Prepaid GSM

Sarawak, Brunei, Sabah, Kelantan and Terengganu
Part 1

22- 23.8: Munich -> KL
24.8: KL -> Kuching
25.8: Kuching
26.8: Kuching -> Bako NP
27.8: Bako -> Kuching -> Miri
28.8: Miri -> Mulu NP
29.8: Mulu NP -> Miri
30.8: Miri -> Belaga
31.8: Belaga -> Sibu -> Miri
1.9: Miri -> Bario
2.9: Bario
3.9: Bario -> Brunei
4.9: Brunei ->  Mt Kinabalu NP
5.9: Park HQ -> Laban Rata
6.9: Laban Rata  -> Mt Kinabalu  -> Kota Kinabalu
7.9: Kota Kinabalu -> Kota Belud -> Kota Bharu
8.9: Kota Bharu -> Perhentian 
9.9: Perhentian island
10.9: Perhentian island
11.9: Perhentian  -> Redang
12.9: Redang -> Kuala Terengganu -> KL
13.9: KL ->  Ayutthaya
14.9: Ayutthaya ->  Munich

This is a report of our trip to Malaysia in August-September 2003. The focus of this trip to Malaysia was mainly Borneo (Sarawak and Sabah) and I also briefly visited the West Malaysian states of Kelantan and Terengganu. Shirley (my wife) travelled together with me in Sarawak for the first week, after which she flew back to KL to spend some time with family and friends and do some shopping, while I continued my trip across Malaysia alone. I met Shirley again in KL.

Since time was limited, I planned almost everything in advance. Planning started in July when I started with a large list of potential places to visit, which I subsequently reduced to a short list, based on information collected in guidebooks, the Internet, newsgroups, and discussion forums.

To save time we relied extensively on flights to move quickly between destinations and adapted the schedule and itinerary to match available flights. We used the Impressions travel agency in KL, which we found through the DMOZ directory and which we contacted by email. Total cost for the 20 tickets was 3156 RM, which I payed by credit card.

For all flights except the Bandar Seri Begawan - Kota Kinabalu one we used Malaysia Airlines (MAS). We didn'r user AirAsia (www.airasia.com) although it's cheaper, because it is not as reliable as MAS, and we were on a tight schedule. 

Malaysia still offers very good value for the money and it is possible to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants at relatively low prices. A room in a four star hotel costs around 130-140 RM.

We didn't book anything in advance and stayed in a mix of hotels in the price range 50-170 RM (price for a double room with bath and A/C). It is possible to have a lunch for two for about 20-25RM in a restaurant (even less than that if you eat in a food stall). Modern cinemas with comfortable halls cost 8-12 RM. Prices for internal flights with Malaysian Airlines have increased by about 50% in the past couple of years, but there are now some discount airlines (AirAsia) which offer very competitively priced tickets. Travel by bus is very inexpensive (around 8RM for a two hours bus trip) and confortable (all buses have A/C nowadays).

Money  / Exchange rate (August-September 2003)
US $1 =  3.8 RM (ringgit Malaysia)
US $1 =  1.73 B$  (Brunei dollars)

Prepaid GSM cards
Digi and TMTouch offer prepaid cards (68 RM with 50RM of calls available) for their GSM 1800 networks.  Maxis and Celcom have GSM 900 networks (with Celcom having the best coverage) and offer more expensive prepaid cards. For information on Malaysia's GSM networks see here.

Internet access
In KL and any Malaysian town there are Internet cafes everywhere (RM 4/hr in KL). The one in KL in Bukit Bintang road above the 7/11 shop is very fast. I used the Jaring internet account of my wife to send/receive emails and surf the Internet from hotels.

Quite dry and hot in Sarawak and Sabah, which apparently were experiencing their dry season. It almost never rained (see the day report section for more detail on every day's weather). West Malaysia had more rain in this period of time.

Health / Vaccinations
Normally you need the usual tropical country vaccinations (polio, Hep A, tetanus, diphteria, typhoid). For this trip however we didn't refresh any. We also didn't take Anti-Malaria pills, although in some of the places I went in the middle of Borneo there should be some risk. I relied on mosquito repellent and in fact rarely got stung.

VISA / Entry requirements
A valid passport is necessary. EU nationals automatically get a three month visa upon arrival. This also holds for nationals of many other countries - check with the Malaysian embassy in your country. For Brunei no VISA was necessary for me  (and in any case I stayed only one night).

No problem at all - Malaysia is a very stable and peaceful country. 

