Kampong Ayer Brunei| The Venice of the East?!

This is the 3rd famous attraction that I visited in Brunei as part of my 1 day visit to the Kingdom of Unexpected Adventures. From Royal Regalia Museum I walked back to the Yayasan Waterfront to witness what was dubbed as “The Venice of the East” It sounds promising and interesting  but I honestly doesn’t know what to expect. I arrived past 2 PM in the waterfront under the scorching heat of the sun. Then I saw this striking monument sitting right next to the waterfront. I cant help to wonder what does this symbolism means-the lack of tourist information and signage in BSB makes it difficult for tourist to appreciate this less traveled destination.

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The Mercu Dirgahayu

This monument commemorates the 60th birthday of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, and the gold-plated centrepiece of the monument actually represents the number ‘60’ in Arabic. Full of symbolism, the five sides of the monument represent the five pillars of Islam, and the fishing net design has also been incorporated to represent the water village lifestyle of fishing. Information aside, it is a striking monument – especially at sunset – and lends an air of grandeur to the waterfront.Straight ahead from the monuments are the restaurants, including the deservedly popular . Next to it is the old Royal Customs building, which has been converted into the Waterfront Art Gallery

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Waterfront Boat Station

Several wooden long boats greeted me when I reached the waterfront. The dock station seemed so busy because of the boats going back and forth-these wooden boats either will come pick up or drop passengers. You will not see them stay for more than 10 minutes from the boat station cause of tourist’s and locals who come every month to ride the boat.

When I had the 1st stare at the River-I honestly felt like I cant see any comparison with Venice Canal in Italy. It is far from being a TOP tourist destination and from afar those houses standing on stilts looks more of  a slum village (parang Pasig River lang).I believe this is the largest floating Village but there are many places exactly like this all over SE Asia although on a smaller scale

I was standing few steps away from the stairs where boats are docked when a boatman starts yelling and asking me to get him for the river tour. I asked how much?…he answered me with quoted price of 10 BND which I think was a ripped off. So I walk away a bit from the waterfront and act like I didn’t hear the boatman. He was still doing his sales talk with his loud voice and asked me how much I want but I just left and walk further so he wont pursue his desire for me to get him.

I waited until the boatman leaves and then I walked back to the Waterfront. I decided to come up with a game plan-to watch other tourist’s first on how they will barter with the boatman and how much the boatman will charge them. Unfortunately I forgot to do a quick research as to how much is the minimum charge for this ride. I needed to be sure as I am worried about my pocket money after spending 18 BND for a lousy room in KH SOON GUESTHOUSE. My budget for this trip is only 10 BND which should include all expenses including my fare going to Kota Kinabalu on the next day.

I stood for the next 30 minutes until I finally decide to approach another boatmen who just docked. I asked again HOW MUCH? … he said 10 BND again and it got me feeling disappointed. I was already having second thoughts if I should continue or just completely walk away and moved to the next attraction-then the boatmen asks me again how much I want then I said 5 BND and he had this  NO gesture with my answer-then I bartered again for the amount of 7 BND then he smiled and asked to come jump in to his boat so we can start going.

No need to book or wait if you want to see Kampong Ayer. Just ask one of the boat taxis to take you around.

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My Boatmen.

Let’s do a lil bit of History 101: Kampong Ayer has been occupied for 1,300 years. Antonio Pigafetta dubbed the “Venice of the East” when the fleet of Ferdinand Magellan stopped in the area in 1521 Brunei Culturally, this area is an important area that preserves the origin of the river banks populated settlements. By Professor Abdul Aziz of Universiti Brunei Darussalam , Kampong Ayer is the most extensive water settlements and famous in Southeast Asia . Historically, it is the identity of Brunei and also an important trade center in Borneo.

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On Board Now.

If you go on board don’t expect a journey down quaint canals. Nor should you assume that you’ll be guided along slowly on a gondola. You certainly won’t be walking across intricately decorated bridges and through wide open places. Kampong Ayer means ‘Water Village’ in Malay.

It was like a normal day with normal routine, where boats were seen here and there with locals lingering around their balcony. The water wasn’t clear and blue since it is an estuary.

People in the water village commute by motor boats. As seen elsewhere, there would be certain areas in these villages which are shabby with floating garbage. But over all its a novel and a very safe place to visit.

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My Boat Ride.

This is really an attempt to make a tourist attraction out of nothing. A boat trip around the Water Village in Brunei’s capital is a very nice experience.

I had to hold on tight to the sides of the boat as I felt I could trip over. During the ride the boatmen was doing his tour guide stuff of explaining where we are and a lil bit of storytelling about Kampong Ayer. But since I was busy taking snaps while enjoying the breeze of warm air dampens to my face-I did not get the chance to listen and understand his LITANYA. And maybe because the sound of the boat engine is too loud that I couldn’t hear him talking and his accent is hard to understands-seems like he is eating his words.

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Colorful Stilt Houses.

While it is quite fascinating that nearly 30,000 people live in BSB’s water villages, the conditions are quite appalling considering that Brunei is one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Interesting to see that the water villages have their own mosques, fire and police stations, and schools, and supply of fresh water. But I’m guessing from the smell that there’s no sewage treatment plant!

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Wealth and Poverty is Evident.

We passed by some famous attractions during the boat ride like the Omar Ali Mosque. This photo strucked me because of the reality that eventhough Brunei in portrayed as one of the wealthiest country in the WORLD but poverty is still exist no matter how rich a country is. So basically in Brunei, the higher class and the mid class citizens will own the land.

