The microscopic Sultanate of Brunei lays claim to one of the most dramatic rags-to-riches stories.Thanks to oil, the Sultan of Brunei is one of the richest men in the world, and the Sultanate is often dubbed a Shell-fare-state. Brunei's citizens do not pay income tax; they enjoy free education, medical care and old-age pensions. The government employs a third of the workforce, who are probably the best-paid bureaucrats in the world.
Brunei Darussalam, as the country is officially called, is the rump of what was once a sprawling empire that occupied a land area of about twice the size of Luxembourg. On January 1, 1984, after nearly 100 years as a British Protectorate, Brunei became a fully independent sovereign nation. In August of 1967, Hassanal Bolkiah was crowned the 29th Sultan of Brunei. He succeeded his father, Sir Omar Ali Saifuddien III, who started to modernize the capital and is known as the architect of modern Brunei.
Bandar Seri Begawan is the capital and the only town of any size in the country. It is a neat, modern city, split into three main areas. The 'old' sector, built in the 1950s, is being redeveloped with new buildings around the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque; the Seri Complex, a commercial area dates from the 1970s, and Gadong boasts a recently shopping center and numerous restaurants.
Bandar or, simply BSB, as the capital is commonly called, still features a sprawling maze of wooden houses built on stilts along the Brunei River. Its residents, the Kampong Ayer, have retained their traditional lifestyle despite all the trimmings of capitalism. They provide one of the more interesting elements in an otherwise modern city.