Brunei is a sultanate on the island of Borneo headed by an all-powerful and extremely popular king. Once the center of a Muslim empire that stretched across Borneo and much of the Philippines, through years of attrition and concessions to colonial powers Brunei has been winnowed down to its present tiny size. It became a British protectorate in the late 1800s, and was granted independence in 1984. Tiny and impoverished at independence, the discovery of rich offshore oil and natural gas deposits enabled rapid development, and now Brunei is one of the richest countries in the world per-capita.
At the recommendation of many other travelers I spent just over 24 hours in Brunei, and I would say that was the perfect amount of time. The capital has some nice parks and monuments, but there’s really not that much to do, and Sharia law means no nightlife. It felt kind of like hanging out in Kirkland – quiet, pretty, a good place to raise a family, but a little boring.
My time in Brunei was absolutely made by the host at my hostel, Ash. As it’s currently the off-season and Brunei doesn’t get many travelers in the first place I was the only guest, and Ash gave me the full experience, driving me around town the night I arrived and helping me come up with an itinerary for the next day. If you ever go to Brunei, stay at the Hostelite.
The other thing to do in Brunei is the Regalia Museum, which is basically the king’s museum about himself (and allows absolutely no photographs). This guy has serious money, and he’s clearly not embarrassed about it. OTOH he steered his nation quite successfully through both decolonization and an extremely disruptive period of development, so I suppose he has good reason to be proud.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the oil runs out.