One of Asia’s wealthiest countries with one of its highest standards of living Brunei is a beautiful place noted for its friendly people. Home to the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, one of the world’s most beautiful.
The Sultanate of Brunei
Brunei, is an independent Islamic sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It is bounded to the north by the South China Sea and on all other sides by Malaysia, which also divides Brunei into two disconnected segments, with one being much larger.
It’s best known for the opulent Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, adorned with chandeliers, stained glass and Italian marble, and surrounded by a lagoon. Nearby, the Royal Regalia Building showcases a gold carriage and lavish gifts presented to the sultans. Only a little ways to the northwest is the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, with 29 golden domes.
The country is modern, clean considered very safe and the people friendly and welcoming to visitors.
Where Your Ship Docks The Brunei seaport is Muara located 20 miles away from the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan. Most visiting cruise ships will provide shuttle busses into the capital.
Although Standard Malay is the official language, English is widely spoken and understood.
Bandar Seri Begawan is a very walkable city and water taxis are easy to locate for trips and tours but be prepared for a fast ride. The country has a good bus system, but Brunei now boasts their own ride share service called Dart Brunei with apps available on the Apple App Store and Google Play. Reports are that the system is safe and easy to use and reasonably priced.
Brunei has its own dollar with an exchange rate of one Brunei Dollar equal to one Singapore Dollar or US 75¢. US Dollars are not usually taken but major credit cards are widely accepted.
The Ali Saifuddien Mosque
At one time Brunei was the center of the Bruneian Empire, Sultan Bolkiah (1485–1528) had control over most of Borneo, including modern-day Sarawak and Sabah, as well as the Sulu Archipelago off the northeast tip of Borneo including modern-day Manila. After the Empire’s decline it became a British protectorate with the British supporting the Sultan and in 1959 a new constitution was written. In 1962, a small armed rebellion against the monarchy was ended with the help of British troops. Brunei gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 1 January 1984 and the Sultan has kept control by being very generous towards his subjects ever since.
The country is a completely Muslim state following Sharia Law and allows very little immigration and only issues short term temporary work visas. Today the people of Brunei are very happy with their Sultan who provides them with the second highest standard of living in Asia (see our story about a bus ride in Brunei).
There has been some controversy involving the Sultan and “his” nations strict interpretation of Islam and Sharia Law. In Hollywood there was a call to boycott the Salton’s five luxury hotels that included The Beverly Hills Hotel. If anything this sheds light on just how wealthy Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is (his full name is Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam).
The countries wealth is based on oil. There are huge offshore deposits controlled by the Sultan and his companies. While the Sultan controls every facet of the economy and government he is a very benevolent ruler. Currently the average income in the country is US$40,000 and most everyone that wants to work has a job either in private business or with the government. The Sultan provides free college education to anyone who wants one along with heavily subsidized housing.
This area of the world is famous for what are called water-villages and Brunei is home to some large communities. A serious issue with these villages is sanitation where waste is simply flushed into the sea. To fix this problem the Sultan has been building new, modern water-villages with proper plumbing and waste treatment and has systematically been relocating his people into these new villages.
The Ali Saifuddien Mosque opened in 1958 and cost $10 Million Dollars. The building stands 170 feet tall on an artificial lake. The opulent mosque features materials imported from all over the world including marble from Italy, granite from Shanghai, crystal chandeliers from England, and carpets from Saudi Arabia.
Tamu Kianggeh Market – Located at Bandar Seri Begawan, Tamu Kianggeh Market is a roofed street market in Brunei presenting a wide array of shopping and several restaurants.
The Light of Faith Palace is the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei and is also the seat of the Brunei government. The palace is located on an overgrown garden site on the banks of the Brunei River, a few miles southwest of Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei’s capital city