Brunei water village.

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Kampong Ayer

Bandar Seri Begawan

Home to around 30,000 people, Kampong Ayer consists of 42 contiguous stilt villages built along both banks of the Sungai Brunei (Brunei River). A century ago, half of Brunei's Malay population lived here, but life is changing along the river, and many old wooden homes are falling into decay, while smart new, government-built stilt homes are appearing on concrete plinths among the wooden boardwalks. Flag down a water taxi (B$1) and explore for a taste of what Brunei was like before oil changed its fortunes.

Founded at least 1000 years ago, the village is considered the largest stilt settlement in the world. When Venetian scholar Antonio Pigafetta visited Kampong Ayer in 1521, he dubbed it the 'Venice of the East', which is, as descriptions go, a bit ambitious. Although motorboats have replaced the traditional skiffs and rafts that used to ply the channels between the houses, most of the villages are still dominated by fading timber homes, painted sun-bleached shades of green, blue, pink and yellow.

While the over-water lifestyle still appeals to many Bruneians, the draughty wooden houses do not; many areas of the village are being redeveloped by the government, with tidy rows of modern stilt homes, each with their own personal boat jetty. The water villages used to be the epicentre of traditional industries, such as silversmithing, goldsmithing, the weaving of fine cloth and boat making. Boat making is still something you can see easily, but to find the weavers you need to go with an operator who can arrange a demonstration in advance.

Wandering around the rickety wooden boardwalks is a fascinating introduction to the Bruneian way of life, but be prepared for a fair amount of rubbish strewn across the intertidal mud between the houses. As well as the area across the river from the BSB waterfront, take a wander along the shore-side villages west of the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, where you'll see luxury cars lined up on the shoulder of the road, belonging to wealthier stilt-village residents.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Bandar Seri Begawan attractions

1. Kampong Ayer Cultural & Tourism Gallery

0.06 MILES

A good place to start a visit to Kampong Ayer – and get acquainted with Brunei's pre-oil boom culture – is this interesting museum and cultural centre,…

2. Galeri Seni

0.22 MILES

This waterfront building, constructed in the 1950s, houses the tourist office, plus a gallery space that opens periodically for temporary art exhibitions.

3. Taman Mahkota Jubli Emas Park

0.37 MILES

On dry evenings, locals head to this pretty park on reclaimed land at the back of the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque to walk, jog, fly kites and amble around…

4. Tamu Kianggeh

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The covered market set amid canals to the east of the waterfront is a lively place in the mornings, when locals gather to buy ingredients – strange and…

5. Teng Yun Chinese Temple

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Colourful Teng Yun, built in the 1960s, is the oldest Chinese temple in BSB, and its interior is filled with gilded statues, joss smoke and hand-painted…

6. Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque


Named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei (the late father of the current sultan), Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien is surrounded by an artificial lagoon that…

7. Royal Regalia Museum

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When called upon to present a gift to the sultan of Brunei, you must inevitably confront the question: what do you give a man who has everything? At this…

8. Taman Peranginan Tasek

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If you need a reminder that just beyond BSB's air-conditioned malls lies the Bornean jungle, this city park, with its background chorus of buzzing,…