21 Facts about Brunei

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21 Facts about Brunei

This small oil-rich Sultanate is a country of superlatives.

Here are 21 facts you may or may not know about Brunei.


1# Brunei is Split into Two Parts:

The country is split through the middle by Sarawak. The vast majority of people live in the western part of the island. The mountainous eastern part only has around 10,000 residents.

You can get between them by boat or by driving through Sarawak. But, the latter requires exiting and re-entering Brunei.

2# The Capital is One of the Smallest in the World:

The population of Bandar Seri Begawan ranges from 30,000 to 60,000 depending on which source you read. This makes it one of the smallest capital cities in the world.


3# A Visit to Brunei is a Visit to 50% of the World’s Sultanates:

There are only two Sultanate left in the world. Brunei is one of them. The other is Oman.


4# The Sultan is One of the Richest Men in the World:

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is super rich from oil. Estimates suggest he’s worth more than $25 billion USD. The Sultan owns more than 5,000 cars including 600 Rolls Royces and 300 Ferraris. The Royal Palace (Istana Nurul Iman) is the world’s largest residence. There are almost 1,800 rooms for one family!


5# The Royal Family is the Oldest Muslim Dynasty in Southeast Asia:

The Sultans family dates back to 1405. This makes it the oldest Muslim dynasty in the region. The Sultan became powerful in the 15th and 16th centuries. The majority of Borneo Island was under their control. The dynasty survived conflicts with the Dutch, Spanish and British. In 1888, Borneo was under attack from pirates. The Sultan asked for British help. North Borneo then became a British protectorate. Brunei gained their independence in 1984.


6# Entrance Fees are Almost Non-Existent:

Most places in Brunei are free to visit. The State sponsors their management and maintenance. As a tourist, this is refreshing.


7# Kampong Ayer is the World’s Largest Floating Village

Kampong Ayer by Jorge Lascar distributed under a CC BY 4.0 License

This is a unique fact about Brunei. The houses are on stilts in the water making a large settlement. The village is connected with wooden pathways.
It has its own schools, mosques and a police force. Kampong Ayer has a population of at least 13,000. There are close to 30 kilometres of wooden bridges in the city. Experts believe this settlement has existed for almost 1,000 years. 16thcentury explorers called it ‘Venice of the East’.


8# River Taxis are More Popular than Regular Taxis:

A large portion of the city in Bandar Seri Begawan is on the water. People need to travel to and from their homes to the city centre. Water taxis are everywhere. A short ferry across the water is around B$1.


9# Brunei Follows Strict Sharia Law:

Brunei practices conservative Islam. The Sultan decided to implement a strict Sharia law in 2014. Women can’t vote and alcohol is banned (foreigners can bring in a small amount for personal use). The new law wants to introduce stoning as the punishment for homosexuality and severed limbs for other crimes.

The international community didn’t take to this too well. As of 2016, it hasn’t come into effect. But, the Sultan is determined. It’s unclear how this law affects non-Muslim residents and tourists.


10# Christmas is Banned in Brunei:

Did your parents ever tell you they were going to cancel Christmas when you were naughty? Mine did. Thankfully I didn’t live in Brunei where this is true. They took this to a whole new level. In 2015, the Sultan banned Christmas. This is despite 9% of the population being Christian.

There will be no Christmas trees, decorations or songs in Brunei. Christians can celebrate in private, not in public. Any Muslim that joins in the festivities faces a fiveyear prison sentence.


11# Quran Reading Competitions are Held in Brunei:

The Quran Reading Competitions are held every year. Judges choose a winner who gives the best recital of the Quran. The winner gets a cash prize of up to B$5,000 ($3,600).


12# Your Name is What?

A person’s title is important in Brunei. In the west, we use titles such as Mr or Mrs. But in Brunei it’s a little more complicated. Titles are given based on rank and role. Some people can have up to 20 titles in their name.

13# Brunei is Home to One of the World’s Oldest Rainforests:

Ulu Temburong National Park is a short distance from the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. Unlike the neighbouring countries, Brunei hasn’t destroyed it for timber. This means it’s still the same as it was thousands of years ago. The rainforest is so dense that tourists can only enter a few kilometres. To get here, you need to take a boat. This is one of my favourite facts about Brunei.


14# Brunei and Singaporean Have a Special Relationship:

An official relationship started in 1984 after Brunei gained their independence. Both countries decided not to join Malaysia in 1963. They developed ties to support each other.

The Brunei Dollar and Singaporean Dollar are pegged. This means B$1 is the same as SG$1. You can buy things in Brunei and Singapore using either B$ or SG$.

The close relationship extends further. Singaporean troops regularly train in Brunei.


15# Brunei is Swimming in Black Gold:

Oil and natural resources make up about 50% of GDP. Oil was struck in 1929 and large scale operations in modern times has made both the Sultan and Brunei wealthy. Shell Oil gets most of its supply from Brunei. But, recent research shows the levels of oil reserves are falling and it’s unclear how much they will have in the near future.


16# The Benefits of Being a Bruneian:

In Brunei, people don’t pay income tax and the average salary is around $50,000 (USD) per year. The State also provides free education and healthcare. This gives people a high standard of living.


17# Don’t Expect a Direct Answer from a Bruneian:

Saving face is an important concept in Asia. In simple terms, people won’t do anything that embarrasses someone else in public or makes them lose their dignity. Shame and honour are essential. This means people don’t show their true feelings.

Direct questions may get unclear or non-committal answers. It’s important not to take an agreement too seriously. They made be hiding their true feelings. They may even disagree with you. But, for the sake of face, they keep it to themselves.


18# Asking Personal Questions is Normal:

This seems to contradict the point above. Asking if you’re married or how much money you make is common in Brunei. This isn’t meant to be intruding. It’s usually to help them get to know you better.


19# Don’t Expect to be Invited to a Bruneian’s Home:

It’s quite rare for Bruneians to invite foreigners to their home. If they do, they must really like you and you should feel honoured. When you enter a home, remove your shoes.


20# Women Be Careful When You Shake Hands:

In Brunei, people rarely shake hands with the opposite sex. So, don’t initiate it. A Bruneian male may shake hands with important foreign women to show respect. You should always wait for them to initiate. Men should never offer to shake hands with a woman. A nod of the head is better. This is an important cultural fact about Brunei to make sure you follow their customs.


21# Men Be Careful When you Shake Hands:

Men shake hands lightly. In the west, we see it as a macho thing to squeeze as hard as we can. Don’t do this in Brunei.


Final Thoughts:

I hope these 21 facts about Brunei has helped you learn more about this tiny Sultanate. Remember, it’s always important to read up on places you visit to truly appreciate where you are.

What’s Your Favourite Fact About Brunei?

Leave a comment below.

*image used under a CC BY 4.0 license.

Itching For Travel

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