Negara Brunei Darussalam: We’re In A Country You Haven’t Heard Of

December 29, 2012 in Asia, Brunei, Travelogue

Negara Brunei Darussalam

We’re in a country you haven’t heard of. Or, if you have heard of it, you’d be hard pressed to find it on a map. It’s a tiny double dot on the north coast of the island of Borneo, surrounded by the South China Sea and Malaysia.

The Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace.


Brunei has existed in some form since the 7th Century. It’s waxed and waned through being vassal to larger states and a thalassocracy in it’s own right. They became a British Protectorate in 1888 and finally won complete independence in 1984.

Here is and education in Brunei in capsule form:

  • Brunei is one of only 2 countries with zero debt (the other is Libya)
  • It is the world’s fifth richest nation by GDP
  • The first oil well was drilled here in 1928
  • The country’s primary source of income is the oil and gas industry
  • There are only slightly over 400,000 people in the entire country
  • Sharia law is in effect here
  • The Sultan has absolute power and is infallible under Brunei law
  • Gasoline costs about .53 a liter
  • Healthcare is free here to government employees and each treatment costs about $1 for private sector workers, all Dr.s are internationally educated
  • There is no income tax
  • Every December, all government employees receive a bonus equal to 1.5 months wages
  • Female circumcision is widely practiced (but not the extreme versions practiced in Africa)
  • Islam in the national religion, but the government is very tolerant and supportive of other religions within the country, there is no persecution or censure
  • No alcohol is for sale within the country, but foreigners can import it
  • Education is free and provided for both boys and girls
  • Friday prayers are obligatory, all businesses close to ensure attendance
  • The Sultan has two wives at the moment, but has had two others over the course of his life
  • The Sultan has a Rolls Royce covered in 24K gold
  • The state controls most of the media, but cable and one non-state radio station have been brought in by private sector companies

 We aren’t staying long in Brunei, so there is much that we will never know.

What we can say, is this:

Our first impressions of the country are very positive. It’s clean and well run, and second only to Singapore for infrastructure and development (not a close second, by any means, but second, for sure.)

The people we’ve encountered have been lovely, kind and helpful to a fault.

There don’t seem to be extremists. Although more a more conservative brand of Muslim than we’ve found elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the Bruneians are quite tolerant of outsiders and other religions. The fellow answering our questions in the mosque wished us a Merry Christmas as we left, with a very big smile. There are signs at the border about controlling funds entering the country to avoid the financing of extremist groups. They seem committed to their moniker, “The Abode of Peace.”

The pace of life is delightfully slower. There are no bars, so there is very little nightlife. The buses stop running at 5 p.m. People seem to take their time. We don’t feel quite the press of the throng of humanity here that we have elsewhere in Asia.

There is less shopping. Thankfully, although a guy who picked us up walking the other day was lamenting the fact as he drove. There are more fresh markets, and fewer malls than in Malaysia and Singapore.

In short, we like it here.