Brunei

Brunei Muara District

Brunei Muara is the smallest of Brunei's four districts, with Bandar Seri Begawan at its heart. As well as several notable sights on the outskirts of Bandar, there are a few minor sights further afield, including sandy beaches, forest reserves and a theme park.

Istana Nurul Iman

Official residence of the sultan, the Istana Nurul Iman is situated several kilometres upriver from the capital, its twin gold cupolas clearly visible from the river. It is the largest residential palace in the world and must surely count as one of the most extravagant, too. Beneath the curving Minangkabau-style roofs lie a staggering 1778 rooms (including 257 toilets), which makes the Istana bigger than the Vatican and on a par with Versailles. The banquet hall seats 5000 and there's an underground car park to house the sultan's extensive collection of cars (which runs into three figures). Needless to say, the palace is not open to the public. For the best views, catch a water taxi from Bandar Seri Begawan. You'll pass by the royal jetty, where sultan's guests (including Queen Elizabeth II on her last visit) are welcomed.

Alternatively, make your way to the
Taman Persiaran Damuan
, a kilometre-long park which runs along the riverside just beyond the palace. Within the park are sculptures from each of the 10 ASEAN nations.

If you're lucky, and you visit the park at dusk, you may spot proboscis monkeys (an endangered species endemic to Borneo) on
Pulau Ranggu
, the small island opposite the park. To guarantee sightings, take a proboscis tour by
tambang
along the Sungai Damuan tributary; it's one of the highlights of a trip to Brunei for any nature enthusiast. Look out for monkeys crossing the river (they swim doggy style, their bulbous noses raised above the water like snorkels).

Jerudong Park Playground

This peculiar theme park opened in 1994 to coincide with the sultan's 48th birthday. By Western standards, it's nothing special - the highlight being the log flume. Today it has a
slightly jaded feel and, thanks to Brunei's tiny population, it is probably the quietest theme park in the world - on some days you'll have the park more or less to yourself. Beware, many of the rides are often out of action (ask before handing over the entry fee) and in recent times, probably due to low admission numbers, a lot of the major rides have been sold off.

Just along the coast from Jerudong Park is the extravagant
Empire Hotel & Country Club
, which is worth a look for its towering, gold-adorned atrium; at 80 m it is said to be the tallest in the world. Both hotel and theme park were built by Prince Jefri, brother to the sultan and an endless source of scandal.

Muara and around

At Brunei's northeast tip is the port of Muara, a nondescript place with a single sleepy grid of shophouses and nothing much to draw visitors. There are several nearby beaches that are pleasant enough, if you can bear the heat. Pantai Muara is a 4-km stretch of sand north of Muara, with a kids' playground and picnic shelters among the casuarinas, while to the south, at the end of a road lined with mansions, is a sandy spit known as Pantai Serasa, home to a fleet of traditional fishing boats and the Serasa Watersports Complex.

There are two forest reserves worth visiting along the main Muara-Tutong highway, which runs beside Brunei's north-facing coastline.
Bukit Shahbandar Reserve
(just east of Kampong Jerudong) is a popular spot with joggers and cyclists, with narrow roads and trails running up and down seven hills. At the highest point, there's a wooden observation tower. The
Hutan Berakas Forest Reserve
(directly north of the airport) is wilder, with trails weaving through casuarina forests and
kerangas
(heath forest), the favoured habitat of carnivorous pitcher plants. There are paved trails here, a popular picnic area and a lovely long beach used by Bruneians for swimming.

Out in Brunei Bay itself is
Pulau Selirong
, an uninhabited island covered in mangrove forest. The island has recently been designated a forest reserve and 2 km of elevated walkways have been installed. Monitor lizards, crabs, mud skippers and wading birds can be viewed, along with the occasional mangrove snake and saltwater crocodile.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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