Description of Brunei
Brunei is located in the southeast part of Asia on the north coast of Borneo. It is a sovereign state. The country has a coastline on the South China Sea and then is surrounded by Sarawak, Malaysia. The Limbang district of Sarawak separates Brunei into 2 parts. Brunei is the only completely sovereign state on Borneo as the rest of the territory on the island is divided between Indonesia and Malaysia. The population for the country as of July of 2012, was around 408,786.
Chinese records started to use the name Po-ni in 977 AD to describe Borneo. Chua Ju-Kua, a Chinese official reported in 1225 that there were 100 warships in Borneo that were being used to protect their trade. He also reported that the kingdom had a lot of wealth. A report from 1280 described Po-ni as controlling a large part of the island.
During the 14th century it became a vassal state for Majapahit. A payment of 40 katis of camphor was paid each year. The Sulus attacked the area in 1369 and looted the island of its treasure and gold. A fleet of boats from the Majapahit were successful in sending the Sulus away, but Po-ni was left much weaker after this attack. A report from China in 1371 described it as being poor and completely controlled by Majapahit.
The Sultanate of Brunei’s power peaked during the 15th through the 17th centuries. The power extended throughout the northern part of Borneo into the south Philippines. Islam was deeply rooted in the country by the 16th century. One of the largest mosques was built during this time. The mosque was described as being built on the water and 5 stories high by a Spanish traveler named Alonso Beltran.
Regional power was eventually brought to an end by European influence. The area entered a time of decline that was compounded by strife over the succession of royalty. In addition, piracy was quite detrimental for the kingdom. In 1578, Spain declared war on the country. They attacked the capital of the time, Kota Batu and captured it. Spain was able to do this because they had help from 2 noblemen of Brunei, Pengiran Seri Ratna and Pengiran Seri Lela. They had travelled to Manila, which was the center of the Spanish colony in order to offer Brunei in tribute if they would help recover the throne from their brother. The Spanish agreed to make one of them the sultan and the other the Bendahara if they were successful.
In April of 1578, the Spanish invaded the capital with the 2 noblemen’s help and the sultan was forced to leave. The Spanish made plans to chase the army away from Brunei, but because of a dysentery and cholera outbreak they decided to abandon Brunei. They returned to Manila in June of 1578, just 72 days after the attack. Before the Spanish returned to manila, they burned down the mosque, which was a high structure that had a five tiered roof.
Brunei is governed by their constitution as well as the Malay Islamic Monarchy. The Melayu Islam Beraja consists of 3 components regarding the Islamic religion, the Malay culture, and the political framework for the monarchy. The legal system of the country is based on English common laws. However, Islamic shariah law will supersede in some circumstances.
Under the constitution from 1959, His Majesty Hassanal Bolkiah is named as the head of the state and has full authority. Since the year 1962, his authority includes emergency powers. This is renewed every 2 years. Since the Brunei Revolt in 1962, the country has been under martial law, hypothetically. Bolkiah is also the prime minister, defense minister, and finance minister of the country. The royal family has a venerated status in the country and the government of the country includes a parliament.
The country of Brunei may be small, but it is wealthy because of petroleum and natural gas resources. In addition, there is an exclusive fishing zone that helps its economy. One of the landmarks of the country is the Istana Nural Iman. This is the largest residential palace in the world that is still occupied. The palace takes up 300 acres and sits on a hill that was man made. It offers a great view of Kampong Ayer. This is the main residence of the sultan and the palace is estimated to be worth about $600 million.
The country is an official Islamic state and there are many gorgeous mosques located throughout the country. Alcohol sales are banned in Brunei. Meat that has not been certified as Halal cannot be brought into the country. During Ramadan, many of the local restaurants and shops remain open. However, drinking, smoking, or eating in front of those who are fasting during this month is considered to be rude and it is appropriate to ask permission first.
Most of the population of the country is Malay. There are also a number of Chinese people as well as indigenous peoples. This includes the Duson and Iban tribes who inhabit the Temburong district and the jungle located up river. A large number of workers who are foreign work on the gas and oil production or in several lower positions such as field workers, domestic staff, and restaurant staff. Over a quarter of the people are short term immigrant workers and most of them are men.
Visitors will find many things to see and do while in the country. There are several eco-tours that typically will visit the Temburong district using a boat and then to the native longhouse. This is followed by getting on a boat that is powered by the natives and taken to the Belalong National Park. This is a reserve located in the Borneo rainforest. The park headquarters offers a research center and a canopy walk.
