Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Brunei.  I will not judge if you have to pull out a map (more like search on Google) in order to locate this country.  Despite having the 19th largest GDP per capita in the world (WorldBank), there is not much notable about this Southeast Asian monarchy.  But left standing as one of the 4 remaining Southeast Asian countries on my list, me and my roommate, James, took advantage of a 4 day weekend to go check it out.

Sharing the island of Borneo with both Malaysia and Indonesia, Brunei doesn't have a distinct culture of its own, but rather an amalgamation of the other two.  However, their are two prominent cultural aspects one quickly takes note of when visiting Brunei: it is a very heavily Muslim culture and they absolutely love their Sultan (essentially the king).

Although the Muslim influence is existent everywhere in their society, there is zero pressure or animosity towards non-Muslims (the only way that their Muslim culture negatively impacted my visit is that due to religious beliefs, Brunei is a completely dry country).  The people were extraordinarily open and friendly to us the entire visit.  It was so refreshing to have strangers actually acknowledge our existence and smile at us when contrasted to the closed off/somewhat self-absorbed Singapore culture.

Brunei is a monarchy controlled by a Sultan, who is very highly revered.  As aforementioned, Brunei has the 19th highest per capita GDP, but this number is misleading when considering that the country only has a population of roughly 400,000 and that one man is estimated to be worth $40 billion USD.  Nonetheless, he is loved by all and his portrait adorns the walls of almost every shop and cafe in Brunei.  Their constitution even claims that he "can do no wrong in his personal or any official capacity."  Talk about living the dream! Money is imaginary and literally no rules apply to you.  And we got the chance to see this man!  By a stroke of luck, this weekend just so happened to be his make-up birthday since his real birthday fell during the holy month of Ramadan, and what fun is a birthday when nobody can eat?  Every year on his birthday, the Sultan has a morning procession where he drives through the streets of their capital.  Not wanting to miss the opportunity to see royalty up close, we were on the street at 8 am to watch his majesty roll by within 20 feet of us in one of his many Rolls-Royces.  Very cool experience.

Other trip highlights: visiting two stunningly beautiful mosques with extremely long names that I don't remember, the royal regalia museum (museum filled with the Sultan's gifts from different foreign dignitaries), touring through the water village where many Bruneians live and commute to the city through water taxis, getting to drive the boat, tasting the local snacks at the night market, and seeing wild Proboscis monkeys.

 Hello Mr. Sultan