Brunei: Perplexing, Infuriating, Unforgettable

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The expat community of Brunei was recently rattled by the sudden deportation of one of their own.

Most expats in Brunei either work in the oil industry or are teachers. One could make the argument that oil workers or English teachers are a dime a dozen here.

This man was neither. He held arguably the most prestigious hospitality job in the entire nation, and had held it for a long time. In other words, this wasn’t taken lightly.

The reason for his deportation? He dressed up as the Sultan of Brunei for Halloween.


I’ve been struggling with how to begin describing my experiences in Brunei, and I think that anecdote sums it up. I’m still trying to make sense of my time in Brunei. I found it dismaying and heartwarming. I found kindness and optimism amidst an increasingly dark regime.

Why did I end up in Brunei? This tiny Southeast Asian country, entirely contained on the island of Borneo, isn’t featured on most backpackers’ itineraries. But I have friend from home living here, whom I’ll call Allison, and she invited me to come visit. Allison and her husband, whom I’ll call Colin, have been living here for the past few years and have two children.

Due to the deportation of the prominent expat, I won’t be revealing their identities further than this. Just in case this wrong people discover this post.


Strict Islamic Society

While Southeast Asia has a few countries with a majority Muslim population, Brunei governs by a very strict form of Islam.

Every business in the country shuts down from 12:00 to 2:00 PM on Friday, the holy day. Every building in the country must be within “hearing distance” of a mosque for the call to prayer. Public school has a heavily religious component; some schools require children to change into white uniforms for religious instruction. All Muslim women are expected to wear the hijab, and it’s worn by young girls as well, which is unusual.

Most famously, the sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Brunei, though foreigners may import up to two liters of spirits or wine and up to twelve cans of beer every 48 hours.

As you’d expect, Brunei is a difficult place to be gay. Acts of male homosexuality are illegal in Brunei and can be punished with up to 10 years in prison, though there are no laws against acts of female homosexuality. LGBT presence and culture are nonexistent. I met a well-known Bruneian who is assumed to be gay by most expats, but Bruneians don’t have a clue.

I actually broke a Bruneian law myself when Colin gave me a ride to a school. “The fact that we’re not married and I’m driving you alone in a car makes this illegal,” Colin told me. “But they won’t do anything about it.”

Believe it or not, bacon can actually be found in some grocery stores — but it’s kept in a private room in the back for non-halal meat, where it’s wrapped up so Bruneians won’t see it.

In fact, Allison told me that if you bring bacon into the country, the customs officials will recoil and wave you through so they don’t have to touch it. “You could smuggle in kilos of cocaine underneath a pile of bacon and they wouldn’t notice,” she laughed.

Empire Hotel Brunei

The Sultan is All-Powerful

The Sultan of Brunei is one of the world’s richest men and an all-powerful figure within the country. Though he’s beloved by most of his subjects, unlimited power and a country rich in oil has led to a life of excess, whether it’s ceremonial chariots pulled by dozens of men or his more than 500 luxury cars. And some would say it’s led to megalomania as well.

Remember how Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding, though scheduled with military precision to the minute, was delayed? It was because of the Sultan of Brunei, who arrived fashionably late.

At the Royal Regalia Museum in Bandar Seri Begawan, you’ll find the chariots in question, as well as tribal canoes, crystal ships, a vase from the Queen of England, and other gifts for the man who has everything.

Brunei Children

Increasingly Fundamentalist

In October it was decided that sharia law would be implemented in Brunei starting in April. This will supposedly only apply to Muslims (and with so many expats and guest workers, only about two-thirds of Brunei’s population is Muslim). There won’t be changes in many of the restrictions, as the country is already quite strict, but brutal punishments like public flogging, stoning and even amputation of limbs could take place.

“It is because of our need that Allah the Almighty, in all his generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilize them to obtain justice,” the Sultan said.

Some people think that this is because the Sultan is becoming increasingly god-fearing as he grows older. Like many a Saudi prince, the Sultan of Brunei had a reputation as an international playboy in his youth before returning home and adopting a more devout lifestyle.

One Bruneian whom I would describe as far more liberal than the typical citizen had something surprising to say about the implementation of sharia law: “The Sultan wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t doing something wrong.”

Brunei Water Village

No Free Speech

There is no free speech in Brunei, and the media is controlled by the government, including Brunei’s two major newspapers, The Brunei Times and the Borneo Bulletin. I was interviewed for both publications after I spoke to students about our writing and journalism careers at Jerudong International School (JIS). Here’s the Brunei Times piece.

I later met with a foreign-born Brunei journalist who bemoaned the state of journalism in the country. Basically, he told me, the journalists sit around in their office and wait for the government to call them. The newspapers are collections of press releases, and the overall quality of the journalism is low.

Bruneian journalists don’t want free speech, he told me, and pointed to instances in other countries that the introduction of free speech led to demonstrations and protests. That’s a small price to pay, I told him. He shook his head.

Truthfully, the journalist said, most Brunei journalists don’t want free speech because it means they’ll have to start doing real work.


Expat Life

So how do you get by when living in such a strict country? For many Brunei expats, they call the “milkman,” a Chinese booze dealer within the country.

You want alcohol? You text your milkman, he’ll tell you what he has in stock, you tell him what you’d like, and he’ll have it delivered to you discreetly. He’s like a drug dealer, only for alcohol.

But that’s for expats’ eyes only — as soon as Bruneians appear in an expat’s home, any and all alcohol is hidden away. Colin and Allison have a bar in their home, and when it came time for one of their children’s birthday parties, they hid the alcohol and covered the bar with a blanket.

There is a constant wariness that comes with living in Brunei. At any moment, a Bruneian could report your less-than-holy actions. While it’s technically legal to have alcohol in a private home, the corruption of Bruneians is a far more blurred line.

So the expats band together — the teachers, the oil workers, the others, ensconced in their circle of trust. They bond over the difficulties of living in such a strict culture as they imbibe the forbidden libations, a quiet rebellion that will never see the light of day.

For that reason, I understand how it would be possible to develop a drinking problem in a dry country.

Empire Hotel Brunei

It’s All a Facade

Whether you’re walking through downtown Bandar Seri Begawan or driving along the highways, Brunei looks like it’s stuck in the 90s. Billboards are ancient. Letters are falling off signs. There is no sense of aesthetics. Despite the amount of money the country has, it’s not being spent on making it look good.

The Empire Hotel, Brunei’s most exclusive resort, is an exception. A dramatic behemoth covered with gold, the hotel proudly wears the fictitious “seven-star” moniker, just like the Burj al Arab in Dubai. Take a look at the fanciest suites — far more opulent than the #2 suite at the Burj al Arab!

I took Colin and Allison and their kids out for afternoon tea. While the tea featured delicious cakes and was excellent value (20 Brunei dollars per person, or $16 USD), the service was perplexing.

“Can I get something for the kids to drink?” Allison asked the waitress. She stared back blankly. “Apple juice?” Allison suggested.

The kids were brought apple juice in fancy V-shaped tumblers that nobody in the western world would dream of giving to a young child. Now, I don’t think that every restaurant should cater to kids with crayons and sippy cups, but isn’t it obvious that you should serve young children drinks in a cup that is least likely to be spilled?

Allison and I had talked a lot about her experiences with kids in Brunei, and the recurring theme that I gleaned from her experiences is that children are largely ignored, even when you try to make special preparations for them in advance.

After an hour or so of exploring the hotel’s grounds, we walked back through the “seven-star” lobby again. Our dirty plates were still waiting to be cleared.


The Value of Visiting Brunei

My week in Brunei was incredible.

I helped shy nine-year-olds practice their English, knowing that they will likely never leave home.

I gave interviews to journalists who have never known freedom of the press.

I explored a poverty-stricken village built on stilts in the morning and visited the British High Commissioner in the afternoon.

I drank, spoke freely, and rode in a car with a man who wasn’t my husband.

What I learned from the people here could fill books — and yet I could never adequately describe a word of it.

But as far as tourist value goes, Brunei doesn’t have much. I don’t see any reason to come here as a tourist unless you just want to say that you’ve been here.

One of the tourist activities where Brunei excels, however, is a visit to the rainforest in Temburon province, where you can walk above the canopy and stay in the jungle overnight. (Ironically, I was so busy meeting people in Brunei that I had no time to do the main iconic activity!)

Beyond that, there’s not much to do, but I recommend taking a tour of the water villages (which you can do from downtown Bandar Seri Begawan), seeing the beautiful Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, visiting the Royal Regalia Museum, and having afternoon tea at the Empire Hotel.

What’s Next?

I’ll be following Brunei in the news once they introduce sharia law and see how it plays out on the world stage — whether they will continue to increase their fundamentalism or pull back in order to placate foreigners. Whether they will tolerate the expats or deport them at the drop of a hat.

I felt uneasy the whole time I was in Brunei and I feel even more uneasy when thinking of it’s future. I don’t think I’m going to like what I see in the future.

Essential Info: Several major airlines fly to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, including Air Asia, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, and the national carrier, Royal Brunei. You can also enter overland from Sarawak in Malaysia.

The Royal Regalia Museum, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, and the Empire Hotel are free to visit. No photos are permitted in the Royal Regalia Museum. You can explore the water villages on foot for free or bargain with a local for a boat ride. Several companies offer varying tours of the rainforest; it’s best to research before arriving.

I stayed with friends while in Brunei – you can find hotels here.

Be sure to get travel insurance before heading to Brunei. I never travel without it and always use World Nomads.

Have you been to Brunei? What do you think about it now?

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127 thoughts on “Brunei: Perplexing, Infuriating, Unforgettable”

  1. This is such a fascinating post! (I’m ashamed to admit that I had to Google “Brunei.”) It’s very likely a place I’ll never see in my lifetime — thanks for the glimpse into what appears to be a fascinating — albeit eerily foreboding — culture.

      1. “But as far as tourist value goes, Brunei doesn’t have much. I don’t see any reason to come here as a tourist unless you just want to say that you’ve been here.”

        AGREE! Great post, Kate. I was there last February to visit a local friend who showed us around and like you I also could not explain exactly how I feel about Brunei. It’s really perplexing. Although I tremendously enjoyed the company of our Bruneian friends who were so nice and accommodating, I don’t see any reason to visit the place as a tourist.

      2. Cool experience, i wish I can go there just to experience fading 90s architecture! I probably cannot afford unfortunately.

        Brunei sounds alot like Aceh a bit. In that, for paying tourists looking for a social life it probably sucks bigtime, but Malay culture people are a pretty heavily social lot so they make their fun through their social relationships in the community and ladies would usually ask “is there gonna be a wedding this weekend?” in the same way we would say “what you up to this friday night?” So there is a lot of things happening but it’s in a Muslim/Malay and community context (even a little too much for introverted me) and so its not really apparent nor valued much unless you go bush and dive into local life and the people.

  2. This is a really interesting write-up, Kate. I passed through during the last World Cup and sat around at night at a teahouse drinking green and watching the games. It was a weird experience, but we didn’t get much insight into life in the country to this is eye-opening as well.

    By the way, you can also get there by a bus/boat combo from KK.

