Overland Border Crossings are something I am doing more and more of, as I travel through South East Asia. They are a great way to see the country, usually cheaper and reduce your carbon footprint by not flying (though I’m not exactly the biggest eco warrior myself).
When in Borneo, I crossed over from Malaysia into Brunei, from Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah and later from Brunei into Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia. A lot of travelling, and passport stamps were collected. As although still in Malaysia, the government like to track your whereabouts within Borneo. So you’ll get a ‘entered Sabah’ stamp for example, in your passport as well as exit/entry stamps.
It’s a great journey and relatively easy to do. Here is how to get to and from Brunei overland.
Kota Kinabalu to Brunei
There are two options for getting to Brunei overland, a long bus ride (12 hours plus), or a ferry.
Apart from crossing from Ireland to France as a kid, I hadn’t done any other border crossings via boat, so I choose to use the ferry. I hadn’t booked in advance, I just showed up to Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal around 8am (the ferry was at 8.30am).
There are several counters at Jesselton Point, but only one that operates to Brunei. Ignore the ticket touts who will try to lead you to the ticket booth, they earn commission on your ticket.
The ticket to Brunei will cost you 69RM (US $21), and will include two ferry rides. One to the Port of Labuan, which is a wee tax free haven in between KK and Brunei. It is still in Malaysia, but you pay no duty. So if you need a new camera, perfume, or anything get it here.
The second ferry ride from Labuan to Brunei usually leaves an hour and a half after you first dock there, so you have time to check out the small town. There are few budget accommodation options, should you wish to stay the night, before going onward to Brunei.
I stopped here for an hour, with Dave, the Englishman I met at the Ferry Terminal in KK. We had dinner and bought some duty free alcohol. I bought 3 ciders for 9RM (about $3 or £1.50), but probably should have bought more.
We had a cheap dinner and were off again.
Tips: The boat was freezing, so bring a hoodie and wear long pants. There is also ‘entertainment’ in the form of loud and dodgy karaoke, so bring an iPod or earplugs. The boat was very a rough crossing, so if you get travel sick, be warned.
The ferry ride to Brunei from Labuan, was much smoother and takes about 2.5 hours.
Upon entry into Brunei, you’ll get your passport stamped and have to declare any alcohol bought to customs. Note: if you are bringing cigarettes into the country which are duty free, unless smoking them all you’ll have to pay the duty.
Services at Brunei.
There is one money changer at the Port in Brunei, however it was closed when we arrived, so it’s best to get money changed either side of Brunei.
After asking a local about where we could get Brunei Dollars, they said it was a 15 minute walk to the next township. The heat was unbearable already, so with big rucksacks, we weren’t too keen the idea.
So we then asked the immigration officer if the taxi drivers or local bus would take US dollars (another currency I was travelling with). He said no, looked at us, then said hold on .. 5 minutes later he drove round to where we were in his flashy supped up Honda, and told us to jump in. He took us a ride into the next township to get money changed. One of us ran to hold the public bus, and 5 minutes later we were on our way. Mad altogether. Possibly the nicest immigration officer I’ve met.
Where to stay in Bandar Seri Begawan?
I stayed in the only youth hostel in the capital for $10, but there are a few budget hotels around if you prefer.
Brunei to Sarawak, Malaysia
My visit to Sarawak was a very spontaneous one, I decided the day before. Options to Sarawak are generally by bus or to fly from Brunei.
Bus: Bandar Seri Begawa to Miri, Malaysia
Cost: B$18 (US $14)
Duration: 4 hours (apparently .. give or take 2.5 hours!)
From Miri, you can choose to stop here, the gateway to the National Park, or continue on to Kuching like I did.
Miri to Kuching
Cost: 70RM (US$ 22)
Duration: 12-16 hours. We were told 14, but it took 12 in total
Tips: Take the night bus. It’s not as bad as you think, just bring on board plenty of things to make you comfortable. I slept on and off .. more than I did on the Singapore to KL bus. And you save a night of accommodation.