LONG WEEKEND TRIP IN BRUNEI AND KOTA KINABALU: Free Things to Do plus Itinerary

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I am currently working on my goal to travel all the countries in Southeast Asia. As I hit Brunei, the second to the last country of my Southeast Asia leg, I also included another country nearby. If you’ve been a follower and a long time reader of mine, you know that whenever I have a chance to hit another country I go all in and travel it even if I have a very little time.

*This travel itinerary can be very chill to others but some may find it very busy and compact in schedule. It all depends on your preference but I still hope you will find it helpful.

BRUNEI

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Abode of Peace as marketed by their tourism organization is still an unknown destination for many people. Some people would even find it boring as I read blogs while doing my research and talked to my friends who have been there. Most of them didn’t actually recommend it. However I know to myself that there will be something in this place that others may not find attractive but something worthwhile for me. It just all boils down to our preference. So I took a leap of fate and book the flights for a long weekend holiday.

How to Get There

Cebu Pacific serves 8 pm direct flights to Brunei from Manila on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays only, while Airasia flies twice a day daily. Average cost of round trip plane tickets may cost Php 3,000-5,000 depending on the season. In my case it was a New Year holiday so I paid ₱5,600 one way and ₱3,000 from Kota Kinabalu to Manila.

Places to Visit

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Brunei has a lot of museums, art galleries and mosques to check out that are free of entrance. If you are looking for an authentic Bruneian experience check their 38 kilometer floating village. Want nature tripping? Go and see their proboscis monkeys via river cruise or hiring a water taxi driver to drive you around. You can also include Ulu Temburong National Park to witness their virgin rainforest while walking on the treetop canopies. But since this trip is only a long weekend holiday and the fact that Kota Kinabalu is squeezed in, I only settled in the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan.

Yayasan Sultan Haji Hasannal Bolkia Complex

A nearby mall from Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque where you can get good angles for photos and sight of the mosque. It is just a typical mall where you can shop and chill to avoid the midday sun of Brunei with lots of shops and restaurants to choose from. It has a souvenir store called BWN Souvenir Centre worth checking out because of its lots of good finds to bring home.

Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

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Built on artificial lagoon on the banks of the river, the mosque is a place of worship for Allah but also an attraction to visitors. This place is picturesque and not very tourist infested compared to the other mosque. In fact, when I was there I witnessed two local pre-nuptial photo shoots.

Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

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It is probably the more popular mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan out of the two because of the influx of tourists when I was there. It is built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of the sultan’s current reign. At night, when it is lit, its golden domes are shinning and very stunning to look at. Just be aware of the schedule where it is open to have fully access of the mosque. Although visitors are still welcome around the vicinity and in front of the mosque even when it is closed, it is still better to have a full experience of the place.

*I checked the schedule of the opening hours thru google maps.

Istana Nurul Iman

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The palace is the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei and the biggest private residence in the entire world with 1,788 rooms. However, it is only worth a visit during the Hari Raya public holiday where it is open to public and visitors have the chance to meet and greet his Highness and the rest of the royal family.

Gadong Night market

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A place to quench thirst and satisfy hunger! With a lot of food selections to choose from, from Borneo cuisines to flavorful fruits at very affordable prices, it is surely the answer for your food trip.

Kampong Ayer

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This is a must-see place when visiting Brunei. The century-old village on stilts above the water is a reflection of the ancient Bruneian life. The village has a mix of ancient and modern houses because a lot of them these days are made of 2 story concrete cement with attic. It also houses Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery where visitors can learn the history or the floating village.

Getting Around the City

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Bandar Seri Begawan is a small city that you can actually walk from one site to another. However, the strong sun does not allow it. From the airport there is a public bus that can take you to the city center which only costs B$ 2 but it only runs from 6 a.m to 6p.m. After that your only option is to take the taxi which is B$ 20-25 (₱756- 943). There’s also no taxi app available in this city and the bus routes are not registered in google maps. So in taking the city buses, better ask the driver if it is going or passing by your destination. English is widely spoken there anyway so there’s no problem in communicating with the locals and asking directions. In case of tours, you can book with a travel agency or water taxi drivers would politely approach you and offer you an hour or more tour. The cost varies from B$20-35 (₱756- 1,312) depending on the site s you want to visit.

Traveling To Kota Kinabalu

Going to Kota Kinabalu from Brunei can be both accessed by bus or ferry. I chose the bus because it is the easiest, less complicated and most certain one. I booked a Jesselton bus thru Sipitang express online. The fare is MYR 100 (₱1,300). The bus leaves from its station in Jalan McArthur just be there 30 minutes before your scheduled trip. The journey is about 8 hours with 3-4 times entry and exit between Brunei and Malaysia territories. So if you want to collect stamps in your passport, this is the way to go.

KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA

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The city is the capital of Sabah, Malaysia. It is known for its stunning beaches perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving and home for the 4,095m-high Mount Kinabalu.

*Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to explore this city too much and didn’t have the chance to check out any of the places mentioned above because I only stayed here for around 32 hours which means, I have to go back here. Anyways here’s my city tour and places I visited for the limited time.

Places to Visit

Filipino Market

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I don’t know why it is called Filipino market because most of the products sold here are wide range of Malaysian produce. It serves clothes, accessories, gadgets and food so if you are on the hunt for some souvenirs you may want to check this place out.

Kota Kinabalu Waterfront

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A one-stop dining and entertainment centre and a popular hangout place for both locals and foreigners. Here, you can chill and enjoy the beach view while waiting for the sunset.

Signal Hill Observatory Platform

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The highest point in the city with an open deck area where visitors can witness an amazing view of the city extending until the beach. It is also a good spot to catch the sunset. It requires a little exercise when you hike up the 250m stairs, but if you are not up for that you can take a taxi going up the hill.

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque

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The second main mosque in Sabah is another stunning attraction worth visiting. The mosque seems to float on top of the water but it is just a man-made lagoon nestled around the mosque that creates a reflection and illusion. This place can hold 12,000 worshipers. Non-Muslims can’t have an access inside but you can still view the mosque from the front. Be aware to dress modestly because this is a place of worship.

Entrance Fee: MYR 5

Getting Around the City

Similar with Bandar Seri Begawan, Kota Kinabalu is also a small city that can be accessed on foot. Public buses are also working but no visible route in google maps so better ask the drivers if the bus is passing by your destination. Again, English is widely spoken here so it is not difficult to ask for directions. Unlike Brunei, taxi apps are available too with friendly drivers to keep you entertain during the ride.

ITINERARY

Brunei

 Day 1: City Tour

  • Istana Nurul Iman
  • Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
  • Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex
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Day 2:

  • Proboscis Monkey River Cruise (book through travel agency or water taxi driver)
  • Kampong Ayer
  • Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque
  • *Gadong Night Market

 Day 3: Travel to Kota Kinabalu

  • Arrival in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
  • Filipino Market
  • Cente Point
  • Kota Kinabalu Waterfront

 Day 4: KK City Tour

  • Signal Hill Observatory Platform
  • Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
  • Sunset Cruise (book through travel agency or hostel)

DIY BUDGET TRAVEL TO BANGKOK, THAILAND

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Bangkok is a bucket list to a lot of people around the world. With its rich culture, stunning cityscape, wild night life and well preserved temples there are a lot of things you can do here. I can compare the cost of living here to be the same as the Philippines and Vietnam so you can gorge on their streetfood, visit their temples, relax on their Thai massage and learn Muay Thai at a very reasonable price. I consider Thailand as a must visit country especially for those who wants to jumpstart their travel or backpacking journey.

A lot of people asked me about this city’s cost, accommodation, places to visit and things to do.  So I compiled some tips on how to travel this country on a budget.

BOOKING A FLIGHT

Flights to Bangkok vary from seasons. When I booked my first flight in the month of June a round trip ticket cost around ₱5,000- ₱7,000. When I attempted to book a flight in January the ticket goes from ₱10,000- ₱12,000 two-way. Decent amount of airlines  fly directly to Bangkok from Manila or Clark airport. If you want to score a great bargain ticket you have to constantly check the airline website. Ticket prices changes from time to time. You can subscribe to their newsletter so that you can get updates if there are ticket sales. I also compared the tickets in the morning and midnight as it varies on different time of the day. Booking your tickets online during midnight is lower than the day time. But, if you have no time for this, you can just simply check on skyscanner.com or http://www.cheapoair.com to compare ticket prices of different airlines. You might be surprised that Philippine Airlines has cheaper tickets than other airlines because they also go on sale like others.

WHERE TO STAY

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Bangkok is one of the most visited countries in Asia so it has a lot of accommodations to choose from that suits your budget. I suggest that you book your accommodation in Khao San Road since it is nearby visitor’s sites such as Wat Pho, Royal Palace and Wat Arun. It is a backpacker’s hub so you will find numerous stores, street food, restaurants, massage parlors, souvenir stores, even Muay Thai classes and so on. Khao San has it all. At night the road gets lively as the bar and clubs open and play loud music. I strongly don’t recommend you staying in hotels near the airport. They are good and offer reasonable prices but the location is far from the sites and will make you spend more on the transportation going to the city center plus the traffic in Bangkok is also a hassle.

