Kampung Ayer (Water Village): The Venice of East

Kampung Ayer or Water Village is one of my recommended places to see in Brunei. Not only because it's interesting being the world's biggest stilt settlement, but also it's rich in history. The village is considered one of the important centers of Borneo's trade and said to be the very core of Brunei.
The Village was founded at least a thousand years ago, and now made up to 42 villages.  The villages are under the administration of 6 Mukims (Districts).  These are the Mukim Sungai Kedayan, Mukim Tamoi, Mukim Burong Pingai Ayer, Mukim Peramu, Mukim Saba, and Mukim Sungai Kebun.

Most of these villages are named after the crafts and occupations traditionally practiced there. They are linked together by more than 29,00 meters of footbridges. It has it's own schools, mosques, police station, fire brigade and even a hospital.
An estimated of 39,000 people still prefer to live there despite the government inducement. It's home to a sizable population of undocumented immigrants that constitute Brunei's underclass.
From afar, the Water Village looks like a slum, but don't let that fool you. It really has modern amenities more than you can imagine. The houses are air-conditioned, have satellite television, Internet access, plumbing and electricity.
The houses in the village are painted sun-bleached shades of green, #e95875, pink and yellow that are very pleasant to the eyes of the tourists. One of the houses where we were invited to visit is very grand inside. If you want to see how the Bruneians live centuries ago, go to this village.
People live there not because they can't afford living off the water, but because they still prefer the lifestyle there. If you happen to pass by along the road on the opposite side of the village, you'll see luxury cars lined up on the shoulder of the road. Many of these cars belong to water village residents.
We originally planned on chartering the boat to see the beautiful palace, Istan Nurul Iman, which is said to be spectacular when bathed by sunset, but since the water is not too friendly, we just cancelled it. We just took our time exploring the village.
I find the view of the mainland from the village breathtaking so we stayed for while and enjoyed it. We took several pictures with the fellow Filipinas we've meet there and made our way to explore the village.
The walkway from the jetty will lead you first to Kampung Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery. They said all the sultanate's public institutions are overstaffed yet under serviced. But when we were there, I didn't find their museums overstaffed. No one actually greeted us from the jetty, and found only 2 men at the entrance of the gallery.
The two men are very courteous and helpful. I find the villagers friendlier than the ones on land. They asked us to register and told us to explore the gallery at our own pace. Nothing much to see and you can only take pictures as far as the entrance of the main gallery.
After a few pictures, we head on to the viewing tower just at the back of the gallery.  It's the perfect place to view the village and the buildings at the mainland. There are also historical displays about Brunei at the viewing tower.
From the viewing tower, we followed the walkway from gallery that connects to other villages. As we walk nearer, we saw this interesting house and went directly there. We found out that it's the house for one of the Mukims (District), the Mukim Peramu.
The old man who greeted us as we were nearing the house introduced himself as the councilman of the district. He showed us the house and the bedrooms and even asked to take pictures of us on the bed.

Being in a different country and unfamiliar place, and watching too much horror movies, I got scared. Thinking the worst for us three girls. Aside from that, we've been hitchhiking since the National Day celebration due to lack of transportation.
Don't be scared, though, he's just really friendly. He's too eager and proud to show visitors the house, since it's also as a bed & breakfast for those who wants to stay in the village. Before we left the house, he told us to check the bed & breakfast Facebook page and we'll see our photos there.
Which we did when we got back to the hotel, and found other nationalities with same pictures as ours. There's no fee exploring the house but they are selling food and other stuff outside the house, buying some won't hurt you. Besides, the people there are kind, including the kids.
We don't have much time to explore the rest of the village so we just took more pictures on the way to the jetty and admire the houses. I haven't seen trash within or around the water in the village. And houses really look organized.
Although we haven't seen the other side of the village so I can't say if there are no trashes in there. Maybe there are and probably the houses are old and not very organized as what you can see in front.
One of the photos with other Filipinas we've met at the water bank
I wonder if this village really looked like Venice long before. That's why the Venetian scholar, Antonio Pigafetta, who accompanied Ferdinand Magellan dubs it "Venice of East" in 1521. I never been to Venice so I can't compare, but they said it's a bit ambitious. But who knows, maybe the village really did look like Venice at that time. We just can't see the evidence of that now. All I can say is that Kampung Ayer is indeed historic and played an important role in shaping Brunei's history.

Please click here on how to get there.

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