Brunei is a country of which little is heard off and amongst my acquaintances no one has ever gone there; indeed there were those who did not even know where it was located!
Brunei’s popularity coincides with his opulent wealth, mostly from natural gas and oil fields that put Brunei in fifth place on the list of the richest nations in the world.
During my crossing of Malaysian Borneo from south to north, I had the pleasure of stopping in this small monarchical state and I can tell you that it is not the classic low cost destination for backpackers; Of course, you can find cheap food in the various local markets but the hostels are few, the public transport network is very limited throughout the country and to explore the pristine forests that constitute it you have to rely on some very expensive organized tours.
In this article I will give you some general information about this sultanate, hoping to enrich your curiosity.
GENERAL INFORMATION ON BRUNEI
WHERE IS THE BRUNEI
Brunei is located in the northern part of the island of Borneo, located within the territory controlled by Malaysia and overlooking the South China Sea. It is divided into two separate parts: the small district of Temburong which stands out for its still wild natural beauty and the larger western area which includes Brunei-Muara, Tutong and Belait.
When the ships of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition anchored off the coast of Brunei in 1521, the great Sultan Bolkiah controlled virtually all of Borneo, the Sulu archipelago and nearby islands. Towards the end of the 16th century, however, the territory was torn by internal conflicts that ceased only in 1888 when Brunei became a British protectorate. Despite the presence of a foreign administration, the sultanate managed to preserve much of its independence, thanks to the exploitation of oil fields that began in 1929. In 1941-45, during World War II, Brunei was occupied by the Japanese who used it as a naval base. At the end of the conflict and with the return of the British, negotiations began for the independence of Brunei.
NEGOTIATIONS FOR INDEPENDENCE
The first step in this process occurred in 1959, when the Protectorate passed a constitution that guaranteed the small sultanate internal autonomy while Britain remained responsible for defence and foreign policy. In 1962 a partially elected Legislative Council with limited authority was established and in 1967 Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien abdicated in favour of his eldest son, Hassanal Bolkiah Muʿizzaddin Waddaulah, although the former sultan continued to exert influence until his death.
Those were also the years in which Brunei refused to join the Federation of Malaysia, a choice that added to the thriving economy of the 1970s, that made Brunei one of the richest (on a per capita basis) oil producers in the world.
In 1979, the United Kingdom and Brunei signed a treaty under which Brunei would become fully independent from 1 January 1984, when it proclaimed itself an Islamic-style sultanate. Hassanal Bolkiah became the first sultan who, in addition to holding several other ministerial positions as prime minister, reorganized the structure of his court as a centralized administrative body, appointing the members of his family to head most of the other ministries, such as his father, who held the post of Minister of Defence until his death in 1986.
FORM OF GOVERNMENT
Brunei is an absolute monarchy and the Sultan is head of state and government that exercises executive power. Brunei has a legislative council with 36 appointed members, which has advisory tasks only.
Because of the sultanate’s fundamentalism, there is no freedom of expression in Brunei. In addition, the death penalty for homosexuals and adulterers was introduced by stoning in 2019. If you come here, remember to pay attention to what you say about the sultan! his is a sensitive subject, with legal implications and it is better not to talk about politics, especially if you have something to object about government choices.
The population of Brunei is predominantly Muslim, although the Chinese population present in Brunei usually follow Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism or Christianity.
mosque di Omar Ali Saifuddien
mosque di Hassanal Bolkiah
PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR BRUNEI
WHEN TO GO
The climate of Brunei is characterized by equatorial monsoon winds: the northeast wind typically blows from December to March and the southwest one blows from May to September. April, October and November are months of transition. Temperatures in Brunei are warm throughout the year. The best months are from January to May when the weather is dry and warm.
Italian citizens can enter the country without applying for a visa and can stay up to a maximum of 90 days. The important thing is to have a valid passport and the document has 6 months of remaining validity
HOW TO GET TO BRUNEI
- By air: Bandar Seri Begawan International Airport is the home of Brunei Royal Airlines, the national airline that flies to several destinations including Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, London and Melbourne in Australia. Singapore Airlines connects Singapore to Brunei and Malaysia Airlines offers another connection to Kuala Lumpur on the Malaysian peninsula From here depart the cheapest flights to Brunei and are offered by Airasia.
