Brunei: Size doesn’t matter

Asia | | August 4, 2010 at 1:41 am


When you think of miniscule, think of the tiny sovereign state of Brunei. No, that is not to say that we are belittling the Nation of Brunei, the abode of peace. By miniscule, we are simply referring to the sheer size of Brunei, for it ranks among the smallest countries on Earth. But the Sultanate of Brunei is a pint-sized powerhouse, blessed as it is with some of the largest oil fields in all of Southeast Asia, and its ruler, the Sultan of Brunei, ranks among the wealthiest people on earth due to his total control of the economy and the significant oil revenues Brunei gets.

Sultan of Brunei

Brunei is all that remains of an empire that once extended to all of Borneo and the southwestern part of the Philippines. But for a country this small, Brunei is remarkably wealthy thanks to its underground reservoirs of black gold and thanks to this wealth of riches, Brunei has been able to spare it natural resources that lie above ground. Brunei’s rainforests have remained amazingly intact since time immemorial and much in the same vein Brunei will continue to surprise you. Pleasantly, of course, because despite being a Sharia country Brunei will surprise you, perhaps even dispel some of your pre-conceptions.

Brunei city tour

For all its wealth, you might imagine that Brunei is a microcosm of Dubai and extremely ostentatious in its show of wealth, but think again. Despite being an oil state, there are no aspirations about being nouveau riche. In fact, if anything the country’s capital of Bandar Seri Begawan is very charming in its way and hardly pompous as you might imagine it to be. It seems to be almost humbled by its own wealth and wears it rather gingerly, instead choosing to be quiet about their good fortune. Head into the quietly designed city centre and you can sense the main mosque and the bigger shopping malls have cost a fair sum of money, but none of it has been lavished unnecessarily, and there is certainly no sense of flashiness to it all.

Indeed, unless you know about the fortune the Bruneian’s were sitting on you’d take this to be just another modern metropolis. It’s certainly no Dubai, reveling in its riches by being glitzy. If you really want to see the extent of the riches here, you’d have to head to the suburbs where things become clearer. Take for example a mosque in the suburb of Gadong, which looks gorgeous by day and even more stunning by night. The reason for this is simple; the mosque is constructed using real gold. How’s that for affluence?

Most visitors will only limit themselves to Bandar Seri Begawan on their itinerary, but there is enough in the city to keep you riveted for a few days at the very least with its little water villages and gorgeous mosques. There is however disparity even in a well-to-do nation such as this. Particularly heart wrenching was being witness to a poor little water village settlement that had The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, the ornate Sultan’s mosque, as its backdrop. And yet again, Brunei surprises. Stay on to find out what gives Brunei its essence, for it warrants more than a few days stopover.

Brunei city tour

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