5 Reasons Why I Hate Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is known for its glorious beaches and majestic mountains. After all, Kota Kinabalu is home to Mount Kinabalu, the 20th most prominent mountain in the world. I have heard of friends going to Kota Kinabalu to trek, dive, and do all sorts of adventure and this is probably what drew me to the place. However, as I spent my 3 days here, I realized there is so much more to hate. Yes, hate!

Hate Reason #1: Kota Kinabalu serves the freshest seafood that you can’t help but binge eat!

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**heavy breathing**

This is something to loath if you are on a diet. I have never seen humongous lobsters in my life! The best place to try these seafood out would be at Sedco Complex’s Seri Selera Kampung Ayer. They have the freshest, biggest, and the widest variation of shellfish, shrimp, and fish! My favorite (aside from the lobster which is a given) would be the Tiger Prawn. I hated every moment as I was munching it because I was worrying about my weight and my shrimp allergies! Yet, this opportunity is too good to miss! I wolfed on the food and shushed my conscience shut! Carpe Diem!

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Seri Selera Kampung Ayer is a little bit on the pricey end, though. If you would like to try cheaper (but same quality!) options, you can head to the Night Market next to the Filipino Market and Le Meridien! Rumor has it that they used to sell exotic food there such as Pangolins and Sea Turtles. Thank goodness they no longer do this!

Hate Reason #2: Kota Kinabalu has the whitest, white-sand beaches and the deepest cerulean waters that you cannot just visit one beach! Talk about moving from one place to another!

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It just gets to you! You never would want to leave! If you are like me who absolutely adores lounging by the beach, I swear, you’ll find your paradise here! This is not even exaggerating! Do not miss going on an island hopping trip in Kota Kinabalu. NEVER! The Tunku Abdul Rahman Park has islands that only exists in tourism books and probably your best, pleasantly feverish, dreams!

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Our first stop was Sapi Island. We were given a life vest and snorkel gear and were left to enjoy the sea…that we did! After a few crazy shots, we explored the vast underwater garden. We saw a number of Sea Urchins and a collection of fishes of different sizes and colors. It was a whole new world under the sea!

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We soon went to Manukan Island which looks like a mini Maldives. There were luxurious hotels and an appealing array of food stalls. You can relax on the shore and enjoy the sun with your pina colada!

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Last stop is Mamutik Island which is fairly different from the first 2 islands. The calm and peaceful atmosphere is best in the late afternoons. There are also lots of water activities you can enjoy here such as Scuba Doo or underwater scooter, Parasailing, and Banana Boat rides! We regret not being able to do all these stuff there since we were running out of time and were scheduled to go to another tourist spot. BOO-HOO!

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awwww

Hate Reason #3: Kota Kinabalu residents are friendly, caring, and hospitable, that it doesn’t make you miss home!

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Kuya Andy from Island Hop Express! Salamat po!

Most of the time, if you are in a tourist spot, people tend to be greedy and all about the ka-ching. Here in Kota Kinabalu, we met people who sincerely would wish you well and have a good time! We met Kuya Andy. He is a Filipino who lived in Kota Kinabalu most of his life. He owns Island Hop Express (head to COUNTER 10!!!) in Jesselton Point and while most of the travel agencies offer their tour packages at 180 RM to 250 RM, he offers his tours for as low as 50 RM! He even went his way and fixed our schedule so we can have another tour and see the Proboscis Monkeys and Fireflies! He took care of everything. He even sent us off to ride the van going to the Klias River.

Our van driver, Machai (to book van tours, you can reach out through his FB page), is very considerate and friendly. He talked to us throughout the whole trip and made sure we enjoyed every second of it. He shared his experiences visiting the places we were going to and made recommendations on which places to visit the next time we happen to end up at Kota Kinabalu again. You would feel that it’s not your usual lip service since he runs a business. The sincerity in connecting is there, believe it or not!

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Sir Machai made our trip fun!

We also met Baloo-the Uber Driver who brought us to Tanjung Aru. He told us beautiful stories about the Kota Kinabalu Sunset and how he left his corporate job just to enjoy time with his wife.

And we can never ever forget Mr. Lee Thien Fook! He is the owner and the mind behind Signal Hill Eco Farm! During our visit, he was very hospitable and even served us the MOST delicious BANGUS that I have ever tasted! This is not an exaggeration! He grew it in his own farm and was bred organically.  We also met his wife who has the warmest smile among all we have met in Kota Kinabalu!

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The amazing Mr. Lee Thien Fook

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The missus wearing the friendliest smile in all of KK ❤

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I have never loved Bangus so much!

Hate Reason #4: If you are an insomniac, their top of the line–not to mention, exquisite– coffee variations, will do you no good.

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Have you heard of Malaysian White Coffee? If you are raving about it, then that’s just the tip of the iceberg! We found a souvenir store in Suria Sabah Mall called BR and Toys which sells a wide range of coffee choices! From your regular array of Ipoh White Coffee to the more exotic Kopi Luwak (from civet poop!), you will definitely suffer a period of pleasant insomniac nights! Why pleasant? If you are in paradise, why is there a need to sleep anyway?

