I went on a five-day trip to Kota Kinabalu and Brunei in Borneo Island on my way from the Philippines to Jakarta, Indonesia.

There were a lot of interesting places to visit and things to do in Borneo like conquering the peak of Mt. Kinabalu, exploring Gunung Mulu National Park, taking a camping trip to deep pristine jungles, or visiting the Orangutan and Proboscis Monkey sanctuaries. Because of my time limitations, I was only able to visit the general vicinity of Kota Kinabalu and Brunei.

Kota Kinabalu was a laid-back yet progressive city in the Sabah State of East Malaysia. On the first full day of my trip, I went on a boat tour to the white sand beaches and pristine waters of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, and then explored the city center on foot. Some of my best experiences in Kota Kinabalu included a sunset/dusk visit to Signal Hill Observatory, which had a picturesque overlooking view of the whole city, and eating delicious local Malaysian dishes.

In Brunei, I did a walking tour of the city center of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city, where the grand Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque could be found. I also enjoyed a river cruise around the massive stilt village of Kampung Ayer, ventured upriver, and saw a wild proboscis monkey in its natural habitat.

Itinerary Rundown

DestinationsDetails
Day 1Kota Kinabalu
  • Clark to Kota Kinabalu
  • Kota Kinabalu Airport to City Center
  • Kota Kinabalu Hostel Check-in
Day 2Kota Kinabalu
  • Kota Kinabalu Island Hopping
  • Kota Kinabalu Walking Tour
Day 3Labuan
  • Kota Kinabalu to Labuan
  • Labuan Hostel Check-in
Day 4Brunei
  • Labuan to Brunei via Serasa Port
  • Brunei Hostel Check-in
  • Around Bandar Seri Begawan
Day 5Kota Kinabalu
  • Brunei to Kota Kinabalu via Lawas, Sarawak
  • Kota Kinabalu to Jakarta
Next Java, Indonesia
Top Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia

Trip Date — March 2012

Route Map


Itinerary Notes & Tips

Day 1

Clark to Kota Kinabalu

  • 3:20pm to 6:00pm – Clark to Kota Kinabalu flight via AirAsia
  • 6:00pm – Arrival at Kota Kinabalu International Airport (Terminal 2)

 

Kota Kinabalu Airport to City Center

  • Walk to bus stop in front of Tanjung Aru Plaza (beside Perdana Park, Jalan Mat Salleh)
  • Ride shuttle to Wawasan Bus Terminal, located south of Kota Kinabalu City Center – RM1
  • Ride “CityBus” to Kota Kinabalu City Center – RM1

Kota Kinabalu Hostel Check-in

  • Check-in at Borneo Backpackers (24 Lorong Dewan, Pusat Bandar, Kota Kinabalu; +60 88 243 009) – One of the cheapest hostels in Kota Kinabalu
    • Aircon dormitory  (Free breakfast) – RM25 / night

Around Kota Kinabalu

  • Dinner at Filipino Night Market hawker stalls – RM15

Day 2

  • 6:40am – Free breakfast at Borneo Backpackers
  • Extend +1 night at Borneo Backpackers – RM20

Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park Island Hopping

  • 9:15am to 3:30pm – Kota Kinabalu Island Hopping Tour
    • 9:15am – Departure from Kota Kinabalu Esplanade
    • 9:35am – Mamutik Island
      • Excellent snorkeling
    • 11:00pm – Manukan Island
      • Lunch at cafeteria
    • 1:35pm – Sapi Island
    • 3:00pm – Departure from Sapi Island
    • 3:15pm – Pass by stilt house village at Gaya Island
  • 3:30pm – Arrival at Kota Kinabalu Esplanade

Around Kota Kinabalu City Center

  • 5:00pm – Gaya Street
  • Eat at a restaurant along Beach St.
    • Bak Kuh Teh (lamb) – RM8
    • Rice
    • Coffee
  • 6:00pm – Atkinsons Tower
  • 6:30pm – Signal Hill Observatory
    • Great overlooking view of KK City Center for night shots
  • 8:45pm – Suria Sabah Mall
  • Dinner at I love Chicken Rice
    • “Family delight” set meal – RM68.8 (RM17.2 per person for group of 4)

Day 3

Brunei was only a few hours away from Kota Kinabalu. I couldn’t resist a quick trip. I went on rather unusual routes between Kota Kinabalu and Brunei. First, via Menumbok and Labuan Island from Kota Kibabalu to Brunei, and then via Lawas in Sarawak State of Malaysia on my way back. I had to spend a night in Labuan because of my evening arrival. Labuan was one of Malaysia’s freeports, which meant it was one of the few places in this predominantly Islamic nation where travelers can indulge in cheap duty free stuff.

