The ultimate travel goal is to fill your passport with stamps within the year. Honestly, I never thought of it as possible with the limited funds that I have. Thank goodness to fellow travel bloggers, I discovered the hack to earning 8 passport stamps just by travelling 2 wonderful countries, Malaysia and Brunei.
I left Manila bound for KK Friday night with clothes to last me for a week. My plan (aside from the 8 passport stamps) is to enjoy the place to the fullest with just 20k Php in my pocket (homestay and airfare excluded). If you have been following my blog, you would know how impulsive I am when it comes to food…so that in itself proposes a challenge.
First Tip: NAIA TAX. The last time I went out of the country (which was like 10 years ago) the terminal fee was only Php 500. Imagine how surprised I was when I found out that we have to pay a whooping Php 1,620 for airport tax! I paid 3x more! With no other choices left and with a heavy heart, I took the money from my budget.
The flight from Manila to Kota Kinabalu via Cebu Pacific leaves at night. Do not forget to check-in immediately as the line for immigration can be long. Also, travel light! If you are not planning to purchase check-in baggage, Cebu Pacific only allows 7kg as hand carry allowance.
When we arrived at Kota Kinabalu, immigration was easier. We were out in no time!
Second Tip: Purchase a local sim card. The one we got was a little bit pricey. However, we enjoyed 7 days of data and unlimited texting for around Php 300. We were amazed, as well, at how far the coverage is. Imagine being in the center of the ocean, heading to Brunei but still able to update our Instagram account!
Ladies and Gentlemen, at this point, you have 2 passport stamps.
Third Tip: Take UBER! Update your Uber apps and book from the airport to wherever you are headed. It’s waay cheaper than the taxi cab in Kota Kinabalu plus we got really lucky with the promo code UBERRAYA. That was 14 trips with 4 RM off!
If you are headed to Brunei, you have to go to Jesselton Ferry Port. First trip is at 8AM. Head to counter 4 as soon as it opens and buy your tickets.
Fourth Tip: You will be riding 2 ferries to get to Brunei. The first leg will be Kota Kinabalu to Labuan Port, and the other would be from Labuan Port to Muara Port (Brunei). Double Power (Counter 4) offers a package for the transfer. It is more economical plus it saves you the hassle of falling in line again in Labuan Port to purchase the ticket to Muara Port.
In our case, since we arrived really early in the morning and short of Ringgits, we just purchased the ticket from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan and had our money changed before we rode the ferry to Muara.
You will be arriving in Labuan port at around 11:00 AM. The ferry ride from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan is a long one. The waves can be really cruel as well and if you are the type to get seasick, this is not for you. Now you might ask, what will you be doing to entertain yourself for 3 hours? They will be playing a movie during the whole trip, don’t you worry! It may not be your current box office but, hey, you can live with that! They will also be serving Maggi noodles for 2 RM. I am officially in love with Maggi Curry!
After eating my cup noodles and watching the first few minutes of Journey to the West, I slept like a baby on a very violent crib. When I woke up, we’re finally docking in Labuan.
Fifth Tip: Have enough Ringgits! Do not make the same mistake we did. Aside from spending more for the ticket, Labuan, like all ports around the world, houses some shady characters. When we had our money changed at Ranjit Store (most trusted money changer in the area. the lady working here is also very patient in explaining the computation of the exchange), there were a group of guys “hanging around” outside the store peering on the tourists inside.
Once you are in Labuan, the first thing you might want to do is buy your ticket to Muara, Brunei. There were instances where in tickets were sold out. If that happens to you, you would have to leave at a later schedule which will get you to Brunei late and chances are, buses will no longer be available in the city. Do not risk it, if I were you.
Since man cannot live on Maggi alone, we scouted for good places to eat near the port. We found Fook Yuen Cafe and Bakery where we were surprised as one of the staff called us in Tagalog. We met Jenny and she assisted us in getting our food. She was very accommodating and even scolded her boss to speak to us is Tagalog. She also relayed to us how she was born to a Filipino family living in Labuan.
