Brunei to Labuan by ferry

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Going to Labuan island from Miri by flight is common. That is what ordinary people do. Nothing special. Nothing worth writing nor sharing. Everybody did it. And there are daily flights to Labuan some en route Kota Kinabalu. Just go to Airasia or MH website, book tickets, pay by credit cards, and off you go. No need passport because you simply travel within Malaysia (Miri to Labuan and return).

Attraction points in Labuan island (pix courtesy of others)

You cannot drive to Labuan. Simply because it is an island. And an island is surrounded by waters. And cars need road. Except one car I was on TV ad — new edition Ford Ranger. Itu pun atas lopak air saja.

So that is how this trip began. Out of curiosity, you may say. Out of take-the-road-less-traveled view of the journey. Read on to know more about this adventure. Miri to Labuan – part by road and part by ferry. BTW this project took place in September 2012.

The story began in Miri. Why Miri? Because it is the place of my assignment. I have worked there since 2010 after returning from Yangon. Not really though – Miri is really a nice place to work and play and may be a good place to settle down also, subject to approval from you know who. I am supposed to write something about this second largest city in Sarawak, but well… still a work in progress. Since when a man of action become a man of excuse? Also I am supposed to share on some interesting road trips in Sarawak.  Lets go back to main road.

From my rented home at Pujut 4A in Miri to Sungai Tujuh checkpoint, it took less than 30 minutes. See my previous posting how to navigate border crossing at Sungai Tujuh.  Take note that Sungai Tujuh checkpoint opens 6am everyday. We needed to be early at the border as I had to drive some 150kms within Brunei to reach Muara town Brunei in time to catchup the ferry departing for Labuan at 930am. For info, Saturday was a working day in Brunei and roads were rather congested with morning traffic in Kuala Belait and Seria interchanges. Friday and Sunday are weekend in Brunei. Saturday and other days are workdays. How unique! Just like their geographical location — two adjacent fingers with Malaysia’s Limbang sandwiched in between. Oh my.. now feeling hungry already. But no submarine in Miri. Maybe not yet. Lets go back to the main road.

From Sungai Tujuh, the road (part road and part highway) runs all the way to Bandar Seri Begawan (aka BSB) and eventually ends up in Muara town, where Serasa Ferry Terminal is located. For info Muara to BSB is about 25kms. Just follow the roadsign to Muara. Don’t be tempted to exit to BSB along the highway.

Serasa ferry terminal (passenger terminal) in Brunei

When we reached Serasa Ferry Terminal at about 10 to 9, the cars and bikes were queueing up already to board the ferry. This is a car ferry — which means the ferry also carry cars and bikes and trucks and buses on the lower deck and of course people — young and old, on the upper deck.

We decided to leave the cars we drove from Miri at the ferry terminal, and jumped on the ferry to go to Labuan. NOTE: For ferry passengers, you may leave cars at the parking lot near ticketing counter cum shed. It was free parking but at own risk.

For newcomers, entrance to Serasa ferry terminal is a bit confusing. The first entrance is going to the car ferry terminal (operated by Shuttle Hope) and the second entrance is going to the passenger ferry terminal. Both terminals have their own custom and immigration checkpoints. Yes this is an international border crossing (exiting Brunei). You need a valid international passport and perhaps visa (for other than Malaysians). The parking lot at passenger ferry terminal is chargeble at BND 10 per day per car parked there. You may see some cars parked by the roadside prior to entrance — to avoid parking fee. Your choice. Really.

After parking the cars and taking luggages out, the next thing to do was to buy ferry tickets at the ticketing counter. You must produce your passport and pass to the ladies inside the counter, in order to buy tickets. They would take down the passport details and determine the price. We paid BND 15 per adult and BND 8 per child under 12, taxes included. Ringgit Malaysia is not accepted here. NOTE: Buy some Brunei Dollar in Miri, or before entering Brunei. At the time of this travel, BND1 = RM2.48.

Then we proceeded to the Brunei immigration checkpoint (read: shed) to get the passport stamped for Brunei exit. The same shed handled passengers in cars and on bikes, so be careful when walking.

