Brunei is a Muslim country and woman are advised to dress modestly. As I didn't know I was going to visit Brunei (I thought I would only make a very short stop-over in Brunei on my flight to Sabah) I was wearing the totally wrong type of clothing! Eeks! I had no chance to change into some descent clothing because everything was locked up in my suitcase and on its way to Sabah :-(
I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt; not the most appropriate clothing for Brunei. I didn't get any comments on my clothing though and I didn't run into any problems. But be prepared to be stared at so now and then. And of course be prepared to feel a bit 'different' than anyone else you meet in Brunei. When I visited the mosque I could borrow a robe to cover myself. See the picture: me in action getting some appropriate clothing :-)
The currency used in Brunei is the Brunei Dollar. Although this is the official currency, Singapore dollars are equally exchanged and can be used.
As I was never expected of visiting Brunei I didn't have any Brunei dollars with me. But the ATM machine at the shopping centre was of great use and I was the proud owner of some Brunei dollars in no time :-))
The current exchange rate (June 2004):
1 Brunei dollar = 0.59 U.S. dollar or 0.48 Euro.
Credit cards are widely accepted in larger stores, hotels and restaurants. Smaller shops and restaurants often only accept cash.
I was in luck that I didn't need a special visa to enter into Brunei. Dutch (and Swedish) citizens together with several other countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Indonesia, Japan, Luxembourg, Republic of Maldives, Norway, The Philippines, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand and The Principality of Liechtenstein) can stay 14 days in Brunei without a visa.
British, Malaysian, German, The Sultanate of Oman, South Korea, New Zealand and Singaporean citizens can stay 30 days without a visa.
US citizens can stay up to 90 days without a visa.
Australians are issued a visa upon their arrivals at the Brunei International Airport, but only for visits not exceeding 14 days.
It is best to check your local Embassy of Brunei to know the most current visa rules so you know whether you need to apply for a visa or not. You can find more info about visas to Brunei on this website : http://www.mfa.gov.bn/consular/
The sultan, the sultan and more sultan.... and his family of course :-)) While visiting Brunei you can't escape from the world of the Sultan. Everything in this little Sultanate seems to evolve around him. In almost every sentence of my guide the word 'Sultan' appeared.
I've learnt lots about his life during my short visit, seen many of the palaces of him and his family and I've seen that he is a very generous man, taking good care of his people. My guide through Brunei was quite proud of his country and most of all the fact that they didn't have to pay tax :-)) But the Sultan is the absolute ruler of this country, which means no freedom of speech. A fact I was well aware of while being here.
Brunei is a “dry” country, so, no alcoholic beverages; non- Muslims are allowed to import some (24 beer cans and 2 bottles of wine, if you really “need” that), but no “provocation” is allowed, so, no drink in open view (except some restaurants where it is allowed to “bring your own” (drinks)).
Brunei is a Muslim country and for me that meant adjusting a bit to the local customs. I already mentioned the dress code, but there are a few more things. You can't buy any alcohol in Brunei or pork meat. If you wish you can bring a little bit of alcohol into the country, but be aware of where you drink it.
Another thing is not to give or accept anything with your left hand. At home I am a 100% 'left-hander', so for me that meant quite a bit of adjusting. But I think I managed rather well :-))
This is a tree nursery in the forest; the young trees are kept in shade as they would if growing naturally; the young trees here are durian, as one can see from the remaining burs. The Durian is a very appreciated fruit in all over South East Asia.
The Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque welcomes visitors. Visitors are allowed into certain public areas within the Mosque but certain areas are only open and accessible to those of the Muslim faith.
Please note that you should remove your shoes before entering the mosque. All women, regardless of religion, are required to cover their hair, arms and legs and therefore it is best to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts plus carry a shawl to cover your hair before entering.
Bruneian people are very polite and rely on etiquette, so, the foreigner has to be polite ; never try to shake hands with a lady; it may be a big offence and if the lady does not raise her hand do not try to take it.
Members of the opposite sex do not shake hands.
It is impolite to point with the index finger (use the right thumb instead) or to beckon someone with fingers upmost. Instead the whole hand should be waved with palm facing downwards.
The right fist should never be smacked into the left palm.
Gifts, particularly food, are passed with the right hand.
When sitting, the sole of your feet should not be pointed towards your companions.
Bruneians are generally very tolerant and will understand that visitors are not familiar with all of their customs and Islamic traditions. Nonetheless, keeping these few things in mind will go far in showing the Bruneian people that you respect and appreciate their culture, enriching your experience:
• Tourists should observe the local dress code and dress modestly. Clothing comfortable for hot weather is acceptable, except when visiting places of worship or for social and business functions.
•Bruneians shake hands by lightly touching the hands and then bringing the hand to the chest. Some people do not to shake hands with members of the opposite sex.
•You should not point with your finger; instead, use the thumb of your right hand with the four fingers folded beneath it.
•When visiting a mosque, all visitors should remove their shoes. Women should cover their heads and not have their knees or arms exposed. You should not pass in front of a person in prayer or touch the Koran.
•Gifts (particularly food) should only be passed with the right hand, although it is acceptable to use the left hand to support the right wrist.
•It is polite to accept even just a little food and drink when offered. When refusing anything offered, it is polite to touch the plate lightly with the right hand.
•During the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, Muslims do not take food from sunrise to sundown. It would be inconsiderate to eat or drink in their presence during this period.
•In deference to the Muslim majority, alcohol is not sold in Brunei, but private consumption by non-Muslims is allowed. Non-Muslim tourists are allowed a generous duty-free allowance of 2 bottles of alcohol (wine, spirits, etc) and 12 cans of beer per entry, and may consume alcohol with sensible discretion in hotels and some restaurants.
These little houses on stilts can fool you. When you go inside you see refrigerators, air conditioners and all matter of modern appliances. As I said before, the sultan is VERY RICH due to OIL. He gives his subjects eveything. It was the people who turned down his offer of modern housing.
Brunei is a rather conservative islamic country. It is more conservative than Malaysia for example. It is not possible to buy alcohol in Brunei. The social conventions which apply to islamic countries in general apply to Brunei too. During the Ramadan period you should not eat or drink in public places during the day time. Restaurants are typically closed for lunch during the Ramadan period.
Ladies should take a shawl to cover their heads upon entering mosques, there are many beautiful temples to see. Also, men should take a clean pair of socks as you will be removing your shoes often.
As usual, pleasant smiles will be returned in kind.
LINK TO CONTINUED BRUNEI TRAVELOGUE [CLICK HERE]
Brunei, le royaume des attentes éternelles, par Sylvie Kauffmann
LE MONDE | 04.02.08 | 13h24
e Tout-BSB en parle encore - BSB : Bandar Seri Begawan, capitale du sultanat de Brunei. Sultanat de Brunei : ancien protectorat britannique au nord de l'île de Bornéo qu'il partage avec la Malaisie et l'Indonésie, pays musulman de 380 000 habitants, dont le pétrole et le gaz assurent 90 % des revenus. Régime : monarchie absolue dont le train de vie défraie régulièrement la chronique. L'un des frères du sultan vit à Londres après avoir dilapidé la moitié des réserves du pays ces dernières années. La nuit du 1er janvier, donc, à 0 h 20, cinquante policiers ont débarqué au petit Hôtel Sheraton de BSB, le seul du pays sous enseigne internationale. L'escouade est montée directement au 6e et dernier étage, celui du Signature Executive Club, réservé aux VIP locaux et aux bons clients, et a fait irruption dans une pièce où quelques dizaines de personnes fêtaient gentiment la nouvelle année.
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