Brunei is a sultanate in Southeast Asia, on the part of the coast of the island of Kalimantan (area – 5 800 km², population – 417 thousand people). It borders on Malaysia and is washed by the South China Sea in the north. The capital is Bandar Seri Begawan. The official languages are Malay and English. Brunei was once a powerful feudal state, occupying a large part of Kalimantan and some neighboring islands in the 16th century. Today the country can be crossed from west to east in 2 hours by car.
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In Brunei, sandy beaches alternate with mangroves. The coastal lowlands gradually turn into low ranges of hills, and in some places into foothills. The eastern coast is heavily swamped. Brunei is unevenly populated: 1/3 of the population lives in the capital, another large part is concentrated in the oil fields. Oil production is the main branch of economy.
The ethnic mix is quite heterogeneous: more than half the population is Malays, with many representatives of the indigenous peoples of Kalimantan – Kelayans, Ibans, Melanas, Dusuns, Muruts; there are also Chinese and natives of India. The Malays are engaged in agriculture, craft, and fishing; the Chinese in commerce and small business; the Dayaks are fishermen, hunters, and farmers. The capital is Bandar Seri Begawan (52 thousand people), located in the lower reaches of the Brunei River. The city is squeezed by the river with wooded hills. In the center of it rises a large white-stone mosque with a gilded dome. Nearby are the government offices and shopping districts. Not far from the capital is an international airport.
The economy of Brunei is based on the production of oil (approx. 10 million tons per year) and natural gas (approx. 12 billion m3), the export of which provides approx. 99% of foreign exchange earnings (60% of GNP). Thanks to its rich oil and gas reserves, Brunei ranks among the first in Southeast Asia in terms of living standards. GNP per capita. Brunei has a per capita GNP of $14,240 (1994). Agriculture is underdeveloped; 80% of Brunei’s food is imported. The government is taking measures to diversify the economy, encouraging the development of banking and other financial institutions and trying to attract tourists to the country.
Not much is known about the ancient history of Brunei. It has been established that in the 6th century trade with China was conducted and tribute was paid. It is likely that the local rulers were vassals of the Indonesian state of Srivijaya. One of the states that existed on the territory of modern Brunei is Pony, mentioned in the Chinese and Arabic sources. In the 10th century close trade relations were established with the Chinese Song Empire and later with the Ming Empire. Since the fourteenth century, probably a vassal of the Javanese Majapahit empire. It is mentioned in the poem “Nagarakertagama”, created in the XIV century by the Javanese historian-poet Prapancha.
The first Sultan of Brunei was Mohammed, who before adopting Islam bore the name of Alak-ber-Tata (ruled 1363-1402). Gradually the influence of the state expanded, reaching its heyday in the first half of the 16th century. During the reign of the fifth Sultan Bolkiah (1485-1521) Brunei controlled almost the whole of Kalimantan, the islands of Sulu and others near the northwestern tip of Kalimantan. The first Europeans to visit Brunei in 1521 was the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan. His impressions of Brunei are reflected in the diary of Antonio Pigafetta, a member of the voyage.
Since the 16th century, the island of Kalimantan fell within the sphere of interest of the European powers. Relations between Brunei and Spain were particularly hostile. From 1565 onward, small skirmishes periodically erupted between the navies of the two sides and in 1571 Spain captured the villages of Mainila and Tondo (present-day Manila) where the Bruneian nobility had previously had considerable influence. A fleet was formed several times in the sultanate to take Manila, but military campaigns did not begin for various reasons. In 1578 the Spaniards captured Sula, then attacked Brunei (see Castilian War), but were soon expelled.
In Brunei itself, internal feuding began at the end of the 16th century, leading to the destruction of economic ties, the decline of the state and the growing influence of Europeans in the region.
In 1839, a former official of the British East India Company, James Brooke, arrived in Kalimantan. For his assistance in quelling the 1840 rebellion, he was granted by the sultan in 1841 the title of raja (the so-called “white raja”) and founded Kuching City (the administrative center of present-day Sarawak state). His nephew Charles Brooke, the second “white raja,” expanded the territory under his control.
In 1846, Great Britain obtained possession of Labuan Island as a base for fighting piracy, and in 1848 Labuan became a British colony. From 1847 to 1857 Brooke was the governor of the island. In 1877 Brunei lost control of Sabah (the northern part of the island) and in 1888 came under British protectorate.
