Bandar Seri Begawan is the capital of Brunei. The city is located in the northeastern part of the country and is the center of Brunei’s commerce, finance, and government.
Bandar Seri Begawan is known for its beautiful and complex Islamic architecture, including the stunning Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, considered one of the most beautiful mosques in the Asia Pacific region.
Where is Bandar Seri Begawan?
Bandar Seri Begawan is located in the northeastern part of Brunei, a small sovereign state on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. More specifically, it is situated on the northern bank of the Brunei River near its outlet into Brunei Bay, which opens into the South China Sea.
Borneo, the third-largest island in the world, is politically divided among three countries: Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Brunei occupies a small portion of the island’s northern part, and Bandar Seri Begawan, as the capital, is one of the country’s most prominent and urbanized areas.
Despite being surrounded by Malaysia and relatively near to Indonesia on Borneo, Brunei has maintained its independence and unique cultural identity.
History of Bandar Seri Begawan
Bandar Seri Begawan, known initially as Brunei Town (or Bandar Brunei), has a rich and extensive history, and it has been the capital of Brunei since 1920.
Historically, the area where Bandar Seri Begawan now stands was known as the Brunei River Settlement. The history of this region is tied closely with the Brunei Sultanate, which, at its peak in the 15th to 17th centuries, controlled the whole island of Borneo and parts of the Philippines.
European contact, initially with the Portuguese and then the Spanish, Dutch, and British, gradually reduced Brunei’s territory. By the 19th century, Brunei had become a British protectorate.
Brunei Town became the capital under British rule in 1920. It remained a relatively small state capital until the discovery of large oil fields, which resulted in rapid economic development.
The city was severely affected during World War II. It was occupied by the Japanese from 1941 to 1945 and suffered considerable infrastructural damage. Post-war, reconstruction and modernization took place.
In 1970, the city was renamed Bandar Seri Begawan in honor of the Sultan’s late father, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, who had abdicated in 1967 and was known as Begawan, or the Hermit King.
Brunei gained complete independence from Britain in 1984, and Bandar Seri Begawan, as the capital, has played a crucial role in the country’s modern history and development. Despite the fast pace of modernization, the city has managed to preserve much of its cultural heritage, including its historic water village, Kampong Ayer.
Features of Bandar Seri Begawan
Bandar Seri Begawan is a city that beautifully intertwines modernity and traditional charm, which is reflected in its stunning architecture, cultural sites, and natural beauty.
Geography and Climate
Bandar Seri Begawan is located on the northern bank of the Brunei River, close to Brunei Bay, which opens into the South China Sea. The city’s topography is mainly flat, with some low-lying areas. The cityscape has numerous parks, green spaces, and lush rainforests.
The Brunei River also plays a significant role in shaping the geography of the city, particularly the famous Kampong Ayer, the stilted water village.
Bandar Seri Begawan experiences a tropical rainforest climate consistent throughout the year due to its proximity to the equator.
Temperatures typically range between 23 °C (73 °F) and 32 °C (90 °F), and there is high humidity year-round. The city has no distinct wet or dry season, and rainfall is relatively high and frequent throughout the year. However, the months from November to February are generally considered the monsoon season, when the rain is typically at its highest.
The population of Bandar Seri Begawan is roughly around 50,000. The city is predominantly Malay, with Chinese, indigenous, and small expatriate communities. Islam is the dominant religion, and the official language is Malay, although English is widely spoken and understood.
The population is known for its friendliness, hospitality, and adherence to traditions. The culture of the city and the nation as a whole is heavily influenced by Islam, and this can be seen in the city’s daily life, customs, architecture, and festivals.
The economy of Bandar Seri Begawan, and Brunei as a whole, heavily depends on the oil and gas industry, which contributes to most of the nation’s GDP and export earnings. Brunei is one of Southeast Asia’s largest oil & gas producers and the fourth-richest country in Asia in terms of GDP per-capita.
Bandar Seri Begawan, as the capital city, houses many institutions and businesses related to this industry, including the headquarters of Brunei National Petroleum Company and other related businesses. The city also has a thriving public sector, with many residents working for the government.
Tourism is another significant part of Bandar Seri Begawan’s economy. The city’s rich history, cultural sites, and natural beauty attract tourists worldwide. The government has been trying further to develop tourism as part of economic diversification strategies.
Despite its dependence on oil and gas, Brunei maintains a high standard of living, and the city of Bandar Seri Begawan reflects this with its well-developed infrastructure and services. However, diversifying the economy remains a crucial long-term challenge for the city and the nation.
Things to Do and Places to See in Bandar Seri Begawan
Bandar Seri Begawan boasts a plethora of intriguing activities and landmarks. Let’s explore some of the city’s most celebrated and top-rated attractions and destinations:
1. Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, located in Bandar Seri Begawan, is one of the most magnificent mosques in the Asia Pacific and a major landmark and tourist attraction of Brunei. It was completed in 1958 and named after Omar Ali Saifuddien III, the 28th Sultan of Brunei, who also initiated its construction.
