Kampong Ayer River Village in the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei.
The river village dates back around 1000 years when wooden homes rose from the marshes. Today the village is home to around 25,000 people.
It’s here, walking around the villages that you get a glimpse of the disparity of wealth in the nation. Electrical wiring between the homes looks bit shoddy, some of the homes are small, housing large families.
There is a mixture of joy and discomfort as it seems that many tour guides invite you into their homes. We were lucky enough to use meet a guide who gave us a quick water tour of the village, and his home was simply beautiful. However his family genuinely seemed uncomfortable with us being there. And fair enough.
While there it’s worthwhile visiting the museum but don’t expect to come out much wiser than when you entered.
OOmar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
Beautiful by day and by night the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is the visual highlight of the trip. The mosque all but floats on the Brunei River, a bustling hub of prayer and seemingly religious debate.
While tourists are able to walk around the complex there is no welcoming inside the doors of the Mosque. Yet day or night the mosque is spectacular.
At a cost of $5 million (USD) the mosque was built on the orders of Omar Ali Saifuddien III as the nation began to unwind from it’s colonial past.
Trip up Brunei River
For want of anything else to do we paid for a boat trip up the river, and it was worth the effort.
From the river it’s clear what a small capital Bandar Seri Begawan is, with a population of 100,700 people. From the river you can spot the mansion’s of the uber wealthy oil, many of whom are attached to the royal family.
While extra marital affairs are forbidden (death by stoning) the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah (Sir Muda Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah) has three wives. Along the river you can spot the Sultan’s wive’s and children’s palaces, but their not that amazing.
More amazing was the crocodile, at least one, we were introduced to by your river guide. Amazing.
They were the highlights. In the lovely hotel we stayed in we were fortunate to meet a lovely couple who had deliberately had a stop over in their flight between London and Sydney. Booked for a week, after a day they were ready to go home. Truly Brunei is not flashy for it’s entertainment.
For two weeks we persisted, taking the buses to markets, to the oil fields and the Empire Hotel that was built under directions of Prince Jefri. This resort, miles out reports guests such as Prince Charles and Bill Clinton. On the day we were there there was us, a gardener and someone in the cafe, thank goodness, who sold us chocolate cake.
The grounds are truly remarkable, the water clear, the golf course lush. Gosh, you’d never expect that from a five star resort. Yet given the options the bus trip and the wander through the gardens made the effort worthwhile.