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Steven was an amazing Sales person! He gave us what we needed, not what’s expensive!

What really got me was their Durian Coffee. Other people would abhor the smell of the fruit but I tell you: Kota Kinabalu’s Durian Coffee is a must-experience! While I do not expect much from airport coffee shops, when I ordered Durian Coffee at Cafe de Jesselton Kopitiam, my faith was turned about. The aroma filled the place and I was even sort-of proud to have ordered it (LOL). It was a good experience to my senses!

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Durian Coffee love

Even Kota Kinabalu’s basic coffee is not-so! Every night we would go out of our homestay just to have coffee at Wong Kok Restaurant. The place is like an old eatery but their Kopi-O and Kopi-C is anything but ordinary!

Hate Reason #5: Kota Kinabalu is home to many animals and plants species that you have probably never heard of. Sucks to be you.

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Proboscis Monkey photos because they are so hard to spot!

I knew that the Rafflesia (only the world’s largest bloom!) can be found in the mountains of Kota Kinabalu. What I did not know is that you can also find the Villose Pitcher Plant, the Sun Bear, Pangolin, the Slow Loris, and the Proboscis Monkey here!  During our last day in Kota Kinabalu, I didn’t let the chance pass to see the Proboscis Monkey in Kota Belud and also take the Firefly River cruise. I was comforted by the idea that industrialization has not taken wildlife completely. There are places like Kota Kinabalu that preserves and co-exists with their flora and fauna harmoniously!

 

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Us–scanning the forest for the rare sight of Proboscis Monkeys!

So with all that being said, do I REALLY, REALLY hate Kota Kinabalu? The answer is still YES. I am so frustrated that I cannot stay longer. 3 days was not enough to digest and absorb this paradise and all it’s beauty. I hate Kota Kinabalu because it made me miss the days I had there now that I am back home in the Philippines…and in so much passionate ire, I vow to come back and stay longer!

 

 

 

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Momarco Resort: One With Nature

Living in Cubao has its ups and downs. For one, it’s just plain bothering how busy the streets are even at 3 in the morning. The good thing, though, is that it is very accessible to different places where you can get that much deserved relaxation–for an instance, Momarco Resort in Tanay, Rizal.

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My visit to Momarco Resort was not really planned. I just came home from work (yes, nightshift!) and my grandmother and aunt wanted to spend some time away from the city. Through referrals from good friends, they found this resort. The travel time to Momarco is a good hour to an hour and a half without heavy traffic. To be fair, we did not take the Montalban route but instead took the Sumulong road which can be congested at times because of schools along it.

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We arrived at Sampaloc road which eventually led to the resort. I suggest that you drive slow once you pass the road heading to Daranak Falls. Momarco Resort is deep in the mountains and the only way for you to determine that you would need to make a right turn is through Google Maps or the small signage along the highway.  It’s all rough road after the turn until you reach the resort proper. If you will be taking the public transport, it is best to proceed to the Tanay Jeepney Terminal and ride a trike. It’s a little bit expensive at Php 150 to Php 200, but the length to which you will be travelling compensates the price.

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We were welcomed by a picturesque site upon arriving at the resort. There were trees everywhere! The receiving station is elegant with rattan couches, tables, and chairs. What I like most is the calesa at the center of the receiving area. It looked charmingly simple, festive, and welcoming, just like the Rizalenos!

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They have an in-house bar called Bathala Bar which serves a variety of cocktails and bar chow. There is also a stage probably for acoustic nights and other shows.

One of the highlights of Momarco Resort is its mini zoo. I can tell from their collection of animals that the owner is a reptile fan. There were snakes. Huge ones, but docile and enthralling (if you are into them)! They also have an aviary of cockatiels and lovebirds, which is another one of my interests! There is also a pond-full of Kois and if you would ask me, they are very much well-taken care of considering their size!

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Rock Balancing is an art form that is a cross of physics and a person’s ability to exercise patience. An organization, Rock Balancing Philippines, took their art here at Momarco Resort. They have a designated place for the art and if you would look around and pay close attention, you would see rocks on top of each other around the place! Oh yes, we tried it!

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My entry with Kim’s at the background 🙂

Momarco Resort also houses a Bonsai Garden. There is so much to see! I wanted to take a picture of every Bonsai plant! All of them looked well-crafted that their branches stretched evenly and gracefully!

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Of course, Momarco Resort wouldn’t be called such if it weren’t for their pools! The main pool is extensive. There is even an aisle to the center, accented with lush greens. Just be careful, though, and be mindful of the varying depth of the pool.

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Their man-made lagoon and waterfalls are sights to behold! The water is cold and refreshing, just like in real ones! It’s not as deep and you can just hang out and relax here.

