Kuching is the capital of Sarawak, and this charming city holds its own appeal. It’s a great place to visit if you’re into nature and wildlife, as it’s home to exotic orangutans. It also features a beautiful waterfront area and delicious local street food.
Equally as interesting, Kota Kinabalu is another excellent holiday destination in Malaysia. This is Sabah’s largest city and the main gateway to Borneo. Fall in love with the idyllic islands and lush rainforests that are great for hiking. Mt. Kinabalu can also be found just 20 kilometres northeast of the city.
If you want to visit both, you can! Below, I describe exactly how to get from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu whether you are looking for a flight from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu, a bus from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu or want to drive between the two.
I also describe the reverse journey from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching.
Note that there is no Kuching to Kota Kinabalu train option.
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Map: Travel From Kuching To Kota Kinabalu
This map shows you how you can travel from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu on the most direct overland route.
The Kuching to Kota Kinabalu distance is 805 kilometres. Travel time if you fly via plane is 1 hour 30 minutes. Meanwhile, if you drive, it takes approximately 18 hours.
BEST OPTION: How To Get From Kuching To Kota Kinabalu
Here’s a summary of your options:
|Mode of transport
|People who like the quickest and easiest option. This is also usually the cheapest
|Bus + Taxi
|People who really want to travel overland
|People who are happy to hire a car or who like to stop along the way
Option 1: Kuching To Kota Kinabalu Flight
Flying is by far the easiest and fastest way to get from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu. Airline carriers like AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines and Firefly offer Kuching to Kota Kinabalu flights. The flight time is around 1 hour 30 minutes, and there are many flights throughout the day and evening.
Prices for tickets can vary widely and start at RM100. A good sale fare could be even cheaper. Booking ahead is generally the best way to go.
I suggest that you look for cheap flights from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu as they can be less expensive than taking other transportation options.
Kuching Airport is about 10 kilometres from the main river area in Kuching. A Grab taxi is your best way to get there.
Once you arrive at the Kota Kinabalu Airport, take a taxi or Grab to the main city centre. The distance from the airport is approximately 6.9 kilometres.
Option 2: Kuching To Kota Kinabalu Bus
There’s no direct Kuching to Kota Kinabalu bus. Before the pandemic, it was possible to take bus services that travelled from Kuching to Miri and then Miri to Kota Kinabalu. However, there is no bus from Miri to Kota Kinabalu now so you need to get to Brunei and then take a bus from there to Kota Kinabalu.
It is much easier (and often cheaper) to fly. You are going to be stuck spending at least one night in Brunei. But in case you really want to travel overland, here are your options.
Part 1: Kuching To Miri
From Kuching Sentral Bus Terminal, take the Sungei Merah Express or Eva Express to Miri. Travel time is around 15 hours and tickets cost from RM109. Buses leave in the afternoon and evening.
Note that these buses aren’t as comfortable or luxurious as options in peninsular Malaysia. My seat recline didn’t even work! It can be a bumpy journey as well.
Part 2: Miri To Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
This is the trickiest part of this journey as there are currently no buses, and you may need to walk across the border itself and hope there are taxis available to help you out. The border and this crossing are really made for cars and it is awkward without one, but it is possible to cross on foot.
Taxis can’t take you across but you can organise a private transfer to make it much easier. This company may be able to help you out.
Otherwise, the first thing you need to do is to take a Grab taxi from Miri to the border with Brunei. This is only about 28 kilometres and 40 minutes from the centre of Miri. Pass through the Malaysian formalities at the border.
Then, you need to walk to the Brunei side of the border which is about a kilometre. After you deal with the Brunei formalities, look to see if there is a taxi here that you can take. If you have a Brunei sim card, you can also try ordering a taxi using the Dart app (Brunei’s version of Grab or Uber). You want to take the taxi to Kuala Belait where the buses to Seria leave.
From Kuala Belait, take a bus to Seria. From here, you can take a minibus to Bandar Seri Begawan. This bus stops a lot and can take many hours. It leaves hourly from Seria.
This is complicated. Get ready to ask for help along the way and for this to end up being quite a lot of hours of travel.
Note that when you are crossing the border, there is no wifi here and Malaysian sims don’t work so have any documents you need. The earlier in the day you leave to do this, the more chance it’ll go smoothly. Buses and taxis stop operating at the Brunei side of the border by 4pm.
Part 3: Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei To Kota Kinabalu
From Bandar Seri Begawan, take the bus (Sipitang Express) to Kota Kinabalu. The travel time is around six hours, and the bus fare costs around RM135.
Take note that this bus departs in the morning only three days a week. Currently, this is Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Option 3: Driving From Kuching To Kota Kinabalu
If you’re travelling from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu by road, you’ll be driving a distance of around 1200 kilometres. It takes around 18 hours more or less depending on traffic, road conditions and how busy the borders are.
Note that you need to go through borders between Malaysia and Brunei multiple times. This can cause delays.
If you are hiring a car, you need to be sure you are allowed to take it across this border and that you have all the paper work necessary. It may be very difficult to find car hire that will let you do this as a one way rental.
Kota Kinabalu To Kuching
In terms of how you can get from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching, you need to take the above transportation in reverse.
You can either fly, take the ferry or travel by car. Flying is by far the best option.
If you’re flying, airline carriers like AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines and Firefly offer flights from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching. A Kota Kinabalu to Kuching flight starts at RM100 depending on promos and season. Booking ahead can give much better prices.
Travel time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, there are no direct buses that travel from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching.
You need to reverse the bus journeys above which involve starting with a bus from Kota Kinabalu to Brunei. This runs only three times a week.
From Brunei, you need to stay overnight and then get going early to catch a minibus to Seria. These depart from the corner of Kianggeh Rd and Jalan Pemancha. From here, take another bus to Kuala Belait.
At Kuala Belait, you need to take a taxi to the Brunei side of the border. After completing the formalities here, it’s a one kilometre walk to the Malaysian side.
From here, try to get a taxi to Miri. This may be difficult and Malaysian sims don’t work here to hire a Grab. Ask people at the border if they can help or if you can have a lift.
You can also travel by car between the two cities. It’s a long way and can take around 18 hours. Delays can be expected because of border crossings. You can find hire cars here.
In this guide, we’ve covered the various transportation options that you can take when travelling from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu (and vice versa.)
The fastest and most convenient option is to fly. Looking for flight sales or booking far ahead will help get the cheapest prices.
This significantly cuts your travel time as travelling via bus or private vehicle will take a lot longer. It’s usually cheaper to fly as well.
I hope you found this guide to how to travel from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu. We also have travel guides for reaching Kota Kinabalu from other places such as KL, Sandakan and Brunei. You can find our Kota Kinabalu itinerary here and our complete travel guide to Kota Kinabalu here.
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