In Brunei, a tiny nation built on oil money, half the capital city's population lives in an otherworldly 'water village' where thousands of houses stand on monsoon-proof stilts

Mark AbadiKampung Ayer, or ‘Water Village,’ houses about half the population of Brunei’s capital city.
  • Brunei is a tiny country in Southeast Asia that’s home to one of the most interesting communities in the world – Kampung Ayer, or “Water Village.”
  • Nearly half of the capital city’s population lives in Kampung Ayer, where thousands of houses stand on stilts, as do schools, mosques, restaurants, and police stations.
  • The village stands in stark contrast to the rest of Brunei’s capital city, which has glimmering architecture and pristine streets.

The tiny nation of Brunei is incredibly wealthy. Its oil-based economy has propelled the Southeast Asian country to a higher GDP per capita than the United States, Japan, and Switzerland.

That wealth is on full display in Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, where opulent buildings and majestic mosques line the pristine streets.

But that extravagance isn’t reality for many of the residents of Bandar Seri Begawan. Nearly half of the city’s entire population lives just outside the capital’s downtown in a “floating village” on the Brunei River, where thousands of houses stand on tall stilts and residents drive water taxis to get around.

Besides housing 13,000 people, Kampung Ayer, or “water village,” also has mosques, schools, restaurants, police stations, and a fire department – all on stilts.

Here’s what it looks inside Kampung Ayer, one of the most interesting villages in the world.


Brunei is a tiny country on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.

Source: CIA World Factbook


Thanks to its oil and gas reserves, it’s one of the richest countries in the world, with a GDP of $US77,000 per capita.

Flickr Creative Commons

Source: International Monetary Fund


Its wealth is on full display in its capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan, where glittering mosques and extravagant architecture appear around every corner.

Shutterstock/Aleksandr Sadkov

Source: Business Insider


But on the other side of the Brunei River, things look a lot different.

Flickr Creative Commons/Ron Knox

Source: Business Insider


This is Kampung Ayer, or “Water Village,” a floating settlement that’s home to an estimated 13,000 of the city’s 27,000 people.

Mark Abadi

Source: Academy of Brunei Studies


All the buildings in Kampung Ayer are on stilts.

Mark Abadi

Source: Business Insider


The floating village doesn’t just contain thousands of homes. There are also mosques, schools, restaurants, police stations, and a fire station.

Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


People get around — carefully — on a series of interconnected wooden walkways.

Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


And they also get around by ubiquitous water taxis, which take people back and forth from the mainland for a fare of $US1.

Mark Abadi

Source: ASEAN Information Center


The use of water taxis earned Bandar Seri Begawan the nickname “Venice of the East.”

Source: ASEAN Korea


And many residents of the village make their livings operating them.

Flickr Creative Commons/Bernard Spragg

Source: ASEAN Korea


The village’s infrastructure is built to withstand pummelling rains that fall during Brunei’s monsoon season.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Source: Brunei Weather


The history of Kampung Ayer goes back centuries. At its height in the 1500s, the village stretched into neighbouring Indonesia and nearby Philippines.

Flickr Creative Commons/Bernard Spragg

Source: Southeast Asia Globe


In modern years, the village gained electricity, phone lines, internet access, and even satellite TV.

Flickr Creative Commons/Johannes Zielcke

Source: Southeast Asia Globe


In many ways, the floating village resembles any of its terrestrial counterparts. Street signs mark the intersections of boardwalks, for example.

Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


Some of the recently built houses evoke images of American suburbia.

Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


Newer, two-story houses in the village cost about $US45,000, and older houses sell for just $US4,000, according to the Southeast Asia Globe. Property is only available to Brunei residents.

Getty Images/Rahman Roslan

Source: Southeast Asia Globe


In wealthier parts of the village, the interiors of houses are lavish and extravagant. Airbnb started operating in the village last year, allowing foreign visitors to stay in the traditional houses.

Flickr Creative Commons/Bernard Huber

Source: Southeast Asia Globe


But in some of the poorer sections, houses and walkways are in disrepair.

Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Southeast Asia Globe


The wealth and extravagance of the mainland stands in stark contrast to the reality of most residents of the village.

Flickr Creative Commons/CBad

Source: Business Insider


A once-thriving fishing and crabbing industry has declined in recent years because of pollution and quarrying, according to the Southeast Asia Globe.

Flickr Creative Commons/MarkLL

Source: Southeast Asia Globe


And as modern technology makes Brunei’s capital more accessible, many village residents have flocked to the mainland. In 1971, 136,000 people, or 60% of the entire population of Brunei, called the village home, but now that number is down to 3%.

Flickr Creative Commons/Bernard Huber

Source: Southeast Asia Globe


Officials in Brunei are hoping tourism can help revive Kampung Ayer and bring new jobs.

Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Southeast Asia Globe


Until then, Kampung Ayer will remain a world apart.

Flickr Creative Commons/Bernard Spragg

Source: Business Insider

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