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Normally, when I travel after work shifts, I instantly fall asleep at the sight of a bed. Here, I was more alive than ever. My titas, titos, cousins, ,lolas (2 of them! This turned out as a spontaneous mini-reunion), and my dad all enjoyed good conversation over the best home-cooked meals! You can bring your own here, heck you can even cook here! There is just a small corkage fee that you would have to pay in respect to their restaurant. I just sat there after swimming and chit-chatted with them.

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Here’s the (not-so) baby doggy I met while the family is bonding. He was begging for food so I gave him liempo and in return–this selfie 🙂

Nights here at Momarco are peaceful. It may be because it’s a weekday but you cannot deny the fact that the place just gives you that flora and fauna vibe. It may even unleash your inner Ceres. While my uncles were drinking the night away, I just lounged near our room which is a good walk up a makeshift stairs. I didn’t have a photo of the room we stayed in because of my makukulit cousins but they do offer a good space to sleep. We stayed at their Regular A/C room for 4, which has 2 bunk beds and a wide bath. You can even request (with extra charge but it was free for us. one of my uncles has this chikador character and is the town doctor) for extra mattresses since the room is spacey! Take note, the room rates are very affordable! This room only costed us no more than Php 3,000!

Momarco Room

Photo Courtesy of Momarco Website

Come morning, I was woken by jovial music. Funny, I knew instantly it was Zumba! I expected to see mothers dancing to the upbeat music, and I was correct! This made me inexplicably cheerful! I dressed up and hurried to the Lanai Restaurant. We ordered silogs and my morning requirement: iced coffee! Their breakfast is considerable but their iced coffee is good! I also like the paper flowers on the wall. Such a sight to see in the morning!

Outside the dining hall, there is a quaint photo exhibit of what defines Rizal. There were pictures of festivals, mountains, and people from different walks of life. It would have been better if these photos were framed or placed inside the hall where people can muse over them. The photos showed the essence of Rizal! How I love exhibits like these!

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Sadly, I was not able to fully explore the place. Apparently, there is so much to see! They have a bike park, pump track, and a hiking trail! Had I known, I would have hiked that morning!

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When it was time for me to go home (I went home earlier than my family due to appointments! argh~), I decided to do the trike-UV express way. It was a friendly-enough trip but I hated the part near SM East Ortigas. It was congested and my initiation back to the real world.

Overall, my stay in Momarco Resort was pleasant. It simply revives a person inside. If you are the kind of person who is borderline workaholic and cannot go far from the city, then this place is right for you. Momarco Resort is one of the reasons I like living in Cubao. Places like this is easy to reach!

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***How to Go to Momarco Resort***

  1. Take the FX/UV Express from Edsa Central or Starmall bound to Tanay Market. — Php 70
  2. From Tanay Market, ride the trike to Momarco! – Php 150 – 200

**Momarco Resort is located at Sampaloc Road, Sitio Bathala, Bgy. Plaza Aldea, Tanay, Rizal. You can visit their WEBSITE or call the numbers on the website for a faster and more comfortable booking experience!

Tiang Yun Dian: The Chinese Temple in Bandar Seri Begawan

Religion is subjective and proposes a very sensitive subject during discussions. I, honestly, veer away from those topics on my blog. However, seeing Bandar Seri Begawan and discovering a new-found diversity in a, rather, conservative Muslim country, gave me hope for humankind. Seeing the Tiang Yun Dian Chinese temple, sitting in all its intricate beauty, in the heart of Brunei’s solemn Ramadan, brought about so much emotions that I thought was courtesy of PMS (LOL).

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I couldn’t help but fall dead silent on its foot. I was staring at its crimson walls and golden ornaments in reverence. When we arrived, we of course asked for permission from the temple custodians if we can take photos. We didn’t want to break the place’s solemnity with our touristy cheer. We proceeded with the photos when they gave the go signal.

Every corner of the place is beautiful. It was almost hard to believe that it barely survived history. The original Tiang Yun Dian temple was built by the wharf in front of  Kampong Ayer. The Chinese community contributed funds for the building of their place of worship until such time that it was fully established. Sadly, World War II happened and threatened the aesthetics of the temple. The Temple of the Flying Clouds, as it is more commonly known, is as steadfast as the faith of the people worshiping here. They slowly restored the temple’s splendor.  The time came though when the land where it was situated was acquired by the government and they had to transfer to where it is located now — at the corner of Jalan Elizabeth Dua and Jalan Kianggeh.

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How I marveled at every corner of the temple. Even the tiled walls tell so much of the religion’s story! With the Four Heavenly Kings nestled securely at the north, and the sky wells that welcome the sunlight, taking a photo is the best way to preserve the memory of the place.

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The smoke from the incense takes you to their tradition as the prayers made through it ascended to heaven. A woman was making her supplications while we were there and in her silent reverie, even the trees seemed to surrender. We knew that we had to go to avoid being a nuisance. We thanked the man in charge and made our way out.

A lot of great legends surround Tiang Yun Dian and the faith of its worshipers, including the bomb which did not detonate during the war. I am proud to have experienced its history, solemnity, and beauty. I am honored to see Brunei’s consideration to all sects. I hope to have honored the place with my blog entry, as this is the least that I can do to return the pleasure it gave to my senses.

