What’s the first thing that came up when you heard about Brunei? Was it the news from a few years ago when George Clooney called out for hotel boycott over Brunei’s LGBT laws?! Well, I’m not going political in this post. Instead, I want to share some random yet fascinating things you need to know about Brunei Darussalam.
If you read my blog frequently, you might already know that sooner or later, I’m going to post something about Brunei here anyway. So, that’s what I’m going to do today.
But this time, I’m not going to touch on the topic that has been on the news in the past few days. I’m going to focus on what I know and what I see from my last trip to Brunei Darussalam. At the same time, I’m going to share some random findings that I’ve found about the country as well! 😉
My First Impression on Brunei
To be honest with you, the news about the application of the LGBT death penalty in Brunei was circulating around for quite some time in the local Indonesian media exactly before my trip. I think it was around last year that I read the news about it in some local media.
In fact, that’s the first thing I asked Suzie before I started planning out my Borneo trip. I asked about the application of sharia law in Brunei, and whether there was something I should know prior to my visit to her country.
I used to live in Saudi Arabia, so staying in a country with sharia law applied is not exactly a new thing for me. It’s not the sharia law that I worry about, it’s the local customs in that particular place that I need to prepare for as a visitor.
Now that years have passed, I’m glad that they canceled the implementation of sharia law. After all, I thought they actually heard the feedback (and possibly boycott) from international media.
Sharia Law in Brunei
I’m a firm believer in the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do…”
Also, it’s quite beneficial to study Political Science back in the university, that at least I value the sovereignty that each country has for their benefit. I don’t want to interfere, and I’ll just enjoy it from some outsider’s point of view. The outsider that just happened to be there.
And here’s the thing… For a country that applies sharia law, I’d consider them the moderate one.
And no, it’s not just by the fact that I could wear my favorite midi dress without having anyone telling me off. You know what’s the surprising thing that I’ve found there in Brunei? Seeing a ‘non-halal’ sign in one Chinese restaurant.
So, according to Suzie, while alcohol is banned all over the country and people usually go to Miri for a drink or two, non-halal food is still allowed, as long as they put a sign like that to identify themselves so Muslim people won’t go there.
One of my ex-colleagues in Saudi Arabia got terminated and deported for trying to smuggle pork in her hand carry. See the difference?
7 Random Yet Fascinating Facts About Brunei
Let’s move on from their sharia law, because I think you also need to see Brunei from the other aspects. Outside the mainstream media that tries to lead you to some particular point of view for their benefit. Let’s see Brunei beyond that, and what makes Brunei still worth visiting when you get a chance to know the country in person!
1. You can’t expect all Muslim countries to be like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. And you can’t expect Brunei the same way as them.
You know, curiosity kills the cat. And as a cat lady myself, sharia law in Brunei was something that got me really interested to visit Brunei. That’s the reason why I felt like I had to be more cautious in Brunei because I was really afraid that I’d act like an ignorant that got me into trouble.
As it turned out, Brunei is such a laidback country. And honestly, you can’t really compare Brunei to Saudi Arabia. I could only compare it with Saudi Arabia since I used to live there, and how Suzie described her country pretty much summed up what I saw Brunei in reality.
While they claim to apply sharia law in their governance, Brunei has NEVER executed anyone since their independence from British protectorate in 1984.
If you want to go political about it and ask me as an Indonesian, maybe you’re familiar with Bali Nine execution that took place in 2015. But I’m not going to be political correct here. You’re entitled to your opinion. Let’s move on!
2. Ringgit or Dollar? What’s Brunei currency exactly?
The first time I did after exchanging my MYR to BND, my first question to Suzie was this: Why is it that it’s written on the bank note that it’s Ringgit but then they use $ symbol and still call it dollar instead of ringgit?
Like, what’s exactly the currency in Brunei?!
I’m the queen of random stuff that is actually unnecessary trivia. But then again, curiosity kills the cat and it’s better to ask than die knowing nothing. HAHA. 😛
According to Suzie, despite the official Brunei currency is BND as in Bruneian dollar, when speaking in Malay, some people from the older generation still call it ringgit. I suppose it’s more like a custom that people get used to.
3. Currency Interchangeability Agreement between Brunei and Singapore.
In case you didn’t know, you could use SGD in Brunei, and vice versa. Basically, according to the Currency Interchangeability Agreement between the Autoriti Monetari Brunei Darussalam (AMBD) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), both accepts notes and coins issued by the other and exchange them at par and without charge into their own currency.
However, in practice, you should take note that for any transaction in Brunei, Brunei rarely accepts the $1 SGD coin. Supposedly it’s because Brunei itself has $1 banknote instead of coin.
4. Rowan Atkinson’s son is currently based in Kuala Belait to serve the British Army.
Once under the British protectorate, Britain and Brunei have signed a defense agreement for decades. It ensures British troops to remain station in the country.
If you have almost zero knowledge in terms of defense and troops like me, then you probably wouldn’t even care about it. However, what if I tell you that Rowan Atkinson’s son, Benjamin Atkinson, is currently based in Brunei to serve in the Army?
