Brunei: Lazy stroll in a tiny capital

28 January 2013

I started the day early. My first impression of  Bandar Seri Begawan: walkable, small and safe.  The first stop was the Royal Regalia Museum near the city centre. It was officially opened on 30 September 1992 and has been designed to “incorporate various characteristic of the philosophy of Malay Islamic Monarchy and to become another landmark of the capital of Brunei.”

SONY DSCThere are several galleries in the museum each displaying various objects, photos, videos, models and other items from the Royal family. Basically, the main function of the museum is to house all the presents received by the Sultan from dignitaries around the world.   

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The Royal Chariot rode by the Sultan during the Royal Procession

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 4.12.11 PMThe Royal Chariot that stood in the middle of the hall is surrounded by 262 other items used during the Royal Procession. Most are decorated spears, shields, gong, oboe, drums, candles, umbrellas, vases and swords.

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SONY DSCA top iconic site is the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. It is open to all visitors and is a very welcoming place. When I entered, there were only a few people meditating and praying. So you can say that I had the whole place to myself.

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You are free to walk around the Mosque at your own pace and the fancy-looking boat offered a nice resting place in the shades.SONY DSC

The Sultan of Brunei officially declare the opening of the Mahaligai or the ancient Royal Barge to commemorate the 1400th anniversary  of Nuzul Al-Quran ( The Revelation of the Holy Quran) on 18th of December 1967 at 8:30pm.

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Royal Barge and the Mosque- my second favourite place in Brunei

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Towards the south of the Mosque and pretty much all around it is the Kampung Ayer (Water Village).

SONY DSCMore than 30,000 people live in Kampung Ayer: a place built entirely of over 4200 structures (from homes to restaurants to schools to hospitals) with more than 29,140 m of foot-bridges and wooden walkways.

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Don’t be fooled into believing that it’s like a slum in Lagos. If you are lucky enough to be invited into someone’s home, you’ll find modern amenities such as tv, internet and electricity.

People have lived here for over 1300 years and it is often dubbed as the “Venice of the East.” It used to be at the centre of trading and is one of the country’s most valuable heritage.

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Water taxis take you across the river at around 1 BND and everything is walkable. The locals are very friendly and life is very relaxing and laid-back. It really offers a great insight into the traditional lifestyle of the locals.

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Brunei officially the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace has a population of around 420,000 where 76% live in urban areas and 67% are Muslims. The country is ranked by Forbes as the 5th richest country out of 182. With 46 billion dollars at his disposal, the Sultan is one of the richest people in the world. Predominantly Malay with heavy influences from Islam, it is often slightly more conservative than Malaysia and Indonesia.

Spain invaded Brunei around the 1500’s. The 19th century saw the decline of the Bruneian Empire and in 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate.  Japan occupied the country during WW2 and the country gained independence on 1 January 1984.

Some other interesting facts about Brunei

  • Brunei has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world.
  • Unleaded petrol price is low when compared with other neighbouring countries. (B$0.50 per litre)
  • Homosexuality is illegal.
  • It is a dry country: alcohol is not sold in the country and consumption in public is prohibited.
  •  Cigarettes are hard to find .
  • Brunei treats drug offences extremely severely. Drug trafficking carries the death penalty.
  • 7.5% of the population are obese.
  • Oil and natural gas is the basis of Brunei’s development and wealth. It accounts for about 90% of its GDP.

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School
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School
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Goodbye Brunei

Brunei was a great quiet stop for 1.5 days and leaving the country signified another end to a trip. As I looked out the window and watched the capital shrink and fade into the distance,one thought lingered on my mind- the country will no doubt adopt Sharia law and that will change the face of this tiny nation. Of course, I expect to see reports published by Western media outlets condemning this implementation and human rights groups voicing their opposition at this ‘medieval’ change. There is nothing wrong with Islam, Muslims or the Sharia law. If the Sultan, whose family have governed the country for centuries, wish to adopt this change for his citizens then let him. Brunei is not my country so I have no rights nor a place to voice my ‘concerns’. Countries must navigate and decide their own path of development without any interferences. Furthermore, it makes this world a much more interesting place.

  • I think Brunei want to adopt the sharia law since it is good for the image of the Sultan and the nation as well as the Muslim population. Also, it might help to boost stronger ties with other “rich-I-have-alot-of-oil’ Muslim countries and no doubt, it will make defiance and internal disputes harder.

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