The small state of BRUNEI, enclave within its neighboring larger state of Malaysia, owes its fortune thanks to natural gas and petroleum resources. Brunei is a peaceful Sultanate with a long history steeped in culture; it’s a nature paradise with more than 70% of the country covered by tropical forest.
It gained independence only in 1984 but has the wolrd’s oldest reigning monarchy. The Sultan of Brunei comes from a family line that dates back over 600 years.
Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan, is considered to be one of the richest men in the world. He is in power since 1967. He rules under a national philosophy known as Malay Islamic Monarchy which promotes Islamic traditions and values and loyalty to the Sultan.
Once a year, and for just 3 days, at the end of the month of Ramadan, the 29th Sultan opens the doors of his fabulous palace and, together with his family, he welcomes visitors to exchange ritual greetings. The Royal Palace, ISTANA NURUL IMAN (“Light of Faith”) is located in the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan, it has 1788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, and a surrounding park area of 200.000 sq.mt. It is considered to be the largest royal palace in the world. The Palace was designed and created by Filipino designers and constructers in 1984.
The capital city is a rather small modern city with many new grey cement buildings, constructions which are the result of the Japanese invasion and consequent city bombing. Nevertheless, it has many interesting sites which are worthwhile visiting.
First of all the two Mosques:
OMAR ALI SAIFFUDIN: built in 1958 and named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, it’s considered as one of the most impressive mosques in South Asia. It’s located in the very heart of the capital city, surrounded by a peaceful lagoon where a replica of the royal barge reposes.
and JAME ASR HASSANAL BOLKIAH: built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of current Sultan reign. Because the Sultan is his dynasty’s 29th ruler, the mosque is adorned with 29 golden domes. Surrounded by nice fountains and gardens which leads you to the main entrance.
The Water Village (Kampong Ayer): situated along the Brunei river, it’s a settlement area built on water and equipped with all modern facilities such as schools shops, mosque, clinic, police station, fire brigade, etc. It is considered that almost 30.000 people are living the village. The mode of transportation between the village is by water taxi or locally known as Perahn Tambang. The Italian explorer Pigafetta, who visited it in the 16th century, has called it “The Venice of the East”.
Two hours from the capital city there is Temburong National Park: to reach the park you need to get a 40 minutes water jetty, then a car ride for 18 km and again a 30 minutes ride on a traditional longboat.
Temburong National Park is protected and preserved for scientific research and offers a rare chance to experience an incredible diversity of flora and fauna found in a virgin rainforest.
But to reach the canopy walk from the longboat banks it’s not that easy. An hard long, steep walkway in very humid, slippery conditions no matter the hour you start it. At first sight the metal cage canopy appears to be as a scaffolding but the more you climb it, the more you are rewarded by the spectacular view around you which pushes you to go up and up and reach the highest peak 90 mt. high.
Looking down the canopy it’s easy to believe you are standing at the top of the world. Around you there is nothing but the vast rainforest spreading out in every direction.
BRUNEI, on the whole, is a pleasant small country to visit. I found it very different than I expected. Because of its wealth and richness, I was picturing a country with luxurious and glittering buildings where you could feel and notices the country’s wealth in every angle. Anyway, I found the trip experience enriching and I much appreciated the kindness and hospitality of its people.