We are on a mission now to get to the Malaysian border in 678 km (12 1/2 hours on Google). The locals say it takes 10 hours by car.
We set out under cloudy skies, but actually this was the best day we have had on Borneo and we did not have even a drop of rain. We planned to go about 1/3 of the way to the border, but because of lack of services we had to be flexible. We were also not sure just how long it would take.
The traffic is pretty minimal and the road in good condition. The curves are arched perfectly for high speed cornering and we could keep an average of 70 km/h. There was also long straight stretches thru the palm oil plantations. This means we made it to Penginapan Louis in 295 km at 1330. It was super hot and humid and this town is tragic. There are a couple of very sketchy places to stay. We had stopped at a kiosk and bought some ramen noodle soups.
We decided to press on and make the miles as our next possible destination is 2 hours from here. There is literally no tourist infrastructure here at all and the next town with “hotels” is 151 km away in Belai Berkuak.
The scenery all day is just palm tree from the palm oil plantations. The gas stations are also very far apart we saw one at the junction with the main road when we left this morning and finally found one after 200 km.
We arrived to town and checked out the “hotel the Virgo” at the far end of the main road. This may only be 20$, but with no window in the room and the smell in itlike a wet basement we had to pass. It may also have been the lack of a shower except the bucket full of water to flush the toilet or the general griminess. Plus the guy who showed me the room seemed totally disinterested.
We rode back to the other place we had seen when we rode into town. It was actually cheaper, but no prize either. The attendant was at least keener. The lobby like many Indonesian hotels of this class has a large TV always blaring some annoying program at MAX volume that can be heard through the place and this was no exception. They will usually turn it down at least briefly if you ask. I had totally had it by 10 pm and after asking twice I got them to turn it off for the night or at least until 6 am . The room is tiny and grimy with a squat toilet and a cold tap shower. They do not put sinks in the room and brushing into the toilet is just ….UGH. Looking forward to civilization again. At least the air con worked and with the tiny thin blankets they gave us we managed to get a decent sleep.
It poured all night, but was just misting when we left to gas up across the road. By the time we had gone 50 km it was almost sunny. The 235 km to the border went quickly and we made it in 3 1/2 hours.
We spent our last Rupee on gas and then hit the border zone. When you arrive to the Indonesian side there is no signage and no one stopped us. We decided to park just before the kiosks and then when to the right side kiosk to ask where to go.
He directed us to the left side kiosk where the customs agent completed out carnets. He came out to check the VIN and then stamped the forms. You then have to go inside the large immigration building. (It is brand new a carbon copy of the brand new one we went thru in Timor). You have to put your jacket thru the X-ray machine, but not all our luggage??? Then you walk over to the Immigration officers. The signage is digital and comes up in English. Sara was stamped out asap, but Daniel’s agent was all in a fluff about why we had Indonesian visas. Back to the story about the land crossing and no visa on arrival….. finally he let him go (it’s a bit late to be concerned about an entry visa since we are exiting!). You show your passport with the exit stamp to the guard and then drive thru to the Malaysian side.
Here is it a bit more obvious where to go and and there is a guard to direct you to pull up to the row of kiosks under the cover.
We luckily made it to the immigration agent and had our passport entry stamp done just before 2 buses arrived. Phew! Then you ride around this area by the road to the left and park just before baggage inspection. Here on the right at the end is the customs office and they processed the carnets for us. The last thing to do is go to the police office located a few doors back. Here they will issue you with a (free) permit to drive in Malaysia. Then it was 41 km on perfect road to Serian.
We had found a transit inn in the city, which was clean and cheap. There was also a laundry next door! This is not fancy, but the Hilton compared to last night. So nice to be back in Malaysia where it is civilized. The drivers are polite and follow the rules even the scooters. There are more cars than scooters here and of a better quality and standard. There is not garbage all over the place. Many people speak some English here so life is a lot easier. The food is so much better and not so spicy. We are pretty bagged after the last few days and rested up by going to sleep early.
We had to wait until 9 anyway for the laundry and so we could sleep in as well. Since we can not face another Asian breakfast we just had iced coffees with condensed milk! Now we are headed to Sibu in 341 km.
It is hot and cloudy and so very humid and this does wear you down. The entire way is a construction zone and there is essentially nothing else along the road. The towns are not even on it, but 5-10 km off the main road. We came to a small collection of kiosks after 200 km and we stopped for a snack and a cold drink. There was finally a gas station at 250 km. After leaving Serian at 915 we finally arrived to Sibu at 230. It is very hot and it was a VERY long day.
The bikes are filthy and chance would have it there is a car wash just beside the hotel. We pigged out on a big Chinese meal at the Ark cafe just down the street and then did not need dinner. This guest at the hotel was looking very cool!
We have a very big 405 km day today to Miri. This puts us near the Brunei border and there is essentially nothing else before that.
It was again a construction zone the whole way with the first 160 km taking 4 hours. We stopped for some cold drinks and fuel and to top up the oil. The last 255 km did go faster as there was less roadwork stoppage of traffic. We managed to get that done in another 4 hours. The hotel we booked has a very popular cafe just across the road. This is a western style sports bar complete with a massive beer selection and very good food. We spent a fair amount of time here this afternoon and then returned to watch the world cup and the place was mobbed.
Today we are setting out only 158 km, but this will put us in our 84 th and last country of the trip – The Sultanate of Brunei.
Leaving town you follow the signs to Immigration and this leads you on the back roads to the border zone. You have to cross a toll bridge to access the border (1 Ringet for a moto).
You then have to follow the signage to the border drive thru kiosks. Here they stamp your passport with a Malaysian exit stamp, but you do not need to deal with the carnet issue interestingly. We were out in under 5 minutes.
You then follow a circuitous route about a km to the Brunei border area.
Here there are again kiosks, which are drive thru and they stamped our passport and we were again out in 5 minutes. You then drive to the customs kiosk, where they had been searching cars, but they just asked us where we were going and said have a nice trip.
FRom the border zone you leave on a two lane road, but within 25 km there is a toll booth (1 B dollar = 3 Ringette) and the rest of the way is a 4 lane divided highway. There is absolutely nothing to see along the way.
We are headed to the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan or BSB. Brunei is not what we expected really. The capital is eerily deserted and slightly grubby. There are a number of huge buildings that all look abandoned. We had booked in here for two nights since we wanted to arrive to Sabah Malaysia on Monday to get the shipping sorted. It is pretty hot here and you really can only be outside comfortably in the evening.