| The tiny but thriving Islamic Sultanate of Brunei
perches on the northwestern coast of Borneo, completely encircled
by the East Malaysian state of Sarawak. It has a population of 323,000,
nearly seventy percent of which is made up of Malays and indigenes
from the larger ethnic groups like the Murut and Dusun; the rest
are Chinese, Indians, smaller indigenous tribes and expats. They
enjoy a quality of life that is quite unparalleled in Southeast Asia,
with the literacy rate a staggering 93.7 percent of the population.
Education and healthcare are free; houses, cars, and even pilgrimages
to Mecca are subsidized; taxation on personal income is unheard of;
and the average per capita salary is around US$19,000. The explanation
is simple: oil , first discovered in 1903 at the site of what is
now the town of Seria.
sultanate's full name is Negara Brunei Darussalam, the "Country
of Brunei, the Abode of Peace", and peaceful is a fair,
if rather polite, description of the state. Nightlife is almost
and liquor extremely hard to get hold of since a ban in 1991.
Until recently, the Sultan viewed the development of a tourist
as unnecessary, and there's been little for visitors to do in
Brunei. However, things are gradually changing. Brunei is becoming
introspective and looking more to the West. You can see the results
in the building of smart plazas with their requisite coffee bars
in the capital Bandar. The authorities are starting to promote
Brunei's natural resources, and sections of pristine rainforest
like Ulu Temburong National Park in eastern Brunei are opening
up to visitors. The lack of accommodation outside the capital
is being tackled by the recently formed homestay programme -
travellers overnight in Malay and Murut kampungs (villages) and
Iban longhouses. This opportunity to share in rural life is gaining
popularity. Add to this the fact that the capital Bandar Seri
Begawan is an attractive city, with two exquisite mosques and
Kampung Ayer stilt village , and a stop-off in Brunei is a more
appealing proposition than ever before.