Getting straight answers on the internet about border crossing from Kota Kinabalu (North Malaysia) to Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei) by ferry and land turned out to be as challenging as searching for a needle in a haystack. Two weeks back, I tried it myself on my solo adventure and it was much easier than I thought or imagined, it also appears to be something many locals in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Malaysia’s Sabah state aren’t aware much of, because they travel between both the countries by land since fuel is cheap in the region while Brunei is an oil-rich country.
While my journey from Kota Kinabalu (KK) to Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) was on Sunday, May 14th, I purchased my ferry tickets on Friday, May 12th from Counter 4 at Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal. I would suggest everyone to buy the tickets a day in advance instead of buying them on the day of departure, this is to avoid last-minute queues and also since the tickets are sold only at the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal, its sold on first-come, first-served basis, and should you get to the ferry terminal late during a busy day, you might miss the ferry due to unavailability of seats. If you miss the 0800 hrs ferry, the next ferry will be only at 1330 hrs and you could be arriving Brunei only by evening. The route was from KK to Labuan and Labuan (Malaysia) to Muara (Brunei) for RM60.00 (adult) and RM43.00 (children – 11 years and below). A terminal tax of RM3.82 (adult) and RM1.90 (children) was applicable for Labuan, while RM5.00 (adult) and RM3.00 (children) was for Brunei. So, I paid a total of RM68.82 for the ferry tickets from KK to BSB. The tickets mentioned the departure time from KK at 0800 hrs and the counter staff advised me to be at the ferry terminal by 0730 hrs.
On the day of departure, I was up by 0600 hrs and had all my stuff packed, not so much of stuff, just a 7.3kg backpack. The budget hotel I stayed in KK only serves breakfast by 0700 hrs, but the staff at the reception was kind enough to allow me have mine earlier than that. As soon as I was done with my breakfast, I got a grab taxi that took me to the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal for RM6.00, there were several stalls and food outlets that was preparing breakfast, and many people that were having morning departures were all getting a quick bite before their trips.
I proceeded to the check-in desk that teared off their copy of the ferry tickets, and gave me the customer copy. I was told to wait seated at the departure area until 0800 hrs. I observed the many boats that were loading food supplies and cargo that were preparing to leave to its respective destinations around the region.
By 0740 hrs, we told to queue and have our travel documents ready for inspection, there was a Malaysian immigration officer who inspected our documents and allowed us to board the vessel. He didn’t stamp our passport, as this will be done at Labuan.
The ferry had 200 seats, 60 seats for the first class cabin and 140 seats for the economy class cabin. I was booked in the economy cabin, the air-condition was very cold, this was mainly because there were very few passengers traveling that day, however the seats were very comfy. At sharp 0800 hrs, our ferry departed, the economy cabin had a wall-fitted LCD screen for passenger viewing, but it was all blank until 30-minutes later, one of the ferry’s crew member switched on a movie, it was an old movie and since they were playing a VCD, with the ferry movements to the left and right, the disc got stuck half way through the movie. I didn’t bother wanting to watch the rest of it, instead wanted some coffee. I asked one of the crew members if they had coffee and they immediately prepared a cup of instant mixed coffee. At 1103 hrs, we reached Labuan, a federal territory of Malaysia made up with six other smaller islands, a trade-free zone and tax–free haven and an International Offshore Financial Centre (IOFC).
The super cheap duty free items like confectionery, liquor & cigarette are the populars at the duty-free shops in Labuan. I paid RM5.00 to the ticketing office at the corner, this was the departure tax from Labuan to Muara. I also decided to change my Malaysian ringgits and get Bruneian dollar since there were several authorized money changers everywhere, I changed RM70.00 and got BND 21.00, presumed that would be sufficient to get me from Muara to BSB.
At 1300 hrs, we were asked to proceed through the customs and get our passports stamped to exit Malaysia and board the next ferry departing at 1330 hrs to Muara. There were four lines queued at the immigration, it moved swiftly and soon I boarded the next ferry. We departed at 1330 hrs and arrived at the Serasa ferry terminal in Muara, Brunei at 1520 hrs. As we moved in through the arrival gates, there were immigration counters and officers waiting to inspect the passports of the inbound passengers. I presented mine along with the filled arrival card, the immigration officer kept turning the pages and reading the data page of my passport, I didn’t speak and she did not ask me any questions either. For a moment I thought of telling her that as a Maldivian passport holder I will be entitled for 14 days on-arrival visa, but then again I thought this is at her sole discretion. She stood up and went inside the immigration office and came back, stamped my passport. While this was my first time entering Brunei, especially through the sea-port, I did refer to Timatic to find more about the entry requirements and learned that citizens of the Maldives do not need a visa for Brunei Darussalam and could stay a maximum of 14 days. Next, I placed my backpack on the conveyor belt for X-ray machine scanning, I was very nervous at this point because I had two packs of cigarettes with me and was under the impression that it was not allowed into Brunei without paying duty. The customs officers did not instruct me to open my backpack, so I just collected it and made my way out of the Serasa ferry terminal. There were no money changers inside or outside the Serasa ferry terminal and I would suggest to change the money at Labuan before boarding the ferry to Muara.
I stayed outside the waiting area for the bus until 1600 hrs, one of the locals suggested me to take the taxi and that since it was a Sunday, the bus operations could be slow or may not operate at all. I waited for another 15-minutes and took a taxi to Muara bus stop, the ride costed B$10.00, once I got down at the bus stop, there were three buses preparing for departure, the taxi driver told me the bus numbers from 36 to 39 would take me to the city.
I got on bus #37 and in about 15-minutes it departed, there were no other passengers, but it was collecting passengers from different stops and we made into the city in 40 minutes and the fare was B$1.00. I had my Google maps on, so I knew where to get off to find my hotel, as we reached the Jalan Kianggeh road close to the Chinese temple, I got off the bus and walked to my hotel which was three-minutes away. I was glad I didn’t take the metered taxis from the Serasa ferry terminal to the hotel which would have costed me B$25.00 to B$40.00.
If you have traveled from Kota Kinabalu to Muara by ferry, please feel free to share your story and experience in the comments!