I woke up this morning, looked out the window, and said to Mrs Bear, “ I don’t think we’re in Cambodia (or Kansas) anymore.” In fact we had docked in the tiny nation of Brunei on the northern shore of the island of Borneo. Borneo is the fourth largest island in the world, and Brunei is the only country to be totally contained on the island… Malaysia and Indonesia own the rest of the island, but have capitals elsewhere. We also left the Buddhist countries of SE Asia behind, as Brunei is predominately Muslim.
Unlike the Middle East, Islam spread to Asia peacefully (as opposed to conquest). It was introduced by traders, and adopted by the locals. Brunei became an Islamic state when its ruler converted and announced to his people that they were now Muslims. That was 29 Sultans ago…The current Sultan is 29th in the succession.
Brunei was once a much larger kingdom. It included much of northern Borneo as well as the southern Philippine islands. But losses in wars with Spain (Philippines) and England (Borneo) resulted in the reduction of its lands. Today Brunei is exceedingly small and is almost split in two by a Malaysia penninsula.
But don’t feel sorry for Brunei because their wee wee country has vast reserves of both oil and natural gas. This made the current Sultan the richest man in the world until he was passed by Bill Gates !!! His Palace, which we could not get close to, has over 1200 rooms and 250+ bathrooms. His dining room allows the invitation of his closest 4998 friends for dinner.! He loves fast cars and has over 7000, valued at over a few billion dollars. Our guide says this is way past a collection…It is more of a fetish. I don’t recall the specific gem, but he and his family spent so much money at a company in London that had the distribution rights, that he finally bought the company. He is also ga ga for polo ponies.
The people in Brunei have an average income of 70K, which is higher than any other country in the region, except Singapore. BUT, the invcome figures are skewed by all the money that goes directly to the Sultan.
In fact, Brunei is a country of contrasts…The best one example is the Water Village:
Six hundred years ago, many of the people moved into houses on stilts to avoid attacks by both animals and invading armies. Today, thousands of these residences remain on the river. Generations have lived in the same way, albeit with better boats. The government has attempted to relocate them by offering apartments and new homes on the water, but the people resist. This makes it hard for the government to install new sewage lines because the old houses can’t take the pressure. So there is an understanding…The people can stay in their houses, but none will be fixed.
We later made a visit to the Maritime Museum, which is more of an exhibit of the country’s riches and gifts given to the Sultan by other governments. We were not allowed to take photos of the exhibits, so the pics below are primarily of the hand-pulled chariot that is used for coronations…The opposite extreme to the Water Village:
Another example of Brunei’s diversity: They are in the process of building a 23 mile bridge over the bay that will connect the two sections of the country… It will be the longest sea bridge ever. At the same time, Brunei has stopped its logging and land development of the Jungle highlands. It has become a wonderful place for ecotourism. So ultramodern and rich city life along coast, paired with pristine jungles and native tribes maintaining cultures that have lasted a thousand years.
This was a fun day to tour a very interesting country…Now it’s on to Western Malaysia.