PLACES TO VISIT

WAT PHO

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If you are staying in Khao San Road, Wat Pho is 20 minutes away on foot and nearby the Grand Palace. The most touristic temple houses the 150 meter gold-plated Reclining Buddha and other temples that serve as prayer room. Like other temples it also requires you to remove your shoes in entering their temples. Free bottled water and pamphlet is given on the entrance.

Entrance Fee: TBH 100 (₱170)

WAT ARUN

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If you can’t get enough of Wat Pho, head over to Wat Arun also known as Temple of Dawn. It is almost directly opposite to Wat Pho so it is easy to get to. From Sapphan Taksin boat pier you can take a river boat that goes to the other side of the river for only 3 baht (₱5). Go up the stairs until the top of the temple to see a beautiful view Chao Praya River.

Entrance Fee: TBH 50 (₱85)

WAT TRAIMIT

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Located at the end of Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road, near Hualampong Railway Station, Wat Traimit also known as Temple of the Golden Budha houses the world’s largest massive gold seated Buddha measuring nearly five metres in height and weighing five and a half tons. The place also includes a museum. Be aware that the dress code here is more strict than the other temples. The Buddha is housed in a temple on top of the long stairway passing by its museum.  You will be stopped before entering the main temple to remove your footwear and to check if you are modestly dressed. Sleeveless shirts, revealing neckline, mini dress or skirt and shorts are not allowed. Sarongs and cover ups are available for rent anyway just in case you are not informed.

Entrance Fees: TBH 40 (₱70): Buddha Temple

TBH 100 (₱170): Museum

LUMPINI PARK

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Lumpini Park is an inner-city haven of tranquility, fresh air and shade – offering city dwellers the perfect connection to nature. The park is more than half a million square meters big, and the habitat of various flora and fauna. Locals and tourists usually simply walk, stroll or jog in this wide man-made with lake park. You can also rent a boat for 30 minutes and stroll on the lake. Iguanas and some animals are freely strolling around the park by the way so don’t you dare miss them.

Foot Paddle Boat Rental, 30 minutes: TBH 40 ((₱70)

Deposit:         TBH 40 ((₱70)

 

BANG KRACHAO

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Also known as Green Lung of Bangkok. This place is pure nature haven found 5 minutes away from Bangkok by boat. This is a popular day trip for those who are looking for nature tripping just near Bangkok. You can rent a bicycle to go around this area. It has a lovely park called Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park, Botanical Garden and bird watching tower. There are bicycle tours that are organized to go around the village but you can also Do-It-Your-Own since signages of attractions and directions are posted everywhere. To get here take a bus to Klong Toei pier and from there take a boat for 5 minutes.

Expenses: Boat fee: TBH 10 (₱17)

Bike Rental: TBH 30 (₱50) 1 hour

TBH 80 (₱135) whole day

SAMPENG MARKET

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It is a street market in China Town one kilometer away from Wat Traimit. There’s nothing unique in this market just the usual RTW products however if you plan to buy retail products in bulk for you to sell back in your home then this place is for you.

 

CHATUCHAK MARKET

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The most famous 35 acre weekend market and home to more than 8,000 market stalls. Once only popular among wholesalers and traders, Chatuchak Weekend Market has reached a landmark status as a must-visit place for tourists. Its sheer size and diverse collections of merchandise from souvenir items, silks, home decors, organic beauty products, accessories and many more that will bring any seasoned shoppers to their knees – this is where you can literally shop ‘till you drop’. If you get hungry, you don’t have to worry since food stalls are lined up outside for your stomach needs.

 

 

ADDITIONAL TIP:

Avoid using the taxi especially in the airport. There is a subway station in Suvarnabhumi International Airport to Phaya Thai station in the city center, then ride a taxi or bus going to your hotel. You can also take the airport bus going to city center Bus number A4 leaves from Don Muang for TBH 50 (₱85, $1.5) and Bus number S1 is from Suvarnabhumi airport that only cost TBH 60 (₱102, $2). The journey takes 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the traffic. If you are left with no choice but to take the taxi make sure to tell the driver to use the meter. If the driver asks you if it is your first time in Thailand say NO. They will surely take advantage of you to pay higher saying the location you want to go is too far or there’s too much traffic.  Bangkok has a good transportation system like BTS subway and free city buses are also everywhere however I must warn you as any capital city in Southeast Asia the traffic is too heavy.