In an effort to highlight places of interest in countries across the world, their varied culture, economy, and history, The Statesman brings to you a Weekly Focus on countries with which India shares diplomatic ties and friendship. This week’s focus is on Brunei. Know all about the country.
Capital: Bandar Seri Begawan
Currency: Brunei dollar, Singapore dollar
Ethnic groups: Malay 65.7%, Chinese 10.3%, other 24% (2016 est.)
Languages: Malay (Bahasa Melayu) (official), English, Chinese dialects
Religions: Muslim (official) 78.8%, Christian 8.7%, Buddhist 7.8%, other (includes indigenous beliefs) 4.7% (2011 est.)
Food and drink
Bruneian food is similar to Malay cuisine. Often quite spicy, favourites include satay, broiled fish, BBQ chicken and a variety of rice dishes. Some of the tastiest Bruneian delicacies are available at open-air markets such as Pasar Malam Gadong and Taman Selera in the capital. Restaurants in hotels, shopping centres and downtown BSB serve Chinese, Indian and European food.
Some of the specialities include Daging masak lada hitam (spicy beef with potato beans), Udang sambal serai bersantan (prawns with chilli and coconut milk), Serondeng padang (chicken fried with garlic wrapped in pandan leaves), Ambuyat (goo made from ground sago tree pith, dipped in sauce), Kelupis (sticky rice steamed in a leaf). Its regional drinks are Air batu campur (literally, “ice mix”), better known as “ABC”, is a sweet dessert-drink that combines ice with sago pearls, red beans, noodles and grass jelly.
The discovery of oil in Brunei in 1929 brought a number of Indians to Brunei to work in the hydrocarbon sector and allied services. Indian associations in Brunei Darussalam have been very active and are regularly organising Indian cultural events. Majority of the doctors in Brunei are from India.
Other professionals include engineers, IT professionals, bankers, teachers etc. Indians have a considerable presence in textile business. There are approximately 11,500 Indian nationals living and working in Brunei.
Weather and climate
There is no good or bad season to visit Brunei. You are likely to encounter warm, humid weather and at least some precipitation whenever you come, so whether you’re coming for shopping, visiting the rain forests or the beaches, it’s a good idea to bring along lightweight rain gear.
The national secular holidays are New Year’s Day, National Day, celebrating Brunei’s resumption of full independent sovereignty in 1984 (23 February), Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day, marking the foundation day of the RBAF in 1961 (31 May), the Birthday of His Majesty the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah the Yang Dipertuan of Brunei Darussalam (15 July), Christmas and Chinese New Year’s Day, whose date is fixed by a lunar calendar.
As per trade statistics provided by the government of Brunei, the exports to India grew by 85 per cent in 2016-17 while imports from India in the same period grew by 326 per cent.
The reasons inhibiting bilateral trade have been relatively high shipping costs, and Brunei’s small population base of 411,000. The main import of India from Brunei in the last few years is crude oil. Due to the small size of demand, most of the consumer goods from India are received in Brunei through re-exports via Malaysia and Singapore.
In the services sector, India has been exporting its manpower to Brunei in reasonably good numbers, both highly qualified professionals, and skilled/semi-skilled workers and the repatriation of their savings to India constitute an important foreign exchange earning for India.
Pursuant to the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2009, India’s FTA on Goods with Brunei became effective from 1 November 2010, slashing import duties on products like seafood, chemicals and apparel. Brunei became the seventh country to implement the FTA.
Documents required for tourist visa are Visa application form, A Copy of passport with an expiry date of no less than six months, recent coloured passport-sized photos, copy of confirmed return flight ticket, A copy of accommodation in Brunei Darussalam ~ hotel reservation form or address of stay in Brunei Darussalam, Contact Details of the applicant, Covering letter and Bank statements last 6 months from the current date personal.
Flights: Major domestic and international airlines, like Singapore Airlines, Vistara, Jet Airways, AirAsia, Thai Airways, British Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Air India, provide connecting flights from India to Bandar Seri Begawan every week. Hyderabad, Colombo, Singapore, and Bangkok are the major layover airports for connecting flights to Brunei.
Bandar Seri Begawan: Bandar Seri Begawan (or just BSB) is perhaps the most richly-adorned Capital one would have ever heard of. Home to just 50,000 people, it’s a pint-sized lesson in how oil money can change the world. Having been transformed in the last century, from a seaside trading town to the gilded epicenter of drilling and home of the great Sultan of Brunei, the town hosts wondrous ~ if a tad gaudy ~ sights like the gold-tipped Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and the colossal Istana Nurul Iman, which holds the world record for being the largest government building on the globe. There’s also fascinating Islamic craft on display in the Brunei Museum, and oodles of shopping to be had in the malls of Gadong.
Ulu Temburong National Park: The revered Green Jewel of Brunei, Ulu Temburong sits nestled deep in the recesses of the country’s eastern exclave. A veritable mecca for eco-tourists and wildlife lovers, it’s been hailed across the globe as a fine example of state-sponsored conservation. In all, it covers a whopping 550 sq km of primeval rainforest, and hosts exotic species such as Rhinoceros hornbills and Swinging gibbon colonies. Visitors who make their way here can enjoy safaris on specially-constructed rope bridges in the canopies, which offer a unique perspective atop the old growth jungle.
Kampong Ayer: Sitting smack bang in the middle of the winding Brunei River as it weaves through the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan, this standalone area of the city can be seen as a destination in its own right. Also known as, simply, the water village, it’s formed completely by homes that jut just above the channels on stilts. Many are connected with rickety boardwalks and play host to happy local families, who love showing unexpected visitors around. The only way to reach Kampong Ayer is by flagging down a water taxi from the banks in BSB.
Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque: Built-in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of the current sultan’s reign, Brunei’s largest mosque, and its four terrazzo-tiled minarets dominate their surroundings. It’s certainly an impressive building because the sultan is his dynasty’s 29th ruler, the complex is adorned with 29 golden domes. At night the mosque is lit up like a gold flame. Look out for the sultan’s own personal escalator at his private entrance to the mosque.
Other tourist attractions include Pekan Tutong, Kuala Belait, Gadong, Muara, Andulau Forest Reserve, Bangar, Labi, Seria, Labi Forest Reserve, Jerudong Park, Tasek Merimbun Heritage Park and Hutan Simpan Berakas Park.
Compiled by Kunal Jain ([email protected])