Touring the Empire Hotel and Country Club was the perfect introduction to the beauty of Brunei. The luxurious hotel can be compared to the appetizer of a 10-course meal where the food that you savor just keeps on getting better with every bite.
There are so many places to explore in this regal country. Brunei’s climate of high temperature and extreme humidity did not even bother me most especially since I am already used to living in a country where the average temperature is around 28 degrees Celsius.
Given that Brunei is predominantly a Muslim country, I made it a point to include a visit to the different mosques in my travel itinerary. From my research before my trip, I learned that there are two impressive mosques that are worthy of a visit and one of them is even located in the middle of a shopping district!
The first mosque in my list was the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque which was built in 1958. It was named after Omar Ali Saifuddien, the 28th Sultan of Brunei, who is also fondly referred to by locals as the “architect of modern Brunei.” Currently, it is considered one of the most magnificent mosques in the entire Southeast Asian region. This mosque is a dominating structure that can be found on the river banks of Bandar. It is not hard to find this mosque as it is located right smack in the town center of Bandar Seri Begawan. It is easy to recognize the golden dome that totally sparkle against the sun’s rays. You will surely be enthralled by the colorful stained glass & classic Italian marble that were imported from England. Other elegant materials that were used to construct this mosque include marble from Italy, carpets from Saudi Arabia and granite from Shanghai. The delicate chandeliers that seem to dance with the wind will leave you in awe. But what I really found interesting about this mosque is the replica of the Royal Barge that is “parked” by the river beside the mosque. This barge used to be the venue for selected religious ceremonies and celebrations during the 1960s until the early part of the 1970s.
Just like in most places of worship, no one is allowed to take pictures or shoot videos inside. It was such a shame not to be able to capture the beauty of the interiors that seem as if they were lifted from an enchanting fairy tale. We were also asked to remove our shoes before we entered the prayer area and we were asked to wear robes because we were wearing walking shorts. You can visit this mosque Sunday through Wednesday from 8:00 am to 12:00 nn, 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm and from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm. The mosque is also open every Friday from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm. You would have to remember, though, that it is closed to non-Muslims every Thursday.
Aside from the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, the other mosque that you should definitely visit is the Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. This majestic structure can be found at the Gadong area (specifically Kampong Kiarong) and this was constructed with the ultimate purpose to make it as grand as possible. It was constructed in 1988 but was officially launched publicly in 1994 as a commemoration of the Silver Jubilee of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah’s reign as Sultan. This amazing mosque boasts of slender soaring minarets and golden domes that seem to reach for the sky. I learned from a friend that the huge blocks of wood that were used for the mosque’s doors were imported from my home country, the Philippines. Everywhere I looked, I saw gold plated decor and some furnishings were even molded with nicely colored marble. Just like the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, you will also find lovely chandeliers inside the mosque that are made up of so many glittering crystals. The splendid structure is supported by sturdy pillars with attention-grabbing details that reflect superb craftsmanship. If you have seen the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque during then day and are already impressed with what you’ve seen then wait until you see this commanding landmark at night. It is more impressive when it is dark given that the golden domes seem to glow and sparkle. It is easy to locate this mosque. As it is a major landmark, you can simply ask for directions as to how you can reach the place.
We were also not allowed to take pictures inside the mosque. We had to remove our shoes before we entered and I was asked to cover my head and dress. The mosque is open to visitors from Sunday to Wednesday from 8:00 am to 12:00 nn, 2:00 – 3:00 pm and 5:00 – 6:00 pm. It is closed to non-Muslims every Thursday. It is sometimes open on Saturdays as long as there is no official activity that is scheduled the following day.
These two majestic mosques of Brunei will leave you captivated and amazed not only because of their grandeur but because of what these two magnificent structures stand for in the way of life of lovely people of Brunei.