An oil-rich speck on the north coast of Borneo, the country of Brunei Darussalam is probably best known for its free-spending Sultan, who makes the fabled pashas of the thousand-and-one-nights stories seem like skinflints. (The Sultan spent US$25 million to celebrate his 50th birthday.)
But travelers to Brunei (pronounced brew-NIGH) will actually find a rather modest, low-key place made up mostly of rain forest. Modernization has been largely restricted to its capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, which has gleaming modern buildings (although no skyscrapers), good roads and modern conveniences. The surrounding jungle is largely unspoiled (most of the country's oil and gas reserves are near the coast or offshore). With its comfortable income, Brunei hasn't had to exploit its other natural resources, although there are plans in the works to diversify its economy with more industry, agriculture and forestry.
Most of Brunei's income from oil and gas belongs to the Sultan, although enough of the wealth is spread around to make the country's per-capita income one of the highest in the world. Housing is subsidized and available for all citizens. Education from kindergarten through the university level is also free for citizens—and even includes tuition and expenses for students to attend universities abroad. Pensions and medical care are taken care of by the government. And there's no personal income tax.
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