    1. I think you saw more nightlife than anyone ever does, Stephen! One reason why I think Brunei is badly outfitted for tourists is because there is virtually nothing to do at night other than go to Coffee Bean or, now, Starbucks. Sounds like you had a great experience.

  3. Brunei sounds fascinating. It’s nice that you guys got a unique “in” to the culture. It can’t be an easy thing to see with the lack of free speech and the restrictive laws. The sultan sure sounds like a character!

      1. kate..This is senthil from india and i got an job in brunei…all i need to know is whats the common life style in brunei
        as well as the culture,food and cost of living,
        more importantly i need to know the smokes and liquors..

        please reply me to my mail id…thank you

  4. My jaw dropped couple of times when I read this post! What an incredible country. Just as Kate, I too had no clue where Brunei is and had to google it.

    To be honest I find strict muslim countries scary.. Can’t help it.

    1. I am sorry, but who says that your way of living is the correct way? Of course, every thing is not perfect, but to question their religion is narrow minded.+ and shows any disregard for tolerance. The purpose of traveling is to be open minded and accept that you will find something different than in your country.. This is not your western world, they follow a stricter interpretation of Islam, so what. Let live and leave if that does not suit you.!

  5. For someone who has traveled extensively, you have a shockingly poor grasp on the concept of cultural appropriation or respect. To what standard are you judging this culture? Great Britain? The United States? We also have unspeakable poverty here and laws in conservative states that make it legal for hospitals to deny lifesaving service to gay people, for white men to murder children in cold blood. Also, we have dry counties here, which was apparently you largest complaint.

    What are you trying to prove? Why should we pity the expats who clearly choose to live there? Instead of pitying the people with no mobility whatsoever? I’m incredibly confused as to why you think that the slums, real people’s everyday surroundings, are an “attraction” for wealthier tourists to sail swiftly by just so they can say they’ve been there.

    1. Samantha, I appreciate that this story struck a chord with you, but I think your response is an overreaction. This piece wasn’t written to glorify the US or UK. This piece is a collection of what I saw and experienced in Brunei first-hand combined with what I was told by several expats and Bruneians and what I discovered through online research after leaving. Not every destination deserves blanket praise. Brunei is about to enact law that several human rights organizations consider inhumane and ignoring that would be the far greater oversight.

      As for the water village I visited, I was welcomed there after a morning of working with children at their local school, meeting with local teachers, and bringing them school supplies. While walking through the village, the locals welcomed me and encouraged me to photograph them and their houses. The water villages represent typical life in Brunei for more than 20,000 people and are far more representative of life here than an afternoon gawking at the Sultan’s ostentatious gifts.

      That said, visiting areas of lower economic privilege, whether it’s townships in South Africa, cemetery villages in the Philippines, or anywhere in Cambodia, draws lines in the sand. If you don’t visit a water village, some people will say that you’re ignoring them. If you do visit a water village, some people will say that you’re exploiting them. The most important thing is that you don’t cause any harm and treat all people with respect and dignity.

      1. Well said Kate.

        In South Africa we have two types of tourists that visit the townships: The one wants to learn more about the culture, embrace the people and eventually leave telling people how wrong some perceptions are. The other one walks through the townships in a distant manner as if they’re in a zoo, stare, and eventually leave, telling friends back home how screwed up it is.

        The difference? The first one actually helps building affection and mutual respect between visitors and locals as where the second one adds to the already misconceived idea of life in South Africa.

        Never been to Brunei, but would like to go some day. I respect you for going to the water villages and visiting the schools. It’s a huge part of traveling that so many people seems to ignore. Being “welcomed and encouraged to photograph them” shows the manner in which you did it, and that’s real.

        Kindness and happy traveling!

        1. Ruann, only a few miles from Brunei you find yourself in one of the most amazing, astonishing ancient forest of the planet with trees 100 meter tall, fluorescent leaves and mushrooms, elephants, monkeys and rhinos cross the island. It’s a
          Real beauty.. You just can’t find the words. check it! Brunei is a plus πŸ™‚ but the true value could be found if you cross the city for more..

          1. I am a Bruneian Citizen, have lived here my whole 42 years except some years abroad studying and working. My grandparents came to Brunei from Taiwan and eventually acquired citizenship. Brunei – our people, our culture – is beautiful and unique. So much negative press about Brunei… well that happens when it’s a small rich unknown country with a Islamic Monarchy system…. stuff that sells.

      2. The current population of the water village is around 13,000. Most of Brunei’s population live on land in government subsidised housing, which i think is a more accurate picture of how ordinary Bruneians live, clamouring for government welfare.

        I’m sure if you had asked the people in the Kg Ayer, none of them would consider themselves disadvantaged or “poor”. They live there because it is their culture dating back more than 1,000 years. To Western eyes it may seem ramshackle and disorderly, but to them it is their heritage and way of life. In fact there is a movement to keep people living in the water village, even though the government is trying to forcibly relocate them in some instances.

      3. Very well said Kate.

        You gave a very insightful and honest account of Brunei to anybody who has either never heard of it or knows little about its culture.

        Bruneian culture is clearly a very unfamiliar thing to people from very different cultural backgrounds. Just as western culture is a very unfamiliar thing to many people from elsewhere in the world.

        Thanks Kate!

      4. I have been raised in Brunei for more than 18 years and the things Kate said in the post are mostly true.

        Yes, Bruneians (or mostly Bruneian Malays) are always waiting for government handout and are a lazy bunch. It is actually frustrating when you know Brunei is a really nice place to stay in (if you aint LGBT). A lot of Chinese Bruneians actually got sick of the lack of innovation and progress and a lot of them just migrate overseas.

        The rules are more or less as she said. I dunno about the driving thing, I think its mostly Syariah and applicable to Muslims. But the difficult thing is that since the press is controlled by the government, the only way we know that laws are being passed or implemented is through the word of mouth, usually after someone got busted for doing something they shouldn’t. An example is that a few years back, my friends and I heard the law that all females are not allowed to wear anything above the knee got passed and we just startedwearing pants everwhere.

        Its not a freeing place to live, but well, like many people, you get used to the way things are done

    2. Is Samantha reading the same article I am? I did not take that point of view from this article at all and I have worked here for 2 years.
      There is a lot more to the inner workings of Brunei and is certainly not in sync with the surrounding SE Asian countries.

      What Samantha does not realize is that the “slums” she refers too are a Brunei attraction and advertised on all the counties tourism advertisements. The people are amazing there and the extra money put into the water village from that tourism helps considerably.

      Maybe it is Samantha that needs to travel more instead of commenting with little to no fact or comprehension on the subjects she responds too. I also bet she makes multiple visits to Miri and Labuan in Malaysia to do her shopping.

  6. I liked that you were blunt and honest in this evaluation. I read this as being a post similar in tone and style to your one about Cambodia. Not every place is a travelers favorite. Not every culture is everyone’s favorite. I’m sure plenty of Bruneians and Cambodians have negative feelings about Western culture and feel justified in having those feelings.

    You presented a lot of good and indisputable information. You told potential travelers what the situation in Brunei is regarding alcohol and freedom for homosexuals without a lot of personal opinions. At the same time, you’re also right about “drawing lines in the sand.” At some point you either believer in equality for gay people or you don’t. You believe in free speech or you don’t. You agree with the charter of human rights for all people, or you don’t. The fact that certain human rights abuses are entrenched into a particular culture is hardly a valid argument against that right. They used to be a part of Western culture, too, at one point.

    Having said all that, I still think Brunei sounds pretty interesting! I think I’d just have to go in the right mindset, understanding it’s a conservative religious culture where things I disagree with are implemented. Getting off the beaten path in southeast Asia is always nice, and I’ve found that expat communities in less-touristed countries tend to be really close and often pretty cool. And Borneo in general fascinates me.

    Hope San Francisco is treating you well! You’re not hitting up Portland anytime soon are you?

  7. Wow. What a great entry. A year or so ago I read a book called “Some Girls” by Jillian Lauren. In it she details her time in the modern-day harem of the Sultan’s brother during the 90s. It’s a fascinating read if you have the time.

  8. Sounds like Brunei is going down a scary path. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Malaysia starts to follow suit, as it’s laws seem to be becoming increasingly strict, judging by what my Malaysian friends tell me.

    This is a really fascinating read, and to be honest the stories that you recount here make it sound like Brunei’s not really much different from the likes of Dubai, Bahrain, or Qatar. Brunei isn’t on my list of countries to visit (I’m not that into nature, and Bandar Seri Begawan doesn’t seem like it has much going for it), and with Sharia law being introduced, it’s unlikely to be a place I’m going to visit any time soon.

    And as for Samantha’s comment above – some people just like to find offense where there is none. I don’t think you’re ‘glorifying’ any western culture (not sure where she got that from), rather you’re just telling about your experiences and if you weren’t its biggest fan (an understatement methinks), then do what you do and don’t sugarcoat it.

  9. Hi Kate,

    I’ve been following your blog for reference of my own travel. But, I couldn’t agree for this post. I think this is very misleading description of Brunei since I am living in the neighbouring country; where Brunei is actually only 4 hours drive from my town. But, perhaps this is a point of view of a Westerner and yes like Samantha, I also think you have a poor grasp and respect of others’ culture and I think this post is rather judgmental..

    As a Muslim myself I feel obliged to explain to you why all these things that you are uncomfortable with are being done in Brunei from our cultural and religious perspective

    For the closure of all business premises from 12 pm – 2 pm is actually to allow people to concentrate on their Friday prayer and beyond that activities goes as normal. It happens in many countries too but the only difference is it is by choice. In my hometown, there is one cafe that puts a sign saying, ‘No Muslim will be entertained from 12 pm – 2 pm on Friday’. It is understood from that signage that men should go for Friday prayer (We called Muslim women as Muslimah so this message is meant for men only). Friday prayer is compulsory for men unless he has something that deprived him from doing so like illness or traveling or natural disaster that prevents him from going to the mosque. And if another Muslim condone his deliberate absence at the mosque, this other Muslim shares the sin as well. That is why, practicing Muslims are very particular in this sense; some took action by closing their premises so they dont contribute to the loitering Muslims who purposely don’t want to go for Prayer. They could hide at their homes though, if they want to. Nobody will be barging into any homes forcing them to go for prayer.

    As for Hijab, in Islam, as you have probably know, women are to cover themselves except for the face and the hands. I think, you got this wrong when you said everybody must wear Hijab in Brunei because obviously my cousins who are Bruneians who are already come of age and should be wearing Hijab are still not wearing it and they walk freely at shopping malls in Brunei without eyes prying on them judging them how sinful they are. And as for young children, it is not unusual for them to wear hijab. Observing Muslims nowadays see this as an education, trying to make their offspring understand this part of the religion. Nobody is being forced to do this and that in Islam. It’s a matter of how high we uphold all the commandments and put it into practice into our daily life. Just because we are not dressed as sexy as the Westerners or other parts of the world, doesn’t mean that we are oppressed. We just prefer to cover it up, and not let the look of lust linger on our bodies.