The mosque is surrounded by an artificial lagoon that serves as a reflecting pool. This structure is symbolic of the Islamic paradise.
Inside the mosque, you will find beautiful Italian marble floors, columns from Shanghai, and an impressive crystal chandelier from England. The mosque’s carpet was handmade in Saudi Arabia.
2. Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque
The Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque is the largest in Brunei and was built to commemorate the 25th year of the current Sultan’s reign, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah. It was completed in 1994 and is an example of modern Islamic architecture.
The mosque features 29 golden domes, symbolizing the 29th Sultan of Brunei. Beautiful gardens and fountains surround this mosque, with separate prayer areas for men and women.
3. Istana Nurul Iman
The Istana Nurul Iman is the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah. Its name is derived from Arabic, translating to “Palace of the Light of Faith.”
The palace contains 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, a banquet hall that can accommodate up to 5,000 people, a mosque accommodating 1,500 people, a garage for 110 cars, an air-conditioned stable for Sultan’s polo ponies, and five swimming pools.
The palace is only open to the public during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, where the Sultan opens the doors of his palace to the public.
4. Tasek Lama Recreational Park
Tasek Lama Recreational Park is one of Brunei’s oldest and most popular parks. It is located near the center of Bandar Seri Begawan. This park is a favorite spot for local joggers and walkers, with its well-maintained trails and beautiful natural surroundings.
The park features several natural pools and waterfalls that provide a refreshing spot for visitors. It also hosts a wide variety of wildlife, including different bird species and monkeys, which visitors can often spot.
For those who are more adventurous, a rock climbing area and challenging hiking trails provide panoramic views of the city.
5. Royal Regalia Museum
The Royal Regalia Museum, also known as the Royal Regalia Building, is home to a collection of royal paraphernalia from the reign of Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah and his predecessors.
One of the most impressive displays in the museum is the royal chariot, which was used during the Sultan’s Silver Jubilee celebration. Dozens of personnel pulled it during the ceremony.
The museum also houses a vast collection of opulent items such as ceremonial weaponry, crowns, costumes, and thrones used during royal coronations and other state events.
Visitors can also see a replica of the palace where the current Sultan of Brunei was sworn in. The museum displays an intricate 3D map showing the procession route taken during the Sultan’s coronation and offers free admission. It is an excellent way for visitors to learn about Brunei’s royal heritage and its Sultan’s wealth.
Frequently Asked Questions
What language is spoken in Bandar Seri Begawan?
Answer: The official language of Brunei is Malay (Bahasa Melayu). However, English is also widely spoken and understood, especially in business and education settings.
Is Bandar Seri Begawan safe for tourists?
Bandar Seri Begawan is generally considered safe for tourists. However, as with any travel, it’s always advised to stay alert, keep an eye on your belongings, and adhere to local laws and customs.
What is the currency in Bandar Seri Begawan?
The official currency of Brunei is the Brunei Dollar (BND).
Question: What is the best time to visit Bandar Seri Begawan?
The best time to visit Bandar Seri Begawan is during the dry season, typically between January and April. This period generally has less rainfall and is more conducive to outdoor sightseeing.
How can I get around in Bandar Seri Begawan?
In Bandar Seri Begawan, taxis are available and are the most convenient way to get around the city for tourists. Some of the attractions are walkable in the city center. Alternatively, you could also rent a car.
What is the traditional food like in Bandar Seri Begawan?
Traditional food in Bandar Seri Begawan often features rice, meat (such as beef, chicken, and fish), and fresh vegetables. Popular dishes include:
• Nasi Lemak: a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf.
• Ambuyat: dish derived from the interior trunk of the sago palm.
• Satay: a grilled skewered meat served with peanut sauce.
What is a must-try dish in Bandar Seri Begawan?
One must-try dish when visiting Bandar Seri Begawan is Ambuyat, a national dish of Brunei. It’s a sticky ball of sago starch rolled on a bamboo fork and dipped in a sour fruit sauce. It’s a unique culinary experience and integral to Bruneian food culture.
Bandar Seri Begawan, with its unique blend of rich history, royal grandeur, and serene natural beauty, offers a distinctive travel experience in the heart of Southeast Asia. Its stunning mosques, grand palace, and cultural exhibits provide a remarkable insight into the nation’s traditions and the lifestyle of its monarchy.
The city’s tranquil atmosphere and warm hospitality make it an appealing destination for those looking for a peaceful retreat steeped in culture. Though less bustling than other Asian metropolises, Bandar Seri Begawan’s charm lies in its difference, making it a worthwhile addition to any travel itinerary.