Then we took a long walk with all our things, from immigration shed to the waiting double-decker ferry. Just before boarding the ferry, ferry men checked our tickets and took away his portion, while we kept ours. Once in the ferry, we went up to the upper deck and into passenger cabin. The cabin was so comfortable, fully airconditioned, with big LCD TV playing the not-so-latest movie — Armageddon, preceded with ‘doa musafir’ recital and safety briefing in case of emergency while seaborn. Then began the 90-minutes journey into Brunei Bay going to Labuan.  View was spectacular. Coastal and ocean-going vessels cris-crossing along the way. Brunei Navy shipyard. Offshore services jetties. Fabrication yards. Speedboats plying Brunei – Labuan routes. Oil platforms operated by Brunei Shell. Fresh breeze. Get your camera ready to snap huge Maersk container sealiner. Seamen in coverall waived at us. We waived back. Seamen seemed to have a high sense of comraderie. Yes you need lotta friends when in the high seas, where your enemies are weather and pirates.

Labuan international ferry terminal - from here you can go to Brunei, Limbang, Lawas and KK

Reaching Labuan, we could see Labuan skylines. A Petronas methanol plant was the most visible landmark with its green logo on their tanks. The ferry eventually completed its journey at the Labuan International Ferry Terminal. Upon disembarkation, we were ushered to the Malaysian Immigration checkpoint — a building rather new but compact, to get the passport stamped for entering Malaysia. Again you need a valid international passport to enter Malaysia. This building is not part of main ferry terminal, so we had to walk to the main terminal building, where we could catch taxis or local buses. Downtown Labuan is such a compact place where most hotels are all within walking distance. We rented a car and stayed at the Palm Beach hotel, at the northern tip of the island in a village called Kg Batu Manikar.

Labuan island has a good road system and easy to explore, just like Langkawi island. Halal food and masjids are aplenty, as 75% of the population are Muslims  — Kedayan, Brunei Malays, Bajau and Kadazandusun  from Sabah mainland. Masjid Jamek Annur has a unique structure not  easy to go unnoticed. You can rent a car to move about the island.

Enjoy the photos, courtesy of Panasonic Lumix TZ7 camera.

 

Kampung Ayer (“a village on water”) in Brunei

Monday, December 27th, 2010

If there is only one place you have time to visit in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), it must be Kampung Ayer (loosely translated as a village on water). People live, work and travel on the water, which is actually a river, a huge river leading to South China Sea.  There are houses, schools, grocery stores, offices, police station, mosques, gas station and everything else a society needs to lead a common life. Yes their daily activities and transaction are done on the water. They travel from houses to house and other place in the motorized boats.  Kampung Ayer reminds me of my trips to Venezia, Italy (2006) and also Inle Lake in Myanmar (2009). Unlike Inle Lake, they don’t grow vegetables and fruits on the water — they must have bought it at the supermarkets along the river banks. I was told that the number of families making Kampung Ayer their home are getting smaller and smaller as many move to the river banks.  But it is really a refreshing experience for big city boys and girls to cruise around the Kampung Ayer on water taxi with nominal fees. Bring along the camera to shoot at waving kids. Water taxis available at the jettty at negotiable rate. We paid only B$10 per boat to the young boatman for a 20-minute boat ride. He had no passengers at that time and he just obliged. Beware that safety jackets may not be available on all boats. Have fun at own risk, so I said. Some photos below.

How to get here?

Kampung Ayer is right in the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei. You will never miss it. It is right across the road from Yayasan piazza and shopping center. Water taxis can be found and hailed from the jetty and fares are negotiable.  As a caution, safety jackets may not be available on private boats. How to get into Brunei? Royal Brunei Airlines flies to major cities in Asia Pacific and Middle East and other places. Catch one of their return flight to Brunei from your nearest airport. So easy ha! From Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines fly directly daily to BSB. If you are already in Miri, Sarawak, just like yours truly, just catch the express bus Miri-Brunei. You need a valid passport of course, and if you are not Malaysians, you may need a valid visa. Check with your embassy, before getting on the bus or the aircraft. Read my other posting here for crossing land border Malaysia-Brunei from Miri side.

Bandar Seri Begawan, BRUNEI

Sunday, December 26th, 2010
November 2010:
 
 Brunei, located in the northern Borneo, is one of the last remaining Sultanate government in South East Asia. It is also one of the three governments in the world ruled by monarchies under a dynasty claiming descent from Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). Brunei, despite relatively small size comparing to its neighbouring Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, has more to offer to unhurried visitors, in term of natural landscapes — unspoiled forests, rivers and beaches. The capital city is Bandar Seri Begawan (aka BBS).  Population of Brunei with all 4 districts (Belait, Tutong, Bandar Seri Begawan and Temburong) is about than half a million people only. Despite the size, the country enjoys among the highest GDP and purchasing power per capita in the region, and considered the developed country by IMF standards. Read on below for another story of the road, this time Brunei. Pictures quality may not be that good as  I was using camera phone SE Xperia X10 running on Android 1.6.
 
