Kampong Ayer: Brunei’s Answer to Venice?


Back in the 1500s, Kampong Ayer was once described as being the “Venice of the East”. A collection of water villages built on stilts above the Brunei River, Kampong Ayer is one of the principal tourist attractions of Brunei. For many people, it is a world away from how we live our lives – on solid ground – and so visitors make the short boat trip around the village all the time. During my trip to Brunei for Chinese New Year back in January I joined this people, and hopped on a boat and went to see the famous location for myself.

The first thing I noticed was just how dirty the river was. I don’t think the torrential rain that we lucked out with helped the situation, but it was filthy, with a fair amount of rubbish littering the water. Our tour first took us southwest down the river, where we could see the back of the Sultan’s palace as well as the Duli Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah Mosque. We then turned back and began to weave our way through the villages, between stilts and bridges and jetties and walkways.

Brunei, Kampong Ayer, Hannah International

For me, the most interesting part was seeing that Kampong Ayer is a town like any other, despite being built entirely above the water. There are several schools, a police station, a mosque and, of course, a whole load of homes. Around 10% of the country’s population live in the water villages, so the sheer volume of houses comes as no surprise.

Brunei, Kampong Ayer, Hannah International

Brunei, Kampong Ayer, Hannah International

Brunei, Kampong Ayer, Hannah International

There is even a fire station with fire engine boats, something that seems a little amusing considering the place is surrounded by water. But it later proved itself necessary as we toured further through the villages and came upon the burned ruins of some houses, with only the stilts left behind. We were told of how a woman had fallen asleep while cooking which resulted in a fire destroying several homes. It was a relief to hear that everyone had come out unharmed, but the burned remnants of the buildings were still there and were a little eerie to see.

Brunei, Kampong Ayer, Hannah International

Brunei, Kampong Ayer, Hannah International

Coming out the other side of the villages, we saw the under-construction Sungai Kebun Bridge, before whizzing back to dry (well, rainy and wet) land. Our 30-minute tour cost around 25$BND for two people, but we got that deal because my boyfriend speaks Malay. Be prepared to barter and be strong about it, or you’ll pay a little bit more if you don’t speak Malay.

A tour round Kampong Ayer comes highly recommended during a trip to Brunei. It’s fascinating to see such a different place in which people live.

Interested to hear more about my time in Brunei? Read my other posts here.

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8 responses to “Kampong Ayer: Brunei’s Answer to Venice?”

  1. sirvikalot says:

    This looks like such an interesting place with a rich history. Your photos really tell the story so well. I can only imagine what the smell must be like in hot weather with all that dirty water around so I don’t envy you there.

    V <3

    • hannahinternational says:

      In Brunei the weather is always hot, but it wasn’t too bad! Maybe that’s just because it was pouring it down with rain… though I guess if you live there you’d be used to it anyway, right?!

  2. What an incredible place, definitely not the Venice of the East though… very very different to Venice. I can’t believe people live in homes where they have to get a boat anywhere. It’d be a total culture shock for me.

    Btw your hair is incredible, so jealous of your curls!

    Rebecca, libfemblog.com xo

    • hannahinternational says:

      I’ve never been to Venice but I have seen copious amounts of photos and I agree with you! Not like Venice at all, but someone once said it about the place! (Saying that, that was 500 years ago…)
      Thank you! I do my best to appreciate them. I’ve been thinking about writing about them more. What do you think?

      • I have been to Venice and it’s as beautiful as the photos (I also went to the Venetian hotel in Vegas which was amaaaaazing)
        Have you written about them before? (If so direct me to the post so I can oggle with jealousy) xx

        • hannahinternational says:

          I would love to go!! I think in the next few years I’ll do a big tour of Europe and visit then.
          Yes! I’ve written about my journey to loving my curls (including photos of baby Hannah!) which you can read here: https://hannahinternational.co.uk/2017/01/02/confessions-curly-girl-curly-hair-journey/. I’ve been thinking of writing more about how I style it, the products I use, how to love them, and a variety of other things. I don’t see that many curly girls blogging their hair (though there are some amazing YouTubers!) so I might give it a go!

          • Aw awesome I’ll bookmark this post and give it a read at work next week (I spend a lot of my day waiting for the phone to ring so I’m always looking for posts to bookmark and read during the week.) I’ll let you know what I think 🙂
            Personally the post about styling your hair wouldn’t appeal to me as I have notoriously flat, straight hair and am constantly looking for ways to give it volume but I can imagine lots of people would benefit from a post like that! X

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