On The Road: Wobbly walkways and water taxis - everyday life in a Borneo village on stilts
Saturday 13 February 2010
This tiny nation on the north coast of Borneo is best known for its Sultan, who is one of the richest men on earth; his brother Prince Jefri, whose yacht has tenders named Nipple 1 and Nipple 2; and oil wealth that has propelled this country to the world's fourth-highest GDP per capita in the IMF's 2009 rankings. However, the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, isn't a gleaming high-rise testament to wealth and commerce like Singapore and Hong Kong, but is extraordinarily green, decidedly sleepy and with a downtown dominated by the golden dome of the elegant Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque.
Under dark skies pregnant with tropical rain clouds, I attempt to delve into the city's Kampong Ayer (Water Village) which lies on the banks of the Sungei Brunei, home to almost 40,000 citizens (10 per cent of Brunei's population). Its 4,200 stilted buildings sit precariously over the river and are connected by over 35km of narrow walkways. As I grope my way down wobbly planks and reach for invisible rails, I note the locals skipping with absent-minded abandon back home. I spot a quay and decide to hire one of the belching speedboats that act as water taxis.
As the first drops of rain fall, my boat zips towards the opposite bank, between the stilts of schools, fire stations, mosques and hundreds of bright houses, bougainvillea dripping down their walls to the murky depths below. The Sultan's vast palace – all 1,778 rooms and 257 toilets of it – sits on the opposite bank, its twin gold cupolas clearly visible from the river.
Crashing through choppy water away from the city I scan the banks for proboscis monkeys and crocodiles until I am informed my time is up, leaving me to gaze hungrily downriver into the heart of Borneo.
Footprint's Borneo Handbook is available now (£14.99)
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
The 50 Best spas
Iceland volcano: Travel agency has 'Volcano hotline' for dare-devil tourists who want to visit Bardarbunga if it erupts
Luton airport voted worst in Britain for second time running
Contactless payment donkey rides are a thing now
August Bank Holiday 2014: Five ways to make the most of it
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 3 London restaurant 34 creates champagne glass modelled on Kate Moss’ left breast
- 4 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 5 James Foley beheading: Fox news presenter Megyn Kelly annoyed by Ferguson update during broadcast about murdered journalist
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
£6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...
£17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...
£23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...