Brunei is a tiny but very wealthy country


The pedestrian has the right of way!  No, it is not Thailand or many other Southeast Asia nations. But, there is one; it is the tiny country of Brunei. This fact was one of many mentioned by PCEC member Ian Frame at his presentation to the Pattaya City Expats Club at their Sunday, March 30 meeting. Ian lived and worked in Brunei for 30 years, from 1980 to 2010.

Brunei is a tiny but very wealthy country of 400,000 people occupying 2,000 square miles on the northern part of the island of Borneo. Brunei shares the island with Malaysia and Indonesia. Brunei is wealthy because it has oil and lots of it according to Ian; oil being it’s only industry. Oil was discovered in 1929.

PCEC member Ian Frame spoke at the March 30th meeting. ‘Living in Brunei’ was his very interesting topic.PCEC member Ian Frame spoke at the March 30th meeting. ‘Living in Brunei’ was his very interesting topic.

Oil wells are everywhere, including offshore where drilling began in 1957. Ian explained that the most prolific offshore field is owned by the Champion Group. It is located in 30 meters of water about 70 kilometers offshore. This field holds 40% of the country’s known oil reserves and produces around 100,000 barrels a day. The field has more than 260 wells drilled from 40 platforms. A central field complex, called Champion-7, has living quarters for about 160 personnel. The workers spent one week on the platform and then one week off. Ian worked on and off an oil platform during much of his time in Brunei. His job was to keep all of the instrumentation in good working order; later he moved to another position that was onshore.

Ian described Brunei as a “Malay Islamic monarchy.” It is run by His Majesty the Sultan. There is no parliament and there are no elections. There is also no income tax. Brunei became a British Protectorate in 1888. It regained its independence in 1984. A British Army Gurkha regiment at the request of the Sultan is still stationed in Brunei. The capital city is Bandar Seri Begawan. Ian lived in Kuala Belait.

Brunei is a member of the British Commonwealth, ASEAN, and APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation). The Brunei dollar is managed jointly with the Singapore dollar. Ian said they are kept equal in value; Singapore dollars are legal tender in Brunei as are Brunei dollars in Singapore. Brunei is currently ranked fifth in the world by GDP per capita. About 75% of the population are Malays and 10% Chinese. The rest come from a variety of countries. Many domestic workers come from Indonesia and the Philippines.

The retirement age in Brunei is 55. Brunei is mostly a “dry” country, Ian said, though foreigners are allowed to bring some alcohol with them when they enter the country. However, nightlife is available on the Malaysian side of the border. Also, there are about 150,000 cars, but very few motorcycles. Public transport is almost non-existent as Ian said that everyone owns a car. Further, Brunei is very clean and that garbage is not thrown away at the roadside or in the bushes. Unlike its immediate neighbour, Malaysia, Brunei does not allow logging, and so has been able to preserve its forests.

Following Ian’s talk, MC Judith thanked him & presented him with a PCEC Certificate of Appreciation.Following Ian’s talk, MC Judith thanked him & presented him with a PCEC Certificate of Appreciation.

It rains a lot in Brunei, Ian explained, so flooding is pretty common. As a result, many buildings are on stilts. Ian said that the house he lived in for 14 years was similarly built as he showed pictures of the flooding that happens about twice a year when there is heavy rain and high tides.  In describing his house, Ian mentioned that initially he had rats as his guests; that is until a snake moved in. Ian said he and he snake managed to share the house without difficulty. Ian also described the people and commented on how very friendly they were. Ian said that he attended in one particular year 13 weddings in families of his co-workers.

Ian devoted the last part of his talk to showing his audience photos of the wildlife in Brunei. (Ian is a wildlife photographer and has spoken twice before to the Club about assorted snakes, lizards and insects in and around Pattaya.) His Brunei wildlife photos were extraordinary beautiful and included monkeys, snakes, lizards, tree crabs, hornbill birds, turtles and even a crocodile and a very tame civit cat.  Ian has posted many of his nature photographs on his blog at

After Ian concluded his presentation, Master of Ceremonies Judith Edmonds brought everyone up to date on upcoming events and called on Jerry Dean to conduct the always interesting and informative Open Forum where questions about Expat living in Thailand are asked and answered.

For more information about the Pattaya City Expats Club, visit their website at