Kampong Ayer, Brunei - The World's Largest Settlement on Stilts
Nestled between two East Malaysian states is a tiny country that is one of the wealthiest nations in the world: Brunei Darussalam. The king is in the top 3 of the world’s richest monarchs and he lives in the world’s biggest palace.
If you’ve never visited Brunei or seen any pictures of it, you’d probably imagine a ritzy, opulent city with glittering skyscrapers and cutting-edge facilities. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Apart from the palace and the mosque, Brunei doesn’t give off any posh vibe.
In fact, 13,000 of its citizens still live in a floating village.
Kampong Ayer, which means ‘water village’ in the local language, is the world’s largest settlement on stilts. Located right in the capital city (Bandar Seri Begawan), it comprises around 40 individual villages that are linked by 38 kilometers of stilted walkways. Kampong Ayer even has its own mosques, schools, markets, sports facilities, and a fire station.
Apparently, the government has been trying to relocate the residents to landed settlements, but only received rebukes.
A Brief History of Kampong Ayer, Brunei Darussalam
According to records made by ancient Chinese merchants, Kampong Ayer has been in existence for over 1,000 years.
When Venetian scholar Antonio Pigafetta sailed near Brunei in 1521, he saw the similarities between Kampong Ayer and his hometown, and started calling it “Venice of the East“. So, although you may have heard the nickname being used by many other places, such as Bangkok, Dhaka, Srinagar, and Osaka, Kampong Ayer was the original one.
The village then grew over the centuries, and by the time European settlers arrived, it was the center of the Bruneian Empire. Instead of building their houses on the swampy river banks, the locals preferred living on the water. This included everyone, regardless of social status — from wealthy nobles to lowly peasants.
In the 19th century, the British encouraged the residents to move onto land, causing more and more people to give up their floating abodes. By the early 1900s, at least half of the village population had left.
Today, although the population has been dwindling steadily, there are still those who choose to stay behind to preserve the legacy of the former Bruneian Empire. Thus, Kampong Ayer remains a national landmark and major tourist attraction in Brunei.
How to Get to Kampong Ayer
You might think that all floating villages are hard to get to, as they are usually located in remote areas. Well, not this one. Due to its proximity to the city center, Kampong Ayer is very easily accessible. All you have to do is hail a water taxi from any of the points along Jalan McArthur and Jalan Residency.
You don’t even have to worry about having to wait long. As the village residents are heavily reliant on water taxis to get to and from the city, you can see many of the boats crisscrossing the river at all times during the day. As soon as they spot you, they will come speeding your way.
The journey takes only a few minutes and costs B$1 – 2 in each direction.
There is also one part of the village, called Tamoi Tengah, that can be accessed by land, but it is a little further away. To walk from central Bandar Seri Begawan to Tamoi Tengah, take the Sungai Kebun pedestrian bridge, which is in the Sungai Kedayan Eco-Corridor park, next to the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque.
Guided tours are also available to take you around Kampong Ayer, but it is easily doable on your own.
What to Expect at Kampong Ayer
Although Kampong Ayer may look like a slum at first glance, don’t let that fool you. Not everyone in the village maintains a traditional lifestyle. Some of them are proud owners of those flashy cars you might see parked along the waterfront.
The wealthier residents live in two-storied concrete houses and may even have their own fiber motorboats, while the rest live in wooden houses with zinc roofs and use wooden boats. However, despite the huge disparity, all households — rich or poor — are supplied with electricity and clean water.
Kampong Ayer comes with all the facilities and conveniences one would expect in any regular neighborhood, including garbage disposal system, petrol stations, grocery shops, a community hall, and a post office. And of course, Wi-Fi is also available throughout the village.
Most residents are fishermen and boatmakers, but there are also government officers and those who work in the private sectors in the city. These people commute by boat every day to get to their cars that are parked along Jalan Residency. The local police force and fire brigade have their own speedboats to get around the labyrinth of houses and boardwalks.
Due to its status as a national landmark, Kampong Ayer receives a substantial amount of annual budget from the government.
Where to Stay in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Poni Homestay – Located in Muara, this accommodation is 1.6 km to Serasa Ferry Terminal, 3.5 km to Serasa Beach, and 4 km to Muara Beach. Guests can enjoy complimentary use of bicycle to explore the area. The homestay also operates a dive center on Serasa Beach. Free WiFi is available throughout the property. From BND 30 (USD 22) for a Small Twin Room with breakfast.
Badi’ah Hotel – Located slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Badi’ah Hotel features a swimming pool and two in-house restaurants. It is 2.3 km away from the Royal Regalia Museum, the Brunei History Center, and 3 km away from the Water Village Gallery. Complimentary scheduled airport transfers are available upon request. Room rates start from BND 80 (USD 60) for a Standard Room.
Radisson Hotel Brunei Darussalam – A 5-star hotel boasting an outdoor swimming pool, a fitness center, a business center, and rooms with pool view. The hotel also offers currency exchange, concierge, and car rental services. Nearby attractions are the Royal Regalia Museum (400 m) and the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque (1.7 km). Rates start from BND 170 (USD 125) for a Superior Double/Twin Room, including breakfast.
Final Thoughts on Kampong Ayer, Brunei Darussalam
Kampong Ayer is a must-visit if you ever come to Brunei. It is a fascinating study in contrasts and can give you a better insight into the local life in Brunei.
The good thing about Brunei is that the citizens are well taken care of financially. Therefore, although Kampong Ayer is a tourist attraction, you won’t find anyone trying to sell you souvenirs. When you take the water taxis, there’s no haggling required. You pay a fixed fare, just like everyone else. If you’ve been traveling in other Southeast Asian countries, I’m sure this is a refreshing change.
