Brunei is a tiny Sultanate in Southeast Asia, surrounded by Sabbah and Sarawak. Brunei’s capital is Bandar Seri Begawan and initial impression may be that there is not much to see but when one looks closer, it is an interesting and intriguing place with lots to explore. Rich in natural resources, oil and gas, Healy Consultants Group PLC has been helping clients incorporate companies in the small but lucrative country for many years.

Brunei or Darussalam as it is also known is a strict Islamic state and has imposed Sharia Islamic Criminal law (which can impose sentences such as amputation for stealing or stoning for the crime of adultery) in the past year, which makes travelling and living there somewhat challenging for foreigners. Here are some tips on travelling to, and conducting business in, Brunei:

Where to stay:

If budget is not a concern then, the most exclusive place to stay is The Empire Hotel & Country Club. Very grand and ornate, it boasts lovely views of the South China Sea and the surrounding beach, however, it lets itself down on the service front from time to time as noted on the many reviews on trip advisor. Definitely worth a visit though to take in the opulence and to relax over afternoon tea. For clean, simple and budget friendly accommodation, The Capital Residence Suites come highly recommended and provide a shuttle bus for airport transfers and for short trips in the surrounding area. The recently renovated Radisson Hotel is also a firm favorite for business travelers as it is close to the town center and the airport.

Getting Around:

Metered taxis are readily available and quite affordable. Its cost approximately US$20 for the 20 minute trip from Brunei International Airport to the city. Note that several of the hotels provide a free shuttle bus that you can avail of. I would recommend that the bus system be avoided as it is a little chaotic and will definitely pose a challenge to a traveler new in town.

For something a little different, you can try the water taxis for site seeing and visiting surrounding water villages and nearby countries of Malaysia or Sarawak. You can also drive in Brunei if you have an international driving license; the car hire company AVIS as well as several other local rent a car companies are located centrally. Drivers are also available for hire and usually cost between US$75-300/ day.

Must Sees:

Istana Nurul Iman: The Sultans residence; obscenely opulent and approximately 3 times the size of Buckingham Place with 1788 rooms including 257 bathrooms (No need to wait to use the toilet here!). It’s only open to the public 3 days a year at the end of Ramadan (The Holy Month) so best to see it by water taxi or to view it from Taman Persiaran Damuan, a landscaped park near the palace.

Kampung Ayer: Known as the water villages, these are large villages which are constructed on concrete stilts (Considered the largest settlement on stilts in the world). Despite government incentives to live on solid land, these are the preferred homes of the locals. Catch a water taxi to the villages from downtown and walk around the villages on the boardwalks to get a feel for everyday life on the Kampung. The villages are a hive of activity, have their own schools, mosques, police stations and fire brigade. Located on the river, Kampung Ayer Cultural & Tourism Gallery is worth a visit to check out the culture and traditions of the Bruneian people prior to oil discovery in the region. There are usually some handicraft demonstrations going on and you can view the busy goings on in the villages down below.

The Rainforest in Temburon Province: If you have a day to spare and are on for a bit of an adventure, this is definitely worth the effort. Take a pretty amazing (Death-defying!) walk above the forest canopy or get more intimate with the jungle and stay overnight. Read more at Keith Jenkins Velvet Escape blog post.

If you have time: The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, The Royal Regalia Museum, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, and the Empire Hotel are free to visit and definitely worth a look but do bear in mind that photo taking is not permitted in the Royal Regalia Museum.

Where to Eat:

Pondok Sari Wangi (Indonesian/Chinese): Located in Gadong, Pondok Sari Wangi is a well-known and beloved Bandar institution. The Best of Halal BlogSpot gives a good description of the food and what to expect: “For true Indonesian style cuisine, Pondok Sari Wangi has won diners over with their house sambal (a type of spicy fresh chili sauce) and a variety of famous dishes. Items like the Ayam Penyet (Crispy Smashed Chicken) which comes in a few varieties; the ubiquitous South-East Asian favorite- satay – gets upgraded with rich Wagyu beef; Asian favorites like stir-fried Water Spinach are done exceptionally well. The restaurant also brings traditional items like the Nasi Tumpeng, a rice and assorted meat/vegetable dish better known for its ceremonial historic value.” With great value dishes starting as low as US$3, this restaurant is definitely worth a trip.

Lim Ah Siew (Street Food): Rated highly by Lonely Planet, this is a bit of an institution located at Jalan Teraja. In Lonely Planet’s own words “Lim Ah Siaw has great food, sure. Crispy braised pork knuckle, pork belly, pork buns, pork dumplings; it’s seriously Babe’s hell. More so, because it is actually forbidden to raise pigs in Brunei, Lim Ah Siaw is the closest thing we found in Brunei to a speakeasy. Seriously; you kinda feel like a smuggler sneaking into this Chinese market-turned-restaurant. It also has the atmosphere of a Hong Kong gambling hall, which might take away from the food but certainly spices up the illicit zeitgeist.”

If you are hankering after some regular coffee and something a little more familiar, there is a Coffeebean and Tealeaf located at 67 Jalan Sultan.

Kaizen Sushi (Japanese Food) located on Jalan McArthur is a popular spot for sushi and has an extensive menu. One review on trip advisor suggests that “it is the best Japanese food outside of Japan”. High praise indeed.

Opening Hours and holidays:

Avoid visiting Brunei around Hari Raya (at the end of the Muslim fasting month) or Chinese New Year. These holidays fall on a different month every year and most businesses are closed during these times.

Note that Friday is a holy day and all businesses will be closed. If you are doing business with Government offices, they are open between 7.45am – 12.15pm and 1.30pm – 4.30pm, Monday to Thursday and Saturday. Most other commercial businesses are open between 8.00am – noon and 1.15pm – 5.00pm, Monday to Friday. Shops are generally closed on Sunday but are open between 7.30am – 8.00pm/9.00pm, Monday to Saturday.

Business/Social etiquette:

As in many places in Asia, avoid showing the soles of your shoes or feet at all times as it as seen as very disrespectful. As such it is best not to cross your legs at your knees and instead cross at your ankles and keep your feet flat on the ground. Additionally always remember to remove your shoes before entering a Malay or Chinese house. Pointing is also considered extremely impolite so try not to point. If it’s absolutely necessary to point at something, then point using your right thumb with the rest of your fingers clenched. Hugging and kissing are not usual ways to greet people in Brunei so avoid this and instead wait until a hand is extended to you especially when dealing with a person of the opposite sex. When giving or receiving a business card or any other item, it is polite to offer or receive the item with both hands.

Useful Links:

  1. Company Registration In Brunei: http://www.healyconsultants.com/brunei-company-registration/
  2. Where to eat: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/brunei-darussalam/bandar-seri-begawan/restaurants