Lest We Forget


Compiled by Marilyn B

River chauffeurs of Brunei

Shahminan Ibrahim

April 9, 2011 – At its peak, the Water Village, or better known to the locals as Kampong Ayer, is home to more than 50,000 people and today this picturesque village is one of the major tourist attractions in Brunei Darussalam

Existing for hundreds of years and dubbed the Venice of the East, this huge settlement boasts various basic and modern facilities such as telephone lines and electrical supply, running water, police and fire and rescue stations, clinics, schools, mosques and many others.

From one end to the other, the place is connected by the miles long, and sometimes winding, concrete stilt bridges, simply called by the locals as ‘pail’.

Although this village is accessible by road at a couple of points, engine-powered boat still remains the number one mode of transportation here.

Costing a few thousand dollars to own one, it is no surprise that not all the local residents here have their own boat.

Therefore to move around, they would have to get a water taxi service. To the locals, the water taxi is known as ‘perahu tambang’ and the driver ‘penambang’. The water village folks usually hail water taxis from numerous jetty points scattered all over the village while some will also hail and embark from the porch of their own house.

Water taxi operators waiting for passengers. PHOTOS: SHAHMINAN IBRAHIM
A family on a boat ride

Similar landing points are also available along the riverbanks of the Brunei River and obviously they will pick the one closest to their village or where they usually park their car.

The fare is not exactly fixed but the usual or ‘standard’ fare for the local water village folks is between 50 cents and a dollar. However, it is and can be a bit tricky when it comes to tourists.

Hanging around at the Yayasan boat landing, tourists can easily find themselves the focus of a healthy amount of attention from the water taxi drivers vying to offer their service.

Therefore, tourists are expected to negotiate the price as well as they possibly can since the rates can vary. So the scenes of would-be-passengers and drivers haggling for the best price for the benefits of both sides are a norm here.

One or two drivers charge according to the number of passengers, but many will charge depending on the duration of the trip where it can be as short as 15 minutes, but is usually between 30 minutes to one hour.

A trip deep into the Brunei River, however, takes slightly longer where tourists, who are obviously armed with digital cameras, will be taken to see the proboscis monkeys and other wildlife.

Dubbed by tourists as the ‘flying coffin’ probably due its shape or for whatever other reasons they may be, the perahu tambang are all made of timber. With seats on each side and un-cushioned, they vary in sizes.

The reasonably big sizes can be as long as 15 to 17 feet, whereas the rather small ones can be as short as 10 to 12 feet. The difference in width on the other hand is usually between five and six feet.

All the water taxis are registered with the relevant authorities and will bear their own dedicated registration or license number.

With a wooden mini deck located at the front meant for passengers to step on, these boats are generally powered with 60 horsepower engine although some are with a relatively lesser 40 horsepower engine. Some of the interesting things about these water taxis are that most of them are printed with very creative and catchy, if a little bit funny, names on its side.

The usual pick would be names of women and names of songs. Also included are names of famous car brands as well as names of famous English football clubs.

Armed with the powerful engine and a rather sporty shaped boat, some of the drivers are known to be quite notorious and the way they manoeuvre through the narrow alley between the stilts along the water village is rather quite amazing and scary.

It may not chill the heart of the most hermetic actions packed activity fan, it certainly is not for the faint-hearted ones!