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**To read more about our trip in how we enjoyed Brunei with just Php 3,000 and how we earned 8 Passport Stamps with just 2 countries, please click the respective links 🙂

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Mamih Cafe: Brunei’s Chill-Out Spot

Night life in Brunei is all about relaxation, lounging, and eating good food. Drinking in bars, loud music, and the like is almost non-existent here. I would have to say that the beauty of Brunei  revolves around its culture and heritage sites, nothing much on the party scene. This is why we fell in love!

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Brunei is such a relaxed place!

We, my partner and I, are owls. We love the night time. We love having coffee late at night and finish in the wee hours of the morning. When we arrived in Brunei, it was a shift from our practice. A pleasant shift. 7 in the evening the first night we were there, we headed to a local restaurant called Mamih Cafe or Kafe Mamih. It is located in Warisan Mata-Mata Complex in Jln. Mata Mata, just right next to where we stayed!

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The place is comfortable. It uses dim lights to emphasize the comfort that you deserve to get while dining. The spacing between chairs and tables are perfect. You get to move around and it does not have a crowded feel. The color scheme flirts too well with the lights, with its dash of yellow and blue, and sometimes pink and brown. Each table also has a yellow light over it which all the more draws you to your food.

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The first thing we noticed when we were handed the menu is that the restaurant serves a lot of Filipino food! They have Kare-Kare and Halo-Halo! They also have Filipino staff who are fluent in speaking Malay but can easily shift to speaking Tagalog and English!

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We ordered Bah Kuh Teh and Nasi Ayam for our dinner. According to our host, these are house specialties, and of course, we couldn’t miss it! Bah Kuh Teh is like our very own Gotong Batangas. It is boiled pork rib soup seasoned in exquisite spices such as star anise, garlic, and cinnamon, to name some. They include different ingredients on the soup such as pork innards, enoki mushroom, etc. and it absolutely works! The first time I tasted it here at Mamih Cafe, I knew it’s going to be an addiction.

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Bah Kuh Teh is love, I swear!

Nasi Ayam is most commonly known as Hainanese Chicken Rice. This dish is served with 3 different sauces, ranging from the savory, to the sweet, and chili. Although this dish is nothing new to our taste, Mamih Cafe’s Nasi Ayam has this certain tinge of authenticity which really adds to the food’s appeal.

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Their Nasi Ayam comes with authentic sauces. Oh my heart!

We ordered drinks as well. We would not miss trying Kopi C Iced and Kopi O Iced. As huge coffee fans, we knew that this local coffee is worth tasting. Kopi C is coffee with evaporated milk, while Kopi O is black coffee. These versions of coffee is similarly available in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

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Teh Tarik, Kopi C, and Kopi O!

We wanted to order sate or grilled chicken but there were a lot of sate on queue to be cooked and we just couldn’t wait any longer. We understand, though. Since a lot of people are having dinner right after fasting, definitely the demand would be high. Plus, grilled food is no good when served cold. They serve it by batch, sadly.

After having our dinner, we were assisted by our homestay host to the counter. According to her, that is how people pay for food in Brunei. People do not hail for servers to give them the check. They walk to the counter and let the cashier know what they have ordered. Pretty honest, if you would ask me. So we paid for the dinner and it was a pleasant surprise knowing that our bill did not go over Php 500!

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Our experience in Mamih Cafe is our initiation to Brunei food. It is the start of my love affair with Bah Kuh Teh! Overall, the restaurant serves delicious dishes. It has a calm atmosphere which goes hand-in-hand with the peaceful evenings of Brunei. After a very long day travelling, being in Mamih Cafe is a luxury.

 

 

 

 

 

AirBnb – M3: Our Brunei Home(stay)

Nomads do not have homes, they say. I beg to disagree. Wanderlusts, travelers, backpackers, find homes in unexpected places. It may not be where they permanently stay, but it is where their memories will forever wander back.

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I love this art!

This is M3 for me. When we decided to go to Brunei, we really did not have any idea what was in store for us. We even didn’t think they would have homestay available there considering the conservative culture.

When we checked AirBnb, we were proven wrong. There were several homestays available with a wide range of variation depending on price and location. We opted to get the cheapest (yet most appealing at first glance) since we were just going to spend the night sleeping and waking to another hectic day.

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❤ ❤ ❤ I added M3 to my favorites! 

We were lucky to have found M3. The first thing that caught my attention was the price. It was below Php 1,000 and it has air conditioning and very good feedback. They also offer tours around Brunei, Miri, and Kota Kinabalu. They can also take you on a wildlife trip where you can feed crocodiles!

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I immediately booked this through AirBnb. Our room was listed under “Nice and Cozy Room – Shared toilet” under M3. This homestay will appear if you search Bandar Seri Begawan. Just to clarify, the place is not in Bandar Seri Begawan exactly. It is located in Gadong which is a good 10 minute-bus ride with no heavy traffic.

