Crossing Boundaries in Borneo

Our mother had a choice between Batanes and an out-of-the-country trip – she chose the latter.  Why?  While she knows that Batanes is really breathtaking, she wanted a stamp on her passport. 🙂  

As our brother was based in Brunei back then, we opted to explore two of the most popular cities in the island of Borneo.  We flew to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei and travelled by land to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah in Malaysia.  Mom finally got her wish.  She had her passport stamped – eleven times in April 2011 alone! 🙂

It was the first time that our family set off to travel outside the Philippines, which makes the trip one of the most memorable trips that I have ever done.  We’ve met several people from all walks of life – Filipinos working overseas, the Muslims from Tawi-Tawi who have migrated to KK, Bruneians and Malaysians.  As Muslims dominate the two cities, I was exposed for the first time to the Islamic way of life.  The travel was a good prelude to my life two months after – as I left the Philippines to join my husband here in the Middle East.

Here are the highlights of our Brunei-Malaysia trip:


1.  Visiting the picturesque mosques of Kota Kinabalu and Bandar Seri Begawan

The Floating Mosque in Kota Kinabalu

The floating mosque in Kota Kinabalu is the main mosque for Muslims in the city.  It has an   area of 2.7 acres and is situated near the roundabout at Tanjung Lipat in Likas Bay. The floating Mosque is built on a man-made lagoon, and the mosque building is surrounded with water which creates a feeling that the mosque is floating.  

Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque 

This is the larger of the two most famous mosques in Bandar Seri Begawan.  It is also known locally as the Kiarong Mosque and is said to be the biggest in Brunei. The four main minarets and two golden domes of the structure are a fantastic sight when illuminated in the evening. The gold domes of the mosque shine as the carefully designed landscape that surrounds it.

The mosque was constructed with particular attention to details.  The facade is laden with very impressive symmetrical geometric patterns and Arabesques.


Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
The smaller of the two domes was named after Omar Ali Saifuddien III, the 28th Sultan of Brunei. The mosque may be seen in between the malls of Bandar Seri Begawan and is built in an artificial lagoon on the banks of the Brunei River at the Kampung Ayer. It has marble minarets and golden domes. The mosque is equally breathtaking at night as the Kiarong Mosque.
We thought it was a good opportunity to take photos on the way to the mosque. 😀


2.  Island hopping in Kota Kinabalu

3.  Lazing around, overlooking the Empire Hotel and Country Club in Bandar Seri Begawan
I usually do not laze around when travelling abroad because there’s so much to see and explore elsewhere. However, this place was just so serene that just sitting around meant seeing ‘everything’.  
Sunset drama


4.  Wandering around the Empire Hotel and Country Club in Bandar Seri Begawan
The Empire Hotel and Country Club is a 5-star hotel.  I was surprised that there was no dress code.  Not even a reservation for dining nor a check-in is required, thus, we have freely entered the hotel.
The hotel’s lobby sits under a 50-meter high domed chamber.  The moment I stepped into the escalator of the hotel, I was reminded that I was in one of the richest countries of the world.  I was overwhelmed with the hotel’s Moorish-Islamic architecture, its stunning towering columns embellished with golden trimmings, the multi-floored lobby and the series of glass-curtain walls that afforded views of the South China Sea.

For a while, I thought I was affluent! =P
We were very small in comparison with the lobby’s towering columns.
Photo courtesy of Iyah
Outside the hotel, walking through the casitas gives a view of the lake-sized pool that spreads out by the ocean.  The hotel also boasts of its white-sanded beach.


Photo courtesy of Iyah
5.  Our land travel in the island of Borneo

We travelled by land from Bandar Seri Begawan to Kota Kinabalu, which entailed us to make several border crossings.  From Brunei’s Bandar Seri Begawan, we drove through Sarawak, Malaysia in Kuala Lurah and crossed back to the Temburong district of Brunei via Bangar.  We crossed the Pandaruan River via a ferry (in the Philippines, we call it ‘roro’) to access an appendage of Sarawak and finally entered Sabah, Malaysia.

Crossing several borders meant filling up several immigration cards, stopping by the different checkpoints and getting numerous passport stamps.  We could have flown to Kota Kinabalu from Bandar Seri Begawan but this was much more exciting!  It was my first time to cross country borders via a car transport ferry.

All set for the road trip – Go Team North Face! 🙂
Full Tank at Php 530!


The checkpoints
At one of the immigration offices
In Malaysia



6.  A two-hour drive to the Kota Kinabalu Park
Armed with joint traveller’s instincts, we reached the Kinabalu National Park in roughly two hours from Kota Kinabalu.  The park is set at an elevation of 1,563 meters above sea level and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We have failed to explore the park as it was raining heavily when we arrived.  Nevertheless, I think that the whole road trip experience was still wonderful and enough (in the mean time) as we saw the Mount Kinabalu peak from a distance.  It is a good excuse to go back. 🙂 
Someday, before arthritis could hinder us from reaching your peak, the Gravadors will go back and conquer you Mount Kinabalu!

On the way to Kinabalu Park
Mount Kinabalu in the background
7.  Night out with my ‘pangs’ in Kota Kinabalu

While Mami was resting, we thought to explore KK by foot during the night then head off to party (wearing shorts and slippers!). 

8.  Wandering through the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan 

A Muslim child on his way to the mosque
The water taxis in Brunei
A street display
Venice in Brunei?
‘Our band’ family photo 😀


Muslims on their way to the mosque for prayer time 


Taking a peek through the gates of the Sultan’s abode (you won’t see anything apart from the photo above)
Photo opp with the guards at the Sultan’s abode
At the gate of the Sultan’s abode

6.  Sightseeing at the Taman Peranginan Tasik Park in Bandar Seri Begawan




Mom obviously enjoyed her day out! =P
Driving from the park, my sister tried driving a right-hand car.  We almost hit the car 5m away as she  was in a left-hand driving mindset! =P  Whew!

7.  Wandering around Kota Kinabalu

While we were wandering the streets of KK, we met a lot of Filipino workers from Tawi-Tawi – salespersons, boat pilots, taxi drivers and cooks. It is not very surprising as Tawi-Tawi is just roughly 470 kilometers away from KK.  We’ve also met a lot of fellow tourists.


Mami at the Sabah Foundation Building


8.  Food

If someone’s going to ask me what I remember most about this trip, “food” will be one of the first three words I’d say.  I especially loved the food we ate at Litte Italy in Kota Kinabalu and the Brunei noodles at a turo-turo style eatery. 

At Little Italy

At a turo-turo style restaurant in Brunei where I have tasted the best pansit

Roti at an eatery in Malaysia
We had a choice between condensed milk and curry for additional flavor.


We truly had a wonderful time during our swift but sweet exploration of the two cities of Borneo.  We’ve crossed several boundaries during the expedition – the boundaries in Borneo, the boundaries of faith, the boundaries of exhaustion, the boundaries of culture, the boundaries of wealth.  

Mom surely made the right decision. 🙂

“The love of one’s country is a splendid thing.  But why should love stop at the border?”
– Pablo Casals




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