22.8 - 23.8.03: Munich -> Bangkok -> Kuala Lumpur
Hotel Concorde, KL, 145 RM/night for a double room with (deluxe standard room - simple standard is only 125RM)
Weather: clouded with a mix of rain and sunshine; not too warm
This is the plan of our trip to Malaysia:
Date Itinerary Comments
22.8 - 23.8 Munich -> BKK -> KL Evening flight with Thai, leaving MUC at 21:10 and arriving in KL at 19:10 with a stop in BKK
24.8 KL, in the evening fly to Kuching (flight 18:00 - 19:45) Sightseeing and shopping in KL
25.8 Kuching Visit Kuching and the Sarawak Cultural Village
26.8 Kuching -> Bako NP Try to be in Bako NP around noon; some jungle walks in the afternoon
27.8 Bako -> Kuching -> Miri (flight Kuching -> Miri 20:00-21:00) Spend the day trekking in Bako, then fetch the last boat at 5pm and go straight to the airport for the flight to Miri
28.8 Miri -> Mulu NP with the 13:00-13:35 flight some sighteeing of Miri; in Mulu NP visit Lang and Deer cave
29.8 Mulu NP -> Miri with the 15:35-16:10 flight Wind and Clearwater caves; some sightseeing of Miri in the evening
30.8 Miri -> Bintulu -> Belaga (flights 8:30-9:05 and 11:10-11:45) In Belaga will try to see some longhouses and will explore the area
31.8 Belaga -> Kapit -> Sibu -> Miri (8am boat Belaga-Kapit; might have to change boats in Kapit; reach Sibu by boat around 15:30; flight Sibu-Miri 18:30-19:25) not sure if a) there is indeed a boat in Belaga (in the dry season there are no boats, but we are in the rainy season) and not sure if I wil make it to Sibu in time to catch the flight to Miri; Pelagus rapids might be risky
1.9 Miri - Bario (flight 9:35 - 10:25) trekking (don't know yet where exactly to go)
2.9 Bario trekking
3.9 Bario -> Miri -> Limbang -> Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei); flights Bario-Miri 10:20-1145, Miri-Limbang 13:20-13:55; boat in Limbang to Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) should arrive in Bandar Seri Begawan before 3pm; sightseeing in Brunei
4.9 BSB -> Kota Kinabalu (KK) -> Kinabalu Park HQ (flight BSB-KK 13:25-14:05) sightseeing in BSB; by minibus from KK to the Kinabalu park HQ
5.9 Mt Kinabalu climb: park trails to Timpohon gate then up to the Laban Rata resthouse depending on weather and (physical) condition continue the climb up to the summit for some sunset shots and return to the Laban Rata resthouse
6.9 Laban rate resthouse -> Mt Kinabalu summit -> Kinabalu park HQ -> KK leave the resthouse before 4am for the summit; should be in KK around 16:00; some sightseeing of KK if not too tired
7.9 (Sunday) KK -> Kota Belud -> KK -> Abdul Rahman NP -> KL -> Kota Bharu (flight KK-KL 18:35-21:00, flight KL-Kota Bharu 22:30-23:20) In the morning take an early bus and visit the Kota Belud Sunday market, be back in KK by noon, then do some sightseeing of KK and a boat tour to the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman NP off KK; then fly to Kota Bharu via KL
8.9 Kota Bharu -> Perhentian island Do a half-day tour of Kota Bharu and surroundings, then drive to Kuala Besut and fetch the boat to Perhentian; will have to hire a taxi for half a day in Kota Bharu
9.9 Perhentian day spent in Perhentian; do a boat tour of the island
10.9 Perhentian -> Lang Tengah - Redang by boat from Perhentian to Redang with a stop in Lang Tengah; will have to organise a boat in Perhentian
11.9 Redang -> Kenyir lake by boat from Redang to Merang, then taxi to Kenyir lake; trekking around Kenyir lake
12.9 Kenyir lake > Kuala Terengganu -> KL (I'm booked on the 21:05-21:55 flight Kuala Terengganu-KL and on waiting list on the 17:55-18:45 flight) Trekking around Kenyir lake, then brief tour of Kuala Terengganu (will probably have to hire a taxi for that or simply walk); if not too late in KL (early flight) I'll have dinner in one of the open air restaurants Petaling street in KL
13.9 KL -> BKK with the 20:10-21:40 flight Spend the day in KL shopping, meeting friends and relatives; fly to BKK in the evening; in theory it would be possible to go to downtown Bangkok very late in the evening but most likely we'll simply go to the hotel and sleep.
14.9 BKK -> Munich with the 12:40-19:10 flight

East Malaysia itinerary

West Malaysia itinerary

The idea is to visit (again) the highlights of Sarawak and Sabah (and Kelantan and Terengganu) and shoot photos with a higher resolution camera. I'll also see some places where I've never been before (Bario, Kota Belud, Belaga and the upper Rajang, Redang, Lang Tengah, Kenyir lake).

We leave Munich Friday evening at 21:10 with the Thai Airlines flight to Bangkok. The attendants serve a dinner around 10pm after which there is a movie on the big screen. There are no individual LCD screens, as there are in the planes of Emirates, which make the ten and a half hours of the flight a bit boring. The food and the service are ok although nothing special.

The big advantage of the Thai flight is that we leave on a Friday evening, meaning that I can work the whole day on Friday and get back to Munich on a Sunday evening (daytime flight from Bangkok), so that I can work on Monday. The Emirates flights instead leave at 14:45 of a day (you can't work that day) and bring you back at 10:00am after a sleepless night (again on that day you can't work).

It takes only 10 hours to reach Bangkok from Munich. By the way, the temperature on the Thai 747-400 is freezing (and the air is very dry, with only 23% humidity). There is no way to turn off the A/C as there are no individual nozzles. The connecting flight to KL leaves on time and at 7pm local time we arrive to KL international airport (KLIA). We take the skytrain to KL (RM 35, brings you to the KL Sentral station, from where you fetch a taxi to the hotel (RM 8 + RM 3 for the luggage). We register at the reception and shortly before 9pm we enter the room. The Concorde Hotel is decent, but already quite old.

Copyright (c) 2003 Alfred Molon