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no heavy traffic!

Before we leave for Brunei, I communicated with the owner, Brandon. He gave me exact details on how to locate the place: all we would have to do is go to the central station and ride bus 55. We should alight at Supasave Beribi and cross the pedestrian bridge to Mamih Cafe. On the same area there is a hardware store named Goldmyne Hardware and there is a small slope next to it. We would have to climb the slope and that is M3! Does it sound complicated? Not really! That is the exact thing we did and we found where the place is!!! Awesome and clear directions!

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When we arrived, we were greeted by Mizzy, one of the hosts. She showed us our room. To our surprise, we were given a free upgrade! We upgraded to a big room with our very own toilet. We have a television, DVDs to watch, and a couch! The bed was large and cozy! The air conditioning was perfect too. They have centralized air conditioning and our very own AC inside the room.

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The bathroom is spacey too. They have hot and cold water which is perfect. It has a sink and a place where we can put our stuff when we are taking a bath.

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To top it all off, M3 has a wide front yard. This is perfect if you would just like to hangout outside and take a breath of fresh air. The place has a lot of greens around and they have the kindest neighbors with adorable dogs. Ate, as Mizzy endearingly calls the household helper next door, is a Filipina! She greeted us warmly when we arrived too!

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Mizzy, me, and my partner chatted the late afternoon away over coffee. We talked about the beautiful places in Brunei, the locals, things that we should and should not do…everything we needed to know. We were so grateful to have an accommodating host who would tell us the real deal about the country. She also gave us tips like how much the water taxi is. Also, when we visited, it was Ramadan. Mizzy messaged people to know if it was already Raya. If not, we will be able to see the mosques and other places since it will be open to the public.

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Hi Mizzy!

The 3 of us had dinner in Mamih Cafe after sunset. We were surprised at how good Mizzy is in speaking tagalog. She asked the waitress if she’s Filipina to which the waitress said yes!

Mizzy walked us through the menu and I ended up ordering Bah Kuh Teh and Kopy C, while my partner ordered Kopy O. I blogged about our Mamih Cafe experience HERE!!

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Before our host went home, she gave us the wifi password. The connection was good and we were able to surf with no problems. We slept peacefully that night and got up the next day to see Bandar Seri Begawan. We met Tze Yi, the other host, and she was warm and friendly! She even offered to drop us off to where we were going but we just woke up and were sort of embarrassed at how slow our pace is. LOL.

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She advised us where to eat since it was still Ramadan and restaurants were closed. She said that the restaurant on the Warisan Mata Mata Complex (the commercial area next to us, where Mamih Cafe is) houses a Chinese-fusion restaurant named Sing-U.Me Restaurant which is open. According to her, there are restaurants that are still open to accommodate non-Islams. All windows are covered with paper and there is a sign on the door that would say non-Islams can dine inside. This was a very helpful tip and we were so lucky to have known this!

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We dined like royalty that day because of Tze Yi! All thanks to her, we were able to discover good food in Gadong!

To read all about our adventures that day in Brunei, click HERE!

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We got home late that night and had our own Raya dinner. The dining area of the place is neat and the kitchen was spacious. We were able to use the microwave with such ease and water to clean up was not an issue.

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We woke up the next day ready to leave Brunei. We cleaned up our mess and messaged Mizzy that we were checking out. We left the keys and headed to our next destination.

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Honestly, our stay in M3 was unexpectedly pleasant. It was one of the reasons why I fell in love with Brunei. The hospitality of the people of Brunei was reflected at how good Mizzy, Tze Yi, and Brandon treated us. Everything we needed to know that actually helped us get by that day when we roamed around the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan, came from them.

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That’s Brandon over there! Famous!

I highly suggest that you stay here in M3! It will be worth your effort and the money you pay! Affordable, clean, spacious, and a very friendly place that is right next to a commercial area!

**To search for homestays and save money on your next trip, THIS IS THE LINK!!! You can also be an affiliate by signing up and sharing links to your friends. You get to earn while travelling! How awesome is that?!

**If you’re curious how we traveled from Kota Kinabalu to Brunei and earned 8 passport stamps, check my BLOG!

How to Enjoy Brunei with Just 3,000 Php

Budget is an essential factor when travelling. As much as I would like to live the luxurious life and disregard my economical constraints, I simply can’t! When I booked for Bandar Seri Begawan, my thought was “I need a lot of money to enjoy the trip.” Thankfully though, I was proven wrong. So here is my story of how I enjoyed Brunei with Php 3,000.

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My forever travel, kuripot buddy!

We arrived in Brunei from Kota Kinabalu Saturday afternoon. From Muara Port, we rode the bus all the way to Bandar Seri Begawan which took around a good 30 minutes to an hour. What’s great about the bus rides in Brunei is that however near or far you are headed, the bus fare would always be 1 BND or around Php 37. It may look pricey but considering the distance that you will often travel, this is reasonable. Plus, if you need to transfer buses, they will give you a stub and you just hand it over to the next bus and not pay anymore.

