Brunei tourism is almost synonymous to the traditional Bruneian village called Kampong Ayer. You can’t say you have been to the sultanate of Brunei Darussalam if you have not seen this one-of-a-kind village. What’s so special about Kampong Ayer and why is it a culturally and historically significant tourist attraction?
The name literally means “water village”. Situated along the famous Brunei River, this village is composed of several thousand homes on stilts that stretch to about 8 kilometers long. Viewing it from a distance is simply amazing.
It is considered a national heritage site since it preserves an important part in the history of the country. It also promotes national pride since almost all foreign visitors who have seen the place have grown a deeper sense of appreciation of the Bruneian culture, history and people. This 1,000-year-old water settlement has wowed European travelers that set sail to Asia at the turn of the century. Antonio Pigafetta, a famous-compatriot of Ferdinand Magellan, once visited Brunei and saw this village on stilts. He was simply mesmerized by how the people lived on the river and therefore declared the area as the “Venice of the East”.
Located at Kota Batu not very far from the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan, the water village is not your usual traditional Southeast Asian village with backward economy and technology. Kampong Ayer is a self-contained modern community. It has a school, medical centers, police stations, fire brigade, and mosques of its own. The entire area is in fact a cluster of different independent villages (42 villages in all) that are connected by an intricate network of bridges, walkways and waterways. Each village is ruled by a village leader, traditionally called by locals Ketua Kampong.
This traditional village is not just eye candy but a significant part of the country’s history as well. The sultanate’s civilization began here at the Brunei River, as most successful civilizations trace their roots along a mighty river. The area was once a productive fishing village (as it is still now). Fishing was the main and only livelihood of early settlers. Through the years, settlers were able to develop expert craftsmen and their fine handicraft products earned the respect of neighboring villages and towns. Village craftsmen were experts in the use of wood, brass and silver.
Today, a special gallery has been put up to display old original works of the village’s earliest artisans. The Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery opened in June 2009 so that tourists, both local and foreign, could better understand the local villagers and their skills. Using its five mini-galleries, the gallery features unique treasures of the water village.
Today, about 39,000 people call Kampong Ayer home. They are proud residents of this world-renowned water village. Each and every home stands on stilts; residents make their way through and around the village on speedy water taxis. The foot-bridges would amount to a total distance of 29,140 meters if joined together end to end. In all, there are 4,200 structures (homes, mosques, shops, schools, restaurants and a hospital) that comprise this unique and very interesting village.