In Malaysia, it is a common practice to just provide customers rice and it would be up to them to scoop their viand. Basic price of a viand in Fook Yuen is 2.50 RM. I scooped a good amount of Fish Curry and it’s sauce. To top it off, I got myself fried egg! My partner ordered Chicken Rice (which is a resto favorite) and was not disappointed by the size of the chicken. Everything we ordered (plus 2 cans of soda) only costs 14.80 RM which is around 175 Php! This is the price of a Starbucks Venti!
After we were done eating, we headed back to the port to prepare boarding. As Labuan is considered an international port, there is Duty Free!!! This is the perfect place to buy your pasalubongs! Here, you can purchase bundled chocolates per brand. Of course, I opted for Cadbury!! I paid 20 RM for a bundle and that’s approximately Php 240!
There is an immigration in Labuan. Here we met the unexpected.
Sixth Tip: Apparently, if you are travelling by ferry and you are a Filipino, you would need to have a show money of no lower than 300 Brunei Dollars. Without it, you are not going to be allowed to cross boarders. What’s worse is that if you challenged your luck and went to Brunei, disregarding the advice of the Malaysian immigration, you get deported to the Philippines. This means, you will no longer be allowed in the country of Brunei.
We honestly didn’t have that money. Well, we did before we paid for the terminal fee in NAIA, the food, and the ferry ticket. As we were trying to contact people who can help us, at the same time planning our trip back to Kota Kinabalu, help arrived in the form of Bhing Harris. She is a fellow Filipino from Davao whom we shared a conversation with together with her niece, Hope, while we were waiting to board in Labuan. In the calmest of calm, she handed me and my partner 300 USD each and declared to the immigration officer that we are travelling with her. She said no need to worry and to return the money to her once we’re done with the Brunei immigration. We can never thank her enough for trusting and helping us. Up until now, we cannot believe that someone can easily hand over money to strangers just to help them!
At this point, my passport got chopped which gave me a total of 3 passport stamps.
The travel by sea from Labuan Port to Brunei is relatively smoother via Express Kinabalu. It is the equivalent of fast craft here in the Philippines. We arrived after 1 and half hours to Bandar Seri Begawan and underwent immigration again. We were asked for our purpose of travel and how much money we have. We declared everything including the money lent by Bhing, plus the Ringgits and Pesos we have.
As soon as we passed immigration, hello 4 passport stamps!!!
To read about our stay in Brunei, click HERE.
My Seventh and Final Tip: Brunei buses will be in operation only until 6PM. After which, you have no means of transportation. For the locals, this is not a problem as almost everyone owns a car. Yep, you are now in a rich country! For you, if you have no problem with walking kilometers, then this should not be a problem. We walked 8 kilometers during Hari Raya because we were so happy buying food at the night market.
Going home, we missed Express Kinabalu’s first trip. We ended up riding Shuttle Hope which is Brunei’s equivalent to our RO-RO. Honestly, this form of transport is better than Express Kinabalu as it has more comfortable seats and brighter atmosphere. We were also able to see the massive offshore oil rigs in the seas of Brunei which is a rare sight for us Filipinos!
Exiting Brunei earned us 5 passport stamps.
We alighted in Manumbok, headed our way to Labuan to get our exit stamp out of the port (6th stamp!) and rode the final 3-hour ferry ride back to Kota Kinabalu.
My 7th and 8th passport stamps were gained exiting Malaysia and returning to the Philippines.
The experience was worth the long trip. Experiencing 2 different cultures in 7 days was more than I bargained for. We were also fortunate to have experienced Ramadan and Hari Raya in Brunei which is the solemnest that I have seen in my lifetime. The travel taught me patience (this is an obvious one- the trip was not easy!) and respect for other customs.
—and if you must ask if my 20k was enough to land me home safe and sound–and comfortable–in the Philippines, you would be surprised about the things we get to do in both Brunei and Kota Kinabalu with that budget! Watch out for my next blogs!
TERIMA KASIH, KOTA KINABALU & BRUNEI!!!