People Who Live in Small Places #8: Brunei (and no that’s not next to Dubai)

Huge thanks to Liz at Secrets of a Trailing Spouse who has kindly volunteered details about her life in the small country of Brunei for my occasional series People Who Live in Small Places. Brunei is one of those places that many have heard of – but few could place on a map. It sounds like it belongs somewhere in the Middle East whereas in fact it’s very firmly in South East Asia. So, to find out more, over to Liz:

Thanks for being part of this series, Liz. First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’

Brunei Darussalam is a small country nestled between two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. It has a population of around 400,000 and a land mass of 5675 square kilometres. Brunei has an equatorial climate and is mainly covered in rainforest. Many people have no idea where it is, and often think I live in Dubai

And so what are the good, and not so good, things about living there?

Brunei’s nickname is the ‘abode of peace’, and on the plus side it really is tranquil here: things move at their own pace, there is little crime, few crowds and a great sense of community. There is some beautiful primary rainforest, and very little tourism so you can really feel alone in there (apart from the wildlife). It’s sunny all year round and the whole of South-East Asia is on our doorstep – we have had some fantastic travel opportunities since moving here. The cost of living is fairly cheap so there’s plenty left over for some holidays of a lifetime!

Brunei 1

Brunei consists mainly of rainforest

I’ve always preferred to live in a ‘quiet’ place, yet this took on a whole new meaning when we moved to Brunei! It is such a small country that it takes less than two hours to drive from one end to the other (and would take even less time if the roads were better). Most of the expats live on camp in close proximity to one another so there is a real sense of community, although it can get a bit too close sometimes – when I got pregnant pretty much everyone knew because I stopped drinking, although they were kind enough to not ask me about it until I was ready to announce the news.

The small population means that there is very little to do in terms of anything – shopping, entertainment, culture… In Brunei you have to make your own entertainment, which brings me on to the next question.

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?

There are many other ‘trailing spouses’ here; due to restrictions with work permits it is very difficult for spouses to legally gain employment, but as a result there are numerous clubs and societies to reflect the diverse interests of an international community. Pre-baby I spent a lot of my time volunteering, and I still help out with the Brownies (Girl Guides aged 7-10) as well as chairing the library. There is a club for the expats which has an outdoor swimming pool, gym, restaurants and events held by the different sections. There are also a large number of exercise classes, and a lot of very fit people around!

Entertainment is self-made but there are people here from all walks of life and with all kinds of qualifications, which means that there is a lot going on.

Enjoying a beer in a ‘bar’ – the fact that this photo is several years old shows how rare an occurrence that is in Brunei!

Enjoying a beer in a ‘bar’ – the fact that this photo is several years old shows how rare an occurrence that is in Brunei!

When my son was born it was a bit like moving here all over again as I swapped my old routine for one full of baby groups and playdates. It is a bit more restrictive now in terms of getting out and about; due to the very high temperatures and mosquitoes I do not spend nearly as much time outside as I would like to. But there are plenty of activities for the little ones to attend.

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

Yes, I certainly feel the need to escape! Living in Brunei is wonderful, most of the time. But the longer I spend here, the more I start to miss things like theatre, music, eating out in good restaurants, going to a bar… And the need to escape builds up. Sometimes just a weekend away to Singapore for a culture binge is enough, other times a longer holiday to somewhere with nice toilets and good shops… My priorities have certainly changed since living here! Luckily it is pretty easy to get away, although usually you need to change flights at one of the main hubs such as Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, which makes the journey time add up. For a quick fix, we can drive across the border to Miri in Malaysia in one and a half hours for a weekend getaway. Our most recent escape was to Japan, but we are in easy flying distance to many beautiful destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam, Bali… Sadly too many places to visit on a four year posting!

Enjoying some time outside in Japan

Enjoying some time outside in Japan

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

The Brunians are tremendously welcoming, as is the rest of the expat community. I was nervous about moving initially as I can be quite shy and usually struggle to make friends to begin with in a new place. But it took only a couple of months before I had settled in here and made some good friends. Because the turnover of expats is quite high in Brunei, with most contracts lasting four years or less, friendships are much more fluid and tend to progress faster – it is not uncommon to be invited round to someone’s house after only one meeting, and the numerous clubs and societies mean that it’s easy to meet people without having to go out of your way. Although the official language of Brunei is Malay, most people speak English, which makes everything so much easier.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your (small place – eg island, village etc), or somewhere similar?

Try to manage your expectations. I know of some people who have turned up here and absolutely hated it because they have spent all their time comparing it to their home or previous postings. There are many challenges of living in such a small place, but you get used to it after a while and you can always ship anything that you can’t find. Lastly, the internet is a life-line when you live in a small place, but make sure you switch up and venture out of the house sometimes!

Monkeying around with the internet connection

Monkeying around with the internet connection

Can you tell me a bit about yourself (and your family if you have one with you) and why/how you came to be living in your small place?

My husband works for an oil company and we moved in 2011 when he applied for a job abroad and was awarded a post in Brunei. My son was born last year (in Brunei) and has just turned one. I used to work as an English teacher in the UK before we moved, but I found that I soon got used to being a trailing spouse and now you would have to persuade me to give it up and return to work! Our contract is up at the end of this year, so we will be moving on to a new (bigger) place soon if all goes to plan.

Thank you so much Liz! I’ve certainly learned a lot about a country I knew very little about. Good luck with wherever you move on to next! Please don’t forget to check out my other Small Places blogs by clicking on the tag below – and let me know if you live somewhere small and would like to be featured right here on this blog 🙂


10 thoughts on “People Who Live in Small Places #8: Brunei (and no that’s not next to Dubai)

  1. This is fascinating – I only knew a little about Brunei and it always sounded wonderfully unspoiled but nothing about what life was really like. Am slightly jealous of so much Asia on your doorstep but definitely not the mosquitoes! #MondayEscapes

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I grew up in Brunei. I loved it. Lived there for 9 years from birth!
    It’s good to hear it’s still as lovely and quiet with the wonderful sense of community. I still miss it especially now raising my own children in the UK


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