    And as for the prohibition of alcohol. you might probably already know that Muslims are not allowed to consume alcohol as it is clearly stated in our Holy Scripture the Al-Quran that we are prohibited from consuming anything that intoxicate. And I think it is good enough that Brunei is sensitive to allow a few litres for those who can’t live without it.

    And yes Muslim does not accept LGBT because it is also clearly stated in the Scripture and in the Prophetic traditions that homosexuality is not permissible. This will never change because the rulings in our religion will never ever change, not like the views of human being. What is not accepted today might just be an acceptable or even normal thing tomorrow depending on the acceptance of the majority. From my personal point of view, it is not okay to be gay because I’m a Muslim and in reality my HIV patients are increasing by many many folds these days and majority are from this group and please if any of you who are reading this choose to be gay, use protection. I’m not condoning, just want to put the spread into a halt.

    Okay I actually wanted to write more but I have to leave now. Hurm.. Trying to think what else should I tell you that is important. O ya I think that picture of the blue wooden structure is no longer being used. And I think Brunei is a very well run country, they give pension to everybody regardless if they work with the government or not. The Sultan gives charity every now and then, the whole country get biscuits and drinks during holy months and during celebrations, The Sultan opens his Palace for open houses during celebrations. And yeah, one thing I notice about Brunei, they have no potholes on their roads and all are well lit, no dark alleys.

    Being a Muslim, I understand why the Sultan choose to implement the Sharia Law in his country. He is a Sultan, a ruler of a Kingdom, and in our point of view, it is his responsibility to make sure his people are doing good things; doing things that are permissible in Islam and avoid things that are prohibited in Islam. The Sultan is a good King or his people won’t love him so much. He exiled his own brother for using the people’s money. Where can you find a ruler like that these days?

    And I believe when he choose to implement the law, he already consider how it is to be implemented so that it won’t suppress his people but shape them into a better nation . It is not all about stoning and cutting hands, Kate. It’s not as simple as that or we will find in history that there was a time when there are too many amputees. And Islam is the first civilization to practice religious and cultural tolerance so do not be overwhelmed by it.

    And as for the expat, he should’ve been more observant on the sensitivity of the country that he resides in. I feel sorry for him, though.

    To sum it up, I would like to share with you this verse, I don’t know whether you have heard it before

    “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (49:13)

    Our differences doesn’t mean that one is wrong and one is right. It’s just how each of us choose to live. As it says in this verse, God created us in different nations and although we are different, our duty is to know each other and live in harmony with the differences. When I read your post, what I saw was that this is just another point of view. So just now I choose to respond so you could understand it from my point of view, who lives by the same principles at the neighbouring country and feel happy about it where as you were uncomfortable of it.

    O if you ever come to KK, feel free to find me and we could sit by the sea and talk about travels.

    Cheers! πŸ™‚

    1. Hello Haziah, I found your response very interesting. I always like to hear different sides, so thank you for spending the time writing this out. As a Western female it’s hard for me to understand or grasp your view points, but that is what makes this world so interesting. πŸ™‚

    2. As an expat living here in Brunei I totally accept that I am a guest, however I think your views of this country are a little skewed.

      All I would say is what about the rest of the population, and I mean locals… chinese who aren’t Muslim? Who provide a huge amount to the failing economy, when are their views taken into account.

      Yes he did exile his brother….but guess whos back in town?

      Money is spent left right and centre on beautifying areas for Sultans visits and ASEAN Conferences, yet local schools don’t have air-con, photocopies etc etc…I could go on. Wouldn’t it be better spending money on educational facilities for the young rather than on biscuits and water when those whom it is given too dont need it.

      By all means have a monarch but have a government chosen by the population…let them speak….this is called Democracy.

      Oh and by the way….”there are no potholes”!!!! I think you need to visit, they are everywhere!!!!

      1. As an expat…Don’t you care that Bruneian people love his majesty so much…your view is too shallow. you need to learn more about Brunei. air-con? photocopies? some schools have that and some don’t it depends on the management. Do you know that Bruneian teachers get allowance for that kind of facilities. If you are a teacher you should be aware of that. It is so hypocrite to say bad things about other people country and yet you are there slurping every benefit that you can get. If you don’t like Brunei why don’t you leave, its not your country anyway and if you want democracy go somewhere else..go to Malaysia for example!

      2. You have to remember though, is that Bruneiens don’t pay taxes at all! NONE!!

        SO then the attitude here is, we have it all for free. Why complain?

        Oooo!! and I’m one of them Chinese who aren’t Muslim! And yea, I’ve heard that too, that the chinese contribute quite a bit to the economy. My brother is a biz there and you just cannot get by without buying off some high level official or using a malay partner in your biz.

        True bout the lack of aircons in some schools though. Man it was real hot in that math class for a year!! Shoulda gone to Maktab Sains or get one of those fancy scholarships to JIS *wink*

        and back to the no potholes thing, I think what the Bruneien might have meant is that we have soooooo much fewer potholes compared to neighbouring Miri that the number almost seems insignificant.

        Yea, Brunei has problems but it still holds a particular charm, for me at least. Born and raised in a dictatorship, and I loved every bit of it πŸ˜€

  10. This was an interesting read on one of the only countries in Southeast Asia that I have no interest in visiting. It sounds like Hell to live there, even though I don’t care for bacon, and hardly ever drink – but still, it just doesn’t sound enjoyable.

  11. I went to Brunei for a couple of days despite having been warned it was “boring”. Although I found it in an interesting place- visited the villages on stilts- I had to admit that it was quite a boring place. Just like you, I felt uneasy in Brunei. I didn’t really know why, but this post really explains why the atmosphere was so ‘different’ and uncomfortable.

    1. If you find Brunei ‘boring’ you obvioulsy didn’t try very hard or look very far! I love all the things I do in Brunei when I visit for work which is often. IMHO I think you have to be a certain type of person to find anywhere boring – decent people can find fun, excitement or wonder in all sorts of places, you just have to be positive and outgoing and you will find it.

  12. Very interesting post on your experience in a place I knew nothing about. Frankly, I find the comments almost as interesting as the post. Other sides of a story are great to read too! I just don’t like when people want to argue that your experience and your opinion is wrong. Your experience was your experience and your opinion is yours. No need to apologize for that. If I didn’t want an opinion I would read Wikipedia. Thanks and keep up the good work!

  13. Interesting to read about how journalism works, or rather does not work there. Especially when you consider how much effort the journalists in other countries put into their work, or even die because they fight for free speech in their homeland. Thanks for info.

  14. Well, I’m glad you proved to be as judgmental as like any “westerner” who consider an Islamic country as being deprived of any freedom. Thanks for such a cliche paper. I’m saddened to see that you have chosen the easy way to draw people’s attention. Would have been refreshing to read about their local festivals, traditions etc. Instead what I read is that bacon is illegal, booze is illegal etc. Is that surprising? Well maybe we all petition to ask, no wait, to demand that the sultan legalizes all and make Brunei a copycat of Vegas (such a virtuous place for humanity). Farewell readers!

    1. Hi Erin,

      I agree entirely – cliche is definitely right, and yes, she has taken the easy route to sell a good story – typical wannabe journalist. Maybe we should write an honest and complete account of Brunei to show the reality of life behind our gold curtain in this little country. It would truly be refreshing.

  15. I wonder how did you even manage to travel around in a country like Brunei! I am thankful to you that you shared so many insights about it. I am sure the country must have something intriguing to get you there, but whatever you have shared here sounds a bit intimidating.

  16. Wow, as a Brunei journalist, I find this post incredibly condescending.

    In your post, you quote a foreign-born journalist. Did you ever try speaking to local journalists about their experiences? Or even more than one journalist? Did you even check whether this guy to talked to works in actual news writing, or is just some advertorial/social events writer that does fluff pieces for local newspapers/blogs? If you’re going to make sweeping statements, you should verify the credibility of your sources, since you seem to know so much about journalism.

    Not only the picture you painted of Brunei incredibly simplistic, it’s insulting to say journalists here “just wait for the government’s call” when you have no idea of that challenges we battle every day to try and get genuine news out. For every hack, like the journo you spoke to, there are two more fighting the good fight every single day.

    Also, you should do some simple fact checking. It is not illegal, or even frowned upon, for unmarried couples to drive together. Nowhere is it criminalised under law, or social mores. I’m sure you would know that if you stepped outside of your incredibly-limited and ethnocentric world view.

    1. I agree with the simplifying Brunei part, based only on some expats opinion of it without doing some facts-check πŸ˜‰ For example, on the law thingy:

      “I actually broke a Bruneian law myself when Colin gave me a ride to a school. ”The fact that we’re not married and I’m driving you alone in a car makes this illegal,” Colin told me. β€œBut they won’t do anything about it.”

      Actually there is no such law that prohibit one that is unmarried to drive another being anywhere, but there is an Islamic law for those who were found at close proximity in places with few presence. That law is enforced by the Islamic Religious Officers and the law is only meant for those who are of Islamic religion only.

      And since not all Bruneian is Muslim, but the majorities are, so the country is mostly Islamic-oriented, that is why the sale of bacon is limited. You can get them but there is a small section for it since most shop or stores cater to the major population’s demands.

      As for alcohol, well I understand that non-muslims (not only for that chinese milkman) actually can get them no problem (in an undisclosed location, of course and with no time restraint), unless they are meant for it to be sold to the public, then that is an immigration offence, which is what that chinese milkman is likely committing. Hihi πŸ™‚

      Alcohol bought is allowed only for close family or functions. Expats banding together for their drinking game or having an open bar for their children’s birthday parties, not an issue really unless you have it at a public place.

      The one about the children cups and whatnot, I agree with. But I usually opt for the children’s package for my kids, which is only available in fast food restaurants, so yeah, I agree with the child-friendly glasses in all family restaurants. Then again, I would not bring my kids to an exclusive restaurant that I know do not have the sippy cups πŸ˜‰

      Yes the Sharia law has officially been implemented this April of 2014, and for me it is an appropriate act because the majority of his subjects are Muslims (but the country law is mostly of civil offenses) and that law is long overdue. Sharia law does have the “public flogging, stoning and amputation of limbs”, but care to understand that those punishments can only be carried out under stern conditions with impeccable proofs. It is not that bad really, no harm no foul.

      I also agree that Brunei has poverty, hey which country doesn’t, right? πŸ™‚ But the Sultan has been more than generous with the public. His government has all sorts of aids for the people and he also opens up his home (palace, I mean) to the public on certain occasions (Hari Raya celebration) for meet-and-greet where you get to have some gifts as a token of appreciation afterward for visiting him and his family.

      Oh yeah, the education and healthcare are free and there is no reason for any parents to deny it for their children. His Majesty has extended his helping hand in promoting education and its then the parents’ responsibility to see that their children receive them as appropriate.

      I am sorry by the way your friend was treated by that waitress, I must agree that some waitresses/cashiers in Brunei does need to undergo a customer service course, regardless of their nationality (because the PMS virus is apparently not only affecting the locals). Haha.

      I also regret that you get to experience a limited experience of Brunei. Yes the nightlife is dull and the days are mostly like any other day, but it is a whole other way of living, one that were influenced by the principle of malay and islamic monarchy (Melayu Islam Beraja).

