Flying internally in Asia can be quite cheap sometimes, if you book in advance. However, overland travel is the cheapest option, if you’ve got time to spare.
During my time in Borneo, I took a few long distance buses, with the longest being from Miri to Kuching in Sarawak, after my trip to Brunei.
Where to catch long distance buses in Malaysian Borneo?
Long distances buses tend to be based out of town a fair distance, being that they are cheap; think Ryanair (European reference!), and you’ll usually have a bit of a trek to get to your next port of call. One tip – avoid the taxi mafia, who’ll jump on you as soon as you have strapped your rucksack to your back again. There are other options to get to and from the long distance bus stations. Here are the options in the places I visited:
The long distance bus station in Kota Kinabalu is called Innaman and is located 10km from the city. The mini bus station in town, which located near King Park hotel, along from the clock tower, a 10 minute stroll from many of the city backpacker places. It’ll cost you a mere 1 Ringgit to get there. If travelling back into town, you’ll have to walk to the main road to catch the bus. Turn left out of the station, and cross the busy highway. The mini buses are usually blue and white with black writing.
Sandakan bus station is again a 10-15 minute bus ride out of the city. When I took my bus from Kota Kinabalu, I was dropped off there, and could not find any public bus. It was raining, so I paid the 20 Ringgit fare to my hostel. On the way back, the mini bus station in town, along past the waterfront, will take you to the station for 5 Ringgit. There are many buses, but the helpful locals will point you in the right direction. Just be prepared to wait for a little while. As a general rule, public buses don’t run to any set timetable, they’ll leave when they feel they have enough people rammed in; often sitting on top of each other. Safe? No. Cheap – yes, and I survived.
I only got the bus in to Kuching and not out. Again, the long distance bus station is located a wee way away. It is however In a relatively new building, worth many shops, places to eat and clean toilets. I flagged down a public bus, on the opposite side of the road, and it cost 2 Ringgit for a fare into town.
How much do long distance buses cost?
There are various bus companies that make trips around Borneo, it depends on where you are going. As a reference, I paid 43RM for my bus from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, B$18 (Brunei dollars) from BSB to Miri, and 70RM for the 14 hour journey to Kuching.
How comfortable are the buses?
Some are better than others, but all of them charge usually charge the same price. Although there are the supposed ‘VIP buses’ which can charge a bit more, but I saw no obvious reason to pay more. I always try to look at the bus and seats before booking with a company. If you are going to sit on a bus for 7 hours, you want to be comfortable. Try and avoid the locals, who jump on you as soon as you arrive and act like they are being helpful in getting you were you need to be. They’ll lead you to a bus stand were you’ll buy a ticket. They usually earn commission for this, and the buses, although the cost the same as the stand next door, will be poorer quality.
I now always carry a number of essential items on board with me to make my journey a bit more comfortable.
Overall, buses aren’t a bad way to travel. If you travel overnight and can manage to sleep, you’re getting travel and a bed for the night. If you’re travelling during the day, you get to see a lot more of the countryside on the way.