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Bandar Seri Begawan - Brunei

Brunei is a tiny county on the north coast of Borneo. It's capital Bandar Seri Begawan is a relatively clean city, with very friendly people. This could be due to the strict religious laws in place in the country and the influence strong of the Sultan of Brunei.

There are no pubs or bars, and no alcohol on sale in general. However you are allowed to bring small quantities into the country provided it's consumed in private.

There have been recent stories regarding LGBT laws in the country, which I myself was very shocked about.

I'm sure there may be many laws people may not agree with, but this is the case with many cultures, so don't let that put you off visiting. I think it's a wonderful country to see if you can put that to the back of your mind.

In terms of language, most people speak English here, and most are very helpful to Westerners and I'm sure to many other nationalities.

The locals often want to know why you're visiting their small country and learn more about where you're from.

One day as I walked down the street, a small group of teenagers had made some blueberry dumplings they were selling. As I passed they insisted they let me have a box for free. I tried to refuse the kind gesture, but they insisted.

Obviously I'm always cautious in new countries, sometimes what seem to be acts of kindness can be scams, but from my experience this is not the sort of country which scams tourists.

So although I'm not so much of a dessert person, the gift of blueberry dumplings by complete strangers was a fond memory of the country and it's people.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Probably the biggest tourist attraction in the city is this beautiful golden domed mosque. It's often considered the most beautiful mosque in Southeast Asia.

It's main purpose is of course as a place of worship for the Muslim community.

It's built on an artificial lagoon, and features a beautiful barge which links to the mosque by a small marble bridge.

You're only allowed inside the mosque for prayer, so if you're not Muslim, you will not be allowed to enter.

Kampong Ayer

Kampong Ayer translates to water village, and can be found south of the city centre. I was able to access the village by a boat I had hired along with a driver, and he took me around the village, explaining how people lived here.

They even had a police station and fire station amongst the various houses and other colourful buildings here.

At first I wondered if it was like Venice, but apart from being on water, no I can't really compare it to Venice.

My driver let me off to explore the village alone for a while. There is a small museum as you initially enter the village, which is worth a quick visit, but I really loved just walking along the platforms and seeing how people lived. It was a fascinating sight to see, and many people would wish me a good afternoon as I passed their houses. This was one of the best parts of the city to explore, so make sure you don't miss it.

Brunei River and Proboscis Monkeys

There are various tours you can take on the river, but I headed to the harbour and waited for a freelance driver to approach me. He offered to take me around the water village and further if I so wished. So I asked him if he could take me to see the Long Nosed Monkeys, or more accurately known as Proboscis Monkeys, though many people refer to them as Penis Nosed Monkeys.

He said they were very far away, but he would try. And try he did!

We actually ventured quite far from the city and through water jungles, with vines and branches hanging over us as we explored. This was what I really love about travelling. Going into uncharted areas, exploring new things!

We saw various common monkeys and luckily a few of the Proboscis Monkeys, although from a distance.

I was advised not to put my hands over the boat due to crocodiles, although I can't say I saw any.

From what I understand you may have a good chance to see the monkeys with an official tour, but it's not always guaranteed, and you're stuck to a set schedule.

If I'd had more time then my driver could have taken me even further to see more of them.

I've also heard that you can sometimes see the monkeys in the mornings without even getting on a boat, but it's so much more adventitious and fun going into the jungles not knowing what you're going to find!

For the life of me I can't remember how much my driver asked for, as I was with him for a few hours it seemed a very low price. So I thanked him for passing on so much knowledge of the area and paid him double what he asked. He was very pleased.

Royal Regalia Museum

You'll find this huge domed museum smack bang in the centre of the city, so it's easily accessible.

It's mainly dedicated to the Sultan of Brunei. You'll find various ceremonial items, such as clothing and weaponry. In the centre of the museum is a beautiful gold chariot which was used by the Sultan in 1992.

It will take maybe an hour to go around the museum, and I would certainly recommend it. You learn a fair amount about the Sultan himself.

The only strange thing I found was that I had to take my shoes off to enter, like you would do to visit a mosque. And although I had to leave my converse on the streets outside, no one stole them, so it was quite safe to do so.

Istana Nurul Ima

The official residence of the Sultan of Brunei. Due to my limited time in the country, I didn't take the time out to see this marvellous structure properly as it's a little further southwest of the capital, I was only able to view it from afar.

The Sultans Palace is known to be the largest private residence in the world in terms of floor area.

The palace is not open to the public, but can of course be viewed from outside. It may be worth visiting this whilst on a river cruise. I'm sure you could hire a local to drive you along the river to see the exterior for a small price.

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