I was often informed by colleagues that it takes only one day to discover Brunei, but I did not think so, upon my first visit to Brunei. Yes you can travel end to end , i.e. border to border, within 5 hours non-stop, but to appreciate people and places in Brunei, you need more than that. BBS deserves a day or two for discerning travellers. Kampung Ayer is a must to visit. Town centers of Kuala Belait,  Seria or even Tutong are all off main highway, which require a detour and of course time if you want to visit them. Gadong is a suburb of BSB and just about 10 minutes drive to the BSB downtown area.
In summary, the key tourist attractions in BSB include:
1. Kampung Ayer. It reminded me of my trips to Venezia, Italy (2006) and also Inle Lake in Myanmar (2009).   I wrote about Kampung Ayer in Brunei my other posting here.
2. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
3. Sultan Hasanal Bolkiah Mosque in Gadong suburb.
4. Palaces (Istana Nurul Iman and Istana Darul Hana). Can just see from outside.
5. Royal Regalia Building. It is a museum containing treasures of Brunei Sultan. Free entry.
6. Yayasan shooping center, near Kampung Ayer jetty.
7. Modern shopping centers (The Mall & Jaya supermarket) in upscale Gadong area. Many expensive hotels nearby. Also fast food outlets like McDonalds and local competitor Jollibee restaurant, can be found there.
8. Jerudong Park. It is an amusement park. Good for kids and adults only.
9. Tamu Kianggeh. It is an open market selling perishable foodstuff, fish and vegies and others. (Unfortunately we reached there in the afternoon and already closed).
10. A mosque near royal cemetery (sorry, don’t know the name of the mosque, but it is rather big)
11. RBA Golf Club. It is near the airport (if you are golfers, of course)
See some photos on BBS below, as captured by amateur photographer (as for now):
How to get there:
Royal Brunei Airlines flies to major cities in Asia Pacific and Middle East and other places. Catch one of their return flight to Brunei from your nearest airport. So easy ha! From Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines fly directly daily to BSB. If you are already in Miri, Sarawak, just like yours truly, just catch the express bus Miri-Brunei. You need a valid passport of course, and if you are not Malaysians, you may need a valid visa. Check with your embassy, before getting on the bus or the aircraft. Read my other posting here for crossing land border Malaysia-Brunei from Miri side.

Seria in Brunei

Saturday, December 4th, 2010
November 2010:
 
 Brunei, located in the northern Borneo, is one of the last remaining Sultanate government in South East Asia. It is also one of the three governments in the world ruled by monarchies under a dynasty claiming descent from Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). Brunei, despite relatively small size comparing to its neighbouring Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, has more to offer to unhurried visitors, in term of natural landscapes — unspoiled forests, rivers and beaches.
One of major towns in Brunei is Seria, known as a town built by oil industry. Shell is a major player being here more than 100 years. I had opportunity to stop by this oil town in November 2010 while enroute Bandar Seri Begawan from Miri, Sarawak. Read on below for another story of the road, this time Brunei. Pictures quality may not be that good as  I was using camera phone only, i.e. SE Xperia X10 with 8.1 megapixels camera, still running on Android 1.6 despite many failed attempts to upgrade to 2.1.
 
