Catriona sets off to find the most expensive hotel in the world, the richest country and a theme park that is absolutely free!
Brunei is one of the world's smallest and wealthiest countries, the latter fact courtesy of copious quantities of oil and natural gas. It lies between Sarawak and the South China Sea and the tiny Islamic sultanate is all that is left of an empire which controlled Borneo in the 16th century.
Its full name is Negara Brunei Darussalam, meaning "the abode of peace", and with no alcohol, virtually no nightlife and a culture which acquiesces to the edicts of its sultan and the laws of Islam, it is extremely peaceful.
Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital, is a calm, clean and compact town and even when the streets are full, there is a quietness. Most action is on the rivers and around the stilt villages called Kampung Ayer.
The Sultan of Brunei himself is worth around $35 billion and he generously shares his wealth with his 330,000 subjects. They enjoy a life of no taxes, free pensions, free medical care and schooling, interest-free loans, subsidies for cars, holidays and trips to Mecca. Understandably no-one begrudges him his amazing wealth with the gleaming golden domes which adorn his 1780-room palace and stable of polo ponies just a few examples of his opulent lifestyle.
For three days each year the palace is open to the public and they are visitors are even served a meal during their visit. This happens during Hari Raya, just after Ramadan.
If you aren't there at that particular time, the next best place to visit is the Royal Regalia Museum which gives an excellent insight into the amazing life of the Sultan and the history of the monarchy, including his report from Sandhurst Royal Military Academy.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Brunei enjoyed considerable power throughout Borneo and the Philippines. The first Europeans in the region were Spanish and Portuguese and when the Spanish attempted to take over, they were ousted.
James Brooke, an Englishman, arrived in the 19th century and was the first white raja of Sarawak, spelling the end of Brunei's power as he consolidated his hold which included developing commercial relationships and suppressing piracy, a much-favoured local occupation.
Brunei became a British protectorate in 1888 and was divided into halves in 1890. In 1929 oil was discovered but the sultan at the time preferred to remain with the British rather than allow it to become a Malayan confederacy.
An election was held in 1962 and the overwhelming result was to keep Brunei an independent democracy and have the sultan as constitutional monarch. Rebellious plans to take Brunei into union with the new state of Malaysia were quickly crushed with the assistance of the British military, and the sultan opted for independence from Malaysia. Emergency laws have been in existence ever since, though there is little or no evidence of this.
His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah has two wives and 10 children and is the 29th Sultan of Brunei. He keeps a tight reign on his empire. As well as being the country's supreme ruler, he is the Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, Minister for Finance, Commander of the Armed Forces, Chief of Police and head of Islam in Brunei. His extended family holds other roles of importance.
To celebrate his 48th birthday the Sultan presented his people with Jerudong Park, an amusement park like no other. Apart from rides, merry-go-rounds, bumper cars, mazes, shooting gallery and all the usual fun things, it has polo fields and a stadium.
Long boat rides and water taxis are the best ways to get around the waterways of Kampung Ayer. Called the "Venice of the East" the sprawling village is home to 30,000 people. The houses are joined by a maze of walkways and visitors are free to stroll along them.
Brunei's only five star hotel is The Empire on the Beach. It is in 162ha of lush gardens and has a series of accommodation wings. Each room is spacious, has a marble bathrooms and a balcony with views. There is a pool, saltwater lagoon with sandy beach, children's pool and club for young ones.
The Empire Hotel Country Club has five restaurants, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course, tennis courts, five pools, indoor lap pool, spa, sauna and cinema.