Is Brunei safe for solo women travellers? A reader asked me recently and the answer is easy.
There hasn’t been a city where I felt so safe even when it’s quiet and empty at night. Yes, Brunei is largely a very peaceful country. If you have a chat with the locals about their country and their way of life, they will tell you that Brunei is a vice-fee and safe place, the kind that is perfect for bringing up young families.
Brunei Darulsallam is, after all, translated to ‘The Kingdom of Peaceful Abode’.
In 2016, the conservative Muslim kingdom became the first Asian country to implement the hudud law nationwide, impacting both Muslim and non-Muslim residents. Locals tell me that although hudud punishment hasn’t been enforced, it hangs above them as a reminder not to break the law.
In line with the country’s strict Islamic laws, you won’t find any alcohol or cigarettes on sale here. There isn’t anything resembling a nightlife, no bars nor clubs thumping into the early mornings, no dodgy streets nor dark shady figures lurking in the alleyways. The streets of the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan falls quiet after sunset with shops quickly closing down for the day. The quiet street at night isn’t peppered with loitering hoodlums or beggars, what it’s filled with is young couples and families hunting for Pokemon. Yep, lots and lots of Pokemon hunters there when I visited in 2016!
Most, if not all, of the shops in Brunei close at about 8pm to 9pm, including the public buses. You could hail one of the 40-odd taxis in the country, but be prepared to pay two arms and a leg for your ride. The smarter thing to do would be to start the day early and retire early lest you want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere on your own.
Even in the day, Bandar Seri Begawan didn’t have anything resembling a crowd on the streets. Though the streets are wide and empty, it is a peaceful kind of silence that gives your head space to breath and think. I felt safe wandering aimlessly on the streets, in both day and night.
It helps that Bruneians are very friendly and lovely people. They are the kind who would stop to offer you a ride if they see you walking alone in the dark, a Malaysian working and living in Brunei tells me. It’s hard not to believe him, I met so many warm and welcoming locals who took the time to smile and have conversations with me. It’s so easy to form connections here if you make an effort to start a chat with them. Even the motorists are kind! Cars would slow down and stop for pedestrians to cross the street, which is a rarity in Southeast Asia.
Although the crime rate in Brunei is low, it doesn’t mean that there is zero crime. Solo women travellers should take regular precautions for the safety of their person and their belongings. While you are not expected to wear a headscarf, you would feel more at home in sleeved shirts and pants or skirts that cover your thighs. During my stay there, I saw only one lady who walked around in shorts.
Brunei is a very slow-paced country with not too many tourist attractions to offer if you’re a city person but it’s a playground for nature lovers! The oil-rich country is not commercialised nor dependent on tourism yet, so there aren’t many pesky touts except for a few friendly boatman offering boat tours along the Brunei river. Don’t worry about them though, they are not aggressive nor threatening at all. A polite “No, Thank you” was enough for them to move on to the next customer.
Brunei is such a lovely, laid back country. Many locals say Brunei is boring but take a little time to discover the slow village lifestyle and experience the jungles, and you will find a diamond in the buff. As one Bruneian reader from Kamarul Ajimain said, “We’re definitely chilled-out here and we don’t really try hard to convince people to come over. But when they do, we truly appreciate them and will go out of our way to show them around.”
Enjoy Brunei and stay safe! Also, don’t forget to try nasi katok and the foods at the night market!
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