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Relishing serenity in Brunei

While the rest of South East Asian countries rely heavily on tourism to boost their economy, the rich oil and gas deposits of Brunei alone is enough to help the country maintain its wealthy economy. Brunei Darussalam is usually never heard of by tourists traipsing the usual South East Asia banana pancake trail. It is a tiny yet affluent sultanate located in the northwestern coast of Borneo.

I took advantage of my summer trip to Kota Kinabalu to cross to Brunei which is just two ferries away from Jesselton Port. For information on getting to the sultanate via ferry, you can check out my Brunei Travel Guide. I had the privileged of experiencing the peace and order, sense of space and grandiose structures and towering minarets adorning the city proper of Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB).

Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Brunei’s cultural heritage can be traced back to Malay traditions but Islam has won its peoples heart. In fact, at the very heart of the city, stands a symbol of the strong Islamic faith of its citizens. The opulent Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, the country’s most famous mosque dominates the city center as it stands proudly on an artificial lagoon.

This mosque has a plain crème white façade and towering minarets attached to the main building with majestic onion-shaped golden domes. Its main minaret is the highest structure in the city of Bandar Seri Begawan. The inside has lavishly designed interiors displaying the usual characteristics of Islamic interiors. Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque is inspired by both contemporary architecture and classical Mughal architecture. But its most famous feature is the replica of a 16th Century mahligai (royal barge) attached to it by a bridge.

Kampung Ayer Village

This sprawling village has a significant role in the history of Brunei which traces its existence to the seafaring roots of the country. Thousands of houses which includes schools, mosques, hospital, and retail shops that are connected by wooden promenades traces have occupied the Brunei River dating back some thousands of years ago.

At first glance the water village may look like a slum but do not be deceived as a leisurely stroll here will introduce you to wooden houses with air-conditioning, electricity, sewage system, internet, and satellite dishes.  The village can be explored by foot but hiring a water taxi will give you a better view of the water village.

Brunei History Center

This building is located along Jalan Sultan (jalan means street) and was established to do research, to collect, study, publish and exhibit the History of Negara Brunei Darussalam.

Royal Regalia Building

This circular building is also located at Jalan Sultan beside Brunei History Center and houses an extraordinary collection of priceless Royal Regalia, including crowns, silver sailboat courtesy of the Maldives, a magnificent coronation carriage (usungan) and a replica throne and also contains an exhibit of the life of the current Sultan.

Tamu Kianggeh

Bandar’s famous daily produce market sits on the bank of the Kianggeh River fronting the Chinese Temple. It’s a good place to savor local delicacies. Some Bruneian foods sold here are sataypaislikingbelutak laplap, and kuih, among others.

Chinese temple

The first Chinese temple in Brunei survived the World War II but had to be demolished for the expansion of the port. So the government replaced it with another Chinese temple which was built in Jalan Kianggeh sometime in 1960.  It is by far, the only Chinese temple in Bandar officially known as the Hall of Flying Clouds.

Brunei Museum

This museum is located along the Brunei River and like any other museums is rich with ancient artifacts but an interesting gallery is the Oil and Gas Gallery (Brunei is a country rich in oil and gas) and of course the highlight, the luxurious Islamic Art Gallery.

Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

The largest and the most grandiose mosque in Brunei was built in 1992 to commemorate the 25th year anniversary of the sultan’s reign. Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque is also called Kiarong Mosque by the locals. This is by far the most beautiful mosque I have seen in South East Asia. The façade alone is very photogenic but wait until you get inside and be mesmerized by its luxurious interior!

Brunei surprised me with its beautiful contrasts.  A country so tiny yet so rich in economy and cultural heritage has managed to keep its traditions and environment intact despite its heavy urban development. And despite the “chaotic” and “fundamentalist” image of Islamic sultanates brought about by unjust stories, stereotypes, misconception and ignorance by some media and people, Brunei has proven them wrong and continue to live up to its name – Negara Brunei Darussalam which literally means “Abode of Peace”.

By Gael Hilotin for Yahoo! Travel


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