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Published: September 24th 2007
Where the heck is Brunei? Grab your atlas and find Borneo. It is a small country attached to Borneo.
As it turns out that when traveling in Asia all roads more than likely lead to Kuala Lumpur which is in Malaysia. This is because it is a major airport hub in Southeast Asia, kind of like Atlanta in the U.S. We left Singapore for a 50 minute flight to Kuala Lumpur with a short lay over and then a 2 hour and 20 minute flight to Brunei. It’s all about perspective because the flight actually seemed short after our last one and we barely had time for a nap!
The main reason we are in Brunei is because of a news story done a few years back on 60 minutes. We were intrigued by this tiny country that had such wealth….and so here we are taking a look around.
We are staying at the Brunei Hotel which is in the capital, called Bandar Seri Begawan. The population in the capital is about 80,000. Bandar Seri Begawan is a lovely little town and quite the contrast from Singapore. Brunei is a strict Islamic nation and no alcohol is served
here. Drug trafficking can get you the death penalty. As you can imagine that makes it a very safe city to walk around in and that feels very, very nice.
We decided to splurge a little in Brunei and have stayed in a nice hotel which cost about $85 per night. What we have learned about Asia is that when they quote you a price all the taxes and hotel fees have already been added. Our hotel provides a wonderful full breakfast buffet each morning. Last night we ate in a Malaysian restaurant where we ordered soup and each ordered an entrée. For $25 we ended up with enough food to feed 4 or 5 people. In the future we plan on ordering one item and then ordering additional food if it is necessary. Life is full of little lessons. Our hotel is offering a Ramadhan Buffet special in the evenings and the buffet is only $7 per person. Good food can be found in Asia for little money.
Currently it is Ramadan for the Muslim residents, and they strive to fast from sun up to sun down. At sundown a large cannon is fired two blocks from
Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Our favorite from the outside
our hotel which signifies the end of the day’s fast. It is rather loud blast which can be heard easily within the environs of downtown. The first time we heard it we were not sure what happened, as this is a very safe city. Shortly after the blast, you can see more than a few people eagerly engaged in eating.
We now have a better understanding of the Muslim religion. In addition, we read an article in the Borneo Bulletin by Mohammad Abdullah which explained the significance of completing the Quaran. The goal is to read and reflect on each section and then recite it. There are 10 rewards for each letter you recite from the Quaran. When one has completed reciting all of the 30 chapters, their prayers will be answered. Celebrations and ceremonies occur at this time. Understanding the Quaran and reciting it on a daily basis is the key to a good spiritual life.
We’ve spent a fair amount of time in this café watching people and conversing. In our travels we have learned that sometimes you must sit still to see what is going on around you.
The people we have met are
very nice. There is a small café around the corner from the hotel where you can get coffee, cold drinks, and food. We had frequented this place a few times. On our last visit, a gentleman came up to us and introduced himself to us as the owner. We engaged him in conversation. He asked about us and we told him we were nurses. The next thing you know, we are in his car headed to the hospital for a tour! Turns out he is a café owner and a journalist, working for the Borneo Bulletin, the leading newspaper in Brunei. On our return to the café, we were introduced to the editor of the paper and had a very nice chat with them both.
Education and health care are covered for residents of Brunei. Major surgeries are sent to other countries. There is a testing system for education and if your marks are high enough you will be sent away to university. Gasoline is subsidized by the Sultan and they pay less than $1.00 per gallon. It looks like the Bruneians lead a very comfortable life. There seems to be more poverty in Brunei than we were expecting
Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Yes, we really like this one
and that is due to the immigrant workers brought in from India, Indonesia and Malaysia. They are making more than they would make at home but not a great deal of money- so they end up living in substandard housing.
A short walk from our hotel is the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, which we toured our first night and the Jame’Asr Hassanai Bolkiah Mosque which we toured via city bus. Touristy tours are offered in every city and we wanted to see the Sultans Palace and the Jame’Asr Mosque because we were told that it was newer bigger and better. The tours were 3 hours and $63 per person. We weren’t in the mood to be shuttled around so we walked to the local bus station (behind our hotel) and took a city bus rather than a tourist bus. For $1.40 per person we went to the mosque, explored and came back home. Then we hired a cab driver for $14 to take us to the Sultan’s Palace and back. That was a little disappointing - they have so many fences and trees that you can’t really get a good look at it. But it felt opulent!! We are
told that if we were in here a couple of more weeks when Ramadhan ends that the Sultan comes into town and shakes hands with everyone. They say he is very personable. He has a very high approval rating, not that he needs it being a monarch.
We were so impressed with how easy it was to use the local bus system that we hoped on another bus and went to Muara Beach. I wanted to see the South China Sea. The trip was about 25 miles each way and again the bus only cost $1.40 each.
Our last night in town we took a walk to the river that runs through town and we were able to see the Sultan’s Palace off in the distance. It is well lit and rather flamboyant. It was lovely to see.Brunei is like many of the Caribbean islands that we have visited in that you can see a crappy little house and have a $30,000- $40,000 car sitting in front of it. We’ve seen many BMW’s and Jaguars around here.
While we have been in Brunei we have learned a fair amount about Borneo. We will be adding it to
Water Taxi's run along the river to the market
the list of future places to explore. It offers untouched jungles and rainforest. National parks offer hiking and other attractions, like the probiscus monkey. This is a rare monkey only found in this region and it has what appears to be a nose.
The monetary exchange rate as the same as in Singapore: $1.00 U.S. = $1.70 Brunei.
We are on the same time that we were in Singapore; 12 hours ahead of New York and 15 hours ahead of Seattle.
Brunei Background Information:
Brunei is 2,226 sq. mi, slightly larger than Delaware. The capital is Bandar Seri Begawan. The population is 383,000. Brunei is one of the smallest countries in the world, but one of the richest. This is a strict Islamic nation. The country is run by The the 29th Sultan, who is purported to be the richest man in the world.
Bruneians use complete full names with all titles, including the title Haji (for men) and Hajah ( for women) for those who have made the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. Many Brunei Malay women wear the tudong, a traditional head covering. Men wear the songkok, a traditional Malay cap. Men who have
completed the Haj can wear a white songkok.
This is a very oil rich nation, which allows Brunei to provide the population with one of Asia’s finest health care systems. Brunei is the 4th largest oil producer in Southeast Asia, averaging 219,000 barrels a day in 2006. They are the 9th largest exporter of natural gas in the world. Brunei has oil reserves expected to last 25 years, and enough natural gas reserves to last 40 years. Brunei strives to become an international offshore financial center.
The official language is Malay, but English is widely understood and used in business. Several Chinese dialects, Iban, and a number of native dialects are spoken.
Brunei had its golden age from the 15th to the 17th centuries, as its control extended over the entire island of Borneo and north to the Phillippines. In 1888, Brunei became a protectorate of the British Government, but remained independent. In 1959, Brunei became a self-governing state. In 1979, Brunei and the United Kingdom signed a new treaty of friendship and cooperation. In 1984, Brunei Darussalam became a fully independent state.
The Sultan is the official head of state with full executive authority,
including emergency powers. He is advised by five councils, which he appoints. The legal system is based on English common law. Currently Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan, Prime Minister of Defense, and Minister of Finance- His Majesty Sultan Hassanai Bolkiah is in office.
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