      No, of course it differs from the “Western world”, but being one of the lucky ones to tour the world, meaning you get to open your mind to various cultures and see other ways of living. Please do not spoil your chance just by gathering expats’ opinions and walking a hotel’s grounds.

      Sorry, just sharing my side of the Brunei life πŸ˜‰

      1. I agree, this person didn’t even check any facts before putting her post online! It’s ok to have an opinion, of course it is, obviously – some people will never like Brunei because they are not the sort of person to embrace cultural difference or accept that not every country wants to be vegas (from someone elses post above). And that’s fine if you want to rant about that to your friends. But if you go on a public post and you quote facts to back up your opinion, you have to make sure those facts are true. Did you not go to school? That’s like the most basic rule of journalism or any debate/argument/writing.

        Regarding the sale of bacon etc – she makes it sound like it’s totally illegal to sell and hidden away in some seedy back room like drugs. Absolutely wrong. Bacon is only illegal for muslims who don’t want it anyway, so it’s kept out of sight of them so as not to offend. If you want bacon you can buy it freely in the supermarkets, it’s totally fine. You just don’t wave it in a muslim person’s face so it’s kept separate. That’s just respectful, seeing as we are living in their country. It’s their right not to have something them believe is against their religion, to be visible around them all the time. They are just trying to live a peaceful and respectful life and so should we around them.

        Kate do you suggest that in the UK and US we should keep cigarrettes and porn mags in the regular shelves in the supermarket? So everybody can see them? Of course not, they are offensive to some people and illegal for some people to buy (underaged people), so they are covered or kept on top shelf or behind the cashiers desk or whatever. It is just the same thing with bacon in islamic countries. If you have a problem with that or think that’s too oppressive or strict, but you don’t have a problem with limiting visibility or porn etc in your own coutry, then you are a bigot and a hypocrite.

      2. Denise Carlyle


        While I agree with some of what you have posted I take exception to a few of your points. First about the Sultan having been ‘more than generous with the public’. While it is true the Sultan has provided a relatively high standard of living for his people he has not done nearly enough. Any man who owns thousands of gas guzzling exotic cars worth in the billions (read collossal waste of money by a megalomaniac) while some of his people still live in poverty clearly needs a reboot on the societal justice front.

        Now, as to your Sharia Law point. namely your quote of “it does have the public flogging, stoning and amputation of limbs…it’s not that bad really, no harm no foul.”

        Wow! I don’t even know where to begin. Not only are these laws archaic, way over the top and designed for a world 800 years ago, but in addition to the 3 laws you pointed out you leave out the real juicy bits that also come with Sharia Law, which happen to be the ones always left out when people try to justify it :-)..or maybe (hopefully) you simply do not know about them and that is why you currently support the are a just a few…

        β€’ A man can marry an infant girl and consummate the marriage when she is 9 years old.
        β€’ Girls’ clitoris should be cut (per Muhammad’s words in Book 41, Kitab Al-Adab, Hadith 5251).
        β€’ A woman can have 1 husband, but a man can have up to 4 wives; Muhammad can have more.
        β€’ A man can unilaterally divorce his wife but a woman needs her husband’s consent to divorce.
        β€’ A man can beat his wife for insubordination.
        β€’ Testimonies of four male witnesses are required to prove rape against a woman.
        β€’ A woman who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist(s).
        β€’ A woman’s testimony in court, allowed only in property cases, carries half the weight of a man’s.
        β€’ A female heir inherits half of what a male heir inherits.
        β€’ A woman cannot drive a car, as it leads to fitnah (upheaval).
        β€’ A woman cannot speak alone to a man who is not her husband or relative.
        β€’ Muslims should engage in Taqiyya and lie to non-Muslims to advance Islam.
        β€’ The list goes on.

        I guess if you’re a guy then it might not be so bad, but if you’re a woman, well I for one would be running for the exits. How can you be for laws like these and call them just? Only a grieviously sadistic monster would agree to some of these as being appropriate measures. Quite simply these laws have no place in a modern society and the fact you support it bewilders me and fills me with sadness for the state of women’s rights in Brunei.

        1. Hi Denise πŸ™‚

          Okay regarding the “While it is true the Sultan has provided a relatively high standard of living for his people he has not done nearly enough”, I have to take you to a phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. You see, steps are being taken as we speak to improve the already “relatively high standard of living for his people”. Developments are carried out throughout the country to ensure that poverty is diminished and amenities are fully provided for the citizens, even in the remote areas. At least, steps are being taken towards that vision and the poverty issue is being tackled and not turn to a blind eye. You get my meaning? I feel blessed enough to have that sort of Sultan to run my country, not one that cover up those issues and turn his citizens away.

          About the Shariah law, you are completely mixing the law with your concept of Islam. What is so archaic about it, even if it is designed 800 years ago, it still instill justice unlike some “justice” system nowadays where INNOCENTS are accidentally put to death by lethal injections and whatnot. Modern weapons, I give you that, but is that what you call justice, or just plain barbaric?

          Shariah law is enforced for criminals, offenders who break the rules such as thieves, rapists, fornicators (only applied to those of Islamic religion who break the bond of matrimony) and solemnization/divorce issues (Muslims only). To charge a person of any offense under Shariah law require a standard level of investigation and reliable witnesses to ensure justice to both parties. Maybe (hopefully) you do not know about this, that is why you are against them. About the real juicy bits you mentioned, let me explain one by one:

          1. “A man can marry an infant girl and consummate the marriage when she is 9 years old.” – Totally of Islamic history and not under Shariah law. And let me clarify this for you as I know where you clearly aiming this, Prophet Muhammad married Sayyidatina Aisyah at a young age but only consummate the marriage after her PUBERTY.

          2. “Girls’ clitoris should be cut”. – Still not under Shariah law. It is something that is recommended in Islam for health purposes. The Islamic scholars have different opinions about it, but one thing common is that it should be cut if it become a hindrance or cause harm to the child. Girls’ small part of the clitoris usually cut before the baby girl turn 2 month old, but some have them cut after.

          3. “A woman can have 1 husband, but a man can have up to 4 wives; Muhammad can have more.” – Still not under Shariah law but more of Islam’s Sunnah. Have a read up of history when it was common for guys at that era to have many wives, even hundreds. Islam limit them to only four, otherwise guys nowadays will still probably have more. But bear in mind that a man can only marry more than one woman, IF they are CAPABLE AND FAIR IN ALL ASPECTS and when they have the consent of the first wife. To be honest, I am okay with that, I am a one-man kinda girl and men will always be men, but at least the men are urged to have the decency to marry the women first πŸ™‚

          4. “A man can unilaterally divorce his wife but a woman needs her husband’s consent to divorce.” – Yes, under Shariah law, but only applicable to Muslim couples. And yes a man can divorce his wife, but only in front of the judge and if the wife also agree to it. If he divorce his wife other than in front of the judge and without a proceeding to hear both parties’ statement, he could be fined. BUT a woman can ALSO FILE FOR DIVORCE and can be DIVORCED without the consent of the husband’s, under certain conditions.

          5. “A man can beat his wife for insubordination.” – This one can be under the Shariah law in a way (remember the conditions when a wife can file for divorce? This can be one of the reasons), but it is mostly of Islamic teachings, but don’t take it out of context. If a man beat an insubordinate wife and if the insubordination is justified, the wife can take the matter to the court and can also file for a divorce if she wishes so. But if the wife is an ill conduct one and the husband has ADVISED her numerously and has REFRAIN himself from sleeping with her until she change her ill conduct, and if then the wife still continue her ill conduct, the husband can beat her in a way that it does not cause her harm or wounds. Meaning that you can beat her to teach her (like when you beat a child to teach them something), but not beat them to cause them injuries.

          6. “Testimonies of four male witnesses are required to prove rape against a woman.” – Shariah law, correct! Yeay! This is merely to ensure justice, that no foul play is at work, that it is not a false report, because like I have mentioned earlier, Shariah law’s standard of conviction requires stricter standard of investigation and witnesses. In this rape case, it does not mean that the rape incident is look upon four guys. That would be creepy. These witnesses must be of reliable and respected characters, such as the police to whom the case is reported to or the doctor who examined the bruises and so on. It is better this way than to let innocent victims be sentenced to capital punishments, is it not? πŸ™‚

          7. “A woman who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist(s).” – Syariah law.. but it is not that they CANNOT TESTIFY, once they report a rape case, and the clinical reports, witnesses all summed up to the conviction(s) of the rapist(s), there is no need for the woman’s testimony in the court at all as all have been gathered/collected in the earlier process of investigation.

          8. ” A woman’s testimony in court, allowed only in property cases, carries half the weight of a man’s.” – Shariah law, but very wrong πŸ™‚ A woman’s testimony is also allowed in divorce cases and not just in property cases. A man or a woman can state their claims in court and are given the equal opportunity to give their testimonies and defend their rights.

          9. “A female heir inherits half of what a male heir inherits.” – Shariah law.. there are a stated fractions for the heir depends on the status of the deceased and the status of the heir to the deceased. This heirs include the parents and spouse, not just the children, so the fractions are not based on gender but more towards the status of those heirs to the deceased.

          10. “A woman cannot drive a car, as it leads to fitnah (upheaval).” – Ridiculous law.. not under Shariah and not even introduced under Islamic’s teaching. Haha..

          11. “A woman cannot speak alone to a man who is not her husband or relative.” – Still under the ridiculous section.. This is not under Shariah. A woman can speak with a man as long as it does not provoke a husband’s jealousy or other’s suspicions (inappropriately intimate).

          12. “Muslims should engage in Taqiyya and lie to non-Muslims to advance Islam.” – Absolutely not under Shariah law or even anywhere in Islam’s aspects. Taqiyya is practised by Shi’a and it is declared as a different teaching as in it is practicing a misguided religion rather than teaching the true Islamic teachings. Islam encourage its followers to promote Islam, but not to force it unto people, and absolutely not to LIE about it to other people πŸ™‚

          “How can you be for laws like these and call them just?” – And you are in support of law where innocents have fallen victims to foul play and be exterminated as criminals, and only after their death their innocence is uncovered when they are literally not around anymore, and you call that law just?

          “Only a grieviously sadistic monster would agree to some of these as being appropriate measures. Quite simply these laws have no place in a modern society and the fact you support it bewilders me and fills me with sadness for the state of women’s rights in Brunei.” – Speechless.. you conjured up your own concept of Islam and thought that Shariah law is nothing but barbaric. You fail to realize that Shariah law is ONLY for OFFENDERS and it first ensure that the charges made to someone has to meet the requirements so that no wrong person can be subjected to a wrongful penalty. Besides, not all offence result in flogging and whatnot. Did you know that?

          I am a woman, by the way.. and it fills me with sadness for the state of mind people has on one religion called Islam and its laws.. When the Sultan of Brunei embrace the Shariah law to suit up to his country’s islamic reputation, his people welcomes it peacefully, but those outside the country went uproar with riots and strikes. Why? Does it not affect only the Bruneians? If we Bruneians accept it, why should this bother anyone else out of the country? We have been a Muslim country for decades, we have been ruled by Muslim leaders for generations, we are mostly of Muslim population, why does it bother anyone else that we are embracing our religion’s law peacefully?

