Vibrant, yet peaceful. Both modern and timeless. A fusion of majestic opulence and traditional respect. Bandar Seri Begawan is the center of Brunei’s commerce, finance, and government. In many ways, it is also the heart of Brunei’s cultural landscape, housing some of the nation’s most revered landmarks. The city’s breathtaking Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is a stunning tribute to the nation’s deep-rooted faith, while the truly Bruneian Kampong Ayer water village offers a glimpse of the nation’s quaint Asian charm. Beneath Bandar Seri Begawan’s lavish adornments, gold towers, sparkling fountains and colorful mosaic tiles, lies a city steeped in quiet respect, grounded in Islamic tradition, and exuding a sense of peace that makes it one of Asia’s most distinctive capital cities.
Brunei Darussalam is situated in the south-eastern region of Asia, on the Island of Borneo, between longitudes 114’04” and 114’23” East and latitudes 4’00” and 5’05” North. Brunei, although occupying less than 1% of Borneo’s land area, is the only sovereign country on the island, which it shares with the Indonesian provinces of West, East, South and Central Kalimantan and the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Located close to the equator, Brunei Darussalam enjoys moderate equatorial climate throughout the year with temperatures ranging from 23oC to 32oC. Rainfall occurs heaviest in September to January and May to July with March and April being the warmest months. Annual rainfall averages 320cm. Humidity is high throughout the year at an estimate of 79 percent.
With the Malays forming the biggest ethnic group in Brunei Darussalam, Malay or Bahasa Melayu is the national and official language of the country; yet at the same time, English is widely spoken and understood particularly in the business community. Various indigenous groups such as the Dusun, Murut, and Iban speak in their respective dialects while the Chinese speak Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese while being equally conversant in Malay.
System of Government
Independent sovereign constitutional Sultanate, with His Majesty The Sultan as the supreme executive authority. His Majesty is advised by an appointed Council of Cabinet Ministers, Religious Council, Privy Council, a Council of Succession and a Legislative Council.
With a total GDP of around US$6.5 billion and a per capita GDP of around US$18.3 thousand (2002), Brunei’s resource-rich (oil & natural gas) economy affords its population high living standards, resulting in positive social indicators such as high literacy rates, longer life expectancy, and low unemployment and crime rates. The government provides for all medical services and subsidizes rice and housing. The government, construction, services, retail and some light manufacturing are the other major sectors in Brunei’s economy. The government is currently working towards economic diversification — in which tourism plays an important role as well as encouraging foreign investment and developing education and human resources. These measures are designed to prepare the nation for the challenges of the future when the oil and gas reserves will have been depleted and new sources of income will be needed to maintain the current high standards of living enjoyed by Bruneians.
Bruneian Do & Don’ts
Bruneians are generally very tolerant and will understand that visitors are not familiar with all of their customs and Islamic traditions. Nonetheless, keeping these few things in mind will go far in showing the Bruneian people that you respect and appreciate their culture, enriching your experience:
- Tourists should observe the local dress code and dress modestly. Clothing comfortable for hot weather is acceptable, except when visiting places of worship or for social and business functions.
- Bruneians shake hands by lightly touching the hands and then bringing the hand to the chest. Some people do not to shake hands with members of the opposite sex.
- You should not point with your finger; instead, use the thumb of your right hand with the four fingers folded beneath it.
- When visiting a mosque, all visitors should remove their shoes. Women should cover their heads and not have their knees or arms exposed. You should not pass front of a person in prayer or touch the Koran.
- Gifts (particularly food) should only be passed with the right hand, although it is acceptable to use the left hand to support the right wrist.
- It is polite to accept even just a little food and drink when offered. When refusing anything offered, it is polite to touch the plate lightly with the right hand.
- During the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, Muslims do not take food from sunrise to sundown. It would be inconsiderate to eat or drink in their presence during this period.
- In deference to the Muslim majority, alcohol is not sold in Brunei, but private consumption by non-Muslims is allowed. Non-Muslim tourists are allowed a generous duty-free allowance of 2 bottles of alcohol (wine, spirits, etc.) and 12 cans of beer per entry, and may consume alcohol with sensible discretion in hotels and some restaurants.
- To respect the Friday Mass Prayer, all the operations in Brunei is closed from 12.00pm until 2.00pm, this includes shops, restaurants, offices and Government buildings.