Brunique Brunei

Recently, we visited Brunei. It wasn’t my first trip to Borneo, yet—because Brunei is a gas- and oil-rich country—I’d expected to see a miniature version of Dubai. It wasn’t Dubai.

The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is about as low-key a capital as I’ve ever seen. Vientiane is bustling by comparison. Granted, we weren’t there during the height of tourist season, but it was midday, and the city felt largely deserted. I’m told that most of the commerce takes place in malls and shopping centers outside the city center.

So what does one do as a tourist in Bandar Seri Begawan? One option is to visit the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, built by (and named for) the 28th Sultan of Brunei.

The mosque is a prominent landmark in town, with a dome covered in pure gold. It was designed by an Italian architect, Rudolfo Nolli, and completed in 1958. Like everything else, the mosque was empty when I arrived, save for the staff. Non-Muslims are allowed only in through one entrance, and not allowed onto the main floor. Supposedly, there is an elevator to the top of the minaret, but I didn’t feel like hanging around to look for it.

The really big deal in Bandar Seri Begawan is the Floating Village, Kampung Ayer. All of the buildings—houses, shops, schools, even the fire station—are on stilts and people get around either by crossing narrow boardwalks or by taking water taxis. There are many boatmen hanging around who will take the tourists on a tour for a fee.

Before I took the tour, I visited the part of Kampung Ayer that is on the near side of the river—that part that the tours don’t include. As far as I’m concerned, this was the interesting part of the village, or at least the more picturesque.

Next: it gets bruniquer.