Poverty in the Shadow of Palaces

A traditional water village in Brunei Darussalam’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is located right in the shadow of a luxurious palace. The contrast between these lifestyles could not be more apparent than here at Kampong Ayer.


Kampong Ayer – meaning literally “Water Village” – happens to be one of the main tourist attractions in Brunei Darussalam. It has an authentic charm to it and the 39,000 or so people who live here are also very charming and very welcoming towards the masses of tourists who descend on their doorstep every day. You can hop on a ‘water taxi’ from the palatial Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkieh to Kampong Ayer at any time during the day, and you can see for yourself the class difference evident in this part of Bandar Seri Begawan.


Although you could easily just ask your water taxi driver to sail you past the actual houses at a whim, it is always interesting to try and check things for yourself, up close. From afar, you can of course ascertain that the houses here at Kampong Ayer are built on stilts on what is part of the Brunei River, but why not meet the people who live in these stilted homes? It could be construed as somewhat unethical to encroach on a real community in such fashion, but I guess it’s really not that much different to visiting the Soweto township in Johannesburg or even another similar water village like this one, called Kampong Phluk in Siem Reap, Cambodia. And at Kampong Ayer at least, the locals really don’t seem to mind. In fact, many of the adults here seem to wonder what all the fuss is about, anyway!

Careful not to make too many waves as you approach!
Careful not to make too many waves as you approach!


For additional reading and many more cool photos of Kampong Ayer, head over to this blog post from The Confessions of a Travel Addict. And another brilliant overseeing of the delights of Kampong Ayer is achieved in this blog post by William Temple!

6 thoughts on “Poverty in the Shadow of Palaces

  1. This is a really great post. Love the photos. Don’t know if I agree with the poverty in the shadow of palaces title though. Most of the people in Kampong Ayer live there because the want to, not necessarily because they’re poor. I mean, in Brunei they don’t pay tax. Alternatively houses were also built for them, but no one was interested in leaving.


    1. Thanks for the comment Rachel. What you say is true actually; many people, even the ones I spoke to, seemed very happy to be living in Kampong Ayer. I shall have to add that element to my post…


  2. Love your post about your travels around Borneo, and equally lovely photos… speaking of the water village; most tourists only see the water village from the water taxis, so most of them didn’t know how or why the people there don’t want to leave the water village; I would suggest to spend some time asking the locals how they live over there, especially the older ones, and kindly ask permission to have a peek into their houses, you’ll be surprise to find out what it look like from the inside… a colleague told me most of them were given a new house on land by the Sultan, but they preferred to live at the water village rather than on land… the most question asked is how the sewage system works; unlike some water villages in SEA, the water village in Brunei have excellent sewage and water systems, in the last two photos above, you can see there’s a sewage pipe besides the concrete and the wooden bridge… on a personal note; i think Brunei didn’t get the reputation they deserve, there’s no denying there’s not much to do or see compared to their neighboring countries, but for me the people of Brunei are the most friendliest, polite, humble, sincere, helpful and the most smiliest people I’ve ever met, really proud of their culture and background…

    *feel free to disagree*


    1. Hi Armand. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

      I agree with you that Brunei people are among the friendliest in Asia. I certainly noticed that in my brief time there.

      It’s interesting that they prefer to live in the water village rather than on land, I would love to get the chance to speak with the residents if I ever return there.


  3. Hi,

    I’m a Bruneian myself..really love reading your blog about Kampong Ayer. Despite being a Bruneian myself, I don’t really know much about my country and sometimes I found interesting facts about it from reading people blogs especially tourist and etc. There are some invalid and misleading information being shared based on rumors in some blogs that I have encountered but your blog is just simple and provide truthful information and wonderful picture. I have been to Kampong Ayer but that was so long ago.

    Here is an interesting fact that you should know some of the people that lived in Kampong Ayer are actually rich. Anyway I hope you did enjoy your time during your stay in Brunei. I would like to find out more on your view regarding Brunei. If there is any good and bad experience in the country that you have encountered and if there any suggestion that you would recommend in improving what is lacking in Brunei Tourism..Since I am aware not everyone know where is Brunei located or the country existence.

    Hope to hear from you soon,


    Liked by 1 person

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