Difference between revisions of "Brunei"
Revision as of 06:01, 21 November 2006
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.
Brunei is a pint-sized and fabulously wealthy oil-rich sultanate with a population of just over 350,000.
The Sultanate of Brunei's heyday occurred between the 15th and 17th centuries, when its control extended over coastal areas of northwest 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.
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 an 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 Ramadan, 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, Japanese,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 for the latest details.
Brunei's sole airport of significance is Brunei International Airport (BWN), the hub of national carrier Royal Brunei Airlines. 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, Singapore Airlines flies 5 times a week from Singapore, Thai Airways flies 3 times a week from Bangkok and Malaysia Airlines flies from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu (twice a week from both cities). In July 2006, discount carrier Air Asia started flights from Kuala Lumpur, bringing some much-needed competition.
The airport itself is small but clean and functional. A taxi to Bandar Seri Begawan takes 20 minutes and costs around B$25. A covered walk down to the end of the car park further away from the Terminal (turn right from Arrivals) leads to a bus stop for Purple buses to the city centre (B$1).
It is possible to drive into Brunei from Sarawak, Malaysia. There are two entry points, one from Miri (Sungai Tujoh) and one from Limbang (Kuala Lurah).
There is a bus service from Miri, Sawawak, Malaysia but it involves a number of changes, although a through ticket (RM12.20) is available. This goes to Kuala Belait, where a further service is available to Seria (B$1) and then change again for Bandar Seri Begawan.(B$6)
Regular boat services run from Labuan island, Malaysia (for Sabah) to the ferry terminal at Muara, 25km outside Bandar Seri Begawan. (Irregular Purple bus to BSB) There is also a daily service from Lawas, Malaysia.
There is one "motorway", from Bandar Seri Begawan (the capital) along the coast. It devolves into dual and then single carriageway but is suitable for all vehicles, right through to Kuala Belait and the toll bridge to 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.
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 Pusing Lagi, 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. Outside the park but very close is a small complex of restaurants which is open at night.
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.
Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. Dominating the city centre of Bandar Seri Begawan, this is one of the most magnificent mosques in Southeast Asia and a symbol of the strong Islamic faith of the people of Brunei Darussalam. Completed in 1958, it is named after the 28th Sultan, Omar Ali Saifuddien, who is still referred to as the architect of modern Brunei. The mosque's design reflects the use of the world's most elegant materials, including marble from Italy, granite from Shanghai, stained glass and chandeliers from England and carpets from Belgium and Saudi Arabia. Located in a lagoon beside the mosque is a replica of a 1 6th century mahligai barge, which was used to stage colourful religious ceremonies such as Koran reading competitions during the 1960s and early 70s. Visitors to the mosque are advised to remove their shoes before entering and should be dressed conservatively. Visiting hours: Sunday through Wednesday from 8.00 am to 12.00 noon, 1.00 pm to 3.30 pm and from 4.30 pm to 5.30 pm. On Friday: 4.30 pm to 5.30 pm . The mosque is closed to non-muslims on Thursday. Most sights are within walking distance or a short bus ride of the city centre.
The magnificent "Crystal Arch" stands as a majestic sentry, at the entrance of the Playground Gardens and the road leading to Istana Nurul Izzah. It has become one of the country’s most recognizable icons. Weighing 7 tons, it reaches for the sky in the shape of a brilliant cut diamond supported by four shanks decorated with millions of small gold mosaic tiles cascading waterfalls bubble underneath. It is the largest known diamond replica in the world! Witness its metamorphosis as the light varies; protruding as a dramatic structure during the day, shimmering in the soft light of dusk and brilliant as coloured lasers spear through its centre to refract shots of neon at night!
The most impressive site in Bandar Seri Begawan is His Majesty's royal palace, known as the Istana Nurul Iman. It is the largest residential palace in the world, and its golden domes, vaulting roof and riverside setting make it a spectacular subject for photographs. The palace is open to the public only during Hari Raya, when residents and visitors alike have the opportunity to greet His Majesty and the royal households. The best view of the istana is from the Persiaran Damuan, which is a park along the river bank offJalan Tutong. It has walkways, a well equipped playground and feature six outdoor sculptures by ASEAN artists, on the theme of Unit,vin Diversity. The Persiaran Damuan is popular for jogging and has several foodstalls in the evenings.
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 from B$1 to a whopping B$10,000 (handy if you're shopping for Rolls-Royces) and coins 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 Bruneians 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 culinary experience unique to Borneo. It is a starchy and gooey paste that you dip into a few savory sauces. A few local restaurants carry this delicacy, Aminah Arif 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. At the lower end (particularly Chinese restaurants), many restaurants supply illicit booze under euphemisms like "special tea".
One should definitely try out "teh tarik", a sweet milk tea, as well as the wide array of coffee ("kopi") available in restaurants.
Most hotels in Brunei are in the middle to higher price range.
While some countries have a more liberal attitude to this, drug trafficking and illegally importing controlled substances into Brunei are serious offenses and carry a mandatory death sentence.
The Brunei Government is run as a Malay Islamic Monarchy, which means that the Sultan of Brunei, apart from being one of the richest man in the world, runs the show around here, appearing in the local daily newspaper almost every other day. At all costs, do not insult or speak badly of the Royal family.
The telephone numbers in Brunei has local codes. For eg: (03) for the Belait District and (02) for Bandar Seri Begawan
The international code is 673.