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Visiting Brunei

By Val Ellis last modified Jul 02, 2009 08:26 AM

Published: 2009-07-02 08:26:50
Countries: Brunei

Brunei is entered via a well-marked channel accurately shown on Cmap. Earlier warnings re not cutting off the green markers to sb on entry bear repeating. These markers are sited on a submerged breakwater and will cause major grief to anyone tempted to cut them short!

When we entered and saw the airport style watchtower we heard GAIA being called! We were welcomed to Brunei and asked if we were healthy! (The swine flu problem was in its infancy.)

We proceeded up the wide river to RBYC and it might be appreciated to know before entering that if the seabreeze is blowing one can sail in flat water very nicely to the club anchoring outside the moored boats already there. (it gets shallow rapidly inside them!) At low water the club's long pier which is the upriver one of two besides each other is completely dry.

Formalities are best done by dinghy as a dinghy landing is provided just north of the ferry pier one passes on the way to the club. We had our temperatures checked and then proceeded to be checked in by the very friendly folk at Customs and Immigration and Port Authority. No quarantine. Most nationalities get one month free visas. Australians get two weeks for $20. Bring at least 4 copies of crewlist.

The club gives visitors a free temporary membership which entitles one to use the facilities including a place to do minor work, free WiFi, a pool and the restaurant which serves tasty food from a wide menu. One buys a booklet of vouchers worth $20 for $25.

Access to town is via two buses. #33 takes one into Muara and #37, 38, or 39 from there into the city. This takes about an hour and costs $1. All buses including the town buses cost $1.

We wanted to see more of the river and be closer to town so we sailed to the club's other location, floating dinghy dock, restaurant, showers and WiFI with very friendly staff, at 4 deg 53.849 min N and 114 deg 59.258 min S. The first bar one crosses is marked correctly on C map but at the inner bar at about 4 deg 56.24 N and 115 deg 01.90 min S (location of first red marker, #30) the green buoy's location is not correct on our version.

We followed a barge (there are many), which slowly passed us just north of the bar and passed the first port side red marker close by. The barge, and us, left the second red marker well to port. We saw a minimum depth of 13ft about half way down on a falling tide. The green marker we left well to sb. Shallow water to sb was very obvious due to the 1.5kt current.

We made many trips into town on bus #39 which one catches every twenty or thirty minutes from about six thirty am to seven pm (last departure from town) just a little west of the club.

Once in town buses go everywhere from the central station. Ex: Bus # 20 and 01 go to the Kiulap and Gadong shopping centres. And for visa extensions one takes bus #48 to the border, not 44 as the LP has it. Buses seem to leave every 20-30 minutes which is about the time it takes to complete the formalities.

Although we were warned that the police would not allow us to anchor in town we decided to try it anyways and on the advice of Allan Riches of Brunei Bay Radio and Intrepid tours we anchored on the south side of town past the last water village but on the opposite shore of the Royal palace and were not bothered. Posn; 45deg 2.460 min N 114 deg 55.856 min S. Depth 20', holding somewhat iffy in Mud. Caution: Here as in many other places along the river the river shoals rapidly towards shore! We took the dinghy into BSBs wonderful market and left it underneath the bridge at the fork of the Sungai close to the veggie stands. Intrepid tours and Allan Riches are on the second floor of the building along the road opposite the bridge and market. BSB is wonderful to look at at night.

We also took the dinghy into the water village but did so when the water was really too low. Caution: Water taxis move at breathtaking speed along the narrow waterways!!

For some time now visiting sailors have not been able to buy fuel in quantities over 20 or 40 litres at the low prevailing pump prices in Brunei and the illegal buying of fuel is difficult and will cause those extending the favour difficulty. With diesel an astounding US$ 20cents/ltr it is like being in a candy store and not allowed to buy. Allan Riches, a sailor himself, has recognized that this causes difficulties to sailors and has been able to put in place a special procedure that requires the filling out of a form before fuel can be jerry jugged to one's boat. Contact Allan for the details at

We at first felt totally secure in Brunei and, due to the heat, even left GAIA open at times when visiting the club. However, one French yacht at upriver RBYC anchored with us, was boarded at four am on the night we were anchored in the city. Some loud well chosen French expletives chased the would be thieves off and since they practice Lock It or Lose It they got away with only a scare. Hearsay also has boats moored or anchored at the downriver location boarded. The marine police responded to the latest boarding and also came over to us when we arrived from BSB to warn us. They can be reached at 2772 391

These incidents appear to be of the petty theft type and with due caution should, we hope, continue to be rare.

Checking Out
We did not check out in Port Muara but sailed on the land and sea breeze to the Sultan's marina in the making. We anchored in the outer reaches in 20 feet, sticky mud, and were not bothered. Caution; the lights on large steel posts off of the entrance are apparently not lit and are a hazard at night.

Early the next morning we sailed for Kuala Belait a further 45nm to the sw and anchored in front of the KBBC one and one half nm upriver but on the opposite side of the river in 7 feet. The river is wide once in and can be sailed easily if as usual the sea breeze is blowing. Caution; one needs to call port control on ch 15 for permission to enter. This is wise as barge and oil field related traffic can be heavy in the relatively narrow entrance channel.

And a final caution; we saw several large nippah palm islands rapidly moving downstream against the sea breeze and had one miss us by a few feet! Also large trees flow down on the ebb.

We checked out of Brunei by dinghy at the large multi-storey building on the waterfront that one passes on entering. It is located just upstream from the marine police station. All the relative bureaucracies are there. Go left on the ground floor for the port clearance and get directed from there. It is also an easy walk from the KBBC.

Jim and Helen

Many thanks to Jim Denhartog for this detailed report.