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Please note that buses only operate until 6 PM. There will be some buses operating until 8PM but since it was Ramadan when we were there, we had to really make it to the 6 PM trip.

Our homestay is located in Jalan Mata-Mata, right next to Warisan Mata Mata Complex. This was booked through Air BnB (click this link to book your stay with AIRBNB!). For a very fair price, we were able to enjoy an impressive living space plus gain two friends in the form of our hosts Mizzy and Zee! THEY GAVE US A FREE ROOM UPGRADE from a shared toilet room to a King Size bedroom with toilet, by the way!!! You can read all about M3 HERE.

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Mizzy is awesome!!!

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Warisan Mata Mata Complex

After checking in and a good chat with our host, we headed to Mamih Cafe to have our dinner. Dinner in Brunei happens after sundown in compliance with Ramadan. I ordered Bah Kuh Teh and it was love at first taste! We also had Kopi C  and Kopi O which in the Philippines is the equivalent of coffee with milk and black coffee, respectively. The night was good and we were filled to our heart’s content! That night, our dinner cost us 13 BND or around 476 Php. For our full meal description and experience, click HERE.

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The night was rainy and there was nowhere left to go in Gadong but home. Besides, the trip to Brunei from Kota Kinabalu can be a bit tiring. A night in Brunei is calm and it is ideal to those who would prefer to rest up and get up early the next day for a packed adventure.

We woke up at 6 in the morning and headed to Sing U. Me Restaurant. This restaurant is one of the few ones open during holy week. Restaurants like this would have a sign on their doors in Malay that says non-Islams can dine inside and all windows and doors are covered with paper. Although majority of Brunei’s population is Islam, there are still some belonging to other sects. Out of common respect, everyone (even the tourists) are not to be seen eating or drinking in public. I honestly find this practice beautiful.

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Just as the night before, I ordered Bah Kuh Teh and other dishes. Their dimsum selection is a must try! They also serve seafood like huge, fresh shrimp and fish As do most restaurants in Brunei, a number of kababayans are working here. They were very patient with us in explaining unfamiliar dishes and made sure we enjoyed our experience. We overspent here, sadly. I am known to be highly impulsive when it comes to food. LOL. Make sure to check my review of this restaurant by clicking this sentence and find out why the 19 BND or Php 700 is so worth it!

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When you are caught in Bah Kuh Teh love

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Shrimps here are huge!

There are designated buses for every place in Brunei. Although you can view this at the Central Station, you can print a copy using this link.

Once you reach the Central station, you can walk around to some of the famous landmarks of Bandar Seri Begawan

  1. Tiang Yun Dian Chinese Temple/Teng Yun/Twa Pa Kung Temple

This temple is located at the corner of JLN Elizabeth Dua and JLN Kianggeh-just walking distance from the Central Station. Its name means “Temple of Flying Clouds”. This is so hard to miss as it’s structure is distinct and grand.

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When we went inside, it was pure solemnity. Candles offered to the gods were burning reverently as prayers were believed to ascend through the smoke. We asked permission, of course, if we can take photos, and the caretakers were more than welcoming.

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A detailed write up HERE by The Daily Brunei Resources.

BND Spent: 0

2. Makam Raja Ayang

This is one of the monuments that really sparked a particular interest in me. It may look like a typical shrine on the outside, but it actually has a story that tells so much of the Brunean culture,

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The story tells about a woman named Dang Ayang. She is of royal descent but was sadly caught in an immoral relationship with her sibling. This deed is punishable by death through stoning but no one at that time had the heart to execute the punishment. Some say that the people were swayed by the obedience of Dang Ayang. Instead, she was built a cavern prison in the middle of the forest and was provided food.There was also a vent where smoke comes out and once smoke ceases to appear, it would mean that they had already passed away.

The only proof that this was indeed the actual mound was the tombstone where words in Arabic were inscribed.

Check the detailed story by CLICKING HERE.

BND Spent: 0

3. The Lapau and Dewan Majlis Building

Situated next to each other, is the Lapau or the Royal Ceremonial Hall and the Dewan Majlis (House of the Parliament). This was where the current Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah was crowned.

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Aside from it was still Ramadan, we were not able to see the interior because permission was needed to be granted to us by the government to do so. The place is a beauty, though, from the outside. You can see the intricate designs on the roof and walls which would really make you admire the Brunean architecture style.

BND Spent: 0

4. The Royal Regalia Building

I have never seen so much gold in my life! The Royal Regalia Building is a museum that celebrates the 50 years of the country under the Sultanate of Hassanal Bolkiah. Photos and artifacts that were used during special ceremonies were stored here. The gifts of different world leaders to the Sultan were also displayed. For the security of the place, taking pictures on the second floor is not allowed. Bummer.

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On the first floor you will see the Royal Chariot that was used during the Royal Jubilee celebration. You will also see a grand entourage of mannequins wearing different traditional attires which commemorates the parade of the sultan during his coronation.

