Venice is so beautiful that there are a lot of places dubbed as Venice throughout the world. There is Little Venice in London, Venice of the North in Amsterdam and of course, there is also Venice of the East in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei. Kampong Ayer, a village with houses built on stilts was dubbed as such by Antonio Pigafetta in 1521.
During my visit to Bandar Seri Begawan back in 2014, I had the chance to visit Kampong Ayer. It was an educational trip for me because just a few months earlier, I visited Pulau Ketam in Malaysia (Read here. Another post on Pulau Ketam here) and having seen wooden houses on stilts in Pulau Ketam, of course I had some expectations and thought my visit to be dull and boring.
I was under the impression that those Bruneians living in Kampong Ayer must be village folks who work as fishermen and are poor. Yes, I know I was stereotyping people but having visited Pulau Ketam, honestly that was my impression.
I was wrong. Totally wrong.
First, as I was approaching Kampong Ayer, I saw a lot of cars parked by the roadside on the mainland near Kampong Ayer. I asked my homestay owner who drove me to the jetty to get to Kampong Ayer:
“Banyaknya kereta, Haji! Kereta siapa?” / “So many cars, Haji! Whose cars?“
“Itulah kereta penduduk Kampong Ayer! / “The cars belong to the people living in Kampong Ayer!“, he answered.
Although they are living in a kampong, most of them owned at least a car.
Secondly, as I walked along the pathway, I saw almost all the houses have air conditioning unit. Those are not cheap and to have air-conditioner tells a lot about the people who are living there, their lifestyle and their ability to afford those luxurious needs.
Still, Kampong Ayer is sticking to its ground and have a traditional setting amidst the wealthiness of its residents. I saw children playing football with flip-flops just like the old days, mosque in the middle of the kampong, water taxi picking up and dropping people at the jetties around the village.
In fact, when I went into the tourist centre and watched the video of the development of Kampong Ayer, I could see how much the place has progressed but at the same time still remain almost the same.
Moving forward, I can foresee that Kampong Ayer will have a different setting and landscape. During my visit, some residents have moved to the newly built, concrete double story houses. It looks more modern but at the same time it makes Kampong Ayer slowly loses its charm, the traditional landscape and houses which makes Kampong Ayer unique on its own.
It is not impossible if in the future, Kampong Ayer will become history where wooden houses on stilts will only be something in the textbooks.
Kampong Ayer is situated in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam. A boat ride to the kampong from Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah mall costs B$1.