BorneoByRoad Pt 3: A guide if you are driving from KK to Kuching

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The drive through Limbang is easy, but be wary of the highlighted road in the town.

If you have read the first and second installment of the Borneo By The Road trip, then this is the final one. Yes, I admit, this post is a whopping six months later than it should have been published, but I got busy, so it was delayed.

Anyway, for those of you starting your road trip from Kota Kinabalu (KK), here’s what I can share. Pardon the lack of related photos, because we were in a hurry to go home, and photo taking was the last thing on our mind.

START EARLY
I can’t help but emphasis this enough. While the Sabah-Brunei-Sarawak borders open around 6AM (or maybe earlier), it would be wise to start early so that you get to Miri before noon. Shall you reach Miri anytime past 1300hours, you can basically kiss that 24-hour drive back to Kuching goodbye because it is not possible if you are driving a Proton Saga BLM (like what we were using).

SEPITANG – Refuel
Before you step into Lawas, and further to Brunei, refuel. Not that you can’t refuel in Lawas or Brunei, but both options require you to either spend more, or drive into the town, which in turn will prolong your journey. Like I said earlier, you must reach Miri by 1300 hours.

The fastest way to the Puni check-point from KK.
The fastest way to the Puni check-point from KK.

Driving from Sepitang, up to Limbang is easy because the road is well marked, and it’s basically straight. Be wary of speed traps because there are unmarked spots where the police love camping. For the sake of clarity, the route you are taking from KK would lead you to the Sindumin Check-Point, and then to the Temburung/Labu Immigration Post, and finally the Panduruan Immigration Post.

LIMBANG & BRUNEI – The adventure begins
Driving out of Limbang was a breeze because the route is basically straight, but things got interesting after the Kuala Lurah Immigration Post (entering back into Brunei). The queue was not as bad as what we experienced when we came, but there was poor signage for first timers wishing to just by-pass Brunei, like us.

The fastest route through Brunei
The fastest route through Brunei

Based on the fact that we needed to head to Miri, known as the Sg Tujoh/Kuala Belait Immigration Check-Point (need to be on the look for Kuala Belait signage), we somehow failed to locate any proper signage showing us the proper direction. Sure, there were a few after the Kuala Lurah check point, but somehow, they all disappeared after a few kilometres down the road.

Granted however, this was way back in July 2014, so I am however not sure if signage has improved, but what happened when we entered Brunei that time was that we went lost.  Google maps was useless because there wasn’t any data connection for any Malaysian telco in Brunei, and roaming was also not available for all of us.  That said, you must prepare a map or at least print one with a proper guide before you journey out.  Google maps has updated their maps recently, so you could print screen the routes to be used in Brunei.

Based on the knowledge that we had to go to Jerudong, before jumping on the highway straight to Sg Tujoh, we hurried our way trying to follow every signage we could find. At one point, we even had a Miri registered Perodua Kembara in front of us, making us confident we were on the right track.

Unfortunately however, somewhere near the Brunei hospital, the Perodua Kembara went missing.  Being as good as lost, we decided to drive towards the city with hope to spot a signboard showing us the right way.

The route we took after being lost. notice the difference in time.
The route we took after being lost. notice the difference in time.

Well, that signboard never came, and we eventually stopped by a nearby cemetery and asked two Bruneians about direction, in which they gladly helped, and wished us luck for our journey. They even slotted in the words “Welcome to Brunei!” upon knowing it was our first visit.

Anyway, with a good idea of the correct direction to Sg Tujoh, and the fact that my Proton has already finished over three quarter of its fuel, we raced to Sg Tujoh with the aim of reaching Miri as soon as possible. Being stopped by a Brunei traffic officer was the last thing on our minds because out of the four of us in the car, three needed to work the following day. Yep, talk about a tight schedule.

MIRI TO SIBU – Journey is far from over
I can’t tell you how relieved I am to reach Miri, and with the car petrol already blinking, the first stop was the nearest petrol station, and ordering fast food via a nearby McDonald’s drive-thru. We had spent almost five hours being lost in Brunei, and that had caused us to be terribly behind our schedule.

BorneoBy Road, Miri to Sibu
The longest stretch of the journey in which you need to refuel .

From Miri with a full tank, we drove as fast as we could to Bintulu, and stopped to refuel at a Petronas despite the fact our fuel was still 80%.

The refuel proved to be a smart move because our  supposedly next stop for the final refuel (Sibu Jaya) is a few hours down the road.

The journey from to Sibu went without problems, but the newly resurfaced roads, which were without its white lines were dangerous to navigate at night. Nonetheless, we soldiered on without a problem and reached Sibu Jaya a bit after 8:30PM.

Upon reaching the petrol station, we noticed the lights were dimmed, and was further told that the station is already closed. Not wanting to waste time, we hurried to the next possible station in Jakar, Sarikei which was also already closed.

BETONG – The ‘forced’ ‘pit-stop’
With two bars left on the Proton Saga’s fuel indicator, we drove straight to the last possible refueling station which is Betong, with hope that we could refuel for our journey back to Kuching. Unfortunately, at 10PM, that station was also closed, hence our abrupt decision to spend the night at Betong town.

Where we stayed for the night.
Where we stayed for the night.

Locating a hotel in Betong Town at night is not easy if you do not know your way around.  Thankfully, Dinah was well versed with Betong and she showed us the way to Medan Hotel, our second accidental stay for the #BorneoByRoad trip.  The hotel is not bad, but maintenance could be an issue.  Internet connection was non-existent when we were there.

BACK HOME
The next day, we all woke up early, took our breakfast, and rushed to Kuching. The three of us whom had to work that day requested to come in late, and they had to be at work before 1PM.

Driving as fast as we could, we arrived in Kuching around 11:30AM, with everyone glad just to be finally out of the car. It was indeed very tiring being cramped in the car for a good 24 hours (despite the pit stop in Betong).

CONCLUSION
Driving from KK to Kuching in a day is actually possible if you are familiar with the roads in Brunei, and you are fast enough to reach Betong for a refuel. Nonetheless, if you are not familiar with the road in Brunei and you are a first timer driving all the way, a good two days for the trip would be best so that you wouldn’t be too tired.

In our case, we were rushing all the way, and because of our anxiety to reach as fast as we could, we didn’t remember to snap photos for the journey back, hence why I had to include the map here. When you know you are late, and you badly need to be somewhere, taking photos is the last thing you have on your mind.

Nonetheless, the whole BorneoByRoad was an experience by its own, and yes, I would love to do it again, but with more time to enjoy every stop I make.

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