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Closer Look at the Houses Sanding on Stilt.

Because the pictures of Kampong Ayer that we usually see are taken from a boat and show only the outskirts where the differences between houses aren’t so obvious. People living at Kampong Ayer enjoy the same amenities as that of those Bruneians who opted to live on land. Houses are equipped with appliances (air-conditiong, TV, computers, ref etc), making daily living convenient for water village dwellers.  The traditional wooden houses come in all sorts of shapes, colours and sizes

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Boat Docks

These docks are where people stand at to signal an approaching boat. Same concept as bus stands for buses.

 This population roughly represents 10% of the nation’s total population. They purposely reserve this place as a Malay culture and tradition. Though it looks simple and plain from the outside (more to a slum), it is said that it looks nicer and better in the inside, with satellite, air-cond, internet and what not.

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One of the Mosque near the River.

Wooden, engine-driven water taxis at the jetties at the Yayasan shopping complex or on Jalan Residency provide the cheapest ($1 a person) rides to cross the river and into Kampong Ayer.

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The only Gas Station in the World built on the river.

Gas stations are also built on the water for the convenience of private boats and even ‘water taxi’ to refuel their vehicles water. This is one of the highlight of this river tour. I saw this once online and I was amazed on how a gasoline station was built on the banks of the river.

Kampong Ayer is basically where Brunei originated and how the country became Brunei. It’s full of history and well worth seeing before it’s replaced with new modern homes.

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Floating School.

The village is also home to 14 schools, including religious schools and two secondary schools.Oh, by the way, instead of school buses, Kampung Ayer has school boats, painted in green.

 People in Brunei are mostly friendly, welcoming and approachable. You will see most them smiling and waving from the verandas of their houses at as you pass by their houses.

While Kampong Ayer’s older houses are built on wooden stilts, the new ones are constructed with concrete.

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I felt like we were somewhere in the Jungle.

The boat also took me to mangrove swamps and riverine forests. When I saw the mangrove swamps, I initially thought that he would want me to see the Proboscis Monkey or the Long Nose/Pinocchio like Monkey which can only be found in the lush forest of Borneo. But it turns out I was just assuming as I did not witness any Proboscis Monkey hanging on the tree trunk neither an alligator or crocs. I asked him where can I find them and he said I have to make an additional payment as it is not included to the 7 BND price that we agreed.I had to calm myself from overacting and acting like a Biatch so I just smiled at him but at the back of my eyeballs is my heart pumping blood excessively because I felt like he ripped me off. So you better ask first what is inclusive of the price that you will pay so you wont end up regretting. The trip for you to see crocs and the monkey’s will cost around 20-30 BND-which you can lower than based on your barter skills. But don’t pay more than $30 for a hour trip and there’s heaps of water village taxi’s that will take you around, you can catch a water taxi from the water taxi terminal near the open market.

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Floating Fire Station.

You might be wondring why there is a fire station in this village-simply because fire is also common even in the houses standing on stilts just. Fire Man can easily respond to the fire scene if they were somewhere closer to the village that’s why it built. Village itself accommodates almost 40 000 people, some nice and modern houses, some poor houses.

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Walking on the Wooden Bridge.

It is not advisable to go walk on these wooden bridge at night because lighting is very poor and walkways above water very narrow. These wooden bridges serves as connecting walkways between each house and building in the village.

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Scared I might fall anytime.

Walking around the village you will see aged, rustic, traditional and wooden houses and bridges; very peaceful and charming, certainly and authentically Malay.  These boardwalk passes the front verandah of the homes of those who lives there. Just be careful where you step as the boardwalk is littered with cat poop.

While I was walking unto the wooden bridge I came to ask myself as to  “Why these people choose to settle and built there houses here when they can have normal life on land?”

Are they just stubborn people who doesn’t want to listen to the government or is there a deeper and meaningful reason?

It might be due to the legacy that can not be left unattended. They do not want to leave their turum inherited through generations. However, for some anyway, because that’s the only life they know ….. the river is their livelihood, from fishing or water taxi driving. Some also argue for a very different lifestyle than on land, where they must bear the cost of living is higher if moved to the mainland. They feel comfortable in it, because only pay the cost of electricity and water because they have no home. If staying on land they have to pay rent, and what about the car?

The tour took less than an hour, the boatmen just dropped me from where he picked me up earlier. But you can also tell your boatmen to dropped  you off to your preferred station if you plan to take a walk and explore the sleepy street of BSB.

There is not much attraction to see besides the houses, schools and shops that are built above the water. It is just a different way of living – instead of living on land, this village built on stilts above the water. But over all its a novel and a very safe place to visit.

HOW TO GET HERE:  If your hotel is located in downtown Bandar, it’s just a short walk down to the riverfront. The waterfront itself stretches from Yayasan Complex down Jalan McArthur till where it meets Jalan Sungai Kianggeh in the east, and is best patronized at dawn or dusk.

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2 thoughts on “Kampong Ayer Brunei| The Venice of the East?!

  1. Pingback: Poverty in the Shadow of Palaces | backpackerlee

  2. It’s too bad you didn’t see any monkeys on your tour. I certainly saw them on mine, they may simply have not been near the river at that time. You need to remember that tourism in general is still very new to Brunei so it can seem a little rough. Of course, you were never going to get grand canals out of renaissance Italy, but the water village of Brunei certainly has it’s own beauty – very much like an Eastern equivalent.

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