          You may find flaws in our religion, and we may find flaws in yours, but we do not go rioting against it. We do not even touch the human rights issues in your own backyard. Don’t tell me you have none back at your own place. We help our neighboring countries when they are in distress, but we do not tell them how to run their country. We also do not need any permission to embrace our religion and its laws in our own country. So, thank you for caring πŸ™‚

          1. Denise Carlyle

            Hello again Neesa,

            There are so many things to say here but I’m afraid it’s probably pointless. You live under an unelected ruler who cannot be removed except through death or revolution. You also live in a country with no free press and laws that do not permit speaking out in any way against the Sultan or the country’s laws. In short, you live in a dictatorship. I will however still address some of your replied points below.

            1. “Prophet Muhammad married Sayyidatina Aisyah at a young age but only consummate the marriage after her PUBERTY.” The Muslim propagandists always trot this one out but there is no proof of this whatsoever and I think you know it. On the other hand, there is a mountain of evidence that it was consumated when she was 9. Read the WikiIslam page on Aisha’s Age of Consummation or any number of other websites written by Muslim Scholars (I’m guessing they’re blocked in your country though).

            2. Girls’ clitoris should be cut “It is something that is recommended in Islam for health purposes”. – First, despite what you may have been told, there are no, I repeat, NO known health benefits to FGM. However, it has loads of complications and downsides including but not limited to..fatal bleeding, acute urinary retention, urinary infection,septicemia, tetanus..and so on. It is a strictly religious ritual. Nothing more. Second, The World Health Organization classifies it as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. In fact, one scan of the WHO page should be enough for just about anyone to think it should be banned.


            Assuming you could see the page then you can see that the only real purpose of this lunacy is to try to control a woman’s sexual ‘urges’. READ: A man somehow feels it necessary to control a woman’s behaviour through mutliation. I find that repugnant and also find it incredible that you, as a woman, do not. No one has the right to take a part of someone’s body away from them. I don’t care what religion. It is a barbaric practice with no redeeming qualities. This was practiced back in the 1800s in North America but we finally had the sense to outlaw it in the early 1900’s. Hopefully that happens soon in the rest of the places it is still practiced.

            3 & 4, We will just agree to disagree on these.

            5. β€œA man can beat his wife for insubordination.” .. “and if then the wife still continue her ill conduct, the husband can beat her in a way that it does not cause her harm or wounds.” WOW! This and your position on the clitoral issue just blow me away. Again, you live in a Male dictatorship (is there any other kind) so I will just say this. No man has the right to hit a child, woman or elderly person. Not EVER! The man is frustrated so he gets upset and hits because he does not have the emotional maturity to deal with problems effectively and logically..that’s his problem. Using your physical dominance against a woman or child is nothing short of assault. Domestic violence often ends in tragic death and this ridiculous law is only helping that along.

            6. Testimonies of four male witnesses are required to prove rape against a woman.” – Yeay! This is merely to ensure justice, that no foul play is at work, that it is not a false report.” Yeay??? To tell you the truth, I stopped reading your replies for a while after this. Are you serious? Since it is incredibly unlikely that a child molester or rapist will violate his victim in front of “four trustworthy men”, Islamic law on this issue amounts to nothing more than a free pass for sexual predators. Also, as far as I know, Islamic law rejects forensic evidence (such as DNA) in favor of testimony. And the cherry on top of the cupcake being that the woman’s testimony, if not accepted as true, then becomes a “confession” of adultery. She can be stoned, even though the male is unpunished, since he never “confessed” to a sexual act! Again, as a woman..I’d be running for the exits. This has been in the news many times over the last year with women being stoned in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia etc.. This law is disgusting and an affront to women everywhere and it needs to be stopped. Period.

            The rest of the numbered points..I’m getting tired..let’s just agree to disagree.

            Which leaves us with:

            “And you are in support of law where innocents have fallen victims to foul play and be exterminated as criminals, and only after their death their innocence is uncovered when they are literally not around anymore, and you call that law just?” – I never said I was in support of any such laws. And you can’t be serious. I don’t even want to think about the numbers of guilty muslim men who have raped innocent women and children and have been set free after the woman who was, in fact, raped and who reported it to police was then found to be lying and stoned to death because of the ridiculous 4 witness law. There are innocent women dying like this all the time with their rapists going free with this law so give me a break. You can’t have it both ways!

            “When the Sultan of Brunei embrace the Shariah law to suit up to his country’s islamic reputation, his people welcomes it peacefully” – Ha Ha! Peacefully? Again…sweetie, you can’t be serious. There is no free press in Brunei and it is illegal for anyone in Brunei to speak out against the Sultan. There are thousands of posts on the internet of Bruneians speaking out against this implementation of Sharia law who have had to do so anonymously because they fear reprisals from their government. It’s so sad. The vast majority of Bruneians do not want this law but will never be able to publically say so. In fact, there was so much animosity and speaking out against the laws by the Bruneians that the Sultan himself threatened his own people telling them to stop speaking out against it or they would be sorry once the laws were implemented. Your argument on this point is worthless. You need to stop towing the party line here and seriously ask yourself why there is such an uproar against this.

            “You may find flaws in our religion, and we may find flaws in yours, but we do not go rioting against it…Don’t tell me you have none back at your own place.” First, there is no rioting going on. There are demonstrations and boycotts. Principally at the Sultan’s hotels because the people are showing their displeasure by trying to hurt the Sultan’s finances. This is a perfectly legal means and the Sultan should have known this would happen. If not, then I don’t think he thought it through very well. He may enjoy not having to answer for his actions in his own country but things are very different in much of the rest of the world. And yes, there are numerous laws in our country and the USA that make no sense whatsoever. And you know what..we are free to speak out against them and make whatever peaceful action against them that we see fit to make. If enough people disagree then we can effect change. That’s the critical difference here that I don’t think you grasp. The Bruneians do not have this luxury. They must sit back and accept the decisions assigned to them by 1 man. No matter how ridiculous a decision it may be.

            My honest feeling here is that you are some male Brunei Government Shill who has been tasked with haunting pages like this trying to quash public backlash against the Sultan. If so, then you have already proven my point regarding the ridiculousness of the laws and the depths to which the government must sink to assure their implementation.

            However if I am wrong and you are, in fact, a Bruneian woman then I am filled with a melancholy sadness. Not for you per se but for the fact that you will probably never understand why people are so upset about this. You look at your Sultan and you see peace and two decades of economic expansion. What you don’t see is the enormous price you have paid in the form of political and social freedoms and even more sadly you probably never will. It’s a true shame because you deserve so much better.

            I will say nothing further other than I wish you good luck and health in the future.


        2. Hi again Denise πŸ™‚

          To be honest, I did not read every sentence in your post, but I get the gist of what you are implying. Here goes:

          1. You google for the knowledge of Islam online and consider it the bible to the religion? You do know that there are a whole lot of garbage uploaded online amidst the genuine and how easy it is to create one sort garbage, let alone on sensitive stuff like religion issue? With all your “knowledge” of Islam, you should know that Al-Quran is one of our Holy book where Islamic histories, guidance and whatnot is compiled. I am not basing my knowledge of my religion and its histories simply on Wiki pages and whatever sites you have visited online, see.. And do not even try to google the translated version of Al-Quran either, because as I have pointed out, there are a lot of garbage and I am not confident that you could distinguish a genuine translation than a twisted one..

          2. I did not open the link you provide because I knew I could not understand it fully and oh, because this is not about women abuse thing, because you see, women are given options to choose (depending on the 4 RECOGNIZED Muslim scholars) but it is a MUST thing for men. So that “man somehow feels it necessary to control a woman’s behaviour through mutliation”, is actually senseless. Besides, if a girl’s clitoris is to be cut, they did not cut the whole thing off, just a small part that is in no way cause fatal bleeding etc. Hahaha. Try to observe the process firsthand if you can, then you’ll know and then you can reflect back on this and call it absurd yourself.

          3, 4, 5 – I think you’re missing my point by a mile. Did you skip the part “Meaning that you can beat her to teach her (like when you beat a child to teach them something), but not beat them to cause them injuries.” Did you not slap your child’s wrist to teach them not to touch the fire? It is the same thing.. you don’t beat the h*ll out of them to teach them. If there are any injuries then it is considered a domestic violence and the wife can report it to the police and file for divorce if she wants. Male dictatorship.. heh~ I called it respect πŸ™‚

          6. Again, you miss my point by a mile on this thing too. “incredibly unlikely that a child molester or rapist will violate his victim in front of four trustworthy men” – Of course!! Didn’t I mention this on my previous post already? Here’s what I included in my post earlier in case you miss it, “In this rape case, it does not mean that the rape incident is look upon four guys. That would be creepy”. Witnesses here do not just mean witnessing the rape incident with their own two eyes as it took place, the witnesses can be the doctor who examine the rape victim and so on.

          which brings to; Brunei is using dual systems in the country if you haven’t heard, meaning that if the standard of investigation and requirements of the Shariah law is not fulfilled, the civil laws will be applied. Meaning that rape cases which do not have enough evidences or witnesses (as required by Shariah law) is still investigated and penalized under the civil laws. Which means that if the report is genuine, the crimes of the rapists will not go unpunished, see. What do you say about the innocents who have been exterminated by your “justice” system? Any changes then? πŸ™‚

          “Ha Ha! Peacefully? Again…sweetie, you can’t be serious.” – I am serious but it’s your choice to believe or not. Hahaha.. I mean, I am the one living here in Brunei, free press or not, I am one of the citizens living here and when this Shariah thing comes up, most of us accept it PEACEFULLY dearie, even when we are amongst ourselves (meaning with friends, relatives, colleagues who are not necessarily Muslim). Most of us are even more weary and heated when discussing the fact that outsiders are against it when they do not even live here. Funny, isn’t it?

          Oh yeah, sorry about the rioting, I meant to say boycotting. Haha. Yeah that finance thing, hotel blabla, it was taken into account way earlier and the financial damages are foreseen, but like my leader said, fortune (income) can come from anywhere else Insyaallah πŸ™‚

          “If enough people disagree then we can effect change. That’s the critical difference here that I don’t think you grasp. The Bruneians do not have this luxury. They must sit back and accept the decisions assigned to them by 1 man. No matter how ridiculous a decision it may be. ” – We are not trying to be you, we do not even have the intention of being like your country, that is the critical difference that I don’t think you grasp. We hold the concept of Maly Islamic monarchy meaning we respect our monarch. We are living prosperously and in serenity for decades in our monarch’s reign without trying to be the second USA. How is that working out for you anyway? No homeless? No poverty? No political wars? No crippled veterans on the streets? No children being gunned down?

          “My honest feeling here is that you are some male Brunei Government Shill who has been tasked with haunting pages like this trying to quash public backlash against the Sultan” – Oh please, you watch too many HBO and Star Movies. Cut it back a slack πŸ˜€ hahaha

          “What you don’t see is the enormous price you have paid in the form of political and social freedoms and even more sadly you probably never will. It’s a true shame because you deserve so much better. ” – First off, yes you are wrong. I am in fact a woman and I am in fact voicing my woman view of the matter of my country. We do deserve much better, and we do receive them. Aren’t you the one saying that we have a relatively high standard of living? And that standard is currently upgraded toward a better living situation for the Bruneians.

