"We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open." ~ Jawaharal Nehru

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Venice of the East

Kampung Ayer BSB is also known as Venice of the East. This is a large village on stilts situated just by Brunei Bay. It is home to almost 10% of the Brunei population and up to date there's close to 40,000 villagers here. 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."

The best way to appreciate Kampung Ayer BSB is a boat tour. I was milling about the steps at the waterfront when a boatman approached me. For B$20, you get a 1 hour boat tour of the sights. Very interesting perspective into their lives... everything is done above water. From homes, schools, mosques, shop, etc...

Boardwalks connecting between homes

Despite being simple wooden houses, 
most homes have 1 or more AC units

A religious school - closed when I was there 

A secondary school

There's even a busy Shell station. Unlike the ones on the Batang Rejang, theirs doesn't float. The petrol hoses are pretty long and it stretches all the way down into the boat. You fill up the tank and deposit your money into the little bucket which is then hauled up to the attendant. Petrol is much cheaper here than compared with Malaysia cause it's produced and refined locally.

After the tour of Kampug Ayer, the boatman brought me for a mangrove safari. He told me if I was lucky, I would be able to see Proboscis monkeys or Monyet Belanda.

Into the unknown?

On the way, passed the fame Istana Nurul Iman, the Sultan's official residence. Apparently this palace has 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms and a banquet hall that can accommodate up to 5,000 guests. Unfortunately, the palace is only accessible for 3 days a year when the Sultan throws open his doors for Hari Raya. My boatman has gone in not once but twice! He says he has never seen anything grander in his life. The Bruneians revere their Sultan as how the Thais revere King Bumiphol. Alas from the river all I could see was the rooftops and can imagine how humongous the grounds must be.

Istana Nurul Iman
supposedly more magnificent than Buckingham Palace

Also came across a peculiar rock formation.

Doesn't it look like the sunken Titanic?

The boatman then guided the boat into the swamps and killed the engine at a little alcove. He then told me to look up into the trees.

Quit looking at me!

This was the closest I've ever been to proboscis monkeys in the wild. They are really funny looking creatures with their extra appendage of a nose. I remember waiting patiently for them in Bako but only managed a fleeting glance. This time I spotted so many of them, and so easily I lost count after a while. I especially love the picture below, a silhouette of a solitary monkey in the fading light.

By the time we headed back to the waterfront, dusk had already descended. I looked back and lo & behold... 

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