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Brunei Palace Photo courtesy: Gary Birnie


Negara Brunei Darussalam (most commonly called “Brunei”) is perceived as a “boring” country with nothing to see but low skyscrapers, small mosques with small minarets, and a smaller food palette. The country is also world famous for its alcohol and cigarette bans, where it is highly illegal to bring even a 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.

I’ve never been so scared to drop a candy wrapper in my life!

If you are the type to look for happenings and festivities during travels, you must visit Brunei around July 15. It is the birthday of 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 is 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 is interesting to know some kingdoms such as the ones in Denmark, Monaco, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Gulf Regions of the Middle East, have survived the test of time like

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 inside 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

While Brunei is very different from its Southeast Asian counterparts—without all the hustle and bustle, that is— give Brunei a chance and 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.

*This post was first published on this author’s blog. 


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