Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque at dusk ©
Despite its modest size the sultanate of Brunei Darussalam is enormously wealthy in both natural resources and worthwhile attractions. Few people consider this tiny nation at the top of Borneo to be a destination in its own right but those that do are rewarded by the safest, most environmentally pristine country in Asia. The majority of visitors, however, experience Brunei either as a passenger en route elsewhere or a business traveller taking advantage of its burgeoning role as regional economic hub.
Brunei's culture is shaped by its Malay majority and deeply entrenched Islamic traditions, bound together by the sultanate's uninterrupted 600-year royal heritage. Citizens enjoy one of the world's highest standards of living with free healthcare, education and housing thanks to the largesse of the Sultan, who is the sole beneficiary of the country's oil reserves. In celebration of his 50th birthday he reportedly spent US$50 million; on another occasion he tipped hotel staff US$170,000.
Located on the north tip of the island of Borneo, the country is divided into two unconnected halves: 97% of the population live in the larger western half where the modern capital Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) is located, while an estimated 15,000 people live in the predominantly rural and mountainous eastern half. Adventure travellers are draw to the natural splendour and adrenalin charged sporting activities of this region, most of which is virgin rainforest.
Visitors to BSB can enjoy architectural treasures such as the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, the fascinating traditional water villages, and the Sultan's palace, Istana Nurul Iman - with 1,700 rooms, the world's largest palace still in use. BSB also has some worthwhile beaches, most notably Jerudon which has gorgeous white sands and a child-friendly amusement park to one side of it.
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