Traveling in the Middle East is one of my dreams, especially with the World Cup headed to Qatar. So I am collecting lots of tips ahead of time!
Once a year, in the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world avoid drinking, eating and smoking before sunset. Although non-Muslim travellers might feel as though they should be wary of travelling to Brunei during this period, there’s actually no need for caution. In fact, Ramadan can be a fascinating time to explore a predominantly Muslim nation – the evenings are often filled with feasting, social gatherings and lively events.
When is Ramadan in Brunei?
Ramadan dates are determined according to the lunar calendar. Officially, the event begins when the crescent moon is spotted, and finishes on the new moon. This means that it’s impossible to predict exact dates in advance. Only estimations can be made. In 2014, Ramadan is expected to begin around Sunday, June 29th and finish about Friday July 28th.
Will I be able to eat during the day?
Travellers are often worried that being in Brunei during Ramadan will mean doing as the locals do, and fasting, because no food will be available. It is true that many restaurants and shops do stay closed during the day, and some hospitality operators leave town for the entire month to spend time with their close relatives.
That said, a bunch of non-Muslim eateries do keep their doors open, so you won’t have to worry about starving yourself. Plus, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefit of visiting Brunei at a time when it’s not all go-go-go! These days, in Western nations, we’re used to retail outlets being open nearly all the time. Even on Sundays, most malls are buzzing with busy shoppers. Spend some time in Brunei during Ramadan and you might find that there’s something to be said for taking a collective rest, even if you’re not a religious type.
What happens during the evening?
Even if the quiet days do tend to make you a little impatient, you’ll be amply rewarded come evening. After fasting all day, Brunei’s residents are ready to eat, and the streets come alive with social gatherings and celebratory meals called ‘iftar’. Both locals and visitors are welcome to take part in the event, indulging in specially cooked dishes (including some incredibly tasty desserts) while feasting the eyes on live performances. At the same time, Ramadan bazaars open up in many parts of Brunei, offering special discounts – so it’s a great time to do some shopping, especially if you’re looking for gifts to take home.
Should I behave differently during Ramadan?
Even though you’ll find that it’s understood that, as a non-Muslim, you’re not taking part in Ramadan, it’s still a good idea to show respect for the people around you. Ramadan isn’t just about fasting. In fact, fasting is just part of the process of spiritual purification. Ramadan is mainly an opportunity for Muslims to concentrate on their religion and edify their thoughts.
So, you’re advised to dress appropriately at all times – in other words, keep your legs and shoulders well-covered. You should also try to avoid drinking, eating and smoking in public places before the sun has gone down. Finally, even though you might be tempted to take photographs of the locals during prayer sessions, it’s frowned upon – so enjoy the moment for what it is and leave your camera in your bag or in your hotel room.
Where to stay
Given that, for many Muslims, Ramadan is a popular time for travel, make sure book some accommodation in advance. A great hotel in Brunei is the Radisson Blu, especially if you’re the type of traveller who loves an adventure, but also enjoys the stability of modern conveniences and the luxury of ultra-comfort. The Radisson is the only internationally branded hotel in Brunei and is located in the heart of the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. Major tourist attractions, including the Royal Regalia Museum, Kampong Ayer Water Village and the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque are but a walk away.