In 1906, a British resident was appointed to Brunei, with whose opinion the Sultan was obliged to reckon with in carrying out policy. In 1929, oil production began in Brunei. Brunei was occupied by Japan during World War II (1941-1945) and was again under British influence until 1959 under the British Governor of Sarawak.
In 1959 a new constitution was adopted declaring Brunei’s autonomy in matters of internal self-government. Britain, represented by the high commissioner, retained responsibility for foreign affairs, defense, and security. In 1962, the first elections to the Legislative Council were held, which were won by the Brunei People’s Party, founded in 1956. In December 1962, the People’s Party launched an uprising in which it proclaimed the establishment of an independent state of North Kalimantan. With the help of British troops, the uprising was suppressed, the People’s Party was banned, and a state of emergency was declared in the country. In 1967, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin III abdicated in favor of his eldest son Hassanal Bolkiah. The following year negotiations for Brunei’s independence began and in 1979 a treaty was signed between Great Britain and Brunei granting full independence from 1984 with a guarantee of recognition by Malaysia and Indonesia. On January 1, 1984 the full sovereignty and independence of the Sultanate of Brunei was proclaimed.
Going to Brunei
St. Petersburg marketer Ekaterina Borisova likes to travel around the world and tell about what she sees on the pages of 34travel. Katya went on a long trip to Asian countries for the third time and was able to realize her long-time dream – to visit the richest country in the region – Brunei Darussalam.
Two years ago at about the same time I was walking around the capital of Laos, Vientiane. The city, I must say, did not impress me at all – gray, dusty and completely unremarkable. And then, wandering along another avenue and exhausted from the heat, I saw a building of amazing beauty. The most beautiful building in Vientiane! Do you know what it was? The Embassy of Brunei! It was then that I realized that I definitely need to go to that country. If a small Asian country has such embassies, what was waiting for me there?
It turned out that Brunei Darussalam is not an easy place to get a visa. First of all, you have to go to Moscow to get it; secondly, you have to present a lot of documents, and thirdly, you have to wait for the visa for 3-6 months. Do you have less desire to go? Just forget all the visa horror – there are three good news:
In 2011, Brunei abolished visas for Ukrainians. Citizens of Ukraine can stay in the country for 30 days.
In February 2018, Brunei introduced a visa-free regime with Russia. Russians can come to the country without a visa for 2 weeks.
Citizens of Belarus also do not need to despair, because in just 3 days you can get a visa in the city of Kuching.
Kuching is the second largest Malaysian city on the island of Borneo (Kalimantan). Here is the most loyal consulate of Brunei in the world. It is located on the waterfront in the building of Imperial Hotel (No.297-2-2-2 Tingkat 2 Riverbank Suites and Commercial Towers). Applications for visas are accepted here Monday through Thursday from 9:00 to 11:30 and ready documents are issued in the afternoon. Tourist visa (it costs $ 14) in Kuching is made for everyone in just 3 working days and require a minimum of documents:
A copy of the first page of your passport and entry stamps to Malaysia.
One photo 3cm * 4cm.
A copy of a bank card (don’t forget to close the number) – this is considered a financial guarantee.
A free-form letter of intent. In it, you need to tell that you have come to Malaysia on vacation and have decided to go to Brunei for tourism purposes only.
Just in case, take a printed reservation from Booking or another booking service.
When asked about tickets to and from Brunei, answer that you will travel by bus.
They will let you fill out the form on the spot.
Brunei begins to justify the title of the richest Asian country just looking at the cost of airline tickets. If you do not need a visa, there is a chance to catch a promotional AirAsia ticket from Kuala Lumpur for $ 35. In other cases, you’ll have to shell out from $85 for the flight. Also, no city in Borneo has direct flights to Brunei – only a connection in Kuala Lumpur. How do I get to Brunei once I’m in Borneo?
From Kuching to Brunei
First you have to drive, or rather fly, to Miri, the nearest city to Brunei. An hour and a half flight from Kuching to Miri costs the same as a 16-hour bus ride on the same route – $24. Miri is an insanely expensive Malaysian city where oil was found for the first time in the country. There’s absolutely nothing for a tourist to do here, so don’t waste any time and go straight to Pujut Bus Terminal in the northeast of the city. Buses from here to the center of Bandar Seri Begawan run daily at 8:45 and 3:45 pm. It takes about 3.5 hours to cross the border and the ticket costs $13.
