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There are several ways to travel from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu or vice versa. It can be easily done by flying, driving, taking ferries or by catching buses or taxis. Of course, the level of comfort and how much you end up spending will depend on what mode you choose. If you don’t have the luxury of time, then going there by plane is the best option, there are direct flights from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu and back. It’s the fastest and most comfortable way, yet it is also the most expensive.
The bus journey, on the other hand, is the cheapest but it can take seven to eight hours to get there. All because Malaysia has provinces and each of which has a border post, they all do passport checks – no less than eight checkpoints to go through. That can be quite toxic and time-consuming, something that you don’t want to go through.
Based on my personal experience I suggest you take the ferry, it’s cheap and have the most convenient time, plus the bonus of seeing Labuan! Let me walk you through the process.
In order to reach KK from Brunei by sea, you need to take 2 ferries – from Brunei to Labuan, then Labuan to Kota Kinabalu.
To take the first ferry, you have to go to the Serasa Ferry Terminal, which is quite far from Bandar Seri Begawan (the capital and largest city of Brunei). Luckily for us, we were sent off by my cousin’s husband to the terminal in Muara. Those without this option can take a bus from the city center to the terminal, or take a cab from your hotel (this is the most expensive option), or pay for a service from your hotel.
The ferry to Labuan costs B$15 and you can buy the tickets at the terminal. There’s a little difference between an economy and a first class seat (B$20 or USD 15) so I suggest you take the former. Unlike the KK-Brunei direction, there is no two-ferry “package,” nor can you book tickets in advance.
The first trip to Labuan leaves at 8:30 am so you should be early, especially on weekends, so as not to be delayed. This is also the best time to change your remaining Brunei dollars to Malaysian Ringgit, so you don’t have to worry about that later. But remember to save B$1 to pay the departure tax.
Thirty minutes before departure, you’ll be asked to go through immigration. The whole process only takes around 15 minutes and you’ll be boarding the ferry in no time. The travel time from Brunei to Labuan depends on the weather, but, normally takes between one and one-and-a-half hours.
When you arrive in Labuan Ferry Terminal, proceed to the immigration to get your passports stamped. Then go to the ticketing office and buy a ticket for the 1:30 pm ferry, this costs RM34 for lower deck, RM39 or USD8.90 for the upper deck. This is also the last ferry of the day to Kota Kinabalu – so arriving late could mean staying overnight in Labuan to wait for the first trip the next day.
Once everything is settled, you can explore Labuan and have lunch while waiting for your trip. You can eat at one of the restaurants near the terminal, or do some shopping at the duty-free shops across the street. The duty-free shops here sell mostly liquor, cigarettes, chocolates, and perfumes for cheap prices.
Be sure to be back at the terminal at 1:00 pm to catch the 1:30 pm ferry. The boarding process is relatively faster from Labuan to KK and you will be at your destination at around 4:35 pm to 5:00 pm depending on the weather.
Though there are several ferries taking the route between Kota Kinabalu and Labuan and Labuan to Brunei, if you take the wrong ones you may end up being stuck and forced to stay overnight in Labuan. So you really have to pay attention.
The major passenger ferry terminal in Kota Kinabalu is called Jesselton Point. It is a 20-minute walk from the town center. At the terminal, you can buy a “package” of two ferry trips (KK-Labuan and Labuan-Brunei) for RM63 or USD8.23 (including the RM3 departure tax). You can also buy this package in advance, which is advisable for weekends and holidays, but you need to have your passport with you when you do so. Also, make sure you buy your tickets inside the ticketing center and not from the barkers selling them outside. The ticket touts will try to lead you to the ticket booth, they earn commission on your ticket making it a certain percentage higher that its original price.
The first trip leaves at 8:30 am and arrives in Labuan at 11:15am, where there is a stop for two hours. Take note that you’ll have to be in the terminal by 7:30 am or earlier especially on a weekend as there are greater number of passengers. Don’t worry about breakfast, there are many food shops in Jesselton Point.
The ferry to Brunei departs from Labuan at 1.30 pm and gets into Muara at 2.30 pm. You need to pay a departure tax of RM5 at the ticket office. The ferry journey takes between one and one-and-a-half hours. Which means you’ll have some time for lunch, shopping and perhaps a quick visit to the Labuan Museum, or maybe a cab ride to and from the Labuan War Cemetery.
Immigration in Labuan is very smooth. They won’t even ask you questions. Once in Brunei, you’ll go through immigration again and customs at the Serasa Ferry Terminal. The officers we encountered while re-entering Brunei was quite strict. But that’s what brings the thrill in travelling. Thankfully, nothing unexpected happened in this border crossing.
It pays to be prepared, and with just a little forward thinking, you’ll avoid problems when crossing borders. Hope this blog will make your Brunei – KK sea border crossing less stressful.
Happy travels everyone 🙂