The golden dome of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan

Brunei Darussalam, Land of Unexpected Treasures - in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 8th January 2018

Getting into Brunei

Brunei is considered to be the most observant Islamic nation in Southeast Asia and the sale and public consumption of alcohol is illegal, although non-Muslims are allowed to bring up to two litres into the country. There are queues of people filling in the necessary declarations at the airport, when I arrive from Manila. It’s another late night, but although it’s 12.30 a.m. when I arrive the hotel receptionist is still happy to phone a tour guide and arrange a trip for me tomorrow morning. I’m hoping the tour guide is as happy about it.

What Does the Name Brunei Mean?

Brunei is officially known as Brunei Darussalam in Malay, which means "abode of peace"

A Brief History of Brunei

  • The area now known as Brunei, on the island of Borneo underwent various invasions and alliances with China, and islands in the area now known as the The Philippines and Indonesia, before the sultanate of Brunei emerged in the fifteenth century.
  • At the peak of the Bruneian Empire the Sultan controlled most regions of Borneo, including modern-day Sarawak and Sabah, as well as the Sulu Archipelago off the northeast tip of Borneo, possibly Seludong (modern-day Manila), and the islands off the northwest tip of Borneo.
  • During the nineteenth century, the Empire began to decline. The Sultanate ceded Sarawak (Kuching) to James Brooke, a British explorer, installing him as the White Rajah, and Sabah to the British North Borneo Chartered Company. In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate and was assigned a British 'colonial manager', in 1906.
  • Although the Federation of Malaysia - which includes Brunei's neighbours of Sarawak and Sabah - was formed in 1963, Brunei did not gain independence from Great Britain until 1984.

Is Brunei a Rich Country?

  • Brunei is a tiny, independent, oil-rich country wedged between the states of Sarawak and Sabah on the Malaysian side (northeast) of the island of Borneo
  • In 2015, Brunei ranked higher on the Human Development Index (31st overall in the index) than all other countries in Southeast Asia, aside from Singapore.

Facts and Factoids

  • Brunei is the only sovereign state completely on the island of Borneo; the remainder of the island's territory is divided between the nations of Malaysia and Indonesia. Brunei's population was roughly 400,000 in 2018.
  • The government is an absolute monarchy under the Sultan; it implements sharia law and directs Islamic practices.
  • The Sultan also serves as Defence Minister, Prime Minister, and Finance Minister of Brunei.
  • Brunei passed a law in 2014 making homosexuality punishable by stoning to death.
  • Brunei has one of the highest car-ownership rates (roughly one car for every two people),in the world.

Is Brunei a Safe Country to Visit?

Brunei has very low crime rates and is one of the safest countries in South East Asia.

What To Do in Brunei?

Brunei is very small so it's easily and quickly navigated. But it's also known as the Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures. As the tourist board says: ' Brunei Darussalam is a land blessed with the gifts of nature, culture, a stable political environment and harmonious peoples'.

The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) lends itself to strolling and admiring the Islamic architecture, with a boat trip thrown in to visit the stilt houses - if they still remain (they are being torn down and replaced with far less characterful dwellings). There's beach and ancient rainforest. And these are, indeed, some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.

8 January 2018, Leaving Bandar Seri Begawan

Check in is frustratingly slow as there are a group of Chinese tourists waiting. After that the airport is very modern, easy and quiet. There’s just me and five security guards. They won’t let me take my water through, but they count down from ten, laughing, while I drink it. Bangkok next.

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