Location: Kampong Ayer (Water Village)
Date: September 2, 2011
*Branding and cliches of comparing tourist spots with that of another country reminded me of our recent visit to the so- called Venice of the East - the Kampong Ayer of Brunei! Honestly, it was the branding that made us include the place in our itinerary.
But truth be told, Kampong Ayer or Brunei's Water Village is no Venice, not even the water taxi that we took came close to being Venice's well decorated, fascinating water taxis!
Were we disappointed? Of course not.On the contrary, we had the most enjoyable and culturally enriching scenic boat ride around the 4,200 structures (i.e. homes, mosques, hospital, schools, restaurants and shops) on stilts on Brunei River.
Kampong Ayer has its own charm and could easily find its way to every traveler's must-do/must - see list during their trip to Bandar Seri Begawan.
It was the second day of Hari Raya Aidil Fitri when we headed to Kampong Ayer. That means, most of the 30,000 inhabitants of the water village were either attending the sunnah prayers at the mosque or attending the Open House at the Palace. But we were lucky to spot a water taxi whose driver was a willing tour guide!
Also our tour guide/driver is a Kampong Ayer resident who gave us a lesson on Brunei's history and culture during the one hour tour that cost us $25 Brunei Dollars (Php 850) for six persons. It was worth it!
What we learned:
1.Kampong Ayer consist of 42 clusters of homes organized into six (6) water village mukims (or districts) for administrative purposes. Each of the districts are connected by wooden walkways and foot bridges and provided each with a school and a mosque. (Bruneian's put premium on education and religion!)
2. Kampong Ayer is a living heritage of Brunei's river dwelling origin as people have lived there for over 1,300 years! As such it is far better than going to a museum in trying to understand the country's culture and history.(This is our justification for not trying so hard to check the Brunei museum!)
(in Kampong Ayer old and young do mix well!)
3. In the same way as the structures are reflected on the water, Kampong Ayer is architecturally a reflection of Brunei's unique wooden homes, which without the help of our tour guide, we thought were slums. We stopped in front of our tour guide's home and although we didn't get in (since his whole family was gone), we were able to peek and see that his simple home from the outside(as with the others) is equipped with modern amenities including air conditioning, satellite television, Internet access, plumbing, and electricity.(Brunei's government put premium in preserving heritage but keeping pace with modern times)
4. In addition to the school and mosque, the government provide each of the mukims with foot-bridges, concrete jetties, piped water, electricity supplied telephones, clinics, a police station and a marine fire station in its effort to encourage Kampong Ayer residents to stay afloat to preserve Brunei Darussalam cultural heritage.
5.I believe there is a truth in the claim that Kampong Ayer is the largest Malay Water Village in the World and the most famous in Southeast Asia. Personally, Kampong Ayer could also be the most beautiful with the Omar Saiffudin Mosque in the background!