Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Travel Wire Asia: Is Brunei the most misunderstood destination in Southeast Asia?

BRUNEI, a tiny country tucked in a corner of Borneo, may well be one of the most misunderstood places in Southeast Asia.

It starts with its full title, which is actually the “Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace”, but a misunderstood moniker is the least of this country’s PR problems.

Statistics regarding tourist arrivals in Brunei, particularly recent ones, differ widely, although those that exist place it as the least visited country in Southeast Asia.

Figures show around 250,000 visitors to Brunei per year, which is dwarfed by Malaysia, which borders the country and sees a whopping 27 million visitors annually.

It’s strange therefore while millions of tourists make it as far as Malaysia, this doesn’t translate to a brief detour into Brunei, which also has some of the most relaxed tourist visa regulations in Southeast Asia, with many nationalities qualifying for a fee visa on arrival.

One of the first hurdles in selling Brunei to visitors is that it is often thought of as being comparatively expensive.

With that in mind, many travelers to Southeast Asia go for the cheapest picks that offer more bang for their buck, usually Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand.

A quick search on the merits of travelling to Brunei will come up with myriad sites calling Brunei, among other things, a “budget buster”, which is undoubtedly a tourism turn-off for many.

This is, however, both true and untrue, as although some years ago, backpacker accommodation was thin on the ground, more and more budget choices are springing up that allow visitors to stay in Brunei for around US$35 a night.

Local food is also cheap, as is public transport, and many attractions like museums and mosques are either free or cheap to visit.