it's a house!

Backpacking South East Asia: Brunei – Getting In, Around and Out of Kampong Ayer

Day 4: Bandar Seri Begawan walkabout and actual Kampong Ayer exploration (part 3)

Note: The delayed Part 2 is on Yayasan and surrounding areas, Part 4 is inside the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery, Part 5 will be the Royal regalia Museum and the Masjid Jame’ Asri Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Please bear with my slow writing and uploads!

After having breakfast and doing some walkabout and shopping at Yayasan (it’s raining so I had to stay indoors), I decided to go around the complex (actually get lost is a better term) and its nearby landmarks. After which, I noticed that a lot of time has already passed and so I really need to go to Kampong Ayer or else miss my chance of seeing the water villages.

Water Taxi Terminal
Water Taxi Terminal (Kampong Ayer a few seconds away!)

I’m not really a nature tripping fanatic so though it interested me to see the proboscis monkey, I opted to just spend my time inside the water village. So, since the Ates (Pinay!) from the souvenir shop, already informed me of the things I need to remember when going to the village, I hopped on to one of the water taxis waiting near Yayasan. I asked the driver how much it would cost and he said that it’s BND1 (PhP35). I knew that the fare should only be 50Sen but I was willing to let it slide. However, a passenger about to board the same boat said, “It’s only 50Sen.” Yun na! Hahaha

Water Taxi ride with Kampong Ayer residents
Water Taxi Ride with a family of Kampong Ayer residents (she’s the nice/honest Ate!)

Since the boat was really fast, the ride was also quite short. Even so, I was able to take pictures of this family I shared the boat with. Yes, I asked permission first and Ate aka the mom even coached her son to pose for me. After some shots, I returned to a burst mode of snapping since the water villages are really fast approaching. When it was time to alight and pay already, I was fumbling for my coin purse when Ate said she already paid for it. So nice, noh?!

Welcome to Kampong Ayer
Welcome to Kampong Ayer (they’re sure with every step!)

I thanked her, she smiled back, and they went on their way, sure-footed. So unlike me. 😦 Anyawy, since I didn’t know what to do exactly in the village, I followed the Yayasan Ates’ advice to go and visit the Gallery. It’s a big structure and I think it’s really hard to miss, especially since its visible already once you leave from the mainland–unless of course you’re heading in a totally different direction. If my human compass is reliable, the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery is on the leftmost side of the village complex.

Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery
Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery

After spending about an hour or so at the complex and climbing that watch tower, I opted to explore the village already. As I said, the bridges and walkways are interconnected so I just let my feet take me wherever it wanted. Well, as long as the walkway seems strong enough to carry my weight that is. 🙂

My first stop was in the second or third “alley way”. I didn’t really plan on stopping but you know, here in the Philippines especially in the rural area where I grew up, it is customary to “ask permission” to the owner of the house whenever they are outside and you are passing by your area. So, as I passed a house, I greeted a middle-aged man with “Selamat pagi!” and my courteous smile. He must have sensed that something’s off with my accent or something coz he immediately asked where I came from, in English (and he was quite good). When I said Philippines, he started telling me stories about his experiences before. I think he has visited Cebu.

We chatted for about 10 more minutes, me on the walkway and him in their veranda. If it happened in my town, I already would’ve been forced to sit down with him in the veranda or he would’ve been standing just for me to take the seat. Well, I think that’s just a cultural difference of some sort. And it wasn’t true all throughout the walking exploration.

More than just hanging out--it's a Cafe!
More than just hanging out–it’s a Cafe!

After the man’s house, I proceeded walking and in about 100meters, I passed by two old women doing something with some leaves. Again, I greeted them with my “Selamat pagi!” but this time, with a curious smile. They reminded me of my grandmother who already passed away. They greeted me with a reply which is not “Selamat pagi!” but I think something that says “To you too!” or something. And, they did so with a warm smile. So, I decided to stay and chat with them.

I was really curious about the leaves that one of the ladies was focusing at. Because, whatever it is, I’m sure it’s the reason why their hands are colored orange. Like, achuete orange. I tried asking the women about it but unfortunately, they speak very little English. I had to rely on my charades and pinoy henyo skills to communicate with them. Man, it was so hard! But, it was fun as well. 🙂 If my understanding was correct, they are sisters. The woman who stopped working on the leaves is the older one, 70 years old and the younger one, 60, is her sister. The younger sister lives in the opposite house (as she motioned so). She’s already a widow.

