You might not know that once upon a time, I lived in Brunei for 5 years. Most people have heard of the Sultan of Brunei, but have no idea where it actually is. I would love a dollar everytime someone has said they wanted to go there, but don't like the desert, or don't want to travel to the middle east. My reply is usually something along the lines of.....'that's great! the only sand they have in the tropical jungles are on the beaches!".
The island of Borneo is the worlds third largest island made up of Kalimantan (Indonesia), Sarawak and Sabah (part of Malaysia) and Brunei. Simply put, go north from Bali, or east from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur and you cannot miss it. Brunei (Brunei Darussalam to be exact) is a tiny sultanate with an entire population of only approximately 450,000. It is a very rich country, particularly compared to its Asian neighbours. The Sultan of Brunei once owned nearly the entire island of Borneo but gave parts away over the years for various reasons.
The wealth really hits you in the face when you visit the Palace, the Mosques and the Royal Regalia. I'm hoping the pictures below of the royal chariot will give you an idea. The Royal Regalia holds all important, expensive things, but it also holds all the gifts given to the Sultan and the royal family over the years. I mean he couldn't' possibly fit this clutter in the world's largest palace and royal residence (Guinness Book of Records). I am still, however, looking for the gifts given by the Australian Government. It was either a hills hoist which they are using at the palace or a boomerang, that obviously went back.
Brunei's capital is Bandar Seri Begawan, which is a mouthful so most locals refer to it as 'the capital' or Bandar. Kampong Ayer, the world's largest water village is also located right in the city centre. Whilst most Westerners couldn't possibly imagine living in what looks like a shanty water village, the people are very happy there and difficult to move. Generally, the living standard in Brunei is very good and the people want for nothing. There are no taxes, everything is very cheap and health care is free (depending on your citizenship). As an expat, it cost me about $5 - $10 for treatment at the local hospital. There was also an option of paying a bit more and using the private hospital opposite the sultan's polo and country club, complete with state of the art facilities and that didn't break the bank either!
Brunei is also home to Jeradong Park, the biggest and largest amusement park in the world, funded by the Government! Unfortunately, the two times I visited was a night and it was practically empty. Haunted scenes from Scooby Doo and every other horror movie would always enter my mind! On the plus though, no massive lines for rides and after the 10th continuous time on the roller coaster I begged for mercy!
The real jewel in the crown is the Empire Hotel and Country Club. Once rated a 6 star leading hotel of the world, you can't help but drop your jaw as you walk in the door. This is truely what it means to be royal for a day!
Brunei is a Muslim country but as an expat I respected that and it didn't really bother me. We were allowed to bring in an alcohol allowance each time we entered the country for our consumption. I dressed conservatively and appreciated that everything came to a stop on Fridays during prayer and Ramadan was a good time to go on holiday. In truth, Chinese New Year had more of an impact as nearly all shop owners were of Chinese descent. There were, of course, many things we found frustrating or different, but on the whole, we lived like Kings and Queens ourselves.