Officially nicknamed the “Abode of Peace”, the tiny tropical Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam is one of the world’s smallest and wealthiest nations. Because of its thriving oil wealth, seventy percent of the country is still covered by almighty virgin rainforest, home to clouded leopards, sun bears and the gravity-defying paradise tree snake.
The Sultanate of Brunei is on the northern coast of Borneo, the world’s third largest island, and only 270 miles north of the equator. All its land borders are with the Malaysian state of Sarawak, which splits Brunei in two parts. The landscape is mainly pristine equatorial jungle drained by small rivers. Most settlements are situated along the bays.
The country only gained independence in 1984, but has the world’s oldest reigning monarchy, and centuries of royal heritage. At the helm of the only remaining Malay-Islamic monarchy in the world, the Sultan of Brunei comes from a family that dates back over 600 years. The current sultan, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, has been on the throne for 43 years, and is one of the world’s richest individuals.
Visitors to the “Abode of Peace” (the literal translation of Darussalam) will find the country surprisingly laid-back and relaxing. In addition to admiring the gilded domes, towering minarets, and extraordinary ornamentation of the two landmark mosques in the capital, Bandar Seri Bergawan, visitors can explore water villages by boat and on foot, learn about local culture in several museums, sample delicious Malay cuisine, and experience the incredible biodiversity of the Bornean rainforest in Ulu Temburong National Park.
With the abundance of nature, eco-tourism is one of the main attractions of Brunei – a haven for nature lovers and adventurers alike. This is a kingdom of unexpected treasures. Almost 40% of the country’s forests are preserved as Ulu Temburong National Park in Temburong District, and is considered one of the world’s most diverse eco-systems with a range of wilderness habitats, from lowland forests and jungle to mountain forests and waterfalls. Most of the park is untouched by man, and the traditional culture of Borneo longhouse communities (where an extended family or several families live together in a single, long home), remains intact. It is so untouched that only about one square km (0.6 miles) of the park is accessible to tourists, who are only admitted as part of a guided tour. To protect it, the rest is off-limits to everyone except scientists, who flock here from around the world. Permitted activities include a canopy walk, some short jungle walks, and swimming in the cool mountain waters of Sungai Temburong.
The forests of Ulu Temburong are teeming with life, including as many as 400 kinds of butterflies. Best times to spot birds and animals, in the rainforest and along riverbanks, are around sunrise and sunset, but you’re much more likely to hear hornbills and Bornean gibbons than to see them. Home to the rare proboscis monkey and thousands of unique species of plants and animals, there are no roads into the park – access is via traditional longboats along river corridors or river hiking tracks. A series of canopy walkways rising over 180 feet above the tree tops, and long suspension bridges give new meaning to the term “back to nature”.
Brunei’s culture is deeply rooted in its Malay origins, which are reflected in the nation’s language, architecture, ceremonies, and daily life rituals. Though various foreign nations have played a role in shaping Brunei’s rich history, the traditions of the Old Malay World have left their mark on the culture of modern Brunei. If Malay’s traditions are Brunei’s cultural root, the Islam is its heart. The nation’s Malay Islamic Monarchy is a uniquely Bruneian blend combining the best of Malay culture with the teachings of Islam, loyalty to the state, and a mutual respect between ruler and subjects. This national philosophy is aimed at forging a stronger sense of identity, as well as fostering unity and stability, and it forms the backbone of Bruneian cultural identity.
Since Brunei is such a wealthy nation, it is able to provide well for its citizens. The country’s welfare system is so great, that they pay no taxes, and have access to free education, free healthcare services, free cooking gas, housing, food subsidies, and a very attractive retirement scheme. The economy is not dependent on the tourism industry, so the attractions exist to preserve culture and tradition. Visitors get to experience the country’s traditional culture by observing the locals, dining at a local eatery, or visiting mosques and museums at their own pace. Unlike other cities in Asia, you won’t have to travel to a remote village to experience Brunei’s culture as well.
Brunei enjoys a distinctly tropical climate with year-round hot weather, and high levels of humidity. The best time to visit is June to September. Uniquely for the region, Brunei has two monsoon seasons with heavy rainfall from October to February, and from May to June.
AirlinePros partner Royal Brunei Airlines is the flag carrier of the Sultanate of Brunei. From its hub at Brunei International Airport (BWN), Royal Brunei Airlines serves a number of regional and international destinations in Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and the U.K. Royal Brunei Airlines operates one of the youngest long-haul fleets in the world, and is the only airline to guarantee a Boeing 787 Dreamliner service on all long-haul routes. In 2016, Royal Brunei Airlines was announced as one of the ‘Top 10 Most Loved Airlines’ by Skytrax and ‘Top 100 Airlines’.