27 interesting facts about Brunei

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The most interesting facts about Brunei, from the world’s biggest palace to the monument built for the billionth barrel of oil.

Brunei's sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and his wife in 2019
The sultan accounts for several interesting facts about Brunei (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Brunei Darussalam
Capital city: Bandar Seri Begawan
Population: 464,478 
Area: 5,765 sq km
Major languages: Malay, English
Time zone: UTC+8 (Brunei Darussalam Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Brunei

1. Brunei is a tiny country located on the island of Borneo in Asia. It is Asia’s fourth-smallest country after the Maldives, Singapore and Bahrain.
– Source: World Bank, CIA World Fact Book

A map showing where Brunei is located on Borneo
Brunei is located on Borneo (Shutterstock)

2. Brunei is the second-richest country in Asia (after Singapore) when measured by GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity (PPP). It is the 11th richest country in the world.
– Source: World Bank

3. Brunei has huge oil and gas reserves. Oil and gas exports account for over 90% of Brunei’s total exports.
– Source: Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC)

4. Brunei has the largest oilfields in Southeast Asia, although they are expected to run dry within 30 years.
– Source: Lonely Planet

5. One of Brunei’s famous landmarks is the Billionth Barrel Monument, which commemorates the billionth barrel of oil produced at the Seria oilfield. The milestone was reached in 1991.
– Source: Lonely Planet

The Billionth Barrel Monument
The Billionth Barrel Monument (Shutterstock)

6. The country’s full name is Brunei Darussalam, which is Arabic for “Brunei, abode of peace”.
– Source: Britannica

7. According to Chinese and Arab records, the country of Brunei existed as early as the 7th or 8th century AD at the mouth of the Brunei River.
– Source: Encyclopedia.com

8. The Sultanate of Brunei once controlled large areas of northwest Borneo and the southern Philippines between the 15th and 17th centuries.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

9. Brunei became a British protectorate in 1888. In 1963, it was the only Malay state that decided not to join the federation that would later become Malaysia.
– Source: BBC News

10. Brunei gained complete independence from Britain in 1984.
– Source: BBC News

11. Brunei is home to the largest stilt settlement in the world. Founded over 1,000 years ago, Kampong Ayer consists of 42 adjoining stilt villages which house around 30,000 people. The settlement has been nicknamed the ‘Venice of the East’.
– Source: Lonely Planet

Kampong Ayer in Brunei
Kampong Ayer (Shutterstock)

12. During the 19th century, the Sultan of Brunei requested Britain to help suppress a local revolt. As a result, British army officer James Brooke was ennobled as Rajah of Sarawak in 1839 as a reward for helping – a dynasty of British rajas that became known as the Brooke Raj.
– Source: Britannica

13. In 2014, Brunei became the first East Asian country to adopt strict Islamic Sharia law. It allows punishments such as stoning for adultery and amputation for theft.
– Source: Reuters

14. In 2019, the new penal code was fully implemented. The code designates death by stoning for adultery and gay sex in certain circumstances.
– Source: The Guardian, New York Times

15. The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, is one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchs. Absolute monarchies are countries where monarchs (or dictators) still maintain complete power. The only other absolute monarchies are Eswatini, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Vatican City with Qatar and North Korea de-facto absolute monarchies.
– Source: BBC News, Times of India, Britannica

16. The Sultan is the world’s second-longest-reigning royal after Britain’s Queen Elizabeth of the UK. He has been in power since 1967.
– Source: BBC News

17. The same royal family have ruled Brunei since the 14th century – for over 600 years – meaning the current Sultan also represents one of the world’s oldest continuously ruling dynasties.
– Source: United Nations

18. Brunei’s flag was adopted in 1906 and has a yellow background which represented the sultan, with one black and one white diagonal stripe representing his two chief ministers. In 1959 the central red and yellow coat of arms was added which has a crescent for Islam, and a parasol which is a symbol of royalty in Brunei.
– Source: Britannica

The flag of Brunei
The flag of Brunei (Shutterstock)

19. There are two inscriptions on the coat of arms in Arabic. “Always render service by the guidance of God” is on the crescent and “Brunei darussalam”.
– Source: Britannica

20. The sultan is the second-richest monarch in the world after the King of Thailand. He is believed to have a net worth of at least $20 billion (USD).
– Source: The Telegraph

21. He also lives in the world’s largest residential palace, the Istana Nurul Iman, near Bandar Seri Begawan. The palace covers 200,000m², contains 1,788 rooms, has 257 bathrooms, a banqueting hall for 5,000 guests, a garage for 110 cars, an air-conditioned stable for 200 ponies and five swimming pools.
– Source: Guinness World Records

22. The sultan has two honorary appointments awarded by the British Queen: he is an air chief marshal in the RAF and an admiral of the Royal Navy. The sultan has also been given honorary degrees by Oxford University, the University of Aberdeen and King’s College London.
– Source: The Guardian

23. One of Brunei’s most famous landmarks is the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. The main dome is made of 3.5-million-pieces of glass mosaic overlayed with real gold leaf.
– Source: Lonely Planet

24. The mosque’s 52m-high minaret makes it the tallest building in central Bandar Seri Begawan. Apparently, the nearby Islamic Bank of Brunei building was originally higher but had the top storey removed by order of the sultan.
– Source: Lonely Planet

The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque (Shutterstock)

25. Excluding the Middle East, Brunei is the second-highest-ranked Asian country on the Human Development Index. Only Singapore is higher. It is ranked 43rd overall with a rating of “Very high human development” (the highest rating available).
– Source: United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

26. Citizens of Brunei do not pay income tax. Brunei is one of just 13 countries which have an individual income tax rate of zero (0%).
– Source: The Telegraph

27. Despite its tiny size, Brunei is home to an array of rare wildlife. 70% of the country is covered by forest with much of it protected. Notable species include pangolins, proboscis monkeys, Sunda clouded leopards, several species of rare hornbill and the slow loris primates.
– Source: CNN Travel, CIA World Fact Book

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