At least eight different languages can be heard in its streets, including Malay, English and Chinese.

The nation holds conservative values in keeping with its Islamic faith, though local culture has been influenced by Hindu, Islamic and Western ideas. For instance, Brunei is a dry country, but non-Muslims are allowed to bring a limited amount of alcohol ashore for personal consumption.

Musically, Brunei shares folk traditions with other countries of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Fishermen, for instance, once sang adai-adai, a work song that can still be heard today. Kedayan music is highly percussive, performed during holidays and harvest as celebrants dance the aduk-aduk, a dance with surprising similarities to the martial arts. Malay music is also popular, consisting of a goblet drum, a tambourine, gongs and responsive singing.

Bandar Seri Begawan Sights and Landmarks

The most prominent site in Bandar Seri Begawan is the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, one of the most beautiful in the Asia Pacific region. This magnificent building rests aside an artificial lagoon, and its pure-gold dome can be seen throughout the city. Its stunning minaret, with its Renaissance and Italian touches, carries visitors to the top via elevator. Only worshippers are allowed inside the mosque for prayer. This glorious haven is made from imported materials: Italian marble, English crystal chandeliers, Shanghai granite and Saudi carpets.

The enormous Istana Nurul Iman, the extravagant palace of the sultan, is the largest residential palace in the world. It boasts 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, a 110-car garage and a banquet hall for 5,000 guests. A bit more modest, the city’s Malay Technology Museum illustrates how Brunei’s Malay ancestors built boats, caught fish and forged metals, among other innovations.

Bandar Seri Begawan Entertainment and Activities

A visit to Bandar Seri Begawan is not complete without experiencing the water village of Kampong Ayer, a community on the waters of the Brunei River. The largest of its kind in the world, with a 1,300-year history, this city of houses on stilts connected by wooden walkways is home to tens of thousands of people and provides a look at traditional life on Borneo. Mosques, restaurants, shops, schools and a hospital are all part of this fascinating place.

The Royal Regalia Building offers many exhibits that chronicle the quarter century of rule by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Its distinct large gold-dome and intricate mosaics stand out in the cityscape. Inside, a royal chariot greets visitors and plush carpets lead to galleries that display various coronation and ceremonial artifacts. At the Brunei Museum, browse Islamic art, Malay carvings and designs, a chronicle of Spanish and Portuguese occupation, blown glass from Egypt and much more.

Bandar Seri Begawan Restaurants and Shopping

As in much of Southeast Asia, Brunei’s cuisine is largely based in seafood and rice. Beef is less common here, and pork is avoided in keeping with Islamic law. Dishes are on the spicy side and accompanied by rice or noodles. Alcohol is banned in Brunei.

Pondok Sari Wangi offers an extensive menu of items such as smashed chicken and delicious satay. You will see Korean eateries on most every corner in BSB, such as Kimchi Restaurant; its namesake dish is spicy and fragrant. Stop by Aminah Arif, known for its traditional version of Brunei’s national dish, ambuyat, a thick starch porridge twirled around a fork and dipped in a fruit sauce.

The city hosts two major markets steeped in Brunei’s rich culture. The open air Tamu Kianggeh is brimming with vegetables and fruits from local farms, as well as chickens and fish and other staples. To sample some of the city’s delicious street food, head to Pasar Malam. By day, local botanists gather here to sell plants. By night, it transforms into an outdoor eatery where you can sample national dishes.