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You will not regret visiting the Royal Regalia as it is rich in history and, OMG GOLD! Also remember to remove your shoes and change to bedroom slippers before going in. In my case, I just removed my shoes and walked around in my socks. Sorry. I can be slow sometimes.

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That’s my boots over there. Left it and walked in my socks like a bad ass.

BND Spent: 10 BND for 2 keychains, 2 ref magnets, and a postcard

5. Brunei History Centre

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We were not able to make it inside the building. The announcement of Raya has emerged and they had to close for the celebration. If you will be visiting the place, please remember that the museum is closed on Fridays. Here, you can see the history and the family tree of the Sultans in Brunei. It was also initially established to conduct further research on the history of the country.

BND Spent: 0

6. Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Library

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This is a public library with over 385,000 books –heaven for the likes of me and my friends! You will not miss this building along Jalan Elizabeth II because of its huge mural showing the culture of Brunei through the eyes of someone who reads. Beautiful concept!

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BND Spent: 0

7. Jabatan Hal Ehwal Syariah or the Department of Syariah Affairs

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Taken from the gardens of Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddin

Located just beside the Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddin, this building is a proof of how serious the people of Brunei in following the laws of their religion. Aside from the discussion and organization of laws, events such as workshops to improve the foundations of Islam is held here.

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BND Spent: 0

8. Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddin

Named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is undoubtedly the highlight of our Brunei trip. It sits in all its glory on the banks of Kampong Ayer and if you are to fly over Bandar Seri Begawan, you are not to miss the grand dome of the structure which is made of pure gold.

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We were only allowed outside as prayers were being held in light of Raya. Who are we to complain? The beauty of the garden is breathtaking! I read over the Internet that the carpets inside the mosque were of fine materials from Saudi Arabia and the magnificent chandeliers inside were from Europe. Here, we resolved to visit again and see more of the masjids and marvel at their beauty.

BND Spent: 0

9. Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex

At this point, I had become so thirsty that I really needed to take a gulp. Given the circumstances, however, we simply cannot. We saw this beautiful mall just across the lagoon where Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddin is situated. There were fast food joints inside like KFC and, guess what…Jollibee!!!

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We noticed that these restaurants were open but only for to-go orders. We went straight to KFC and ordered 3 large sodas and headed out to the convenience store and bought a large bottle of mineral water. The dilemma came when we didn’t know where and how to drink it since it was not allowed. People were even throwing us looks because we sat at KFC with drinks on our table (sorry :((( ).

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Haggard moments. No food. No drinks. Just the heat.

Luckily we found Chewy Junior!!! Yes! The cream puff store we know and love in the Philippines. They were on sale – half the price off everything – since it’s the holy week. Here we met another Filipina. She is in charge of the stall and by how we probably looked she could tell that we were really thirsty! She allowed us to hide behind the oven and drink. SALAMAT PO ATE!!!

BND Spent:  3 large sodas for 1.50 BND each, 1 bottled water for 1 BND, 2 large pieces of Chewy Junior Cheesecake Cream Puffs for 5 BND

10. Mercu Dirgahayu 60

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This monument is located near the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex, right across Kampong Ayer. It takes a very interesting shape that symbolizes a lot about the philosophy of the country. The Mercu Dirgahayu is a gift of the Brunei people to Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkian for his 60th birthday. It takes the form of the Arabic numeral equivalent to 60 at the center of 5 pillars representing the 5 obligations of Islam. It also represents the close relationship of his majesty to his people and how he is full of wisdom and looked up to by his people.

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BND Spent: 0

11. Kampong Ayer

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Home of 10% of Brunei’s population, Kampong Ayer or Water Village, has been named as the Venice of the East. This village is located above the river waters and its main transportation are the water taxis. The community is complete! It has a market, schools, restaurants, shops, etc! Majority of the houses we saw has air conditioning and our boat driver mentioned that cable television and Internet connection is good in that area. It was also said that the government provides those who wishes to live there a good means of living to promote the growth of the largest water village in Asia.

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BND Spent: 10 BND for the boat ride. We haggled! It was just supposed to be 2 BND but with the rise of the number of tourists that day, the prices went up to 20 BND. We were glad the boat driver agreed to our price and still gave us a good tour. 

12. Sungai Kebun Bridge

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When we first arrived in Bandar Seri Begawan, this bridge immediately caught my attention. It’s structure, in all its massive glory, can literally render you speechless. They say that this bridge was made to connect Muara to Bandar Seri Begawan to improve business relations and that there is another bridge that is in the process of construction that is twice its size and length, connecting Muara to Temburong District (boarder of Sarawak, Malaysia). WOW.

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BND Spent: 0

13. Gadong Night Market

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Food park is also a hit in Brunei. We were in the right place and in the right time because during our stay, we get to celebrate the first day of Raya! Food and fireworks were everywhere! What really got me is the Gadong Night Market. Unlike in the Philippines, Brunei night markets are more of an “afternoon market”. They open at around 3 PM and close at 5:30 PM to 6 PM. Also, no one eats at the night market. Everything is to-go.

