Brunei is known for being one of the richest countries in South East Asia, but it is also regarded by many as an overlooked tourist destination. During a recent trip to the oil-rich capital of Bandar Seri Begawan, I wanted to sample what kind of day trips are available for tourists in the residing area. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to check out the largest water village in the world – commonly known as Kampong Ayer.
After walking through the extremely sleepy streets of Bandar Seri Begawan, I made it to the clean waterfront area of the city. Immediately, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the pace of life through the city streets versus the water traffic before my eyes. Motorboats were racing back and forth between the docking area and the homes which are about five hundred meters out from the boardwalk on the Brunei River. These homes were quite unconventional to say the least. To secure a better view of this unique water community, I walked down to the edge of the water and began to negotiate prices with multiple boat operators. I was surprised to learn that not all Bruneian’s are reserved after all. Some shouted random prices whereas others were quick to show brochures of the tours they offer. Once I agreed with an honest driver, I asked him if he could try to travel between the stilt homes so that I could examine the different types of foundations used to secure the homes over the sea. He obliged without any hesitation.
It was late in the afternoon when we finally headed out to explore Kampong Ayer. Even though the boat I was in had a large engine, the driver slowly guided us throughout multiple water neighborhoods. He was even happy to stop and reverse our movement so that I could take photos of the unique sites. The diversity of the homes in the city was worth the tour in itself. Some had rickety-old wood foundations whereas others had perfectly symmetrical cement forms which plunged into the sea bottom below. Stilt villages in the South East Asian region are often stereotyped as low income housing – where a quick ride out to sea can ensure a seafood meal for dinner. Although the same can be said for some neighborhoods making up Kampong Ayer, it differs because many of the homes are quite large and well designed. It gave me the impression that many of the people there are well off with full air conditioning and other amenities.
As the sun continued to set, I glanced back at Bandar Seri Begawan only to notice the tips of the stunning mosques within the city. This wasn’t the only thing that caught my attention during the latter stages of my tour. Many of the homes had caged chickens for sale. The noise that they created was momentarily overwhelmed by the sound of household televisions transmitting through the screened windows. I also found myself staring up at gas pipelines that ran above boat level throughout the city. Many of the children that I saw pleasantly smiled and waved as we slowly navigated through their community back to the boat station.
As my tour finished up, I began to wonder why I was the only tourist experiencing this truly unique day trip from Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei? Within five minutes from the downtown area, I managed to observe some of the most fascinating things I have yet to see throughout my travels. Exploring Kampong Ayer by boat is an experience that forces you to continuously compare your “architectural” and “cultural” upbringing to what is presented before your eyes.
Here are some additional tips about Bandar Seri Begawan and Kampong Ayer:
1. Make sure that you negotiate a price before you enter a water taxi. They tend to drop their prices after some bartering.
2. Be prepared to pay at least 15 dollars for a 1-hour boat tour of Kampong Ayer.
3. If you are interested in seeing some proboscis monkeys in their natural habitat then it is possible to arrange a combined monkey-viewing tour with a tour of the water village.
4. As the sun sets, there are beautiful reflections on the surface of the water from the colorful homes found in the village.
Where did we stay in Bandar Seri Begawan?
While we were in Bandar Seri Begawan we stayed at Jubilee Hotel. It’s important to note that we don’t have a direct affiliation with this property. Overall, it turned out to be a nice place to stay. Our room was clean and it was walking distance to the waterfront area of the city. At the time of writing it had a score of 7.3/10 based on 1031 verified guest reviews. If you’re budget can allow for it you might want to consider some of these more upscale, well rated options:
Finding rooms in Bandar Seri Begawan.
If you want to get a feel for the hotels in Bandar Seri Begawan that are in the vicinity of the waterfront (Kampong Ayer) click here. Since many of the rooms are refundable, it’s better to book sooner than later. Here are some more links to Bandar Seri Begawan’s accommodation sites that might come in handy and save you some time along the way: