Brunei

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Introduction to Brunei

This tiny oil-rich Islamic sultanate lying on the northwest coast of Borneo is known chiefly for the astounding wealth of its Sultan, its tax-free, subsidised society, and the fact that (statistically at least) its population enjoy one of the highest per capita incomes on earth.

Despite the ostentatious modern public buildings in the capital, most of the country remains undeveloped and untouched by the outside world. Alcohol is virtually unobtainable, there's no nightlife to speak of, and the political culture encourages quiet acquiescence to the edicts of the sultan.

Wedged between the northeastern corner of Sarawak and the South China Sea, Brunei is one of the smallest countries in the world - as well as being one of the wealthiest. A curious reminder of the British colonial legacy and the power of companies (in this case Shell Oil) to shape countries, this tiny Islamic sultanate is all that remains of an empire that controlled all of Borneo in the 16th century.

Full country name: Negara Brunei Darussalam

Area: 5,765 sq km

Population: 322,000

Capital City: Bandar Seri Begawan

People: 69% Malays, 18% Chinese, 7% indigenous tribes (plus 20,000 expatriate workers)

Language: Malay, English, Chinese

Religion: 65% Muslim, 15% Buddhist, 10% Christian

GDP: US$4.5 billion

GDP per capita: US$14,240

Annual Growth: 5%

Inflation: 2%

Major Industries: Oil and gas

Major Trading Partners: ASEAN, Japan, Taiwan, S.Korea, USA

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Citizens of 14 countries (including Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden) can stay 14 days without a visa; British, Malaysian, German and Singaporean citizens can stay 30 days without a visa. US citizens can stay up to 90 days without a visa.

Health risks: dengue fever

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +8

Dialling Code: 673

Electricity: 220-240V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Most festivals are religious celebrations or mark the anniversaries of important events in the sultanate's history. The dates of religious festivals are based on the Islamic calendar, so the dates are not fixed. Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, is one of the most important events on Brunei's calendar. Chinese New Year takes place in January/February, and Brunei's National Day is 23 February.

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Best time to Visit

Weather's not much of a consideration when heading for Brunei - whenever you go it's bound to be warm and wet. September to January is the official wet season, when things are even warmer and wetter. Things tend to close down during Ramadan, when all Muslims must fast between dawn and dusk for a month, so it's worth checking if your visit will fall in this period.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Brunei dollar

Meals

Budget: B$3-9

Mid-range: B$9-20

High: B$20-30

Deluxe: B$30+

Lodging

Budget: B$10-80

Mid-range: B$80-170

High: B$170-300

Deluxe: B$300+

Brunei's accommodation can be fiercely expensive. There is only one budget accommodation option in the country, but it cannot always be relied upon for a bed. Mid-range accommodation is a bit of a disaster, though some top-end hotels are not that much more expensive than the equivalent in Malaysia. Transport and food are more expensive than in Peninsular Malaysia, but not outrageously so.

Although the official currency is the Brunei dollar, Singapore dollars are equally exchanged and can be used. Although it's comparatively easy to change both cash and travellers' cheques, banks will give you a better rate (around 10% more) for travellers' cheques.

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Attractions

Bandar Seri Begawan

Bandar, the only town in Brunei of any size, seems too big for its 60,000 inhabitants. It's a neat, clean, modern city with wide roads and overstated public buildings and home to Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, one of the most impressive modern mosques in the East.

Originally built in 1958, the giant golden-domed mosque stands close to the Brunei River in its own artificial lagoon. The interior is just as luxurious, with Italian marble walls, luxurious carpeting and an elevator.

Kampung Ayer is a centuries-old collection of 28 water villages built on stilts in the Brunei River. Around 30,000 people live in this area, which is a strange mix of modern and ancient.

Bandar Seri Begawan has a couple of excellent museums: the traditionally-oriented Brunei Museum and the lavish Malay Technology Museum, which includes exhibits on water village architecture.

If you're looking for nightlife in Bandar, it's pretty scant and the streets are deserted by 9pm.

Jerudong

Jerudong is the playground of the sultan, where he indulges in his favourite pastime, polo. Jerudong Park is a huge complex with a polo stadium, luxurious stables, a golf course and trapshooting and croquet facilities. Unfortunately, you'll only be allowed in if you've been invited.

The hoi-polloi head to Jerudong for the Playground, a massive amusement park with a huge range of rides. Behind the park is Jerudong Beach, with stalls selling fish and some great cliffs. Jerudong is just north of the main highway between Bandar Seri Begawan and Tutong - it's best visited by car.

Pulau Ranggu

In the middle of the river near the Istana Nurul Iman, Pulau Ranggu is home to a large colony of proboscis monkeys, with their hugely distended noses. There are also plenty of macaques here. If you take a water taxi along the river around sunset, you may get a glimpse of the monkeys.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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