Well, if you’re more like a follower of pop culture and into Mr. Bean like I am, I suppose the latter fact is somehow more interesting to know, right?! 😛
5. The late father of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin, was a big fan of Winston Churchill.
While we probably see the current Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, to be more conservative, his father was more moderate. He was the most ardent admirer of Sir Winston Churchill to the point that he literally built Churchill Memorial Building in 1971.
Once a museum dedicated to the former British prime minister, during Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s Silver Jubilee in 1992, they renovated the building.
Nowadays, the building has been known as the Royal Regalia Museum. Here, you could get more knowledge about the Sultan himself, as well as see things from his golden chariot, his belongings, to even some souvenirs given by other famous people or the world’s leaders.
6. Despite all the propaganda by the western media trying to lead you with the news these days, the Sultan is loved by many in their home country.
Obviously, being one of the wealthiest people in the world, the Royal family in Brunei has their own rough spot when it comes to their private life. A lot of gossips and rumors spread regardless, whether it’s true or not.
However, the Sultan is loved by his people in Brunei because he provides them with a lot of comforts. Yes, despite his dictatorial power, he also gives his people public housing, as well as free education and free health care.
From a local’s point of view, Suzie mentioned that all students have been given monthly allowance. For example, when she was in high school, the monthly allowance was around $300 BND per person.
It was years ago, so if you happen to be Bruneian or in Brunei and you know the updated information about this, feel free to tell me so I could add it later on! 😉
As if it wasn’t enough, for every anniversary and celebration, the Sultan focused on the things that could benefit many people too.
You see the picture of the bridge above? It is a cable-stayed bridge which connects the city center and Sungai Kebun in Bandar Seri Begawan. The bridge was named after the Sultan’s wife, Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha, because it was dedicated for her on her birthday in 2017.
From a birthday gift, to a useful infrastructure for the people. How generous is that?!
7. You should avoid wearing yellow or gold-colored clothes in the event when the Sultan is present.
It was such a bummer that I left Brunei exactly on Maulid Nabi last year when Sultan was scheduled to be present around Bandar exactly on the day I was heading to Kota Kinabalu.
However, if you’re luckier than I am and you get a chance to see Sultan in person during the celebration, try to avoid yellow or gold-colored outfit since most likely Sultan is going to wear something yellow,
If you take a look at the Brunei flag, the yellow color represents the Sultan himself.
The main gate at Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque, where the Sultan usually makes the entrance for any prayer he attends there.
Got Any Fun Fact About Brunei that You Want to Share?
Well, feel free to share it in the comment section so more people could see things beyond what the media tells us to believe.
Drop me a comment below if you have one, and cheerio! 🙂
18 thoughts on “Some Random Things You Need to Know About Brunei”
Great tips, Its good to know the you can wear cloths that are a little more western and not to wear yellow or gold. Its also interesting that they call there currency the dollar.
Brunie is such an interesting country, I heard that there are not many tourists that visit Brunei which only makes me want to visit more. This is such a great info, thanks! 🙂
They tend to have less tourist, yes… But maybe it has something to do with the fact that most of the tourist attractions, apart from one around Ulu Temburong, are located in the city center that is not so big either. But yes, you should make a visit there to see it for yourself. 2-3 days in Brunei would be enough to explore the country! 🙂
As a British person I didnt know we had army people serving in Brunei so I learnt something new there. I still want to visit the country but against the new LGBT laws coming in. It wouldnt put me other from visiting as every country has their own laws, some more relaxed to the others but I always take time out before I reach a new country on laws/scams etc which I should be aware of to make my trip easier.
i think there’s an update to the new LGBT laws coming in, the sultan decided to do moratorium and would consider annulling the application of the laws. that only sounds like good news, since it only makes the country as one of the most moderate muslim countries like it was previously. 🙂
Every location has a mystery collection of rich history, culture and things to do. Aimaizing photos just makes me want to book a trip and explore some more.
Those are some interesting tidbits! And I even learned more about Sharia Law. It sounds like you had a good time there 🙂
I just love the randomness!!:)) Really cool unexpected tips!
I love your combination of cultural facts, travel tips and current media coverage of Brunei – despite the stigma I would still love to visit the city and explore for myself!
I haven’t been to Brunei, and I admit that for me, the regime’s attitude not only to LGBT individuals, but to women too, puts me off regardless of other attractions. That said, great to learn a little more about other aspects of the country.
being a Bruneian myself, its great to see that there are people who can look past the cruel law. I will agree the law is quite a bummer for its tourism but there are many other aspects which make Brunei a great place (as said in this article) I’m only 14 and reading this article made me quite happy as I’ve moved to Australia for my studies.
Hi, thank you so much for your kind comment. It makes my day!
Yeah, I’m just tired of people give their opinion without even giving a chance to at least visit the place to experience it. I mean, you can’t expect perfection out of everything, right? So, I just try to highlight what’s the good things to take out of the country based on my experience. I’m glad that someone appreciates it, so thank you! 🙂