 Shell (Brunei Shell) and Seria are inseparable. Shell’s influence in Seria town is very noticeble and everywhere from petrol station to crude oil terminals to huge refinery. The first oil discovery onshore was made in 1929 and in fact the whole Seria town sits on what is called Seria oil field. The old way of producing oil using mechanical “donkeys” to pump up the oil from underground is still in practise. You can still see these “donkeys” at work around Seria town nowadays. White men probably expatiates working with Brunei Shell can be seen on town streets wandering around in search of night entertainment, which is scarce in this deeply religious country. You could not be wrong if you say that the town exists because of Shell. There is a main road cutting across the town and leading to an oil refinery and oil terminals and other facilities at one end. The town streets are in grid formation and very easy to navigate, if you know where you are going to. The roads are well marked. The town center is dotted with rows of shoplots where you can find banks, restaurants including Jollibee fast food outlet (Brunei’s version of McDonalds or KFC) and many retail outlets selling Chinese junk stuff and hardwares. There is one 3-storey shopping center behind Jollibee. A small taxi and bus terminal is nearby, where buses going to BBS and Kuala Belait can be found. BTW Seria is a town in the district of Kuala Belait. If you are interested in knowing more about how Shell discovered and developed oil reserve in Brunei, a visit to OGDC is a must. Check visiting hours first.
Places to visit in Seria:
1. Oil & Gas Discovery Center (OGDC)
2. Oil & gas facilities (including oil refinery)
3. Town center
4. Masjid Pekan Seria
5. “Donkeys”
How to get here?
Seria is about 100 km to the west of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei. From Miri (Malaysia), it is about 40 kms.
There are many ways to get here. One way is to fly to Miri, Sarawak, cross Malaysia/Brunei at Sungai Tujuh checkpoint and drive up to Seria on the way to BBS. ANother way is to fly direct to BBS and take road trip to Seria.

Miri to Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan) by road

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

18 September 2010:

If you happen to be in Miri, Sarawak, you should not miss visiting Brunei, because it is very nearby.  By road under normal driving and traffic, you should you should reach the capital city of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan within 2 hours with total distance of about 150 kms. But there are some formalities at the border crossing which could be quite tricky for the first timers, nevertheless it is a breeze if you know how. I will share my experience crossing Malaysia/Brunei border by road in this post.

The roads are all the way paved and some stretch are 4-lane highway and with fast car you will enjoy the speed of your machine. If you have time, you could enjoy the green tropical sceneries at one side and the South China Sea  breeze on the other side. You will see most towns in Brunei along this journey like Kuala Belait, Seria, Jerudong are all beach towns.

First stage is from Miri to Sungai Tujuh checkpoint. The checkpoint is about 30 kms from Miri city center. To reach this border checkpoint, you have two options. First you could drive north to Lutong along the coastal road and before reaching Kuala Baram, turn right following the direction to Sungai Tujuh. Alternatively from Miri  you could reach the checkpoint  via Tudan or Permyjaya. Either way, follow the roadsign leading to Sungai Tujuh checkpoint or Kuala Belait. No mention of Bandar Seri Begawan yet at this point in time.

Maneuvouring thru checkpoint is a bit tricky. First you must pass Malaysia Immigration checkpoint. No need for you and passengers to get off from the car. Just drive thru and at the counter hand over all the international passports to the clerk inside the booth. Malaysians do not need visa to enter Brunei, international  passports will do. Other nationalities please check with your own consulates. After passports stamped and returned, you will drive thru a winding road passing thru Brunei police station. By now you are already in the Brunei side of the border already. Do not stop at the police station. Just drive up along the winding road and you will reach Brunei Immigration checkpoint. Again, just drive thru and hand over the passports to a clerk at the counter. Here she will stamp the entry visa in your passports which allows you to stay in Brunei for up to one month on social visit pass. Then you will come to Custom checkpoint. Since you are bringing Malaysian car into Brunei, they will ask you to fill up a car pass. Get the form from them and fill up vehicle particulars. All info requested about the vehicles can be found in the car grant or title issued by JPJ Malaysia. So it is strongly recommended that you carry along a copy of such car grant. Pull over to a waiting bay to fill up the form.
Brunei is such a rich country that no fees whatsoever required. By the way the vehicle pass is valid for one month, which means you can use the same pass many times to enter Brunei. Thats why you see some drivers just drive thru and hand over their old car pass for stamping by the Custom official — because they already filled up once. Once you are done with the Brunei Custom, you are already on the way to Bandar Seri Begawan, some 127 kms from the checkpoints. On Brunei roads you will see majority big cars with Brunei plate numbers which starts with B or K refering to districts in Brunei. You can easily be mistaken with Kedah or Selangor plate number which also starts with K and B respectively, but the difference is bigger font size. You will pass by towns like Kuala Belait, Jerudong and Tutong before you reach BBS. After BBS is Muara, the town at the furthest end of the highway.

After a while you will come to a toll plaza at which every car passing thru must pay 3 Brunei Dollar. Take note that there is no proper rest area along the highway. As you are passing villages you may stop at the road-side restaurants or shops for a break. Observe speed limit as police patrol cars in latest Chevrolet Cruze are watching you.