Backpacking South East Asia: Borneo Quick Summary

Before the Trip (excited much?!)
Just before I head out. I miss THAT skin!

Hello guys! Yes, I am back! I got darker, with some bruises, scratches and burns here and  there, and calluses on my feet worth a lot of tip for whoever’s gonna be doing a foot spa on it. But more than this, I am back with a backpack full of stories to tell and I know you are dying to know about my epic 27-day journey across South East Asia. Hehehe.

Okay, I’m probably assuming here but as everyone I know who knew about my trip have been asking about it, I’d have to say that at least more than 10 people are waiting for blog entries about it, especially since I keep telling them to read this travel blog.

Keep in mind that I have you guys in mind (hanu daw?!) while I was traveling so I’m sure the details I’ll share in the next posts will really keep you coming back and hopefully, encouraging you to go and travel too! But, before I post the more detailed “reports”, I’ll give you three quick summaries of my traveling experience–just a bit to pacify your need to know and just enough to keep you glued for more. Hehe.

I divided the trip summaries into three: 1. Borneo (Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia; Negara Brunei Darussalam; and Miri, Sarawak, Mayasia); 2. Ports and Islands (Singapore; Kuala Lumpur and Melaka, Malaysia; and Phuket, Thailand); and 3. IndoChina (Bangkok, Thailand; Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam).

My trip was supposed to begin on October 1, the day I am officially unemployed as my 2.25-year working stint with JICA has officially ended on September 30. However, due to the typhoon battering Philippines at the time, I received a text message from AirAsia saying that the flight has been canceled and to call them right away. Pissed as I was, I understood the situation and called their customer service center at Kuala Lumpur (yes, it was a freaking IDD call!) and had my flight booked for the next day. In short, the journey began on October 2.

And so, without further ado, let’s begin with Borneo, shall we?!

Day 1: Travel to Diosdado Macapagal International Airport; arrived at Kota Kinabalu (KK) and experience the hospitality of Kuya Zuldee (a Sabahan with a Filipina girlfriend whom I met at Dau terminal on the way to DMIA) who assisted me throughout the night. Stay at Sensi Backpackers Hostel along Jalan Gaya. Met Sally, my English environmental architecture (?) volunteer roomate. Met the Shanghai family (Beth, her sister, brother-in-law and teenager niece) and convinced them to visit Coron or El Nido.

The Red of AirAsia over the orange sun setting at Kota Kinabalu
The Red of AirAsia over the orange sun setting at Kota Kinabalu (TAR Marine Park at a distance)

Day 2: Walk around KK city area; Head to Jesselton Point (ferry port) for Sapi Island, revel in the white sands, sun bathe, snorkel and swim with the fishies; Head back to Jesselton; Go with Zuldee again who graciously offered to give me a city tour (jalan jalan!); Back to Sensi and chat with the Pinay staff; upon Sally’s arrival from work, got picked-up by Zuldee again and head to city outskirts for a dinner by the bay (again, FREE!).

Reflecting about life (CHAR!) at Sapi Island, TAR Marine Park
Reflecting about life (CHAR!) at Sapi Island, TAR Marine Park

Day 3: Travel from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan Federal Territory (Malaysia); watch as four Pinays, allegedly being trafficked for prostitution, get stopped at immigration and loaded into a police car; continue my travel to Brunei; arrive at the port, clear immigration and chat with a Filipino couple who works at Labuan and KK (visa run mode) who explained the human trafficking and prostitution set-up in Sabah, Sandakan and Sarawak; waited and got picked-up by my Bruneian CouchSurfing host, Zaza–drank my first can of Tiger beer at her place, met her roomate Narissa, all went out for dinner after picking her friend Amal, drinking some more Tiger (at BND7 a pint!) ala-gangster mode at an underground (well, above ground) place at a hotel (drinking is practically illegal in the country), washed my clothes at her place before sleeping comfortably at her sofa-that-turns-to-a-double-bed that’s perfect for surfers like me!

Zaza's Couch: two nights of comfort!
Zaza's Couch: two nights of comfort!

