I imagine many have the faintest idea where this place is, well it is on the 3rd largest island in the world…
A small but big nation located in Asia, located between Indonesia, Malaysia and the South China Sea. Still no clue where it is? In Borneo…just look it up ha ha.
Brunei has been by far the most interesting place on this trip if not the most interesting I’ve ever been. It is actually the whole reason I came to Borneo.
It is an oil rich nation, in fact one of the richest in the world (top 3)…even having only 5,765 km2(2,226 sq mi) and with a population of about 440,000 (maybe 100K of which are expats). It is a Muslim country. In fact when I arrived on a Friday at about noon (12 pm) all the stores closed…I got worried about getting dinner and transportation…but soon saw the mass exodus of Muslims headed to the popular Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque (which can have up to 3,000 believers at a time) – nothing compared to the current Sultan’s mosque which holds 5,000! All returned to normal 2 hours later after prayers were over, thankfully.
Indeed they have a Sultan too! A 73 year old Sultan who has ruled since he was 20 years old…a few years ago the country celebrated his Golden Year, 50 years of ruling (this is in addition to his annual birthday celebration of course!). He is the 29th Sultan of Brunei, a nation that has been around since the 13th century! Also did you know he is one of 2 currently ruling Sultan’s left in the world…mind you Sultan is just another name for a King, Emir and Emperor…but still the name is awesome! (The Emperor of Japan had the same effect on me when I got there too. ha ha) The other Sultan as a ruler is in Oman…it is important to mention that there are other leaders that have the same title, sultan, but are with less power, leading not a nation but maybe a state…you can find the title used as such additionally in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. I was also told that the Sultan of Brunei, Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, loves foreigners and that he often is hands on when there is a problem…going and resolving it himself instead of sending someone….I guess that comes from being a small nation, small population and a ruler who has done this since 1967 because that hardly happens elsewhere.
Their currency the Brunei Dollar is quite strong and is pegged to the Singapore Dollar…you can even use both in Both locations.
You will also find a Singapore army base there as well as a British army base…this last one has the famous Gerkha unit comprised of Nepalese soldiers…all of which are in charge of guarding the Sultan! Cool huh!
I chose to stay a few days in Brunei. Which I did through coachsurfing so I could learn a bit more about the culture. It turned out to be the best plan ever…most people go to Brunei for a day and don’t see much, they usually just do so to check it off the list when nearby. I knew there had to be more…I stayed with an expat actually, a guy from S. Africa who is a runner :). I was there on a weekend and a random one with lots going on. Although I stayed with an expat I still learned quite a bit since he has lived there for 4 years already…he was quite knowledgeable and knows many people, even locals!
As soon as I met him within 40 minutes we were joining his run club group for their Friday run…making it my second run of the day and the first time I’ve ran in 2 different countries on the same day, within less than 12 hours! Fun fact ;).
Being a Muslim country (practicing Islam) it is a dry country…aka no alcohol…but they do allow foreigners and Chinese to bring it in…such a flexible nation!…they are allowed 2 bottles and 12 regular cans of beer…so if you go please buy your expat/Chinese friend/host some beer as it will be very much appreciated! Besides hoping the borders for alcohol the British army base does have a liquor store so it pays to have friends there 😉 if you live there and so need alcohol. Drinks are permitted at home but not in public…though I definately experienced some not legal ways to drink while there and although a dry nation I drank way more there than in any other place on my trip ha ha!!! The laid back atmosphere and small population means that no one really seemed to care if you do drink (as long as you aren’t rude or too obvious about it).
Somewhere I read Brunei being compared to a Caribbean island…I might agree since they have quite a laid back approach to life…even with such strict laws in place like the traditional Islamic laws (Sharia law) that were reinstated this year (2019) which condemn adultery, rape, homosexuality, theft and other big no no things in their culture with old punishment methods like Stoning/lashings/crucification etc! Yeah old school laws are present…but again flexible…for instance yes you could get stoned for being homosexual for instance but it has to be proven 4 separate times by a witness…flexible! I know in other nations it is a one time offense and punish…by the way laws apply to foreigners too… Why so flexible, because it is Brunei, they are laid back…the law is in place because they want to comply with the rest of the Islamic nations…and well maybe because they, as an oil rich nation, need to be in good standing with Saudi Arabia/Kuwait (other oil rich Islamic nations)…just maybe…
Speaking of being an oil rich nation Brunei has a subsidy for gas sold locally. For anyone with Brunei license plates…gas always costs the same…a whopping 0.53 cents BND$ or 0.38 USD$.
