Negara Brunei Darussalam (most commonly called “Brunei”), now ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, always has this misnomer of being a “boring” country with nothing to see but low skyscrapers, small mosques with small minarets, and a small range of food choices. The country is also world famous for its alcohol and cigarette bans. It’s highly illegal to bring in to the country even one stick of cigarette, and any type of drink with the slightest alcoholic content.
As a non-smoker who hates the smell of secondhand smoke, and who loves the peace that comes with days that start and end early, the country was a piece of heaven for me— “Boring,” therefore, is highly relative.
If you are the type to look for happenings and festivities during travels, if there’s one date to remember for Brunei, this should be July 15: His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s birthday, locally called “Hari Keputeraan KDYMM Sultan Brunei.”
Why remember this date? For one, you are not only given free access to the king’s palace, you are also invited to his birthday, served unlimited portions of food and drinks (non-alcoholic, of course), and, you’re given the opportunity to personally meet the king!
The king’s birthday celebration is open to all locals and foreigners, and it’s considered one of the annual highlights in Brunei next to Hari Raya Aidil Fitri (Malay term for Eid al-Fitr), which marks the end of Ramadan.
It’s amazing an event like this exists where people from all over the world are given the chance to celebrate with the king. While publicly elected governments have now phased out many kingdoms, it’s interesting to know some kingdoms have survived the test of time like that in Denmark, Monaco, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Gulf Regions of the Middle East.
Here are some things to consider for your July 15 visit:
- If the king’s birthday falls on a Friday, the celebration is moved to the next day.
- You are not allowed to bring cameras and smartphones in the palace.
- Bring conservative clothes, closed shoes or sandals, and wear a hijab (for women). The arms and legs should be covered for both men and women.
- Book early! Foreigners from all over the world flock to Brunei for the king’s birthday, and flights and hotels sell out early. I personally vouch for Royal Brunei Airlines for its affordability and great service, and Terrace Hotel Brunei for its central location and value for money (my recommendations are entirely from experience; no commission links!).
While Brunei is very different from its Southeast Asian counterparts—without all the hustle and bustle, that is— give Brunei a chance and have yourself enjoy the beauty, hospitality and peace the country and its people have to offer.
Negara Brunei Darussalam directly translates to “Abode of Peace.” The country, indeed, lives up to its namesake.