From Brunei to Kota Kinabalu
Brunei is usually visited on the way from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu, the largest city in Borneo. However, getting out of Bandar Seri Begawan and reaching Kota Kinabalu is no easy task! First, there are no direct flights between the cities. As with Kuching, you have to change in Kuala Lumpur.
But there is a bus for $ 34 per person, which takes 8 hours to Kota Kinabalu. But you can take it only if you have a multi visa in your passport (or no visa at all) and there are a lot of blank pages, which you don’t value at all. You will have to cross the BruneiMalaysia border 3 times and the Sarawak-Sabah state border once. As a result of such an arrival you will get as many as 8 border stamps in your long-suffering passport!
That’s why everyone traveling from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu chooses the lesser of three evils – a ferry through the Malaysian Duty Free Island of Labuan. From Brunei, ferries depart from Serasa Ferry Terminal in the coastal town of Muara. Navigation starts at 8 a.m. and lasts until 5 p.m. Travel time varies from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the type of boat. At Labuan you need to catch a ferry to Kota Kinabalu. Be aware that only Malaysian ringgit is accepted on the island.
From Bandar Seri Begawan Bus Station in downtown Bandar Seri Begawan you can take bus 38 to Muara Bus Station. It will take about 50 minutes to get there. The buses run one per hour, starting at 6am (but not 6:30, as the locals say). Then in Moiré you take bus #33 to Serasa Ferry Terminal or walk 15-20 minutes along the highway with the same ticket. The whole trip to Kota Kinabalu including the buses will cost you $24.
Important! Remember, you need to get to Labuan no later than 13:00 when the last ferry to Kota Kinabalu leaves. Otherwise the carriage will turn into a pumpkin, the horses will turn into mice and you will have to pay a fortune for lodging in local island hotels. So it’s better to take the first bus to Muara at 6am to catch the earliest ferry to Labuan.
Brunei is not a popular tourist destination, so the budget accommodation in the country is tight. If in most South-East Asian countries you can rent a whole bungalow for $20, in Brunei for this money you get a mattress on the floor of the closet room. Hostels with our usual dorms just can’t be found here – everyone rents only private rooms. The most budget singles start at $20 a night, and they sell out like hotcakes. The price of a night in an average hotel starts at $40 – and that’s even farther from downtown.
So when a $12 single at Joy Rest House showed up on Booking the night before I arrived in Bandar Seri Begawan, I was overjoyed. Same trash, but $8 cheaper. The room, of course, was the category – close your eyes, jump on the bed from the threshold and immediately fall asleep, so as not to see the surrounding reality. But the location and owners – great. When all the city stores and cafes were closed for prayers, they treated hungry guests with free tea and coffee and toast with jam.
Food in Brunei cafes and restaurants is expensive. Well, how expensive, quite at the level of Kuala Lumpur prices. The cuisine is not at all different from Malaysian – rice, noodles, chicken. However, if you go to any supermarket, you will find yourself in a gastronomic paradise with a huge variety of products at ridiculous prices. How is this possible in the richest Asian country? It’s because Brunei doesn’t pay VAT.
If you’ve been traveling in Asia for a long time and can’t look at rice and noodles without crying, store at regular grocery stores. Enjoy tuna in a can, Heinz tomato sauce, and delicious chocolate at penny prices. Also look out for hygiene products, shampoos, and non-luxe cosmetics – I haven’t seen prices this low anywhere else in the world at all.
Bandar Seri Begawan is the first city in Borneo, where when asked how to get to the next attraction, it is advised not to take a cab but to take a bus. That’s because Brunei has excellent public transportation and almost no cabs. In a rich country where every family has its own car, cab drivers are simply not needed! If you do need individual transportation, you’ll have to ask the locals for the phone numbers of cab drivers (there are only a few dozen in the country), call them personally and order a car in advance. If you’re lucky, you may also come across several “Teksi” signs in the city.
As for the buses, everything is convenient and clear. There are several bus lines in the city. Buses of each line are colored – so that the desired route is recognized from afar. The fare depends on the distance and varies around $1 per trip. Tickets must be purchased from the driver when you enter the big buses and from the driver when you exit the minivans. You can find a map of all public transportation routes at this link. Be sure to save it! Local stops do not indicate the numbers of passing buses.
