Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
Sitting on the banks of the Brunei River, the dazzling golden-domed Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque dominates the capital’s skyline from most every viewpoint. Built in 1958 as a symbol of the Sultanate’s faith, the mosque is as spectacular inside as out, decorated with marble and granite floors, majestic carpets, stained glass and chandeliers. For a great view of the city, climb to the observation deck in one of the minarets. A majestic 16th-century mahligai or royal barge is docked in a man-made lagoon outside. It’s open to visitors during the day; just dress conservatively – robes are available at the door.
For some authentic Malay delicacies, let your nose lead you to one of the several night markets that fire up across the town when the sun goes down. This is where the locals go for some nosh, and the range of sights and smells is almost overwhelming. Don’t be scared though, you’re missing out if you don’t try at least one of the local specialties, such as daging masak lada hitam (savoury beef with chilli, garlic, onion and Malay spices), udang sambal serai bersantan (spicy prawns in coconut red curry) and serondeng padang (chicken with garlic, chillies and pandan leaf). For dessert, you can’t beat the banana fritters.
Get back to nature
Believe the tourist taglines describing Brunei as ‘the green heart of Borneo’: the government does not practice commercial logging, so the country is adorned with vast tracts of virgin rainforests (in fact, 70% of Brunei’s land area is covered by primary rainforests) – and all within easy access from the major cities. Tamen Tasek Forest Reserve, for example, is just a 15-minute walk from the centre of the capital, providing a lush rainforest retreat complete with a waterfall and lake. Thos who want to venture further and deeper, should explore the sprawling 50,000 hectare Ulu Temburong National Park in the Temburong District, which is separated from the rest of Brunei by Brunei Bay and a sliver of Sarawakian territory. The park features steep, swampy terrain and thick impenetrable jungle that can only be accessed by boat. Visitors can climb up to the spectacular canopy walkway, stay in tree houses about 30 meters up, brave the hanging bridges and keep an eye out for the local wildlife, including the proboscis monkey, unique to Brunei.
Flanked by the blue waters of the South China Sea, Brunei Darussalam boasts 161km of pristine coastline, including some mighty inviting sandy beaches. There are two popular spots close to the capital: Muara, located 27km to the northeast at the end of a peninsula, and Serasa, found just a further 10 minutes away. Muara boasts a long, peaceful esplanande, ideal for those wanting to kick back and relax with nothing more than the sun, the sand and the sound of the waves, while Seresa is a haven for watersports enthusiasts. The purpose-built Serasa Watersports Complex has facilities for international level competitive events such as sailing, water-skiing, jet skiing and others.
Don’t forget, Brunei is just a small part of the rest of the island of Borneo, so if you have a few days to kill, it’s entirely possible to take in a few of the sights in the surrounding Malaysian states. You can travel overland or by sea, or a combination of both.