|Capital||Bandar Seri Begawan|
|Currency||Bruneian dollar (BND)|
|Area||total: 5,770 sq km |
water: 500 sq km
land: 5,270 sq km
|Population||350,898 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||Malay (official), English, Chinese|
|Religion||Muslim (official) 67%, Buddhist 13%, Christian 10%, indigenous beliefs and other 10%|
|Electricity||240V/50Hz (UK plug)|
The Sultanate of Brunei (Full name: Negara Brunei Darussalam) is a small but - thanks to natural gas and petroleum resources - very rich country located in Southeast Asia. It is surrounded by Malaysia and has two parts physically separated by Malaysia, almost being an enclave. Strategically located on the South China Sea, close to vital sea lanes linking Indian and Pacific Oceans, it has an exclusive economic fishing zone that extends as far as Louisa Reef in the southern Spratly Islands although it makes no public territorial claim to the offshore reefs.
A constitutional sultanate, with a hereditary monarch, it is a modern example of how this form of government has stood the test of time.
- Administrative divisions
- 4 districts (daerah-daerah, singular - daerah);
- Borneo and the southern Philippines. Brunei subsequently entered a period of decline brought on by internal strife over royal succession, colonial expansion of European powers, and piracy. In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate; independence was achieved in 1984. The same family has ruled Brunei for over six centuries.
- 1 January 1984 (from UK)
- National holiday
- National Day, 23 February (1984); note - 1 January 1984 was the date of independence from the UK, 23 February 1984 was the date of independence from British protection
- 29 September 1959 (some provisions suspended under a State of Emergency since December 1962, others since independence on 1 January 1984)
The backbone of Brunei's economy is oil and gas and the Sultan of Brunei is, famously, one of the richest people in the world with an estimated personal wealth of around 40 billion dollars. Per capita GDP is far above most other Third World countries, and substantial income from overseas investment supplements income from domestic production. The government provides for all medical services and subsidizes rice and housing.
All sectors of economy are fairly heavily regulated and government policy is an odd mixture of subsidies, protectionism and encouragement for entrepreneurship. Brunei's leaders are keen to balance the country's steadily increasing integration into the world economy with internal social cohesion. It became a more prominent player on the world stage by serving as chairman for the 2000 APEC (Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation) forum. Plans for the future include upgrading the work force, reducing unemployment, strengthening the banking and tourist sectors, and, in general, further widening the economic base beyond oil and gas.
Brunei is officially a Islamic state, with many large beautiful mosques around the country. Sale of alcohol is banned. Bringing in meat, (other than seafood), which has not been certified "halal", (slaughtered according to Islamic law), is also banned. During the fasting month of Ramadhan, many shops and restaurants will be open however, eating, drinking or smoking in front of people who are fasting is considered rude and asking permission is appropriate.
The bulk of the population is Malay (67%) and there is also a significant Chinese minority of some 15% as well as a number of indigenous peoples, including the Iban and Dusun tribes who inhabit the jungle upriver and the Temburong district, (the smaller eastern part detached from the rest of Brunei). There are a large number of foreign workers who work on the oil and gas production or in lower wage positions such as restaurant staff, field workers and domestic staff.
Geography and climate
In a word, Brunei is all jungle, so it's hot and humid throughout the year. A rainy season (of sorts) extends from September to January, but there is plentiful rainfall throughout the year. A flat coastal plain rises to mountains in east, the highest point being Bukit Pagon at 1,850 meters, with some hilly lowlands in west.
There are no typhoons, earthquakes, or severe flooding to contend with, and the biggest environmental issues is seasonal haze resulting from forest fires in nearby Indonesia.
Nationals of many, but not all, industrialized countries do not require a visa. Among those who do not need a visa are US, UK, Canadian and New Zealand citizens. Those who need a visa must apply in advance at a Brunei embassy, where processing can take up to 3 days and costs B$15 for a single entry visa. See Brunei Immigration Department (http://www.immigration.gov.bn/visiting.htm) for the latest details.
Brunei's sole airport of significance is Brunei International Airport (http://www.brunet.bn/gov/dca/fids/) (BWN), the hub of national carrier Royal Brunei Airlines (http://www.bruneiair.com/). After over-expansion and huge losses in the 1990s, RBA has cut down on its services considerably but still offers a reasonably comprehensive network, with daily flights to London, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Kota Kinabalu. Fares that transit via Brunei can be attractively priced, but long haul flights on RBA generally get somewhat mixed reviews. In addition, Malaysia/Sarawak in the west)
There is also a side road off this, which runs into the jungle towards the settlement of Labi and beyond. Excellent scenery, and a 4-wheel drive may be useful, but the road is now sealed up to the longhouses some distance beyond Labi. Stock up on water at the convenient shop at the junction.
- 209 km; navigable by craft drawing less than 1.2 m
- Malay (official), English, Chinese
The official language of Brunei is Malay but English is widely spoken and understood. Solely among the Malay-speaking states, Brunei also uses the Arabic script for Malay known as Jawi, although most signs are written both in Jawi and Roman letters.
