Tuesday, February 26, 2013

[How-to] From Kota Kinabalu, Sabah to Brunei Darussalam by SEA

This is a delayed post for a short travel journey completed in December 2012.
After so many years being in Borneo, I finally had the chance to make my way and get my passport stamped. For those who are wondering why am I making it such a big fuss over passport-stamping while I am being in the famous Borneo Island, here is a question for you - Do you know that Borneo, the third largest island in the world (minus the continental landmass), is home for people of three countries?

Did you manage to google the fact? YES. Borneo Island is the home for Malaysian, Indonesian and Bruneian. Enough on geography trivia, here is the travel story of Makiko sailing the South China Sea and exploring Brunei Darussalam.

With only three (3) days of working holiday given in December, I wanted a quick yet convenient method of traveling for me for this trip. I was in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah MY. It is not a hidden secret over the options available for Kota Kinabalu - Brunei route. For many people who loves traveling by land, hiring a car or getting on a bus from the capital city of Malaysia's land below the wind state to Brunei are probably the best choice. Whether you do it by car or bus - both are popular options.

Making your way to Brunei from Kota Kinabalu by wheels will take few hours (approximately half day). However, the roads conditions are something that you need to be concern of. Those who are not used to driving on narrow roads with big vehicles passing (a lot), may want to rethink of self-driving. Buying bus ticket would probably a better choice - this of course would include you sitting in a bus with adventurous drivers using the same roads mentioned; if you were to drive on your own.

When it comes to traveling, I have this weird obsession with doing it differently (or in other words - following less popular methods or/and routes). I have heard about going to Brunei by ferry; so I began to surf around the internet hoping to get usable information about this. After reading few blogs and recommendations, I decided to take the sea for this Brunei's adventure. 
This is what you should do if you decide to follow this option:
  • Make sure you wake up very early* on the day of departure,
  • Find your way to Jesselton Point in Kota Kinabalu,
  • Buy a ticket at the designated counter at Jesselton Point,
  • Walk straight up to the jetty,
  • Wait for the ferry until being called for embarkment.
  • After 3 hours of ferry trip, you'll arrived at the Labuan International Ferry Terminal.
  • Disembark the ferry - you'll have a short break here.
  • Before going back to the terminal, make sure you head to the ticketing counter - you need to pay terminal tax separately.
  • Hop into another ferry (but before that you'll need to go through immigration scanning and check),
  • Another one and half hour journey on water; and you'll see the Muara Port  out the window of your ferry.
  • Disembark at Muara Ferry Terminal and go through the immigration procedures. 
  • You have arrived on the land of Brunei Darussalam. 
  • Oh!!! Just in case if you felt dizzy after you stepped foot on the ferry terminal - don't be surprised. You've just travelled a total of four and half hours on sea.

Important notes:

When I say wake up very early; this is because there is ONLY two ferry services available from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan (required transit before heading to Brunei) in a day. If you want to arrive in Brunei on the same day, then you MUST take the first ferry - that departs at 08:00hrs. For more information, you can check out Jesselton Point official website.
If you missed the first ferry, you could still get on the next one in the afternoon, but you would need to spend the night in Labuan Island. The day I went to Brunei, the second ferry to Labuan was cancelled. Had I missed the first ferry, I probably would have to run to the bus station).

Brunei is probably one of the few small countries in South East Asia, but that doesn't mean it is easy to travel from point A to point B.

After arriving at Muara Ferry Terminal I had to find my way to the capital city of the country - Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB). There was a taxi waiting outside the terminal building. Although I kinda knew that the taxi would be a bit expensive (due to the exchange rate between MYR and BND), I went on to ask the taxi driver. The journey from Muara to BSB would be about half an hour, and the expected taxi fare would be around BND 42-45. Of course I immediately panicked - my brain started to make the calculation. If I choose taxi, probably I would end up starving the next day. 

Lady luck was on my side. While my head was spinning from the exchange rate calculation, I saw a small purple bus ahead of me. I said thank you to the taxi driver and walked up to the bus. I asked the driver and he said the bus fare from the ferry terminal to BSB's bus terminal was (ONLY) BND1.00 - thank god!!! He also mentioned that the I need to change bus at Muara bus station (which is more like an empty parking lot where many busses rest); that doesn't cost me anything - I just had to show the same ticket to the bus conductor.

My general opinion on the local bus ride - If you are not an adventurous person, you might be taken by surprised by the comfort level of the entire 45 minutes journey from Muara to Bandar Seri Begawan. The bus was small, soon packed with the locals, cruising relatively fast on regular bumpy roads and of course with no air-conditioning - natural air flowing from the opened windows. By the time I arrived at BSB bus terminal, it was already almost 4pm.

On that day alone, I have taken two ferries and two busses; but my actual pit stop was a hotel in Gadong - another 15 minutes' drive from BSB bus terminal. Since my friend from Kuala Lumpur was already waiting for me at the hotel, so we could both go for some food (she was waiting for me for her lunch, errkkk...late lunch I supposed); I had no choice but to take a taxi instead of looking for connecting bus. In the end, at least I only spent about BND15.00 for the taxi fare (I did cry in heart while paying). The taxi driver, however, was kind enough to recommend me few places to visit and gave his contact card, just in case I needed transport while I was in the city.

If you all are wondering how I felt when I reach the hotel, I must say that I had so much fun while traveling from Kota Kinabalu to Gadong district in Brunei. It's just me, "when Makiko travels, she always look for challenging ways doing it".

What Say You?


i did the reverse trip starting from BSB, taking ferry at Muara to Labuan to get my passport stamp due to my long term posting at BSB for project. Yes, i still remember the B$1 bus fair from town. cheap cheap.

For this trip, I did both going and coming back to Kota Kinabalu. The day I departed out from Muara, it was raining so heavy - had to opt for first class; upper deck helped me to avoid seasick!!!

I would.just like.to.ask if.its.possible.to travel from kk to.bsb and back to.kk the same day?? We only have 4d3n in kk what would you suggest??? Thanks!!!

Hi Alyana,
Unfortunately there is only one ship out from Brunei daily, plus with the time involved from traveling between KK to Brunei, it's very difficult to make it a day trip. Many of travelers I know choose to travel by road, but that also would take a few hours per one way trip and unless you have a local guide, driving in the evening from Brunei back to KK is not recommended. I would recommend a 2D1N at least if you still want to visit Brunei, but bear in mind, if you travel by water - even after you reach BSB it will be already late afternoon and you need to get on the early boat going back to KK.

Since you are going to KK for 4D3N, I suggest you explore the west side of Sabah. I am sure you already have island hopping & Kundasang covered. I bet you have an extra day, where you could try a day trip to the tip of Borneo - Kudat.

Let me know if you want a detailed proposed itinerary for KK. I lived there for quite some time before.

Thank you for answering im really frustrated because the trip is a month from now and I only have few ite in mind if you would kindly share some of what you have in mind it will be very much appreciated :)

By the way this is really nice blog :) I dremt of having my own... I'm a flight attendant wanting to share her stories :)) I was inspired by thos blog a lot! :)

hi can you recommend a cheap hotel in kk? thanks

Wow... this is really helpful... will be going to KK this December and I'm thinking of having a side trip to Brunei. Thanks very much for this!

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