There is also a water cab service in the capital, which takes you from the Bandar Seri Begawan waterfront to the Kampong Ayer village on the water, spread across the Brunei River. Regardless of the number of people in the boat, the cost of the crossing is $0.75 per bow.
The vast majority of attractions, parks and museums in Brunei are free. So you won’t get bored in the capital. I barely had enough time for two days to see the main sights.
Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien (Jalan McArthur, Bandar Seri Begawan) is Brunei’s calling card and one of the most beautiful mosques in Southeast Asia. Here you get the impression that you are in a magical fairy tale about Aladdin! Located on the embankment of the river Kedayan, the mosque is surrounded on three sides by water. The view from the circular promenade and the adjacent park, also named after Sultan Ali Saifuddin, father of the current Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, is wonderful.
It is possible to walk around the mosque at any time, but it is quite difficult to get inside. Officially, non-Muslims can visit it daily, except Fridays, in 3 time intervals: 8:30 – 12:00, 13:30 – 15:00, 16:30 – 17:30. In fact, the inner halls are often closed for weddings and other rituals. Girls at the entrance to the mosque need to cover their head, neck and shoulders with a handkerchief brought with them.
Masjid Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah (Jalan Tutong, Kg. Kiarong, Bandar Seri Begawan) is Brunei’s second main and insanely beautiful mosque. It is named after the current Sultan and is located on the west side of the city. It takes about 20 minutes by bus 01C, 20 or 22 from the center of Bandar Seri Begawan and costs $0.75. The mosque is as beautiful as its predecessor. Its minarets, decorated with blue mosaics, you will see from afar. You can walk around the mosque at any time, and go inside every day except Thursday and Friday from 09:00 to 11:30 or from 14:00 to 15:00. On Sundays, the inside halls are open only from 14:00 to 15:00. Girls, again, need to bring a handkerchief.
Royal Regalia Museum (Jln Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, Bandar Seri Begawan) is the main museum in Brunei, surprisingly dedicated not to the history of the country or its ethnography, but to the court ceremonies. The main attributes of royal power are collected here – the throne and ritual swords, clothing and jewelry. In general, all the tinsel used in the court ceremonies and coronations of the Bruneian monarchs. In the largest and most beautiful hall of the museum, gifts to the Sultan from heads and officials of other states are on display. You have no idea what crap and in what quantities is given to the Bruneian monarch! The “Field of Miracles” museum of capital shows rests. You think it’s easy being the Sultan of Brunei? Try walking along the racks with all these gifts and try to make a grateful-satisfied face imagining another minister or president giving you another scary and incomprehensible wooden sculpture.
Brunei History Center (Jln James Pearce, Bandar Seri Begawan) is a small multimedia gallery next door to the Royal Regalia Museum. Since admission here is free, why not learn a lot about the country’s history? A minus of the museum – not all information is fully duplicated in English. So, if you get bored with the intricate history of Brunei, feel free to go to the children’s room. There they will tell you about the adventures of Western sailors on the territory of Borneo, show you an interesting cartoon about the history of the country and even let you turn the ship’s steering wheel.
Kampong Ayer is an old settlement on the opposite bank of the river from the BSB. The name means “villages on the water” in Malay. All the buildings, cafes, restaurants, schools and mosques in Kampong Ayer are built on high stilts on the shore. Bruneians like to call this place “Venice of the East”, but of course, it is far from Venice. Toward Bandar Seri Begawan, Kampong Ayer is turned on its best front side with beautiful stone houses, wide promenades stretching over the water, and even a small museum. A walk deep into the village reveals the unenviable life of locals in mold-covered houses with flimsy bridges thrown between them and a muddy swamp splashing below. For $0.75 a local water cab will take you to the main village pier at Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery. Well for $ 3 you can get a boatman to take you around the village.
Unlike many Asian cities, Bandar Seri Begawan is a very green city with clean and fresh air! When you walk around it, sometimes it feels like you suddenly found yourself in a conditional Bergamo. Where else in the city center could be a huge park with a real waterfall? The capital of Brunei has such park – Tasek Lama Recreational Park. You can walk here from the Royal Regalia Museum in 15-20 minutes. On the territory of the park cars are not allowed, so be prepared to walk for a long time and uphill. The park is equipped with playgrounds and areas for sports, gazebo and benches for recreation, clean toilets and pleasant promenades along small rivers. There are hiking trails, too, which are fairly landscaped. And don’t go to Viewpoint, it’s closed now.