Many have not heard of him yet. The famous proboscis monkeys live in this country and only half a million people live there. The famous palace hidden behind the trees holds secrets.
200,000 square meters of splendor await us in the Sultan’s palace. There are 257 gold bathrooms and 7,000,000 cars worth $5 billion in 110 separate garages. The Istana Nurul Iman Palace also has 564 chandeliers, 51,000 light bulbs, 44 staircases and 18 elevators. The record-breaking facility is, next to the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, a symbol of the small Sultanate of Brunei located on the northern coast of the island of Borneo. This is where residents do not have to pay taxes, and visits to doctors are free anyway. One of the richest countries in the world also has a darker side.
A rich sultan and slightly less rich inhabitants
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is considered one of the wealthiest rulers in the world. In the period up to 1980, he was even classified as the richest living person. According to Business Insider reports, Hasnal Bolkia’s fortune exceeds $20 billion, and his main source of income are oil and natural gas reserves. The sultan’s subjects have access to free health care, free education, and they pay a symbolic zloty for a liter of gasoline. It can only be cheaper in Venezuela.
A resident of Brunei does not have to pay either income tax or VAT (both are 0%). However, foreigners who would like to live there will have to pay 20 percent of their salary. “Polish citizens can stay in Brunei without a visa for up to 90 days,” we read on the website of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Europeans are not required to be vaccinated and the level of health care is very high. Tourists will be interested in rainforests, especially the Ulu Temburong National Park. Known as the “green jewel of Brunei”, it has preserved the jungle intact. This is where we can meet the famous Sunda proboscis monkey, the hero of memes from a decade ago. Brunei is so rich that it didn’t have to cut down its forests. In the Ulu Temburong Reserve, traveling only by boat, we can see the golden domes of the Sultan’s residence from the perspective of the river. Entry to Istana Nurul Iman is only possible for worshipers during Ramadan.
One of the strictest laws in the world
Brunei is not a land of milk and honey. Behind the façade of wealth there is a perfectly functioning apparatus for controlling citizens, with power in the hands of one man. Possession of drugs is punishable by death, and drinking alcohol in public places is strictly prohibited and is punishable by imprisonment. Same-sex relationships are punishable by flogging or stoning. Tourists who want to rent a shared room in a hotel and are not married should call the property to check if this is possible.
Sharia law, strengthened in 2019, significantly narrows the scope of life and freedom of citizens and tourists to whom it is also applied. It is an absolute monarchy, where a state of emergency has been in force since 1962, giving the Sultan the right to unquestionable power. Christmas is illegal, and although Christians can attend church and celebrate in private, they should notify the authorities. Celebrations that are too open (e.g. hanging up home decorations) can result in five years in prison or a fine of nearly PLN 30,000. dollars.