Family Getaway: Brunei

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With less than half a million people, and a land area smaller than some modern metropolises, the tiny, affluent nation of Brunei is often overlooked as a family vacation spot. Which is a shame, really, because it has a surprising amount to offer. The sultanate sports the same coral-rich seas and lush jungles of surrounding Malaysian Borneo, but generally draws fewer tourists. It’s also only a short trip from Bangkok, thanks to relatively affordable flights from both Royal Brunei and AirAsia.

Brunei Getaway

An even bigger boon to parents is that Brunei is one of the safest and most welcoming places on the continent for children. Thanks to severe penalties for even the smallest legal infractions, violent and petty crime are extremely rare. Though visitors are allowed to carry modest quantities of alcohol in with them, the country itself is dry, meaning there’s no rowdy nightlife to contend with. Most activities in Brunei center around family and family life, meaning that children are generally viewed as a blessing and treated with kindness and respect.

So what do you do in this sleepy, seaside spot when you bring the kids? Here are a few ideas.

Water sports
The warm, placid waters in the bays of Brunei offer a whole range of family-friendly delights. Adults and older children may want to go diving around the area’s shipwrecks, but there’s still plenty to do at the surface. Poni Divers provides snorkeling tours of several choice spots, as well as a host of aquatic activities. There’s parasailing up to 30 meters in the air as well as jet-skiing for the big kids, and their banana boat. In the latter, up to six participants hold on to a large inflatable raft pulled by a small tug. The tug turns sharply, taking the crew on a wild ride until everyone inevitably ends up in the water. Poni Divers Brunei; Serasa Watersports Complex, Serasa Beach; 673/223-3655; facebook.com/PoniDivers.

Explore the jungle
The entire island is famed for its staggering biodiversity. Much of Brunei is heavily developed, but their national park is a truly impressive sight for nature-lovers. Ulu Temburong National Park, first established as a protected zone in 1991, offers a canopy walk and jungle tours. In addition to its myriad flora and fauna, the park features four different waterfalls and a suspension bridge that will make your kids feel like they’re in an Indiana Jones movie.

Check in to a bygone era
Entering the Empire Hotel & Country Club feels somewhat like stumbling onto a movie set, possibly for a three-hour epic inspired by the fall of czarist Russia. With towering ionic columns, gold both real and painted, fake candles and absurd quantities of Swarovski crystal chandeliers and imported Italian marble, it’s grandiose in a way that sleek, modern, minimalist five-stars no longer attempt.

All this excess is part of its inherent charm. Although it was built less than two decades ago, the hotel feels like the contemporary answer to Versailles. It’s the perfect place for kids to act out their princess fantasies, and it has all the amenities to make them feel like royalty. Splash around in Asia’s largest man-made saltwater lagoon; savor the on-site baked sweets on a silver tiered High Tea set; or give children a chance to explore their impressive Kids’ Club, with rotating activities like pizza making. The Empire Hotel & Country Club; Jln. Stadium Negara Hassanal Bolkiah, Bandar Seri Begawan; 673/241-8888; theempirehotel.com.

Photo Credit: Robert Nyman via Compfight cc

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