Welcome to Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), the quiet capital city of Brunei.
The first thing to catch your eye about this clean small city is the beautiful buildings, like the national palace, the gold spires of the mosques and museums, the red roofs of the water village Kampung Ayer, the banks, and more.
The second thing you will notice is how few people are around. Over the course of a 4 day visit in 2009, I only saw a handful of people. It often felt like I had the city to myself.
When you enter this hall, you must remove your shoes, and stow your bag and camera with the ladies at the front desk before you can wander around this vault of treasures. Your first stop is a staged re-enactment of the Sultan’s coronation, complete with over 100 mannequins in costume and the royal carriage.
After you have picked your jaw up off the floor, you can take a look at the many, many, many priceless gifts given to the Sultan by world leaders on the occasions of his coronation, anniversaries, and birthdays on display in this sprawling complex. In case you were thinking of sending the Sultan, the man who has everything, a present, you should know that he already has a glass miniature replica of Mecca with emerald minarets, diamond studded daggers, 10 foot ivory elephant tusks courtesy of Thailand, and a soapstone walrus (really, Prime Minister of Canada? That’s what we sent him?). But don’t worry, it seems that anything gold or silver is a good idea, from plates to statues to miniature mosques.
Speaking of mosques, BSB is home to a gorgeous floating mosque called Omar Ali Saiffuddien that you can see from nearly everywhere in the downtown core of the city.
Built on an artificial lagoon, this mosque gives the illusion that it is floating over the water.
Standing before this mosque, with the soft green lights glowing into the night and the gentle hum of prayer floating out over the still waters to where I stood, I felt I had found the heart of this city.