With almost 70% of its tiny populations are Muslims, it is never so hard to find a Muslim prayer place in Brunei. This is especially true while in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of this small city state. Visiting mosques around the city can be part of anyone's travel agenda while in Brunei. Apart from being sacred, mosques in BSB are one of the best things the country could offer for tourism. One must be amazed by the architectural concept and design of several mosques built within the city boundary.
From our humble lodging in Kianggeh, it took us just 5 minutes by car to reach Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque, the most unique mosque in Asia Pacific. If anyone happens to get into Brunei by plane, like we did, there was a welcome wall at the airport that depict a huge image of this particular mosque, right after you get past the immigration. In fact, this mosque has become a major landmark for Brunei's tourism since it was opened in 1958 by the late Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin III, father to the current Sultan. First impression when I got closer to the mosque was a three-word combo - it's white, it's huge, it's golden.
Also, it's partially surrounded by water as it's located on a man-made lagoon by the Brunei River. The addition of a traditional barge replica somewhere in the lagoon makes the surrounding so unique and picturesque.
Since parking was a bit tight in that corner of the city and no vehicles were allowed in the mosque's gated compound, I drove around to the other side of the mosque, near to Kampung Ayer. At last, we found a spot for parking and spent a short while enjoying the big mosque of Brunei.
What I noticed from outside was the obvious, the shiny main dome, which was covered in pure gold, being the major highlight of the mosque. I'm not sure the purity of the gold (the carat) in use but to cover the dome of that size can cost millions of dollars. On the other hand, the minarets were made of high-end imported marbles to complement the golden dome on top of each one. A good read on this mosque's history and a little bit on its architecture can be found here.
Fifteen minutes had passed, I made a u-turn at the end of the road near to Kampung Ayer where many cars parked there belong to the people who live in this side of Brunei's famous water village. Previously, I told about the water village located across the river but both of them make up the same settlement areas called Kampung Ayer. With no time to be wasted, we rushed to Kiarong, where another mosque was waiting for our arrival. Less popular but looks larger and equally magnificent as the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque, next one is called Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque. Not originally in our plan to visit this mosque but when we saw it on our way to Kianggeh from the airport earlier, we changed our mind and had plans slightly rescheduled.
We arrived in front of a huge gate with heavy starry motifs on it. There were no stars and crescent moons but we can't wait to get on the other side of the gate.
Since the main gate was shut down to public that day, we found ourselves another way in. Once inside, my first impression looking at the Jame' Asr mosque was also a three-word combo - it's huge, it's a beaut, it's majestic. From my observation, all domes (29 of them) including the biggest, main dome were built with solid and shiny gold on top of them.
Four tall minarets surrounding the main prayer building also part of the mosque's main attractions. It is said that one can see the whole of Bandar Seri Begawan and Kampung Ayer from the top of each minarets, provided you're fit enough to brave 297 steps to the peak.
According to the official website of the religious affair of Brunei, the mosque was built in 1988 on a 20-acre land as a gift to the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the current Sultan now and then. Six years later, the Sultan officiated the opening of the mosque in conjunction with his 48th birthday celebration. I would want to spend more time in here, perhaps to see what's inside the prayer areas but since we didn't have the luxury of time that day, I decided we took a rain check. I know there are more to be desired once I get inside the mosque, as what I see here.
From the symbols of the major religion in Bandar Seri Begawan, we headed west to Kuala Belait, the center of black gold of the country.