Just got back from Brunei having been pretty impressed by what it can offer as a Halal Friendly destination. Alcohol-free environment, easy availability of Halal food, peaceful with rich Islamic traditions and unspoiled nature with 70% of Brunei covered by primary rainforest.
If you are looking beyond shopping, theme parks and overcrowded cities for your next holiday and would like to spend your time enjoying a city with rich Islamic heritage, one of a kind water village, rainforests, unspoiled coral reefs, mangrove-covered islands and many other ecotourism options, Brunei is indeed the place to go.
Brunei offers a rare combination of ecotourism with Halal Friendliness with more than 85% of the population being Malay Muslims.
This was our first visit to Brunei and the main purpose of my visit was to participate in the International Halal Market Conference on the 5th and 6th of June. My wife and I decided to go on the 3rd so that we could also take the opportunity to explore Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei.
As soon as we landed at the airport on the 3rd June (around 3:30 pm), Mr Zul from our host MegaBorneo , made sure we did not waste any time. From the airport we went directly to the Museum. A great place indeed to start your visit to Brunei. It gives a good insight into how Brunei has developed over the last few hundred years, its culture, its natural resources etc. The Museum has a very good collection of Islamic artifacts and a large private collection of gilded Holy Qur'ans.
Brunei is a Malay Islamic Monarchy, with a strong adherence to Islamic values. The current Sultan of Brunei comes from a family line that dates back over 600 years to 1405. His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, is the 29th ruler.
Our next stop was at the Royal Regalia Museum. This is the first time we visited a Museum which is dedicated to Royal exhibits. It is full of royal regalia, including the crown and royal chariot, along with a vast collection of gifts from heads of state to the Sultan.
Next came the Water Village. It is indeed an extraordinary site. It consists of more than 4000 structures on the Brunei river including homes, mosques, restaurants, shops, schools, and a hospital. Endless boardwalks connect the buildings. Water taxis are the only means of transport we saw to and from the water village. These are fast motor boats that ply during day and night. Although the housing looks very simple from outside, the one we visited had all the modern amenities.
What is really striking is that unlike many such places, Brunei has managed not just to preserve the structures for tourists, but continue to make it a thriving village (more a town of its own!) Mr. Zul, our very friendly guide, had lived there since the time of his birth and still lives there with his family. Like most other residents he takes the water taxi to the shore and then gets into his car parked not far from the shoreline.
We then visited Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien III, named after the father of the current Sultan, followed by a visit to the biggest mosque in Brunei, Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque. Both these are magnificent mosques. These masaajid have well-allocated space for female worshippers too.
By the time we finally reached the Hotel after this "introduction to Brunei" it was time to go for the awards ceremony dinner for "Cooking From the Heart" competition for the budding Brunei chefs.
From this brief introduction to Brunei and some of what we saw the next three days, Brunei along with the rest of Borneo can indeed offer a unique experience to Halal conscious travelers.
Apart from the unique features of Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei being the Gateway to Borneo, one can enjoy the Mangroves, natural hatcheries of marine life, abundant forms of plant and animal life unique to Borneo, in an environment, which understands, respects and caters to the Muslim travelers' needs.
With Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan next door, you can discover Borneo's magnificent natural beauty and hopefully be inspired by it to return with a strong conviction to preserve our natural environment.