          “you will probably never understand why people are so upset about this” – You are right, I will never understand why anyone outside of Brunei would be upset about a small country’s action to embrace its Islamic living and Shariah laws when there are lots of countries have implement the Shariah laws before. Afraid of those large countries is my guess πŸ™‚ What people should be upset is the issues in their own country.. tackle those first and before claiming any knowledge on Islam, make sure to UNDERSTAND it first, not just looking at the TV and making your own assumption of it..

          I will wish you health and good luck too.. I am proud of my country and I am proud of my Sultan. No we do not vote for him, he is in line for the throne but he has taken the rein and is brave enough to govern it, successfully I might add because as you can probably guess, most of us the citizens love him dearly, respect him tremendously and you can see that and feel that if you’re living in Brunei and not a 3-day trip πŸ™‚

          Lots of Love from a Bruneian,
          Neesa <3

          1. Wow, you sure are wound up tightly. Loosen up or you are going to explode. Do you expect all people to know everything about a culture they have only spent a week in? This is supposed to be a fun, light-weight travel blog not a deep religious and political dissertation.

  17. It was an interesting post, but I guess I’m surprised your post on Dubai seemed so much more positive. I lived in the UAE and many of the same laws apply. People are regularly deported for kissing in public, etc. I would add, though, that we all go willingly because we’re generally treated well and teachers are much better provided for than we are in our Western home countries. That said, poorer immigrants really suffer.

    1. This is an interesting point actually. I thought Dubai was stricter than Brunei because of those people who got arresting for kissing in public. But I would never say that in a blog because I haven’t lived there, I only visited so I don’t know enough about it. I wonder why this blogger preferred Dubai if they were so against the same restrictions in Brunei. But I agree about westerners accepting it because of the benefits they get. If you choose to live in a country, and get tax free life or benefits from it, then you can’t complain about its laws.

  18. Ah wow! Did really realize this about Brunei. I actually have always wanted to go there…It’s one of the richest nations in Asia, seems intriguing, and most people have never heard of because it’s the size of a crumb on the map! But I’ll perhaps think twice before going. It doesn’t sound like the most exciting place. But I figured I would go when I visit Borneo…. We shall see. Thanks for your opinion on this Kate!

    1. Don’t take one person’s opinion Nina! It’s a great, unusual and fascinating place to visit, and you sound like a cool, open-minded traveller, so I hope this post hasn’t put you off. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Come and visit!

  19. Hi there.. I am a Bruneian.. and let me tell you that it is NOT illegal for unmarried couples to sit together in a car, especially for non-muslim couples..

    Hijab in Brunei is encouraged not FORCED..

    I am aware the Syariah implementation will lead to a more conservative country.. but before that happens I hav been jogging barechested and women have little trouble wearing sleeveless shirts and gym shorts.. what im saying is the country is hardly the place for people to be afraid of.. not the fearmongering state that you tried to convey..

    And a significant chunk if not the majority of young Bruneians are overseas and western educated.. you could have at least tried to interact more with the locals to get a better picture.. im sure you could find plenty of like minded people there..

    I admit the water village looks impoverished and poverty does exist in brunei.. but the people are not living in abject poverty.. the houses at the water village are provided amenities such as air conditioning, internet access, electricity, satellite tv and clean water supply.. And their cars are just parked at the shore..

    well thats just my two cents on the matter..


  20. I’ve always wanted to visit Brunei, but as a black female solo traveller, I am weary of discrimination, racism and prejudice. Has anyone experienced any of that whilst travelling/living in Brunei?
    Is a visa required by Europeans to enter the country?

    1. Oh might I suggest that you visit Brunei during the eid sometime between 17 to 21 July 2015 as the royal palace is open to the public including tourists p.s you can meet the queen in person πŸ™‚

  21. Hi Kate

    I am a local, non-muslim Bruneian. My parents have come from overseas but i was born and bred here. I agree with some of your points but I feel your opinions are somewhat skewed and the harshness of some of your comments are simply not justified by your time and experience in Brunei. Basing some of your judgments and views on your very short trip and the opinions of one or two Bruneians does not seem fair.

    Firstly, as many have explained, it is not illegal for a female and a male to be in a vehicle together. There are suggestions that there may be possible laws related to this but none have been formally introduced or suggested. Many locals, both muslim and non-muslim, have travelled in such fashion with no consequences whatsoever. Hijabs are not compulsory, unless it is part of a school uniform in a public school. In that case, regardless of your religion, you will have to follow suit. Some find this oppressing but having grown up here and having gone through this myself, it is widely acceptable. I can understand that foreigners may find this sort of compliance difficult to understand; i can’t fully explain it myself, but it is just the way of living here and we have enjoyed freedom in many other aspects of our lives and most of us do not harbour any hatred of such situations more than just mere annoyance. I will not comment on the recent syariah law and it’s implications as there has been much confusion and miscommunication of the actual laws so far and who exactly are affected, and to what extent. It does take research to understand the laws as well and most of the punishments that seem cruel and archaic are aimed to deter the actions more than anything. Despite the uncertainties, I do hope my views of my country remain largely unchanged.

    You have also made it seem like it’s a horrible environment for expats. If they were that miserable, we wouldn’t have that many in Brunei today. And if they were feeling that oppressed, the ones still here are most likely prioritizing the financial benefits of working here. Regarding alcohol, it may seem troublesome but it is merely an hour or two to drive across the border to purchase some and at the same time, have a quick peek at what’s new next door. It has somewhat become a common weekend trip or getaway for some of us, be it to purchase alcohol or just do something different or go shopping. We can only drink in private homes and we do not reveal our drinks on purpose to muslims, not just because the laws said so, but also simply out of respect for their culture and beliefs. Many muslims I know are not offended, so long as you do not try to offer them or spike their drinks! It is not as scary as you have made it seem.

    I agree that free speech is almost non-existent and can be off-putting in this modern age. But if anything, it would be the locals or long term residents who would be most affected; be it muslims or non-muslims, who have to face this everyday and likely for the rest of their lives (should they continue to live in Brunei). Just because you can say what others cannot, does not make you our voice or mean you are right.

    Some of what you say is true and I understand that having grown up in a very different environment, it does seem that Brunei is very sheltered and restricted. We are however, very much exposed to different societies and cultures, and from what i have experienced myself, many of us are very open-minded individuals. Not only do we make an effort to know about other cultures, we also keep an open mind to the many differences between societies near and far. Coming from such a small and sheltered country, many who can afford to, often go overseas for holidays and support their children for higher studies in foreign universities. Whether these graduates eventually return to Brunei, is another matter. But for most of us who do, we have experienced life overseas and have seen the differences for ourselves and can understand why others may find living in Brunei so difficult. However, understand this. Brunei is not the only country in the world with strict laws or a system of governance under strong religious belief. We are simply a unique culture.

    I have to agree that Brunei may not have the best tourism appeal. Partly due to it’s laws and the lack of development and marketing of our local treasures, we have failed to secure a steady tourist influx. We function well as a transit destination, providing cheap travel for most tourists on our tax-less fuel and flight services but at the same time, only encourage short stays in which places like Temburong national park will be missed on the itinerary. We have beautiful scenery and vast areas of untouched nature but fail to promote or sometimes, even preserve these. There is some truth that we may not develop these areas of our economy as much, as there was no financial need of it. I personally feel we should promote tourism and would hope that people such as yourself, are able to give accounts of Brunei in an honest but neutral fashion. Some satire or sarcasm is always acceptable and enjoyable even, but unfortunately this was not seen in your article.

    This is not meant to be an attack of your article, but more of an opportunity to educate others on our culture. Much can be said but it is not easy to understand another culture, without having lived in it for at least a few months or years. You have the right to your own opinion but being a travel blogger, I would imagine that your words may influence others, even if that was not your initial intention. I hope your views of Brunei are not set as yet and that you may consider visiting again in the future.
    This account is based on my opinions alone and I may not have expressed myself fully/accurately, but I do not intend any insult/offense to readers. I just felt a burning need to respond to the article.

  22. This is a fascinating post! The beginning hit uncomfortably close to home, since a journalist here in Istanbul was recently deported for tweeting about the government. But of course, Turkey is nothing like Brunei. (For starters, it is technically a secular country.)
    Also, when I was in Malaysia a few weeks ago, my Malay friends mentioned off-hand that it wasn’t technically legal for me to be staying with my (male) friend in his house. I was worried, but they laughed about it– said that nothing would happen. Still, it was a strange thing to realize.

  23. Great post. I had never read a blog post on Brunei before and this was insightful. Still planning to go to Borneo when it’s not the rainy season, but now know to skip Brunei. No alcohol? No thanks.

    Adding your site to my blogroll. If you’re open to doing the same; great.

    1. Wow what a boring, shallow person you must be if your attitude to visiting and experiencing an entire country is ‘no alcohol? no thanks.’ I feel sorry for you. I hope you find out about the real value of life soon.

  24. Hi! Just come across your blog, that I have really enjoyed reading πŸ™‚ I am also a solo female traveler, and also an expat in a muslim country. The alcohol/ milkman thing made me laugh because it’s kind of the same over here (less strict, everything is just ‘underground’)
    Take care

  25. This is such a fascinating post Kate. It’s very interesting to read the comments and hear about the country from locals perspectives too!

    It’s crazy to think that the country is so rich yet many people live in poverty.

    1. Nobody lives in poverty – everyone is employed and has housing and an ok salary. The government provides for everyone. Brunei is the only place I have visited where there are no homeless people, no squalor, no poor sanitation. Then across the border you have homeless and mentally ill on the street and all the problems from alcohol and drugs. Brunei is fine.

  26. I’m a bit disappointed here and have to agree with some of the above comments. I don’t see why you are in any way shocked by this. I know you enough to know you’re smarter than this and it sort of makes you come off as a judgy naive westerner. I mean it’s a religious Islamic Sultanate. What did you expect – topless beaches? Of course, the sultan would expel someone for dressing up like him. That expat was an idiot.

    And of course a strict Islamic country is not going to have a good policy towards the LGBT community.

    You love Thailand as much as I do but you know you never mention the King. This is no different.

    If this shocks you, what about what happens in Dubai or Jordan? You raved about those places but this stuff happens there too.

    And the word of a couple of expats is not reality. Dig deeper.

    1. I agree with Matt. This article surprised me. I thought you were more open minded and respectful of local cultures/custom. I’ve been to Brunei, its far from scary/intimidating. Boring, I’ll grant you that, but not oppressed or impoverished. The people there are given far more than most SEA countries.

  27. Just blown away by both the article and the myriads of comments it got. Although your statements made Brunei sound a little less than the best place to visit, at the same time it aroused a fascination with the location. In my current life situation I would probably never make the opportunity to travel to foreign lands but this one sounds unique and somewhat alluring. It was good to read the comments of residents their and in other Muslim countries defending their lifestyle and country. I thoroughly enjoyed this whole post and comments. Thanks to all.