However, please remember that although this is a tourist attraction for you, it is their home. So, please be respectful and know your boundaries. Refrain from making too much noise and if you wish to take pictures of the residents, please ask for permission beforehand.
Have you been to any floating village before? Where was it and what was your experience like? Share your story in the comment section below.
Good knowledge sharing on Kampung Ayer. Kampung Ayer looks like an interesting place to visit. Wish to visit Kampung Ayer if I travel to Brunei in the future. Thank you for sharing. Love your pictures btw.
You’re welcome, Fadima! This was in 2011 when I was still using an ancient camera, so the pictures are actually very poor quality. But thank you for the compliment! I hope you’ll get to visit Brunei someday. 🙂
Very interesting place. I never been to Brunei before. If i go there will check out this Kampung
Yes, Kampong Ayer is definitely a must-visit of you’re in Bandar Seri Begawan. It’s so easy to get to and a perfect place to learn more about the Bruneian culture.
Great post Ummi! I am from Miri, which is right next to Brunei but I have never been there. Been thinking of visiting Brunei one day. Thanks for sharing your experiences!
Oh, I hope you will go someday, Aaronn, considering that it’s so near your place. I haven’t been to Miri though. Will definitely put that on my list. There are so many places in Borneo that I have yet to explore.
Like you have mentioned this is really a good opportunity got visitors to find out about another facet of Brunei that a lot of us don’t know.
Yup, when I travel, I always like to see or experience first hand how the locals live. That’s why I usually skip hotels and stay with locals as much as I could. There’s so much you can learn from them 😃
Belum sampai ke Brunei Darussalam ni walaupun teringin nak ke sana dan tentu sekali akan cari masa utk melawat Kpg Air ni… moga sampai satu hari nanti.
Mungkin lepas covid ni reda nanti, Fas ada peluang untuk ke Brunei. Jangan lupa ke Kampong Ayer, sebab dekat je dengan Bandar Seri Begawan 🙂
eyyyyyy– mini market dia lebih kurang kat Malaysia.. hee~ tapi bersih sungguh persekitaran Kampong Ayer ni.. kan kalau ada sesetengah penempatan macam ni, sedikit kotor dan kurang selesa.. habis covid ni, boleh lah jalan-jalan Brunei..
Haah, macam kedai runcit kat kampung2 tu kan? Ya, memang bersih dan terjaga. Sebab kerajaan diorang dah peruntukkan bajet khas untuk pengurusan tempat ni. Ok nanti dah habis Covid, pergi la jalan2 Brunei. ☺️
Walaupun Brunei ni negara jiran terdekat tp tak pernah gi lagi. Maybe sbb dia tak macam thailand dan Indonesia yang mmg jadi destinasi pelancongan so selalu cam kalo plan nak ke luar negara selalu lupa nak pilih dia..hope one day dpt ke sini
Ya, Min. Brunei ni memang tak sepopular negara-negara serantau seperti Thailand dan Indonesia. Mungkin kerana negara mereka dah cukup kaya dengan minyak dan tak perlu bergantung dengan sektor pelancongan, maka ia tak dipromosikan sangat. Tapi tempatnya tak kurang menarik untuk dilawati. Semoga Min berkesempatan untuk ke sana nanti.
Tak pernah sampai Brunei, biasa nengok aje orang share, memang semuanya atas air ekk. duk bayangkan juga, kalaulah hujan lebat ke air pasang besar ke, macam mana mereka yaaa…
Haah, semuanya atas air. Saya pun hairan jugak. Sebab Kampong Ayer ni settlement on stilts, bukannya terapung. Kalau terapung tu, takde la risiko banjir kot. Tapi since diorang dah berdekad2 kat situ, ada la agaknya cara diorang atasi masalah tu.
My sis dan mom ada datang sini ms mereka ke brunei 3 tahun lps.. mmg tenang sgt tempat ni dan agak unik
Ya, memang unik kan Kampong Ayer, Brunei ni? Jarang kita dapat tengok perkampungan atas air zaman sekarang ni, lagi2 yg dekat dengan bandar.
Waah best nya dapat jenjalan kat sana… Kita suka tengok suasana macam ni. Tenang je sambil layan cuaca, pemandangan kampung.
Haah, padahal Kampong Ayer ni dekat je dengan Bandar Seri Begawan. Tak payah travel jauh2 pun. Agaknya kalau di KL ni, ibarat Kampung Baru la kot. Kampung dalam bandar.
Tak pernah jejak brunei lagi. Memang nak ke kampong ayer ni melalui sungai je ye.interesting sangat
Ya, Marina. Kalau nak ke kawasan yang paling dekat dengan pusat bandar, memang kena naik bot merentas sungai. Tu cara yang paling senang la. Dan kejap je sampai. Kalau taknak lalu sungai boleh, tapi kena jalan jauh sikit, pergi ke kawasan Tamoi Tengah.
I visited this place before the MCO and fell in love with it. Hoping to revisit this beautiful place soon
That’s wonderful, Grace! I quite liked the place. It’s very peaceful and feels untouched by modernity. I’m not sure how I feel about visiting again though, as I’m sure you’re aware of some of the laws that are enforced in the country that has put it under the world’s scrutiny.
they might live like this but they arent savages. haha. Im sure they have decent jobs and nice cars
True that, Nik Khazami. They sure do. It may not be immediately obvious, but they’re probably much better off than us Malaysians. 😉
Oh what a nice netry. full of information. thanks for sharing 🙂
You’re most welcome, Ika! Hope you found the entry useful for your next trip to Brunei 🙂