There was a decent theme park on the island called Jerudong Park. Unfortunately, after years of neglect, unaffordable maintenance and a decline in attendance, most of the bigger rides were closed and sold. This includes the 3 roller coasters that the park used to have. The park now has more of a sad feeling, but there have been some attempts to try to revive the park, with new rides geared towards children being added as well as some clown shows.
Most of the people who do visit the park will only go at night so that they can avoid the heat of the day. Just outside of the park there is a complex that includes several restaurants, one of which is open during the night.
Another popular thing to do in Brunei is to go scuba diving. There are many great areas to dive in as the fish and coral are abundant. In addition, there are several shipwrecks just off the coast as well as several nudibranch species. This is one of the best locations in the southeastern part of Asia for many types of macro photography. The temperature of the water is typically about 30 degrees and the visibility is typically within the 10 to 30 meter range. This may be different during monsoon season. The diving scene is not currently overly developed. This means that there are many sites, including the coral reefs that are still in pristine condition as they have been left unspoiled.
There are several popular dive sites to consider. The Blue Water Wreck is an 80 meter trawler that is still completely intact. The name comes from the fact that the water around this wreck is completely blue. The cement wreck refers to the Japanese freighter, weighing 2687 tons. This boat crashed into a sandbank in the year 1980 while it was carrying cement. The length of the boat is 92 meters and the beam is 15 meters. The freighter is quite easy to penetrate as it lies upright at about 30 meters on the bottom of the ocean. The Australian Wreck is in about 33 meters of water and is about 85 meters. A more experienced diver will like exploring the inside of this particular wreck. Another shipwreck to consider exploring is called Big Reef. This is an oil rig that has been decommissioned. It offers 9 structures for exploration and it seems that it is home to a very dominant group of fish.
There are many excellent restaurants located in the country as the people love to eat out. Since there is a large number of foreigners living and working there, the number of cuisines available is significant.
One of the local dishes is called nasi katok. This dish consists of rice and either curried chicken or beef. This can be a bit spicy if you are not used to it. The ambuyat is another option. This is a culinary experience that you will only find in Borneo. The starchy and gooey paste is made out of sago and it can be dipped into a sauce that is savory. Eating at restaurants is typically safe because there are good safety standards put into practice. However, tap water should not be drunk unless you boil it first. You can also by bottled water for a pretty low price.
It is important to remember that this is a dry country. There is no alcohol sold anywhere in the country and drinking alcohol while in public is banned by law. Non-Muslim visitors will be allowed to bring in 2 liters of alcohol, either wine or spirits, plus a maximum of 12 beers every 2 days. There are several duty-free shops that are located in Malaysia where you may buy alcohol.
There are some high end restaurants that will allow people to bring in their own alcohol and there is no corkage fee charged. However, this is not legal and if you plan to do this you should keep a low profile. There are Chinese restaurants that often supply illegal alcohol as well. The restaurants will simply illicit alcohol under names such as special tea.
If you are a smoker it is important to note that it is a bit difficult to find cigarettes in the country. For this reason, it is recommended that you bring your own supplies should you need to smoke while in Brunei. You can bring in up to 200 cigarettes duty free. Larger quantities will require duty be paid of about $50 per 200 cigarettes.
When visiting Brunei you should know that there are extremely severe punishments for drug offences in the country. Anyone that is convicted of trafficking, importing, exporting, or manufacturing more than 30 grams of morphine, 15 grams of heroin, 200 grams of resin from cannabis, 1.2 kg of opium, or 500 grams of cannabis will be sentenced to death. Possessing these amounts of the drugs is all that is needed to be convicted. There is a maximum of 10 years in jail or a heavy fine for unauthorized consumption. You can be charged with this if there are any traces of drugs found in your system, even if you have proof that they were consumed while you were outside of the country. You can also be charged with trafficking of drugs are found in any bags that you possess or that are in your room. Even if the bags are not yours, you can still be charged with these crimes. This is why it is important to be extremely aware of your possessions at all times.
For some of the less serious crimes caning is used on males. Some of the crimes that are punished using caning include illegally entering the country, robbery, rape, vandalism, and corruption. This punishment is not a slap on the wrist as one whack with a cane can hurt a lot and the wounds can take a long time to heal.
Overall, Brunei is relatively safe, but you should still use precaution when going out, especially if you are heading out with someone that you do not know very well.
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