I think she’s over it though. I mean, generally, she seems like she’s in a happy place. Like, she’s content with her life right now. You’d see the same with her older sister. I started asking myself, well, they don’t seem like they live in poverty (well, not surprising since it’s kinda rare in Brunei). But, compared the the development in the mainland, you can probably say that they have been left behind. The two women are like the typical grandma–wearing the daster (loose house dress). The only difference? They are wearing thick gold bracelets (I counted four for the older woman) and jewelry–while working on the leaves! I suddenly felt so poor! haha

Typical House Structure
Typical House Structure

Their house also looked like the typical Filipino home (no, I still was just outside, good thing that there were benches in the place). In the sense that they also hang framed photos and school certificates, complete with medals from classes of course! I actually really wanted to take their photo but when I motioned for the camera and acted like I was gonna take their photo, saying “Picture, can? Can?”, they just laughed and said “No”, waving their hands. I also took that as my cue to continue with my exploration. So, I said my well-practiced “Terima kasih!” and continued my tour.

School Boy
School Boy, so cute!

After covering some ground, or water, I stopped for a bit to catch my breath. Not that I was tired but more like I was mentally exhausted, trying to fight the nagging nervous feeling. Until I saw a school boy, all dressed up. Kinilig ako like a gradeschooler stalking that cute classmate. I’ve never seen a young schooler looking so dashing. I mean, he probably studies in a public school, which is like great. It was just sad for me that not all young Filipino boys and girls can dress up like this when going to school.

it's a house!
It’s a house!

At this point, I didn’t realize that I was already crossing to the next village. I thought the Kampong Ayer is just one big village for river houses. I was so wrong. Apparently, there are about 40 villages in the Kampong Ayer area. Amazing! This is also where I met another student, this time a girl who I assume is in high school. Her uniform looks pretty too! 🙂 She was also the one I asked about this huge hall-like structure. I really thought, you know. It was some kind of a village hall at least. But no, it’s a house! And I’m like, “Wow. That’s a really big house!”

I must have sounded like a naive person, perhaps even ignorant. But yeah. I couldn’t stop myself from admiring the house. I mean, if that house was at mainland Brunei, I wouldn’t be surprised. Bruenian houses are huge. And I mean, huge. Our house in Tarlac is relatively huge already but when touring the mainland with my CouchSurfing host Zaza, I really felt poor. Seriously! And Zaza said these are just regular houses, not like the ones from those connected with the Royal Family. So, imagine! 🙂

Anyway, it was already about past 1pm and I’m supposed to meet Zaza in an hour’s time. Plus, it was starting to rain again and since I didn’t have umbrella (I left my umbrella in the Philippines coz I had no check-in luggage allowance), I decided to find my way back.

I know I look really bad/uneasy/complicated. I didn’t realize that the difficulty I was experiencing inside was really showing in my place! Dyahe! Hahaha. Oh well. I hope the tour and actual footage would help further encourage you to actually get inside the community of water villages and get to know the people who make the Kampong Ayer into the network that it is now. No. Don’t be shy. Practice your social skills. Who knows, you might meet some of the best strangers you never thought you’d see in a lifetime!

So, again, don’t spend your entire Kampong Ayer tour in the water. Go to the village too! And, I hope you’d get to experience something like mine and more. Happy wandering!

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10 thoughts on “Backpacking South East Asia: Brunei – Getting In, Around and Out of Kampong Ayer”

  1. We spent more time in the nearby jungle than in the water village (cause proboscis monkey’s one of my fave creature in the world!), but we’re still blown away by the way of life of these people. It’s quite hard to fathom how they prefer to be on water than on land. Pretty amazing.

    1. Talaga? Parang nanghinayang tuloy ako that I didn’t go! I just saw an image of it as a stuff toy in Yayasan! Pero hindi ko din naman ipagpalit ang experience of sharing the morning talking with the water villagers. I can’t point my finger at it but I feel like I learned or discovered something new about the world and myself after I had my conversations with them!

  2. Inggit ako, kasi natulog lang ata ako sa Brunei the two days I was there! Hahaha. Tamad lang. At least pag napadpad ako ulit dun may pupuntahan na ko thanks to this post, hehe. 🙂

    1. Hahaha. Onga. Actually, nde ko pa nasulit ang biyahe ko sa lagay na yan. May water sports area pala sa Muara. Eh nde daw alam ng CS Host ko na gusto ko mag-ga-ganun. Kaya ikot-ikot lang sa BSB ginawa ko. I’ll try my best to post my actual walking tour soon (cross fingers) para may ibang ideas ka pang makuha for your return! 🙂

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