Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
144Trip End Ongoing
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I did find that the concept of one extraordinarily wealthy family (and one man in particular) ruling over a population that was still struggling with poverty was bringing out my inner communist (I didn't even know I had an inner communist!!). Muda Hassanal Bolkiak is the 29th sultan as well as the head of the government
* estimated net worth: $25 billion
* Brunei is the home to the largest residential palace in the world today.The Istana Nurul Iman is more than half a kilometre long and one-quarter of a kilometre wide, and has 1,788 rooms (338 mote than the Vatican in Rome), 257 bathrooms, a banquet hall that can be expanded to accommodate up to 5,000 guests, a mosque accommodating 1,500 people.The total floor area is 2,152,782 sq. feet. It also includes 110-car garage, 5 swimming pools and table for the Sultan's 200 polo ponies.
* the sultan has at least 7,000 cars and has bought over U.S.$789 million worth of high-performance car: more than 530 Mercedes-Benzes, 600 Rolls-Royce's, 134 Koenigseggs, and 450 Ferrari's in his car collection. Some of the cars housed here are the only ones of their kind on the face of the earth like the Porsche Carma and the right-hand drive Mercedes CLKGTR
* a car parked at the back of the garage may need almost 1.5 hours to be brought out.
* the sultan keeps a Rolls-Royce in front of his palace with the engine running 24-7.
* recently purchased 48 handbags, and 24 “duck” umbrellas from Lederer de Paris shop in New York
* brother, Prince Jefri,, pilfered $15 billion from the sultanate while in charge of finances (in charge for no other reason than he was related to the sultan)- how rich do you have to be to not notice a theft of that magnitude?
Perhaps emulating the Sultans passion for cars, there are 3 times as many cars as there are people in Brunei- even the shanty town homes would have a reasonably nice car parked outside (nicer than the homes!). Forgotten in this car friendly Asian country was the pedestrian (we saw two pedestrians....if we counted ourselves)- it seemed as though the Sultan must of made a mass purchase of traffic lights and related paraphernalia, installed it all, and left the pedestrian crossing signals permanently red- we never once saw them flip to green?? What is the punishment under Sharia Law for jay walking?? Very strange
We did jay walk our way around to see most of the sights of BSB with the most interesting stop being the Royal Regalia Museum, where visitors can glimpse the Sultan’s full royal regalia, including the crown and royal chariot, along with a vast collection of opulent treasures. Most of the displays were gifts presented to the Sultan for a wide range of celebrations- apparently world leaders are still pretty keen on presenting each other tributes as long as they don't have to foot the bill (there was even a soapstone carving from former Canadian PM Jean Chretien). Not surprisingly, the biggest gift giver seemed to be Shell Oil, the Dutch based oil company. DH was trying to imagine just how many gifts the Sultan has received if there's no room in the palace for ones displayed here.
Named after the 28th sultan of Brunei (the late father of the current sultan), the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque was built in 1958 at a cost of about US$5 million, and stands next to Sungai Kedayan in its own artificial lagoon. The 44m minaret makes it the tallest building in central BSB, and look out if you try to outdo it – apparently the Islamic Bank of Brunei building originally exceeded the height of Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and consequently had to have its top storey removed by order of the sultan
We even managed a boat trip into the mangroves for a some proboscis monkey spotting. On our way out and back we got to see what the locals call the 'Venice of the East'. Built entirely of stilt houses and wooden walkways, this cluster of 42 villages houses more than 30,000 inhabitants and is the world's largest water village
Contrary to other reports we found Brunei to be interesting- the oil reserve is supposed to run dry in 25 years. What happens then? If the lavish spending continues, and the diversification attempts fail, Brunei may just become a country version of the old gold rush towns.