  28. Very informative. I spent 2 days there before to see what it was like and although I didnt see much poverty as I was just a tourist it did strike me as a very strange spot and although I couldnt put my finger on it, ‘stuck in the 90’s’ is perfect. For all their money it doesn’t seem to have trickled down to many people.

  29. Brunei has always been spectacular. The Ulu Temburong National Park of Brunei is treasured with the natural beauty of the rain forest. It is really adventurous to get a top view of the forest through canopy walkways. The wildlife reserve and the botanical treasure is a must visit place for Brunei vacation.

  30. Yep, we spent three nights there on our honeymoon, believe it or not (and 2.5 weeks elsewhere on Borneo). I was very ambivalent about the experience—could take it or leave it—but then again, I didn’t interact with any locals, so…

  31. Ashamed to admit I’ve never heard of Brunei before this post. Interesting that this sultan is trying to force everyone to follow strict religious law yet he’s living in the lap of luxury while his fellow countrymen live in these poor villages. Also the no alcohol thing must be tough for expats. I recently stayed a place in Morocco where no alcohol was allowed and we had to buy it in cash from the hotel owner and not tell anyone about it!

    1. Actually if you read the recent comments, some did mention about the generosity of the Sultan towards his fellow countrymen.. Poverty although very very rare in our country (thanks to the various aids and benefits provided by the Sultan’s government), but it does exist in some secluded/remote areas of Brunei before, thus the Sultan has given efforts, supports (plus financial supports) and encourage developments throughout his country to provide sufficient amenities for his people.

      Did I mention that education and healthcare is literally free in Brunei (because we only pay a crazy small amount of money for our kids’ school fee, try B$10 for a yearly education and a B$1 admission for healthcare)? Those who couldn’t afford even that which is highly unlikely, can apply for the government’s aid in the matter. Oh, did I forget to mention that it is a tax-free country? πŸ™‚

      The Sultan has done more than enough to provide for his people money wise and more, regardless of their religions. And should I mention that most citizens support his decision to implement the Syariah laws in Brunei. Yes the laws have severe punishments, but it can only be carried out under strict conditions as well, and it is meant to deter the rising crime rate that is happening of late to secure the welfare and prosperity of his people and country.

      Brunei although governed very differently from your liking, has a ruler with a heart of gold who not only cares about his countrymen well-being, but gives a hoot and supports when a neighboring country is in distress. He is highly respected by his people, not only because of his royal monarchy title, but as a person of exemplary character.

      I am sorry if this post is offending you in any way, it is not in my intention, but merely providing you with the actual situation in our country and the character of our Sultan as we know it πŸ™‚

  32. What a great portrait of a country. It is a shame when leaders and politicians do things that the people don’t agree with, and you have to believe the people would want more freedom. Thanks for sharing.

  33. I always imagined Brunei being in the middle east because of it’s autocracy and what some might call stifling culture – certainly not south east Asia ! Really interesting post, it looks beautiful !

  34. this kind of stories I’ve heard about Brunei is exactly what’s been keeping me from visiting the country. The strict Islamic policy while the Sultan is too free to do anything he wants, god knows what.. plus, I heard it’s boring there πŸ˜›

  35. I am disappointed by the level of ignorance in this post, although having read Kate’s previous work, not surprised.

    Spending a few days in Brunei does not make you an expert. You have absolutely no right to judge a country, or the people within it, after seeing only a glimpse, as an outsider. I have lived here for years and it is a wonderful, warm, friendly and peaceful place. There are countless things to do if you have any interests other than getting drunk (and you can do that perfectly easily as well, so don’t worry yourself so much). I am busier here than many other places I have lived and we have a full, rich life full of activities and experiences. Brunei is one of the most tolerant countries I have ever lived in, and the most unique and special communities I have been welcomed into. It is a great shame that tourists like you turn up and sensationalise a few headlines they have misunderstood. You have a responsibility to your readership to present a fair view of anywhere you visit, or at least to clearly state that this is only your highly subjective opinion. If you want to be taken seriously as a journalist, do some more research (chatting to your mate who lives here doesn’t count) and get to know the facts before you write posts like this. Your words and what you imply about the people of Brunei are extremely unfair and damaging.

    My only consolation is that your followers (who are presumably as ignorant and intolerant/disrespectful as you) will be put off coming here and spreading bad feeling.

    For anyone offended by Kate’s post, please remember she has not actually had that much experience in genuine travel, despite what she says (just read some previous posts), and is perhaps a little naive in her views on places like Brunei which are so culturally complex and subtly special.

    1. Hi Rose!

      I really enjoyed your insight into the country! I am considering moving to Brunei to teach in an international school, and would love to hear more what you think of the country! I am a single female, do you think I would enjoy it? I love most sports and wildlife and I love the beach and just general travelling. I’ve lived in countries like El Salvador and Singapore before so am pretty open minded, but I have never lived in a Muslim country. I’d love to hear what you think if you have the time!


  36. Some name you couldn't pronounce if you tried

    That part about the white dress for religious things is total rubbish- even when you are *praying*, which is what I assume you are referring to. You are entitled to wear whatever colour you wish, white just happens to be the most common colour because people prefer it. And wearing hijab amongst children is commonplace in Malaysia, Indonesia and even Singapore- it’s how Muslim women dress worldwide, and it is a personal choice. You might as well denunciate everyone who has decided to have pigment artificially embedded into their skin- there’s far greater risk in that but I’ll stop because that’s something completely off topic.

    The sale and consumption of alcohol has been banned since the constitution, which ironically the British wrote- why are you making such a big deal about this.

    ‘ I actually broke a Bruneian law myself when Colin gave me a ride to a school. ”The fact that we’re not married and I’m driving you alone in a car makes this illegal,” Colin told me. β€œBut they won’t do anything about it.” ‘


    You can’t possibly even begin to understand how a country is run by living in it for three days, without even seeing what it is famous for. That’s almost as idiotic as attending a single lecture on petrochemical engineering, and expecting to come out of it as an all-knowing specialist on the subject.

    And it’s not so that we don’t see the pork, it’s for convenience’s sake. You would be surprised at the number of people who buy things involving meat without looking for a halal sign, and thusly regret not doing so later on. We don’t touch bacon because it’s part of our religion- you ought to burn all the Mormons and Catholics to the ground for not using contraceptives.

    More than 500 luxury cars? You might as well condemn every other monarch in history, and the President of the USA while you’re at it. I mean have you seen the Presidential escort? It’s one of the largest there is- or have you failed to take into account the apparent shortcomings of your home country, before coming here and reprimanding this one? Not to mention, the number of times you’ve probably been late to a friends’ wedding- that is, if any decent human being can stand to call themselves a friend of yours. That has nothing to do with your experience in Brunei- you didn’t say you had tea with the Sultan at the Empire, but you did with a bunch of people who should really reconsider their own lifestyle choices. If you are the kind of person who enjoys drowning your sorrows in public, why live here? And more importantly- why. Have. Kids.

    The Crown Jewels displayed at the Tower of London might as well be a sign a bigotry, from your perspective, that is.

    And the crimes for which such punishments would be enforced involve things any normal person would avoid anyway; you fundamentally are not supposed to commit adultery, and you most certainly are not supposed to kill anybody.These are things you couldn’t possibly dismiss with a simple; “..but people make mistakes..”.

    The reason to as why it is we don’t have open riots happening in the streets is because the vast majority of people who live here are content- the few who aren’t simply leave. And free speech? In this context, that’s the euphemism for open criticism of the Royal Family and any other governing bodies we don’t have because we can’t be bothered to- it’s Brunei, we’re a very relaxed nation, and there never seems to be anything dire enough for us to criticise anyways. Hence, the Abode of Peace- not the Abode of Pieces you make this country out to be.

    You didn’t at all mention the gargantuan of an international school you visited in this post, wherein the student body is comprised mostly of Bruneian students who are more than fully aware of what is happening both within the country, and most certainly what is happening outside of it- which is funny, seeing as you spent the best part of an entire afternoon there. You call yourself a journalist of sorts; you would have surely spent a significant amount of time chatting with the members of staff at the school to see what they thought of everything, or was the fact that the overwhelming satisfaction of expat teachers merely a little something you’d thought you’d omit?

    If you had a shred of common sense about you, you would have asked the expats who have lived here for as little at a month, to those who chose to spend a good 14 years of their lives here, choosing to have and raise children here, and why it is they elected to do so.

    But yes, you are correct in one thing; that the expat community here huddle together in times of need. And guess what? They have. You have managed to aggravate every expat who has lived here, and has seen this article. They disagree with every single slanderous inference you have used to lay waste to this country’s reputation. These are people who actually travel for a living, people who spend the best years of their lives seeing, helping, learning and integrating with communities because they genuinely love being out of their comfort zones. You do not have the right to speak on the behalf of this community. If you properly understood why it is expats are ‘a dime a dozen’ here, you would know how protective they are of Brunei, and it is because they know that they are valued far more than the common coin.

    They know what it means to have a family comprised of individuals who they’d never have expected to have feelings for.

    And as for whether or not you like what you see happening here in the near future- who gives a damn? We’d be glad to never welcome you to our shores again.

    1. Well said, whoever you are! I hope that this woman listens carefully to all the valid points you make here. I have lived in Brunei for years and the community and support here have humbled me beyond belief. I have also lived in the US which is a lonely, oppressive and bigoted nation by comparison. I hope readers will see the truth in your point of view as it is far more representative of the people of this country, Bruneian or expat alike.

  37. Commenters: a little harsh?

    Kate is writing a personal blog post here, not a New York Times cover story.

    Consider her intention: I doubt she’s getting rich off blogging but probably puts her time and energy into it because she genuinely wants to share her travel experiences/impressions with others.

    The Sultan’s excesses are interesting. I like hearing about them. Her writing about them doesn’t mean she’s saying excesses don’t exist elsewhere, like the U.S.

    1. Esme, the commenters here are not harsh, they are responding to unfair and untrue criticism of their country. If you think the comments are harsh then surely you must see how harsh Kate’s original post is? I think the comments match the original post.

      You are right that it’s not the NYT but any public blog has followers and Kate is a popular blogger. If people make decisions to visit or not visit a place, or judge a place and spread that judgement, based on what they have read on Kate’s post, that is a real shame and very unfair. One person’s opinion should not be allowed to put off visitors to our country, so these comments allow people who read this post to see all sides of the story.

      1. I think Kate’s intention with her post is to inform, not to malign. If she missed her mark, then correcting the errors is fine and warranted, but the replies I’m reading have an aggressive, sarcastic tone that I didn’t detect in her post.

        So, correcting or debating facts: ok. Ridiculing or admonishing? not ok.

