The tiny sultan-state of Brunei, located on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in South-East Asia, boasts one of the world’s highest standards of living. Home to bountiful reserves of oil and gas, staggering wildlife and one of the world’s longest-reigning absolute monarchs, it’s a country that delights and surprises in equal measures. Interested in finding out more about this pint-sized sultanate? Here are a few interesting facts about Brunei.
Interesting Facts About Brunei
1. It’s home to the largest stilt settlement in the world
The Kampong Ayer consists of 42 stilt villages, connected by a 38-kilometre (23-mile) boardwalk. Built over 1,000 years ago, it’s now home to 30,000 people. Its name translates as ‘Water Village’. When the Venetian scholar Antonio Pigafetta sailed here in 1521, he was blown away by its resemblance to his home city, hence its nickname ‘Venice of the East’. Today, wooden boats ferry residents and merchants from one village to the next, and speedboats transport the local police force and fire brigades.
2. Brunei has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world
According to research from the ASEAN Automotive Federation, there are 721 cars for every 1,000 people in Brunei. Some attribute this to a lack of public transport, since most privately operated buses only supply the Brunei-Muara district and there is no evening or night service. Cheap, heavily subsidised petrol at $0.39 per litre, helps too. Taxis are unpopular too – in 2013, there were only 48 privately-owned taxis, most of them operating within Bandar Seri Begawan.
3. It has an absolute monarchy
In fact, it’s one of the last few remaining absolute monarchies in the world. Only Eswatini, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, North Korea and the Vatican City still have an absolute monarchy. The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has absolute power. He’s one of the world’s longest-reigning monarchs, crowned in August 1968 following the abdication of his father, Sir Haji Omar Ali Saifuddin. When Brunei gained independence in 1984, he appointed himself prime minister and in 1991 introduced the Malay Muslim Monarchy ideology, which means he is the official defender of the faith. He appears to enjoy genuine popularity among his subjects too.
4. It has the largest residential palace in the world
The Sultan of Brunei is also one of the world’s richest individuals with an estimated worth of US $20 billion. Unsurprisingly, he also lives in the world’s largest residential palace – Istana Nurul Iman. Located near Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei, the palace covers an impressive 200,000 m² (2,152,782 ft²). There are 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, and five swimming pools. There’s also a banqueting hall for 5,000 guests, a huge mosque, a 100-car garage and an air-conditioned stable for 200 poli ponies. Leandro V. Locsin designed the palace and completed it in 1984. It cost around $1.4 billion. If you want to see it, you’ll need to visit on one of the three days per year during Eid that it’s open to the public.
5. Despite its size, it’s home to staggering wildlife
It might be small, but Brunei is home to brilliant biodiversity. 70% of the country is covered by rainforests and most of that is protected. You’ll find some of the animal kingdom’s rarest creatures here, many of which can only be found in Brunei. There are Sunda clouded leopards, pangolins, probosci’s monkeys, slow loris, and flying lizards, as well as lesser-known amphibians like the long-nosed frog. The Ulu Temburong National Park is one of Brunei’s most bewitching green landscapes. The 50,00-hectare rainforest stretches across most of the southern district and is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.
6. It has a lot of oil and gas reserves
Brunei enjoys one of the world’s highest standards of living thanks to its steady stream of oil and gas. Brunei’s oil and gas reserves produce approximately 127,000 barrels of oil per day and 243,000 barrels of natural gas per day. In fact, most of Shell oil comes from offshore drilling platforms in Brunei. Crude oil and natural gas account for 90% of the country’s economy.
7. …as well as a very impressive dome
The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque at Bandar Seri Begawan, Negara Brunei Darussalam is one of Asia’s most beautiful mosques. Competed in 1958, the mosque takes its name after the 28th Sultan of Brunei Darussalam. The building is spectacular, but its dome is truly remarkable. Made from over 2.5 million pieces of glass mosaic and covered with real gold leaf, you can see the landmark from almost anywhere in the city.