Having been an expat before I was very impressed with the Brunei expat community! There are many expats there with the Army (British mainly), working for Shell gasoline on 4 year contracts, teaching English and well plenty of other reasons to be there. All seemed to love it there and I can now see why. For all the foreigners there they have expat clubs, with all the services and activities you desire. So cool! Most foreigners are in KB (Kuala Beleit), where I stayed the first 2 nights…it is just across the border with Miri, Malaysia.
Side note – If you are a teacher with a degree teaching English and from anywhere except the US (due to accent, they want British English) this might be a place to work for you, the benefits are literally outstanding, pay is good, and they treat you very well. Everytime I heard more about the luxury of the teachers there it was jaw dropping! For example: 2 year contract, paid moving expense covered, housing stipend (nice ass apartments – with pools & views!) plus at introduction they give everyone a rental car and are sure to place you based on best fit (family, single, couple, personality, etc). Living there did not seem horrible at all in fact in the capital I got to see some of the hip areas (like Regents Square) and try the good food options (like Malaysia you find a mix of Chinese, Indian, Western and local food mainly but also other Asian options could be found). I would totally move!
Interestingly enough Brunei, unlike the other 2 nations (Malaysia and Indonesia) on Borneo, actually protects it’s forests and therefore I was easily able to see lots of wildlife without even trying. Since their main industry is oil this has kept them from destroying the forest and they actually do actively protect it. On the map their natural forests are actually visible and the air quality in Brunei is great compared to their neighbors (except on occasion when Malaysia is burning a lot of land for their massive Palm tree oil industry :(…which sadly has depleted most of their natural forests, blah because it’s worse on the Indonesia side…)
Other things worth noting in Brunei was the architecture, very pretty and lovely designs, especially the mosques. Then in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, you can visit the largest floating village (Kampong Ayer) in the world, with it’s own mosque, restaurants and more! Unfortunately I didn’t go but you can spend a whole day here it is that big! The forest is also probably worth it, so pure, old and un touched.
On the sport side, loads of cyclists (in evening generally due to heat…or very early am) frequent the main highway, plenty of runners (races mainly in Malaysia though)…even trail runners (be warned there are leeches – wear long pants and socks on top of pants then check after run! – applies only when ground is wet). There are pools too just remember to respect the Muslim culture…bikini and showing lots of skin is very frowned upon and should be avoided! (Shorts on top of suit was recommended) Open water swimming was with caution due to jellyfish, crocodiles and currents… As far as team sports I did see some playing Football (Soccer) and I’m certain there are other team sports but didn’t see them. I know at school 1 day a week kids had like 1.5 hours of sport (I think Saturday) included in their curriculum.
I got very lucky to experience cycling in Brunei too. My friends had previously planned a ride and I jumped at the opportunity to ride with him and a friend some 90km to a lake where he’d meet friends to spend the day…it became an ever adapting plan since we had to first find a bike for me to borrow. With luck we found someone to lend us a bike and it was even my size so we succeDurided with the 90km in the heat and all…best experience was when we got off main highway and were surrounded on both sides of the road by Muslims headed to the mosque…surreal…oh and finally arriving at the beautiful lake of course!
Great and unexpected experiences in Brunei :)!
By the way I arrived by bus from Kuching, Malaysia. I do not recommend this method…16 hours or so by bus on an under construction highway (when they finish…go for it) which I split into 2 days. Best is fly to Miri at least then bus the 3 hours to the capital of Brunei. (Don’t miss Kuching! By far my favorite place in Borneo!)
I left Brunei by ferry (to Labuan Island – 1 hr) but you can take the longer land route too, mindful that you will get lots of stamps (6 I think) if you do this without a ferry (also ferry option from BSB to Batu Apoi…aka the forest) because Malaysia separates the middle of their country…ha ha. I took the Ferry to Labuan (then Ferry to Kota Kinabalu – 3hrs) then bused all the way to Semporna, Malaysia…length of Borneo by bus, check! Lol