        1. None of these posts have ridiculed her, and the only admonishing is well-deserved, for her incorrect, biased and most definitely maligned wording and tone. It is perfectly clear what Kate’s message is here, and the fact that so many people have replied with the exact opposite of most of her ‘facts’ proves how little she knows about the country, and therefore how little authority she has to be making such overdrawn statements. If I was about to post what I knew to be controversial opinions, I would damn well do my research first, which this girl has clearly not done. That is poor journalism, simple. She ‘missed her mark’ by a mile and these people are ensuring that the readers are aware of that. That is only fair, and these comments are the only thing that makes this post valid. The same thing would happen anywhere in the world if someone with no knowledge of a community came in and tried to misrepresent it. The backlash of hurt/frustration/corrections actually just reinforces how wrong she is – the community here obviously cares very deeply for each other and wants the outside world to know that.

        2. haha!! there is nothing informative about this post as it is all total rubbish!! If her intention was to inform then she needs to find a new career and quickly. If this was a person not a country she’s lying about, she’d be sued for libel.

          1. I’m a local Bruneian and I agree with everything that Kate has said! πŸ™‚

            I could only surmise that all these comments attacking Kate are either government shills or have blinders on! Did you know that under the new Sharia Penal Code, you could be charged for indecent clothing… though no one has any consensus on what constitutes indecency? A little bit of knee? A shoulder? ( How about non-Muslims not being allowed to drink publicly abroad (, while princes spend the country’s money on booze-fueled parties with Marah Carey (

            All this after it was explicitly stated that the implementation of this law would not effect non-Muslims (! What else are they going to backtrack on?

            I have also known of a friend of a friend who had been forced to turn up at the Shariah courts because he was driving a female colleague back to her house, when they were both stopped at a police road block, and were accused of khalwat (close proximity)! To be fair, one of the two were Malay, so I guess Kate and Colin could have played the expat card. πŸ™‚ In any case, you have no defense against any accusations, be it legitimate or otherwise!

            There have been murmurings that increasing fundamentalism and the hasty implementation of this law is a distraction from something else; Brunei recorded a 1.8% decline in its GDP in 2013 (worst performing in Asia!) and 97% of Brunei’s exports are in oil-based products; is there a correlation? Who knows!

            Quite honestly, if you are a local conservative Malay who grows fat on government handouts and sings the party line, you’ve got nothing to fear, but woe betide you if you are anyone but!

          2. Ok, I am posting to reply to kaki ayam’s post but there is no ‘reply’ button available underneath it, so I have to reply via Laura, Brunei’s post..

            First and foremost, the Shariah law.. are you really being serious right now? Brunei has been a country with a Muslim ruler for generations, in fact from our very first Sultan. The governance has always been full of traditions and cultures, but none really embrace the Islamic values and laws as should be portrayed by a country that is mostly of Muslim population. Why start now, you may ask.. Why NOT start now?

            You seem to have a limited knowledge of Islam, but I am guessing it is because you are not a Muslim, but if you are, my apologies then. I am not a perfect Muslim, but I will try to clear this up for you..

            In Islam, the male and female have their certain ‘aurat’ that should be covered. The male’s aurat is from their belly down to their knees, the female is their whole body except face and hands (depending on their mazhab, Brunei practices Mazhab Syafie’e). As you state that you are a local Bruneian, you should probably know how the Bruneians (not all) are REALLY dressing and living here especially our teenagers, or do YOU have your blinders on? πŸ™‚

            You have to agree that even though we are a Muslim country, our current portrayal do not represent one. Enforcing the Shariah law will encourage decent clothing for the population, rather than having our teenagers especially the female Muslim teenagers (and also the not-so-teenagers. Hah) dressed in skimpy outfits and flaunting their bare chest for the whole ‘Mall’ to see, thus implementing it will reduce their chance of falling victims to sexual predators and at the same time, implement the Islamic values to the individuals. Insyaallah.

            Second, the “How about non-Muslims not being allowed to drink publicly abroad”.. Have you actually read that link or did you just skip the whole part of “those who have committed such crimes will be charged should a COMPLAINT BE MADE AGAINST THEM by the nation’s citizens or permanent residents for their public alcohol consumption in countries outside of Brunei.”

            Third, the princes.. that is soooo last year.. or whatever year that was. Haha. Royals are humans after all, when a mistake was made, one was meant to learn from it. Have you heard of a “booze-fueled parties with Mariah Carey” happening lately?

            “The law will not be affecting the non-muslim”.. well, Islam is a pretty tolerant religion if you understand it correctly rather than having the “Islam equal to terrorists, Shariah law equals flogging” mindset. It does not oppress other religions, but rather be tolerant to them. To be honest, I am not quite sure whether civil offenses committed in Brunei (like theft) will not affect the non-muslims in having the Shariah law penalty, but Islamic laws (such as fornication) will probably not affect them, only the Muslims.

            Aahh..this one is my favourite of all those you have typed, “I have also known of a friend of a friend who had been forced to turn up at the Shariah courts because he was driving a female colleague back to her house when they were both stopped at a police road block”.

            POLICE roadblock, really? You’re a local Bruneian and that is the best you could come up with? You should know better. Oh my~Either that friend of a friend of a friend of yours messed up some details or you got punk’ed. Religious officers carry out that law, not the police. And religious officers do not conduct roadblocks. Besides, that is the first time I heard of such thing all my life living here and encountering numerous police roadblocks (I am not such a goody two shoes before, you see) πŸ™‚

            Whether the implementation is a distraction or not, does it really matter? Does it really affect anything? Does it change the fact that the country is a Muslim one for decades and the fact that our rulers has been Muslim and our majority of population is Muslim?

            Have our Sultan interfere in another ruler’s way of governing their own country? Our Sultan is merely embracing his religion and trying to implement the values to his system of governance. Most of his citizens praise him for such brave act as this Shariah law is long overdue. You have to accept that we are not one of the “Western countries”, we have always been categorized as a Muslim country embedded with our own courtesy, cultures and heritage.

            By the way, the “local conservative Malay fat blabla handouts” and such, hilarious πŸ˜€ I, for one, am a Malay, not fat (haha), I don’t take handouts be it from the government or otherwise, I am mostly open-minded but I can appreciate the values in our traditional customary and heritage. I can see the values in implementing this Shariah law for our way of living alongside maintaining our cultures. And I can have the decency, respect and loyalty for my country leader even if I don’t grow fat on the government handouts πŸ™‚

            P/S: I bet you are just a troll.. but I have fun in replying your comment. Haha. Thanks

  38. “I helped shy nine-year-olds practice their English, knowing that they will likely never leave home.”

    Are you serious with this statement? I am BRUNEIAN and I can tell you that many if not most Bruneians are sent to study overseas in the UK, Australia and other places and they are free to go wherever they please.. and WE ARE FAR FROM BEING SHELTERED! I am so furious that a well known travel blogger would post such misinformed drivel.. looks like you have a long way to go before you could become a more well informed traveler suited to post quality articles…

    “I drank, spoke freely, and rode in a car with a man who wasn’t my husband.”

    And again NO it is NOT ILLEGAL for unmarried couples to be together in a car.. DRINKING IN PRIVATE IS COMPLETELY LEGAL IF YOU’RE NON-MUSLIM..

  39. I am a Canadian working in Australia. I’m not a religious man but I respect other peoples beliefs. I just landed a job in Brunei and I am very excited about it. Some of things I’ve read here are a little bit daunting and some of the blogs are comforting. I would really like to hear from more expats about their experiences. I would like to end in saying my father and two of my uncles worked in Brunei back in the 70s and they all said they loved the country, what’s changed?

  40. O please stop exaggerating and making us out to be people in need of help. we are fine! This is whats wrong with white people. you always seem to think you need to help us when you have colonized us and usurped our resources for centuries, as if youre the savior of mankind. my God. and no, nobody gives a shit if two unmarried people drive alone in a car.

  41. Dear Kate,
    As a Bruneian, I’m really hurt and upset with your blog… obviously you don’t understand us..

  42. Dear Kate, you can say whatever you wish to say about our country, but let alone our sultan and religion. We do not speak bad about any other religion. Please respect each other and leave in peace that’s what our religion teaches us. Its true humans make mistake. But we can always correct ourselves if we repent to the Al Mighty and never repeat the same mistake. In this way, the older we are and the more we experience we can choose whether on not to be a better person. Anyway thanks for the comment at least we can see how little knowledge you have about our country that you have a different view about country and our religion. No matter what you say we love our Religion, Country and our Sultan.

  43. Fascinating article. It’s incredible that people can live under these conditions and oppression from the government. I often wonder what it’s like to grow up in nations like these and not know that there is freedom in other parts of the world.

    1. Well to be fair, it’s not really opressive at all. There are no labour camps or concentration camps. There definitely is no torture or people disappearing mysteriously.

      The Brunei govt doesn’t need those. The attitude here is ” hey, these are our rules, you want to stay here, OKAY! you don’t want to stay here? Get out. ”

      And why most people choose to stay, like mentioned, is that you can really earn a small fortune in Brunei for yourself and also if you’ve been brought up there, all your closest friends are there. That’s why my parents still don’t want to leave.

  44. Hey Kate πŸ™‚

    Wow, the comments on this post are as interesting as the post itself!! You’ve certainly hit a nerve…

    I considered going to Brunei last year when I was in Borneo, but I ended up missing it because I was short on time, and the general consensus on travel guides I could find was that there’s not a lot to see if you’re just there for a few days – yes the rainforest is good, but no better than what you’ll find in Sabah and Sarawak, which I had already been to. But I was really interested to see Brunei because it’s demographically very different to the rest of South East Asia – high GDP, high literacy rates, etc. Your post really makes me want to make the trip at some point.

    …it’s also a useful reminder that travel bloggers writing honest articles about their thoughts and impressions of a place won’t always go down well. As an aspiring travel blogger myself, this is something important, I think. I didn’t see your article as very negative – like I said, it makes me want to go there – but it’s very interesting how so many commenters seem to think you’re walking around screaming obscenities about their country and religion or something. But your post is just what you said it would be – your impressions of the place you visited for a week or so. I think it’s… interesting perhaps? …that people have reacted so negatively to your post. It’s something I’m going to keep in mind.

    Anyway, thanks for another great read. πŸ™‚


  45. living large brunei

    for all those who dont know about us bruneian..saying all those shit..maybe y’all just jelous..oh before trying to judge us..why not wiki ur country see how many crime perday?animal like?hahaha while we walk in brunei with pocket full of money and no 1 bother that goes night or day..poverty? please each house atleast 2new car,double storey,fully aircond..what do you have?hahaha im 24 and own benz,honda and a range rover..totally you know NOTHING ABOUT US..saying bad about our law?damn!! all i see yours run by money, ours runs by islam..we dont care if you white,black, or even pink,rich or poor

    1. Hy living large Brunei.. First of all, I appreciate you sticking up for Brunei.. But I do have to say, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.. We do have poverty but it was scarce now than it was before since our Sultan’s government being a great helping hand in the matter. Although I agree that we mostly have a rather good living conditions here than what was reflected in Kate’s post, but humility goes a long way.. That is all. Thank you

    2. I’m Bruneian myself and it is ppl like living large that I believe gives Bruneian a bad name. Haughty attitude like that are not what all Bruneians have. Bear in mind every country has snobs like him that likes to look down on others, even their own countrymen.

      Get in touch with friendly locals thru socialmedia/forums before coming here, and I’m sure they’ll gladly give you a real insight of what Brunei and its ppl truly are.

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