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The Ramadan, the fasting month of the Islam world, has just come to an end with spectacular festivities. If you missed the opportunity to take part in the associated festival “Eid Al Fitr” (the celebration of breaking the fast) or Sugar / Sweet Festival, and planning to visit one of the Muslim countries in South East Asia, jot down the next Ramadan on your holiday calendar (2015: June 18 to July 17/ 2016: June 6 to July 5).

For the Muslim community Ramadan is very important. Not only is it a time of personal reflection, but also of expressing love and affection to the family. Therefore it is a time-honoured custom for Muslims to return to their home town and villages to reunite and celebrate with their families at the end of the holy month. In Malaysia this homecoming is called balik kampung, an important aspect of which is asking forgiveness from parents, in-laws and other elders for any wrongdoing during the year gone by.

Homecoming or Balik Kampung, Malaysia

Source: http://www.utusan.com.my/pix/2013/0803/Utusan_Malaysia/Luar_Negara/lu_05.1.jpg

In Brunei the spelling of the name of the fasting month contains an “h” (Ramadhan), while other countries use the spelling without this letter (Ramadan); the meaning remains the same, though.

All able Muslims are required to fast, i.e. abstain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to dusk. Not an easy task when one has to work the whole day in tropical temperatures! The fasting comes to an end upon the sighting of the new moon on the last day of Ramadan. Then the feasting begins!

Large crowds in Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the south of Thailand, gather to set off firecrackers or carry lanterns. Household appliances are transferred to ‘drums’, adding to the cacophony a couple of decibels above the muezzin’s call to prayers. Noisy as it may be, it is the most fun you can have while staying sober. The spectacle that goes on for hours is mesmerizing, especially for snooping outsiders, tourists and expats alike.

Hari Raya fête at the Baitur Rahmat Hall, Brunei Darussalem; Source: http://jyppe.com

And that’s only the beginning of what’s dubbed in Brunei the Hari Raya Aidifitri celebrations, the most important traditional festival of the year, comparable to New Year celebrations in other countries, lasting for four days.

Hari Raya decorations in Brunei; Source: htpp://the-creativity-window.com

On the eve of the Hari Raya, families will be busy preparing and cooking food for the first day of the festivities, which is dedicated to the reunion of families. On that day, nobody goes out, but gather with the family to talk, eat and drink together. On the second, or ‘opening, day’ family members start going out  to visit relatives and friends, which goes on continuously through the fourth day of the festival. On the “open house” day Bruneians invite relatives and friends to their houses to share and enjoy different delightful traditional dishes.

Hari Raya display, Brunei; Source: http://jyppe.com

During the Hari Raya Festival, the Istana Nurul Iman Palace (with nearly 1,800 rooms portrayed as the world’s biggest) opens its doors for the public for two days of the year, only. On the first day the Royal Family welcomes members of the government, while on the second day the King and his family will greet their citizens. Bruneians dress in their finest to the occasion; everyone is eager to meet the Royals as it is considered to bring luck to their households. Each person visiting the palace on that day will receive a bar of chocolate with the royal seal, while children retreat with 5 Brunei Dollar as lucky money.

Tourists can join Brunei citizens to visit the grand palace on this very day and receive the gift from the royal family as well, in addition to enjoying a royal buffet meal in the palace. This is a, not well-known, enthralling tourist experience, not in the least as it is not your run of the mill to meet royalty in such splendid settings and such relaxed atmosphere, where the distance between royals and common citizens is negligible.

With Borneo’s splendor around the corner, Brunei’s Hari Raya Aidifitri Festival is a not to be missed, highly rewarding occurrence for the inquisitive traveler. In popular lingo “a must do” for 2015 or 2016.

The Istana Nurul Iman Palace, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei; Source: www.tropicalislands.de