Bus Trip Brunei to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia: How to

December 31, 2012 in Asia, Brunei, Inspiration, Malaysia, Travelogue

If you’re just casually following our blog then this post may or may not be of interest to you. But if you’re a traveler, specifically a traveler who is interested in Borneo and the route between Brunei and Kota Kinabalu, then this is for you.

There is not much information about this route, and how to accomplish it online. What there is, is nebulous at best and quite out of date. This, I know, because I’ve been sifting through crap web pages for weeks trying to suss out how to best accomplish a stretch of highway that is little traversed and which writers of travel guides have completely passed over.

As far as I can tell, this one day road trip holds the record for number of passport stamps accrued without back tracking, at a whopping eight, between only two countries. I’ll explain that anomaly further on.

First, the answers to a few questions that I myself have asked in the past week:

Can Brunei to Kota Kinabalu be done by land in one day?

YES. It can. Your choices are ferry, or bus. We chose bus because it would not involve loading and unloading our gear a ridiculous number of times and there was no possibility of missing a connection mid stream and getting stranded. We hate that.

How much does BSB to KK cost?

$45 Brunei dollars per person. No discount for children. At the time of writing, $1 Brunei was equal to about $0.80 USD.

Where is the bus terminal in Bandar Seri Begawan?

Well, that’s one of the tricky bits: there isn’t one, exactly. If you go in by bus, you’ll know where to go back to because you’ll be dumped off there. If you flew in, here are the best directions I can manage:

The “bus station” is a pull off lane added to the main road that runs along the waterfront. It is in front of the building adjacent to the bright red Chinese temple, which you truly cannot miss and directly across the street from the canal boasting the red and white candy striped dock poles (the only ones painted like that on the whole canal, so that’s a landmark.) If you ask anyone in the downtown area, they’ll help you find it. It’s one street “over” from the main street that runs in front of the Royal Regalia Museum and the main mosque. Downtown is not that big, take a walk, you’ll find it. (Take a close look at the background of the above photo, that’s the departing bus in it’s launch location.)

When do the buses between Brunei and Kota Kinabalu go?

There are no buses, plural, there is ONE BUS between Brunei and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, per day. It leaves at 8 a.m., promptly. Be there.

How do I get tickets for the Brunei-Kota Kinabalu bus?

You can get tickets right on the bus (go a few minutes early to leave time to fill out the border control papers for exiting and entering Brunei and to ensure you get a seat.) The bus is not usually full, but it does collect more passengers as it goes and it is possible that there will be a group of Norwegians pre-reserved on your bus and seats will be marked off for them, limiting space for you and the other passengers.

If you are a group, like we are, you may want to purchase the day before. This can be done at a coffee shop on the main street, it’s not the one on the corner adjacent to the mosque, it’s two doors in from that. Sounds sketchy, I know; sorry… it is what it is. We discovered this by asking our desk help at the hotel and they sorted us out.

How long does the Brunei-Kota Kinabalu bus take?

A solid eight hours, if the border crossings are smooth and the travel gods are smiling. Take snacks.

What about stops?

The bus will stop several times, in addition to the border stops. You’ll get 40 minutes for lunch at local eateries. No big bus station “cafeteria” as are common elsewhere in Asia. The ladies who don’t speak English but are right behind the public bathrooms serve good grub for about a buck fifty a plate. Go with them. We didn’t get sick! 😉

What, exactly, is the deal with the ridiculous number of border stamps?

I had difficulty “getting” this online, but Danny, who mans the bus stop in BSB explains it beautifully, after you fill out your import-export card at the bus stop. Here’s the basic breakdown:

  • 1 hour to the border with Brunei- off the bus, stamp out of Brunei, stamp into Malaysia (2 stamps)
  • 1.5 hours across the narrow strip of Malaysia that separates Brunei from Brunei- off the bus, stamp out of Malaysia, back into Brunei (2 stamps)
  • 2 ish hours in Brunei including lunch stop then back to the border with Malaysia- off the bus, stamp out, stamp into Sarawak, Malaysia. (2 stamps)

Still with me? This is where it gets funky…

  • 2 ish hours to the border between Sarawak, Malaysia and Sabah, Malaysia… which are both Malaysia, but have distinctly different governments, so you actually have to stamp out of one and into the other, even though it’s the same country… imagine if Texas and Louisiana required a border check (which they should!) 😉 It’s like that. (2 stamps)

Eight total, and you’re into Sabah… 2 ish more hours to Kota Kinabalu. Easy peasy.

Is it a rodeo?

Surprisingly… not. It went smooth as silk the day we went, on a weekday. By all reports the border crossings are busier on weekends, so plan accordingly. For all of the mystery surrounding this trip as far as reliability of transport and regularity of schedule, we found it pretty easy to accomplish. The hardest bit was figuring out, in BSB what the heck was going on with the lack of bus station and where to get the tickets in advance, and deciding if we wanted to take the ferry or not. Presumably the trip from KK to BSB works exactly the same, in reverse. The buses in the other direction leave from the bus parking in the central City Park in KK, one block up from the waterfront.

Hope that helps!