If you are slow in deciding which dish to buy, you might end up going home without anything. Seriously! The food is so good that it does not last the entire operating hours! As expected, we went over our budget here. The spicy cockle I begged my partner to buy was worth 5 BND…but believe me it was worth it! We also bought sate, rice cake, Kuih Malaya (which is like coconut pancakes with peanut butter and A MUST TRY!), stir-fried noodles, and Nasi Katok (this dish has a pretty interesting backstory which I will be sharing to you soon!).

I also bought a glass of iced chocolate drink which is actually a life-saver!

BND spent: 13 BND

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We went home from Gadong Night Market at around 5:30 PM. Sadly, there were no more buses left and everyone is celebrating the holiday. We walked for 30 minutes  just to get home and got lost a little bit since it was so hard to recognize freeways at night! Thank goodness we arrived just in time for us to have our very own Raya dinner 🙂

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It was so hard to wake up the next day because of our full stomachs and tired legs that we missed the first bus trip from the Central Station to Muara Port. We were told that we can ride Bus 38 and just transfer buses to get to the port. That we did. Here we met the bus driver of Bus 38, Allan Jasmin. He is also a fellow Filipino. We noticed how he would greet every one who rode the bus and even asked any Filipino who would ride this trip how they are and how their lives are doing. I find his personality very refreshing since it is so seldom that you see someone so happy and optimistic while doing his job.

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While riding bus 38, we get to pass by the Office of the Prime Minister and the different homes of the ambassadors from foreign countries. We even passed by the Philippine Ambassador to Brunei, Meynardo LB. Montealegre’s home. I also found out just recently that the Ambassador is my elementary school teacher’s in-law!!! Lucky! We promise to drop by and say “hi” the next time we visit. 🙂

We arrived at the drop-off point of Bus 38 and were instructed by Kuya Allan to wait for the next bus heading to Muara Port. When he found out that we were going to ride the ferry, he mentioned that we were running late and might miss it. At that moment, he did the uncanny. He requested for the other passengers to alight the bus! Imagine, they were nationals! He said in a very nice tone that he will just drop us off and he will go back to them to resume the trip. We were so filled with gratitude towards Kuya Allan. He dropped us off at the gates of Muara Port and were able to make it just in time to ride Shuttle Hope. We missed the Express Kinabalu to Labuan and had we missed Shuttle Hope, we would have stayed there another night with no homestay reservations!

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This is Kuya Allan! Our life-saver!

Kuya Allan mentioned that he has a daughter working here in the Philippines in the call center and if by chance you happen to read this, which is a long shot, I hope you know that your father is a very good man. He is working really hard and still manages to put a smile in other people’s faces. It really is something to be proud of!

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As we rode Shuttle Hope and leave for Labuan and Kota Kinabalu, I realized how much I enjoyed Brunei. The country made me realize how beautiful Islam is. Their government is strong and sturdy, and most importantly, cares so much for its people. They are strict in implementing their laws and that actually puts order in place.

If you were to ask me if I would visit Brunei again, my answer will definitely be YES. The culture is rich, the people are friendly, and the streets are clean! Also, I only spent roughly Php 3,000 here!

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Here’s a breakdown of everything:

Expenses

If you are going to visit Brunei, I highly recommend for you to visit Jerudong Park (amusement park) and Tungku Beach! This is near M3 or the place we stayed in. We regret not seeing those places but we would not trade the culture-filled experience we had in Brunei. Travelling really does mean learning and I had so much of that in this country.

Terima Kasih, Brunei!

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Essential Travel Guide: How I Earned 8 Passport Stamps – Manila to Kota Kinabalu to Brunei

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.

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stamps, stamps, stamps

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!

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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!

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Meet Jonathan, our Uber driver!

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.

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PASALUBONGS GALORE!!!

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.

Ticket Computation KK to BSB

saves you 6 RM! WHOOO MATH!

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.

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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!

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you will be given a seat number but, hey, it’s free seating!!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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buy your tickets ASAP!

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.

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Thanks so much Jenny for assisting us and adding more to our lunch! We were so full!

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!

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Chicken Rice and Fish Curry with Egg! (and lots of rice!!!)

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had to buy contacts solution

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!

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Pall Mall looked sosyal here and the price is sosyal, as well.

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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.

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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!

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Hope and Bhing Harris! Thank you so much! Without you, our trip would not have been possible!!!

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.

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Meeting people while travelling is the best part. It was a pleasure meeting you Hope, Bhing, and Chinn! I hope our roads would cross again.

As soon as we passed immigration, hello 4 passport stamps!!!

To read about our stay in Brunei, click HERE.
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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.

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Meet Chin! She is a fellow backpacker! She is super brave travelling alone!

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!

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OIL RIGS!

Exiting Brunei earned us 5 passport stamps.

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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.

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Root beer and Maggi! Simple joys of backpacking!

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!!!