When planning a trip to Southeast Asia, there are several beautiful countries to choose from. From ancient temples in Cambodia to the heavenly ocean surrounding the islands in Thailand, there is one country that no one seems to mention, and that is Brunei. Also known as 'The Abode Of Peace', Brunei is the smallest nation on the island of Borneo, which it shares with it's more recongized counterparts, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Brunei provides a unique insight into Southeast Asia, offering clear blue seas, a centuries old stilt settlement, breath-taking Islamic places of worship and an untouched jungle containing wildlife nearing extinction - It has many beautiful places you can't ignore.
'The Venice of the East' - Brunei's Water Village
The Water Village, or, locally known as 'Kampong Ayer', is a collection of multi-colored wooden houses built on stilts, and to this day is considered the largest stilt settlement in the world. Founded 1300 years ago, it's home to around 39,000 residents. Within the village there are tons of schools and mosques, as well as a fire station and a police station.
Touring the Village is easy to arrange as there is a queue of water taxis ready to show you around for a set price - USD$15 for one hour. Even better, the Water Village is situated adjacent to the city center in the country's capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, and is therefore very accessible and easy to get to. The Village tours begin at 6:30am and finish at around 6:30pm, before dark, giving you the chance to see the Village both during the heat of the day and as the sun begins to set.
It's not every day you come across a stilt village built on a river next to jungle-like mangroves, whereby wildlife site-seeing is included in the Village tour. Here it isn't uncommon to see proboscis monkeys and pigtail macaques in their natural habitat. If you are lucky, you will see crocodiles lurking in the western part of the river, making visiting this part of Brunei a truly unique experience.
Located only 30 minutes away from the capital, in the northwest district of Jerudong, sits Tungku Beach. It's one of the most popular beaches in Brunei, due to it's crystal blue water and the availability of quad bikes for hire. If you go during the week, you'll most likely find that you are the only one there, making it a truly relaxing experience. If you're looking for adventure, you can opt to take a guided tour on a quad bike around the beach trails, lasting one hour and thirty minutes and costing USD$35. If you just want a quick ride, you can hire the bikes for around USD$10 for ten minutes, both options being available from 2-7pm.
For those interested in architecture, there is the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, located in the city center, only a ten minute walk from the Water Village. It was built in 1958 and named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei. It is arguably one of the most beautiful mosques in the Asia Pacific region. The Mosque, comprised of Italian marble, is a unique mixture of Italian, Mughal and Malay styles. Inside it are English crystal chandeliers, Saudi Arabian carpets, and on the outside, a dome covered in pure gold leaf, making it a striking piece of architecture.
All images: © Rhiannon Montgomery