- By land: There are four entrances by land through which you can enter Brunei. The first and most accessible is located in the south- western end of the country, in the district of Belait. Known as Sungai Tujoh Control Post, it is located closer to the city of Sarawak Miri. Another is the Kuala Lurah Control Post, located in the Brunei- Muara district, less than an hour away from the border town of Limbang in northern Sarawak. If you come from the east, travellers from the state of Sabah can also reach Brunei through the ports of entry into the district of Temburong: the Labu Post Control and Ujong Jalan. From Miri depart two buses a day at 8.15 and 15.45 at a cost of 50 RM the journey takes about 4 hours. From KK the trip takes 7/8 hours with departure at 8.00 to the cost of 100 RM.
- By sea: Brunei also has a ferry terminal, the Serasa Passengers and Vehicle Ferry Terminal, where you can get from Labuan, a federal territory of eastern Malaysia, located off the coast of Sabah.
The official language is Malay, but English is also widely spoken.
The official currency is the Brunei dollar. 1 Brunei dollar is 0.62 euros In the centre of Bandar Seri Begawan, Atms are easy to find. Credit cards are accepted in hotels and tourist agencies, but they often charge a 3% commission. You can also pay with the Singapore dollar.
HOW TO DRESS
In Brunei, the Sharia law prohibits shorts and requires that the shoulders and arms be covered only by Muslims. However I advise all tourists to dress respectfully considering the culture of the country you are visiting.
In Brunei, they use the English plug. The electrical sockets are also powered by 240 volts and a frequency of 50 Hertz.
The frequency of crimes in Brunei is low and it is good practice to always use common sense. As a solo traveller I felt unsure of going out at night alone. Remember that it is a Muslim country and you will not find alcohol and if you cannot do without it, tourists can import a limited amount.
HOW TO MOVE TO BRUNEI
- App: Dart is a local transport application; such as Uber or Grab by Brunei (both currently not available in Brunei). The advantage is to have a competitive price compared to Brunei’s taxis, with the added convenience of booking a trip via the app.
- Taxis: Taxis in Brunei have a base price of 3.50 BND for the first minute or kilometre, plus an additional 0.20 BND for every 250m or 15 seconds (whichever comes first). There is also a surcharge of 3 BND for travel to and from the airport, as well as 8 BND for travel from one district to another.
- Water taxi: The Brunei is home to an extensive village on the water known as Kampong Ayer and to get there you need to move by water taxi, a kind of speedboat ready to transport travellers along the main attractions of the capital. Rides usually cost between 2 – 5 BND.
- The ferry: near the Sungai Kebun bridge, not far from the centre, there is a ferry that connects the capital Bandar Seri Begawan to Temburong, leaving a ferry that slightly outside the downtown area near the Sungai Kebun bridge. The one-way ticket costs Brunei $7. Boats depart several times during the day. Tickets are only available at the small terminal.
- From Serasa, on the northeast tip of Muara, you can take the ferry to Labuan, a Malaysian island off the coast of Borneo. Boats depart twice a day (in the morning and at noon). Tickets are available for pre-order via the Labuan Island website or on the Malaysian easybook ticket platform.
- Bus: Brunei has a form of public transport called Franchise Bus and is by far the cheapest means of transport, with an average fare of 1 BND per ride! There are six lines in all, which stand out thanks to the bright colours of the buses. The eastern line, which is the royal blue bus, and the northern line, marked as the green bus, both pass through the international airport. Note that the service runs from 6 am to 6 pm but is subject to variations so it is always best to check. I found the bus connections to the areas outside the capital difficult.
- Car rental: You can rent a car and the prices vary from 60 BND to 100 BND per day, depending on the size of the vehicle.
WHERE TO SLEEP
I said at the beginning thatBrunei is not a country for backpackers, in fact the hostels are few. The decent rooms in the hotel will cost you about 35 euros per night. I recommend you to use the Agoda site in Brunei, because often there are discounts. My choice fell on BWN Bed Station, a hostel with shared rooms for the price of 10 euros per night. At City Backpackers there are no dorms and rooms cost 22 euros.