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Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Many visitors come to Bandar Seri Begawan expecting an extravagant mini-Dubai, but the capital city of Brunei is actually quite unassuming. The country's oil riches are certainly evident in many buildings, like the shopping malls and mosques, but outright ostentation is hard to find. The flashiness of the nouveau-riche plays out more in the suburbs, leaving the city quiet, peaceful and quite serene.

The most opulent building in the city and perhaps the whole country is the Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. It is the largest mosque in Brunei and considered one of the region's most grand monuments to Islam. The edifice is certainly stunning, but the interior is downright jaw-dropping. Built in 1992 for the 25th anniversary of the current sultan's reign, the sheer size of the interior is awe-inspiring. Seemingly every inch is covered with artistic details that show the creator's devotion to the faith. The surrounding gardens are equally beautiful, and the whole complex is truly dazzling.

In a close second place for most extravagant building comes the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. Considerably smaller than the Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque but only slightly less decadent, this mosque was built in 1958 in its own artificial lagoon. It is the tallest building in the central stretch of the capital, and the call to prayer echoes from there throughout the city at dawn and dusk.These and most of the other extravagant buildings in Brunei were built with oil riches. The Oil and Gas Gallery is dedicated to the state's major industry, and interactive exhibits teach visitors about the origins of the country's oil and the process of getting it from the ground to the gas pump.The Brunei Museum expands on the country's oil history and also contains a wonderful Islamic art gallery. Illuminated copies of the Koran are the most interesting part of the museum, but there is also an incredible small-scale model of the Dome of the Rock made from abalone shell and mother of pearl.

Bandar Seri Begawan is a relatively calm city that lacks the hustle and bustle of other capitals, and the Taman Perangina Tasek is the most serene place in town. The sprawling green zone is dotted with picnic tables, fountains and waterfalls, and the peaceful walking trails take visitors past freshwater swimming holes and lush trees that provide a home to proboscis monkeys.

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