Brunei's smallest district is also one of its most important, as Brunei-Muara houses over half of the country's population and contains the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan.
As such, it is usually the first stop of any visitor to Brunei — and one of the most memorable. Outside the capital lie some of the nation’s most world-renowned attractions.
For a Brunei experience that is off the beaten track, head down to Tutong. While it is only a half-hour drive away from Bandar Seri Begawan, the iconic district of Tutong offers a glimpse of the diverse cultures and unique lifestyles of rural Brunei, away from the bustle of the capital city.
Visitors to the district are often taken in by the beauty of the nature that surrounds it, from the white sands and rocky outcroppings of Pantai Seri Kenangan beach all the way inland to the scenic and somewhat mysterious feel of Tasek Merimbun, a serpentine lake surrounded by swamps and 15th century burial grounds.
Tutong district is also home to five of Borneo’s ethnic tribes: Tutong, Kedayan, Murut, Malay, Chinese and Dusun.
Nature is never far in Brunei, and minutes away from downtown one can feel like in the middle of the Amazon when heading towards the Damuan River, where the elusive Proboscis Monkey can often be spotted.
Found only on the island of Borneo, Proboscis Monkeys or Bankatan locally, are odd looking, pot bellied and long tailed monkeys.
Several groups of these monkeys live in the mangrove forests along the Damuan River, making Brunei the easiest place to spot them in the wild. Macaques, monitor lizards, egrets, etc can also be spotted in this area, while at night fireflies lit up the trees.
Less than an hour away from the capital lies this ASEAN Heritage Site, a black water lake whose level ebbs and rises depending on rainfall. A mini museum, well demarcated hiking trails and the cultural activities of the local indigenous community complement the offerings at this site of peace and serenity.
This 25 km² (10 sqm) island less than an hour’s boat ride away from downtown Bandar is considered to contain some of the world’s best preserved and most mature mangrove forest environments.
Protected, pristine and largely undisturbed, it harbors some impressively large mangrove trees reaching up to 40 meters (130 ft) in height.
A 2 km (1.25 mi) long wooden walkway with strategically placed observation platforms allows visitors to observe the intricate mangrove ecosystem and, with patience, to view an array of exotic wildlife.
ULU TEMBURONG NATIONAL PARK
The jewel in Brunei’s impressive crown of natural attractions, this 500 km² (193 sqm) National Park is covered by pristine tropical rainforest teeming with amazing ecological diversity, allowing visitors to easily and safely experience the real primeval Borneo jungle, complete with a thrilling set of interconnected canopy walkways towering above the treetops.
The easily accessible National Park, located in the sparsely inhabited district of Temburong that is separated from the rest of the country by a sliver of Malaysia, is only two hours away from the capital by a boat, bus and native longboat trip that in itself feels like an adventure.
For those with time on their hands, accommodation choices range from simple but comfortable lodges downriver from the Park, to the elegantly appointed Ulu Ulu Resort.
NATURE AND BEACHES
Being largely covered by pristine rainforests due to the near absence of logging activities, Brunei abounds with protected natural areas such as Forest Reserves or Recreational Parks, many of which have facilities such as demarcated trails, public toilets, picnic areas and playgrounds.
The easily accessible Tasek and Bukit Shahbandar Recreational Parks, in and around the capital, are popular with locals and visitors, offering great views from the peak of their hills.
Although not particularly developed as a sun and sea destination, Brunei’s 161 km (100 mi) long coastline offers mostly deserted soft sand beaches lapped by the warm South China Sea waters, some of which, such as the Muara, Serasa, Tunku, and Lumut beaches, have been developed with varying degrees of facilities for locals and visitors who want to enjoy a day by the seaside.
EMPIRE HOTEL AND COUNTRY CLUB
An iconic attraction in itself, the Empire Hotel and Country Club is an exquisitely integrated golf, spa and family sea side resort, complete with private beach, golf course, children’s playground, theatre, Cineplex, bowling alley, shopping gallery and regally appointed suites that have hosted many among the world’s royalty and the rich and famous.
The resort, one of Asia’s largest with 518 rooms and suites spread over 180 ha of lush tropical greenery fronting the South China Sea, also boasts of a full fledged marine sports center, adding to the array of wholesome fun and family oriented activities that can be enjoyed in the Kingdom, and of a 2,000 dinner-style seats capacity Grand Banquet Hall that adds to the already impressive meeting facilities of the resort.
Brunei is an emerging Asian golfing destination, with some of the region’s best courses, and having played host to a number of officially sanctioned international golf tournaments.
Though there are five 18 holes courses in Brunei, it is mostly the championship courses of the Empire Hotel & Country Club, the Royal Brunei Golf & Country Club and the Royal Brunei Airlines Golf Club that accept visiting players.
Underwater, and only a short distance by boat from shore, pristine coral reefs and a number of shipwrecks teem with colorful marine life, making Brunei a new frontier for diving enthusiasts.