Jerudong Park is by far the most commercially developed tourist attraction, being a decent enough theme park with roller coaster rides such as the SpaceShot, Corkscrew, Merry go-rounds, Go-karts, Musical fountains, etc. After visiting all the museums and national buildings, it is wise to spend one of your last nights in Jerudong Park. It was originally created as a private playground for the royal family, but was then opened to the public with free admissions and rides. Over the years, they have started to charge more and rides have been breaking down so there are few that work anymore. Most people only go there at night to avoid the heat during the day.
Also visit Kampong Ayer (the water village) by a taxi boat. It's a beautiful sight to see hundreds of houses seemingly floating on water. The water village people are very friendly and many open up their homes to visitors year-round. Water taxis can be found by walking along the Brunei river or the main market in Bandar Seri Begawan and waving one down. Try to negotiate the price down. You shouldn't pay more than B$30 for a tour of the Kampong Ayer. Locals only pay 50 cents to cross the river. It is also possible to walk there from behind the Sultan's Mosque or from the other side in towns like Batu Satu.
The Royal Regalia museum near the city centre displays gifts received by the Sultan. Definitely worth checking out.
The Brunei Museum on the Kota Batu road has an excellent display in the Islamic Gallery. It is highly recommended.
There are many ecological tours which typically go to the Temburong district by boat, to a native "longhouse", then to catch a native powered boat up the river to the Belalong National Park, a reserve of Borneo rain forest. There is a canopy walk and research centre at the park headquarters.
The local currency is the Brunei Dollar (B$) which is also known as the Ringgit in Malay. US$1 = B$1.6339 (as of 16 Jan 2006).
The Brunei Dollar is tied to the Singapore Dollar at a 1:1 rate. By law both currencies can be used interchangeably, so if you're coming in from Singapore, there's no reason to change money as your cash will be readily accepted. (Likewise, any leftover Brunei Dollars can be used at par in Singapore.) Malaysian Ringgit (RM) will also be accepted in a pinch, but the exchange rate may not be in your favour.
The Brunei Dollar is divided into 100 cents. There are banknotes (http://www.finance.gov.bn/tt/EDITKKW/bcb/notes_cir_2nd.htm) from B$1 to a whopping B$10,000 (handy if you're shopping for Rolls-Royces) and coins (http://www.finance.gov.bn/tt/EDITKKW/bcb/notes_cir_2nd.htm) of 1 to 50 cents . All smaller notes and the 2004 series of larger notes are in brightly coloured plastic.
By South-East Asian standards Brunei is on par with Singapore, meaning roughly twice that of neighboring Malaysia. However, like any other place, it is possible to travel to this country on a budget by eating at the local restaurants and avoiding the more expensive restaurants in hotels. The major problem for the budget traveller is accommodation: the budget option in the centre of BSB is a single youth hostel, Pusat Belia, which is famously picky about who it accepts as its guests! Most two-star hotels charge closer to B$70 and a night in a "good" hotel will easily cost twice that. The APEK Utama Hotel along the Kota Batu road has very decent accommodation for about B$30.
There are many excellent restaurants in Brunei, the Brunians love to eat out.
Do try the local Nasi Katok. 'Katok' is basically the same word as 'kotak', so Nasi Kotak in Malay means Rice Box. It's a simple combination of rice and curried beef or chicken, often spicy enough to whet your appetite. It's relatively inexpensive when compared to other foodstuff that you can buy, including local food such as Chicken rice.
For a great view while cooling down after sightseeing try the RMS Portview terrace opposite the Yayasan Shopping Centre, looking over to Kampong Ayer.
One should also try Ambuyat, a cullinary experiance unique to Borneo. It is a starchy and gooey paste that you dip into a few savory sauces. A few local restaurants cary this delicacy, Aminah Harith Restaurant offers a pretty good range for anyone.
Brunei is a 'dry country': alcohol is not sold anywhere in the country and consumption of alcohol in public is prohibited by law. That said, non-Muslim visitors are allowed to bring in up to two litres of alcohol (wine or spirits) plus up to twelve cans of beer, and there's a wide array of duty-free shops just across the border in Malaysia to cater to this demand. However, alcohol permits must be obtained upon arrival in Brunei while going through customs. Many higher-end restaurants allow guests to bring in their own alcohol and corkage is not charged.
One should definitely try out "teh tarik", a sweet milk tea, as well as the wide array of coffee ("kopi") available in restaurants.
- Tagz Lounge, Sheraton Utama Hotel. The closest you can get to a bar in an alcohol-free country, here you can bring your own booze and buy the mixers. Access theoretically only for hotel guests, but getting in is rarely a problem.
Most hotels in Brunei are in the middle to higher price range.
- Pusat Belia, Brunei's only youth hostel, is the cheapest place to stay in Brunei, at B10/night. It is best to arrange a bed in advance.
- APEK Utama Hotel is another budget option at B30/night. On the Kota Batu road towards the Brunei Museum. Tel: 2220808.
- Empire Hotel and Country Club, usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!