Brunei Part 2 – The Mosques and Palaces of the Sultanate

THE ROYAL REGALIA MUSEUM

Brunei isn’t exactly the “most happening place in the world”, and it’s not the type of destination where you will be at a loss as to what to do and where to go with the time at hand. Rather, it’s the type of place that’s got everything, or nothing, depending on where your interests lay.

If you’re the type who wouldn’t get bored looking at museum artifacts or learning about pieces of other countries’ histories, then the Royal Regalia Museum is a worthwhile visit.

The museum is actually more of an oversized display of personal collections. Almost all of us keep memorabilia of sorts, depending on what it is we like to keep. For most of us though, personal memorabilia is something we can keep in a box, or a shelf, or a hard drive. However, if you are the Sultan of Brunei, then personal memorabilia is something you need to store in a building and call a museum.

The Royal Regalia is basically what the name describes it to be – a collection of artifacts from Brunei’s royalty. It houses a massive display of gifts received by the Sultan from V.I.P.’s, such as heads of state of other countries, or other royals from within and outside of Brunei. It also houses artifacts used in important occasions, such as the coronation of the Sultan, and contains items as small as gifts you can store in a shoe box, to things as big as the actual carraige used by the Sultan, complete with the costumes and accessories of the entire entourage.

Located just within the city center of Bandar Seri Begawan, the museum is just within walking distance from most of the city’s major hotels.

THE ISTANA

The Istana Nurul Iman is the Sultan’s residence, and it is also among the world’s largest palaces. Located just along one of country’s main highways, the Istana’s gates are within easy reach if you have your own rented transport, however the gates are just about the closest that mere mortals like us can get to. Except for one special day in a year, the Istana is not accessible to the public. Still, it’s worth it to drop by at the gate and snap some photos, just so you could say you have been there and done that. Just lower your expectations though, as you will see practically no part of the palace from the gate.

THE EMPIRE HOTEL

Practically all of Brunei, outside of its palaces and grand mosques, look conservative and low key. However, there is one other spot that looks so opulent you could forget that you are still in Brunei, and it’s called the Empire Hotel.

Brunei’s premier hotel looks so fancy and luxurious, it feels like it was intentended to be built in Las Vegas, but was mistakenly put up in Brunei.

Going inside the hotel, I was awe-struck (no kidding) when I saw what is perhaps the “highest ceilinged” lobby my eyes have ever laid sight on. Incredibly tall pillars supported a lobby that cut across several storey’s, and it took several escalators to get from the top level to the bottom. Add to that an expansive glass wall that ran from top to bottom as you went down the many levels, and you could imagine yourself to be in the elven city of Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings. Surprisingly, everyone is free to roam around thr common areas, even non-guests.

If you are the type who likes to travel in the lap of luxury, then the Empire Hotel is a must stay.

THE JAME’ ASRI SULTAN HASSANAL BOLKIAH

Brunei’s visual “piece de resistance” though are its grand mosques, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything grander in this part of the world than the one named after the current sultan.

The Jame’ Asri Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah mosque is an imposing structure that’s sure to catch your eyes as soon as you see its dome and its minarets, especially when its is floodlit at night. Upon closer inspection, you will appreciate the intricate external detail as well as the well manicured grounds. We weren’t able to go in as they were in prayer when we got there, however the mosque is definitely worth it to visit, even if all you see is the exterior.

THE OMAR ALI SAIFUDDIEN MOSQUE

Another imposing – and perhaps more iconic – mosque is the Omar Ali Saifuddien, named after the previous sultan, and the current sultan’s father. Bordered by a beautiful man-made lake, this mosque has graced many postcards and magazine pages.

The mosque is right within the city center, and there’s no way you can miss it, unless you deliberately try to. Make sure to see it during sunset though, as the combination of a colorful sky and a beautifully lit mosque reflecting on the lake creates a scene to die for.

We were able to get inside the mosque as well, despite us being non-muslims, and we found the interior equally impressive, however taking photos was not allowed.

 

 

SHOPPING

Well, shopping in Brunei isn’t really something to talk about, though I did find some of their prices, especially on electronics, a bit lower compared to the Philippines. It’s probably because of the tax free status the whole country enjoys.

There’s probably only two major malls in the country, and one of it is the Yayasan complex. Located right in the middle of the city, it’s the easiest shopping area to get to from most major hotels, and is a good default refuge during lulls in between activities.

Yayasan has a superb grocery store at the basement, and a good deparment store that has a suprisingly wide variety of goods. There aren’t a lot of other shops though, and at best, Yayasan would just be somewhat similar to second rate malls in the Philippines, although you would find quite a number of expensive stuff there, like watches and jewelry.

THE MALL

The other major mall is called no other than “The Mall”. Located at a residential suburb called Gadong, the mall is more crowded, and therefore a bit more lively than Yayasan. The Mall has moviehouses, as well as an arcade for kids, making it a more family friendly destination.

It is a bit out of the way though, and we were only able to get there through our hotel’s shuttle service. That, and the fact that public transport is scarce in Brunei, means that you can’t come and go anytime to your liking.

In terms of shopping, The Mall has a larger number of shops than the Yayasan, but it’s still hardly what you’d call a premier mall elsewhere.

* We were in Brunei last June 2012. All photos taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5.

For the first part of my Brunei story, click here.

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