Brunei Country Profile – Facts

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Country Factfile

Location: Southeast Asia

Capital City: Bandar Seri Begawan

Population: 423,000

Government: Unitary Islamic absolute monarchy

Currency: Brunei Dollar (BND)

Main Languages: Malay, English, Chinese

Main Religions: Sunni Islam (78%), Christianity, Buddhist

Country Profile

The tiny nation of Brunei Darussalam is the only sovereign state located entirely on the on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Sitting 277 miles north of the equator, Brunei is bordered by the Malaysian state of Sarawak, which splits the country into two parts. It also has 100 miles of coastline with the South China sea to the north west. Around 95% of the population live in the urbanised western part of the country, with smaller communities inhabiting the towns and villages surrounding Brunei’s pristine rainforest and mountainous areas.

Brunei has one of the highest standards of living in the world, thanks to its rich oil and gas reserves. The inhabitants of this tiny state pay no income tax and healthcare and education are free to citizens. Brunei is an absolute monarchy, currently ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (crowned in 1968), the world’s second richest royal (after the King of Thailand). A British Protectorate until 1984, Brunei has since been transformed into an industrialised and developed nation. Two thirds of Brunei’s people are Muslim and adhere to strict Islamic traditions and culture, indeed Brunei was the first country in South East Asia to introduce Sharia law into its penal code.

The Sultan rules from the opulent golden-domed Istana Nurul Iman palace, located in Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan, which is thought to be the world’s largest residential palace.

Culture

Brunei’s culture reflects that of neighbouring Malaysia, as its principal ethnicity is 65% Malay. The family is revered in Bruneian society and members of the extended family are expected to care for and respect each other while deferring to the Sultan and majority religion of Islam. Young children are taught to respect their elders and not question their authority. The concept of shame and honour is of utmost importance to Bruneians and they are known to be highly polite and respectful people. Islam in central to daily life and activities, although religions such as Christianity and Buddhism are tolerated among minority populations.

Popular activities

Brunei is an affluent country with many sites of historical interest, wonderful parks and activities which capitalise on the country’s relatively untouched rainforest. Hiking in mountainous areas or taking a stroll and some light exercise in one of country’s parks, such as Tasek Lama in the centre of Bandar, are both popular activities with locals and tourists alike. Here you will see monkeys flitting through the trees and local families taking their children to one of the many playgrounds. Sports are popular in Brunei, particularly football, golf and tennis. Marathon running is also enjoyed, with record-breaking prize money available. Shopping in one of Brunei’s exclusive air-conditioned malls or browsing the bustling local markets is also a beloved weekend activity. Alcohol is prohibited so expats will find there are no bars or nightclubs, although Brunei has a thriving restaurant culture.

Food and drink

Brunei’s cuisine is heavily influenced by neighbouring Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Food is strictly halal in and pork is avoided, though not banned for the country’s minority and expat populations. Popular dishes include beef rendang, a spicy coconut and lemongrass stew, voted one of the world’s tastiest dishes. Other dishes include nasi lemak a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves (usually served for breakfast) and ambuyat, sticky balls of sago starch which are then dipped in a fruit sauce. Bruneian staples include rice, noodles, chicken and seafood in spicy sauces.

Alcohol is banned in Brunei so locals stick to coffee, tea and a unique drink called air batu campur (known as ABC), a sweet drink made from ice, sago pearls, red beans, grass jelly and noodles.

Languages

The official language of Brunei is Standard Malay, which is similar to the standard languages of Malaysia and Indonesia. However, the local dialect of Melayu Brunei (Brunei Malay) is the most widely spoken language and is variation of Standard Malay. English is the second most spoken language and the majority of Bruneians are proficient in the language. English is used in business and courts and is taught as a first language from the fourth year of primary school, with core subjects being taught solely in English. The minority of Chinese people in Brunei speak Hokkien, Hakka and Cantonese, with Mandarin being the language of instruction in Chinese schools. Arabic, the language of the Qu’ran, is also widely understood and is used by Islamic scholars.

Accents and dialects

Being a small country, accents are fairly uniform. However, there is a number of officially recognised indigenous languages still in use, such as Dusun, Belait and Tutong, although these are gradually dying out in favour of Standard Malay and English. English-speaking expats struggling with Malay will have no problem making themselves understood in Brunei.

Weather

Brunei has a tropical and humid climate with heavy rainfall throughout the year. Although it is hot all year, the driest months are between June and September, with the heaviest rainfall and monsoons taking place between October and February. The hottest months are March and April, with temperatures rising to over 45°C in some areas. Due to the high rainfall and humidity, it’s always advisable to wear lightweight clothing and rainwear when visiting Brunei. The country is largely unaffected by earthquakes and flooding and is considered to be a safe place to live weather-wise compared with neighbouring Indonesia.

Safety and security

Crime rates in Brunei are low and crimes against tourists and expats are uncommon. However, there are strict laws surrounding alcohol and drug use and harsh penalties are handed down to offenders. Travellers to Brunei should also be aware that blasphemy, homosexuality and adultery are illegal and also carry heavy punishments. Police in Brunei regularly carry out stop and searches to cars and people so tourists to the country should be aware of the strict laws before travelling. However, as there are no bars and nightclubs, anti-social behaviour is virtually non-existent so expats with young children will find Brunei’s cities and towns safe places to be at any time of the day or night.  

 

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