KAMPONG AYER or the WATER VILLAGE (Malay : KAMPONG AIR) is an area of Brunei’s capital city BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, that is situated over Brunei Bay. 39,000 people live in Kampong Ayer. This represents roughly 10% of the nation’s total population. All of the Kampong Ayer’s buildings are constructed on stilts above the Brunei River.
As part of His Majesty’s plans to improve the standard of living for the people in Kampong Ayer, King Hassanal Bolkiah decreed to build modern 2-storey stilt houses made of concrete in the centre of Kampong Ayer, starting around 2013 – 2014. These houses would be given to the people in need of a new house who were not wishing to live on land.
Built entirely of stilt houses and wooden walkways, this cluster of 42 villages, housing more than 30,000 inhabitants, is the world’s largest Water Village. The Water Village is really made up of small villages linked together by more than 29,140metres of foot-bridges, consisting of over 4,200 structures, including homes, mosques, restaurants, shops, schools and a hospital. 36kms of board-walks connect the buildings. Private water taxis provide rapid transit. Most of these taxis resemble long wooden speedboats. From a distance, the Water Village looks like a slum. It actually enjoys modern amenities including air-conditioning, satellite television, Internet access, plumbing and electricity. Some of the residents keep potted plants and chickens.
The district has a unique architectural heritage of wooden with ornate interiors. People have lived in Kampong Ayer for over 1300 years. Antonio Pigafetta dubbed it the “Venice of the East”, when the fleet of Ferdinand Magellan visited in 1521. The district is a culturally important part of Brunei that preserves the nation’s river dwelling origins. According to geography Professor Abdul Aziz of the UNIVERSITI BRUNEI DARUSSALAM, this is the largest and most famous water settlement of Southeast Asia. It was historically the very core of Brunei and one of the most important centres of trade in Borneo.
In order to preserve Kampong Ayer as Brunei Darussalam’s most valuable heritage, the Government, through the District Office, has provided it with numerous facilities including foot-bridges, concrete jetties, piped water, electricity supplies, telephones, a school, mosques, clinics, a police station and a marine fire station. All of the six Water Village MUKIMS (districts) are collectively known as the Kampong Ayer, but are identified as separate MUKIMS for administrative purposes.
Kampong Ayer retains much of the historical features of the 16th century. The traditional lifestyle of its inhabitants ——– fishermen, river traders (PADIAN as they are called in the Malay language) and artisans making and selling traditional handicrafts (silverware, brassware, wood carvings and cloth weaving) ——- has remained unchanged. since then.
Visitors can have a personal experience of this heritage by taking one of the many water taxis that ply daily between the water taxi jetty in front of the Yayasan in the centre of town and the Water Village itself.