Day 4: Leave early for Zaza’s work before she drove me around the Bandar Seri Begawan area and dropped me off at the Sultan Omar Ali Saiffudin Mosque; took pictures and actually went inside (ceiling with designs made of 18k gold!); had my first taste of Kaya toast; went to Yayasan for a bit of shopping; took the taxi ride to the Kampong Ayer (Water village, a woman kindly paid for my fare!); went inside the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery; actually walked in the wooden pathways of Kampong Ayer; met 60 and 70 year old Bruneian sisters who I can tell was relatively poor but had thick gold bracelets on their arms; met Zaza at Coffee Bean, booked my bus ticket to Miri, sarawak, Malaysia the next day and headed back to their place; went out with her bestfriend ZJ (spelling is probably wrong) to play pool/billiards and had a date with Mr. Brown (coffee!) before calling it a night.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin, probably Brunei's most famous Mosque, pays homage to Islam

Day 5: Left really early for my 7am bus to Miri (took about four hours); bade goodbye to Zaza and Gargoyle (her uber cool and uber fast not-so-ordinary convertible Mini Cooper); met Daulat (a 28-year-old Pakistani furniture-maker), tried to converse (him having very little English and me having even more little Malay made this almost impossible), and through miming and broken English phrases, ended up being offered with marriage once he visits the Philippines and I get converted to Islam. (Kinaya niyo?! hahaha); got dropped somewhere and got in the bus to Miri City Center; walked in at the Tourist Information Center and got instructions of what and where to visit, left my bag there, had lunch and went to an internet cafe (to avoid the heat!); city tour–Mosques, the City Fan (like a park complex that looked like a fan), admired the Pustaka Miri (library) structure and concept of 1 Malaysia, walked through the flower park (which didn’t have as much flowers as I would expect), and found the Miri Handicraft Center to get some souvenirs (I strongly recommend to find the stall of the woman in the picture not necessarily for better prices but for a good insight on the Miri or Sarawak culture embedded in the souvenirs);

The uber culturally-knowledgeable Miri Handicraft Seller
The uber culturally-knowledgeable Miri Handicraft Seller

After the tour, I hurriedly returned to the tourist info center to get my bag and catch the flight to the airport for my Johor Baru flight. There’s too much details involved upon my arrival at the JB airport so keep things simple, I’ll just say that I slept at the house of total strangers, upon the invitation of a Muslim half-Filipino, half-Malaysian guy. (SAY WHAT?!)

I know it was an irrational and reckless decision but I am thankful that I came with Jhulson and met his family, though my mere presence created a tense and panicky time for them, especially for her sister, brother and sister-in-law. Why, you say? Well, JB is already part of the Ports and Islands Quick Summary so I would be writing about the rest on the next post.

Sorry to keep you hanging. Hehe. :p

Happy wandering! 🙂

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8 thoughts on “Backpacking South East Asia: Borneo Quick Summary”

    1. Thank you! I see you are promoting Cebu. Do you live there? I’ve been there twice but both seemed like in passing as it was for work and then in-transit to Bohol. Maybe I should return there and REALLY experience Cebu!

  1. Hi, nice blog!
    So funny and cool, so, you’re in couchsurfing too?
    I was looking for a nice brunei trip blog and then I saw yours
    Did u go to brunei alone
    Can you give me details about it, like your itinerary
    I’m planning to do my first solo backpacking in Brunei next year
    I’ve already booked, But I’m a bit worried, is it safe for a woman to travel alone there?

    Hope to hear a lot from you!
    Thanks, ate! 🙂

    1. Hi and thanks!
      Yeah. I had a CS host in Brunei. She’s really cool. And I think she’s getting quite popular in Brueni CS ring as well. Hehehe. :p
      How many days are you planning to stay in Brunei? Are you flying directly or crossing from Kota Kinabalu? I’ve started writing about my actual travel days already and the crossing part is included.
      I’d say it’s generally safe to go there, man or woman. Just you know, be careful in general. :p As per itinerary, if it’s just BSB, everything can be done in a day. But if you’re into nature and the likes, Brunei has a lot to offer too and you can probably spend 2D/1N in the forest. There’s a CSer in Temburong area who’s really inviting surfers over. :p
      Good luck in your trip and I hope the succeeding posts will help you in some way. Cheers!

      1. Yeah, I think I saw your post in CS-brunei forum too
        I’ve just booked manila-BSB-manila so i’m planning to do a BSB-KK itinerary,if possible, coz i’ll only have a 4-day trip

      2. KK to Brunei is from the morning to afternoon. We left after 7am, arrived Labuan about 11 or 11:30. And then, the Labuan-Brunei ferry was at 1 or 1:30 and arrived in Brunei at about 3 or 3:30pm (i’ll have to check picture timestamps to confirm pa. hehe). There was a bus waiting for passengers to take you to BSB center. Hindi ko nga lang yun nasakyan kasi nga my host will pick me up. I’m guessing pareho ang time from Brunei to KK. You can check out thesolopinaybackpacker.com for Gael’s posts on the journey. I think KK-BSB-KK siya. 🙂

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