Kota Kinabalu to Labuan

  • Walk to Jesselton Port
    • Mid-morning ferry to Brunei/Labuan was cancelled
  • Ride Kota Kinabalu to Menumbok shuttle – RM30
    • Drop off at Menumbok Ferry Teminal
  • Arrival at Menumbok Ferry Terminal
    • Buy slow ferry ticket to Labuan – RM5
    • Speedboat fare was RM15 and takes 30 minutes
  • Eat at food stall outside Menumbok Ferry Terminal
    • Nasi Goreng Ayam – RM5.5
    • Bottled water – RM1.2
  • 4:30pm – Board slow ferry – RM1.5 terminal fee
  • Ride Menumbok to Labuan Island ferry (2 hours and 30 mintes)
  • 7:00pm – Arrival at Labuan

Labuan hostel Check-in

  • “Room for Rent” at 2nd floor of  Shariah 2 restaurant – RM30 per room
  • Check-in at Labuan Backpacker Uncle Jacks Bed & Breakfast (near Utama Temple, opposite to Utama Jaya Superstore) – probably the only backpacker hostel in Labuan
    • Fan dormitory – RM25 / night

Around Labuan

  • Dinner at Restaurant Al Faris
    • Nasi Goreng Seafood – RM5.5
    • Kopi – RM1.2
    • Yummy fried rice with spicy Indian curry sauce. Staff couldn’t understand a word of English
  • Buy at Utama Jaya Mall
    • Bottled H20 (1.5L) – RM1

Day 4

  • 6:30am – Free breakfast at Uncle Jack’s. Check-out

Labuan to Brunei via Serasa Port

  • 8:30am – Walk to Labuan Ferry Terminal
  • 8:45am – Buy ferry ticket from Labuan to Serasa, Brunei via “Sri Labuan Tiga” – RM35 (including RM5 tax)
  • 10:15am – Arrival at Serasa Port
  • 10:30am – Ride bus #37 from Serasa Ferry Terminal to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei (BSB) – B$2
    • Drop off at intersection near Pusat Belia Youth Hostel. Ask driver.
  • 11:45pm – Arrival at BSB City Center. Walk to Pusat Belia Youth Hostel.

Brunei Hostel Check-in

  • 12:00nn – Check-in at Pusat Belia Youth Hostel (Jalan Kebandsaan, Bandar Seri Begawan) – the only budget accommodation in Bandar Seri Begawan
    • Aircon dorm – B$10 / night

 

Around Bandar Seri Begawan

  • Eat at Taman Selera ( one block away from Pusat Beliat; infront of Terrace Hotel)
    • Udang Penyet (pronounced as hudang penget) – B$3
  • BSB City Center Walking Tour
    • Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
    • BSB Royal Wharf
  • Kianggeh Market
  • Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex (mall)
  • 4:45pm to 5:20pm – Brunei River boat tour.
    • Water taxi charter – $10 around the water village + $10 to see Proboscis monkeys
  • Dinner @ Restaurant Aberdeen
    • Fried rice pattaya beef (nasi goreng beef) – B$4.5

Day 5

The day I had to travel from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu was also the same day I was supposed to catch my flight from K.K. Airport to my next destination, Jakarta (Indonesia). I almost ruined my trip when I arrived at Serasa port of Brunei too late and found out I missed all the morning ferries back to Labuan or K.K. In a favorable twist of fate, a ferry to Lawas in Sarawak state was still available. The ferry cruised through the chocolate-colored Lawas river, which looked beautifully pristine, and even offered a distant view of the Gunung Mulu mountain range, one of the awesome destinations in Borneo that I skipped because I didn’t have enough time for this leg of my trip.

Brunei to Kota Kinabalu via Lawas, Sarawak

  • 7:15am – Walk to BSB bus terminal.
    • Bus to ferry terminal already departed.
    • A local told me I can ride either bus #37, 38 or 39, and then change to #33 once in Muara Terminal
  • 8:03am – Depart BSB
  • Ride bus #39 from BSB to Serasa Ferry Terminal – $1
  • 9:20am – Arrival at Serasa Ferry Terminal
    • Buy Serasa-Lawas-KK ticket – B$32
  • 10:00am – Boading call
    • Pass Brunei immigration
  • Ride Serasa to Lawas ferrry
  • 11:35am – Arrival at Lawas Ferry Terminal
    • Pass Malaysian immigration
  • Transfer to taxi and ride to Lawas Bus Terminal – fare included in ticket
  • Transfer to shuttle and ride to Kota Kinabalu
  • 3:15am – Arrival at KK
    • Drop off behind KK City Hall
  • Walk to bus stop near City Park and City Hall

Kota Kinabalu City Center to Kinabalu Airport

KK City Center to Airport

  • 3:40pm – ride CityBus #1A to Wawasan Terminal – RM0.5
  • 3:48pm – Arrival at Wawasan Terminal.
    • Wait for Bus 1A bound for KK Airport Terminal 2.
  • 4:05pm – Still no bus. Decided to take a taxi. Found a taxi line across the street at Wawasan Center.
  • Ride taxi from Wawasan Center to KK Airport Terminal 2 – RM14 metered fare
  • 4:41pm – Arrival at KK Airport Terminal 2
  • 6:40pm to 8:30pm – Kota Kinabalu to Jakarta Flight
  • 8:30pm – Arrival at Jakarta International Airport