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Plan B: East Malaysia and The Kingdom of Brunei

Posted by Keith on August 8, 2007 at 3:47 pm  

August 9, 2007
07:00 Local

We were two thirds of the way across the Sulu Sea, on a westerly course from Cebu to Puerta Princessa, on the island of Palawan, The Philippines.

That’s when Captain Wolf mentioned that many cruisers used the port of Kota Kinabalu, on the west coast of East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, as their jumping off point to cross the South China Sea.

Twenty-four million people call Malaysia home. However, most of them live in West Malaysia on the southern half of the Malaysian Peninsula that extends down from the western portion of Thailand. About 600 miles to the east of the Peninsula – back toward the U.S. — is the large island of Borneo. Borneo is not a country, just a large island. East Malaysia occupies a large portion of Borneo, along with the tiny kingdom of Brunei.

I used to confuse Malaysia with Indonesia. Indonesia is a vast nation to the east of Borneo. It is comprised of more than 8,000 islands, and has a population of 247 million people.

Kota Kinabalu is about 270 miles south-southwest of Puerta Princessa on the northwest coast of East Malaysia.

When Wolf mentioned the place, I went online and discovered that (a) there was a fancy new marina there; and that (b) the place was surrounded by offshore oil wells. This gave me hope that diesel fuel will be especially inexpensive there.

So we stopped in Puerta Princessa only long enough to get our passports stamped for exit from the Philippines. We were there for less than five hours, and a chance encounter with an uncharted sandbar in the middle of its harbor notwithstanding, our visit was uneventful.

I have posted a video I took from the ship as we entered Puerta Princessa’s harbor. It’s sobering to see how thousands of people live there, and frankly I was very glad to be on our way.

From Puerta Princessa we charted a southwesterly course down the east coast of Palawan Island and through the Balabac Straight that separates The Philippines from Malaysia. As we exited the straight we entered the eastern portion of the South China Sea.

The oceanic shelf along the northwest coast of East Malaysia and Brunei is dotted with oil wells. It is a busy sea lane, filled with tankers bringing Malaysia’s and Brunei’s black gold to market.

Brunei is a tiny kingdom about 150 miles south of Kota Kinabalu, also on the west coast of the island of Borneo. It is the home of the world’s richest man – the Sultan of Brunei.
Unless fuel is much less expensive in Brunei than in East Malaysia, we’ll most likely travel to Brunei from Kota Kinabalu by ferry or car. This helps avoid the fees and paperwork of processing the ship in and out of yet another country.

We hope to stay in Kota Kinabalu for no more than three nights, including our visit to Brunei. Seas are extremely calm right now – especially for this time of year – and we would not want to lose this weather window for our 6-7 day crossing to Bangkok across the South China Sea.

We will take a final stab at finding a way to land near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on our way to Bangkok; but unless we can find an agent who assures us hassle free entry, we’ll avoid taking the ship there. However, one way or another I will visit Vietnam. The plan currently: Unless we find the aforementioned agent, I’ll fly in from Bangkok.

We’re about 45 miles north of Kota Kinabalu at this moment. There are mountains to starboard, islands to port. Seas are calm, the sky is blue. Life is beautiful.

East Malaysia here we come.

–Keith


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  1. Brunei » Blog Archive » Life in Brunei on August 12, 2007 5:16 am

    [...] Unless fuel is much less expensive in Brunei than in East Malaysia, we’ll most likely travel to Brunei from Kota Kinabalu by ferry or car. This helps avoid the fees and paperwork of processing the ship in and out of yet another country. … …more [...]

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