A common question that we get is about the ferry from Malaysia to Philippines ferry. The answer is there is a ferry that goes but it is a little more complex than that. I have done the trip myself.
The first thing you need to know is that the trip change often and they do not travel on either Filipino, Malaysian or Muslim holidays. That is alot of time they do not travel! They also have been known to cancel due to Philippine port just shutting down for whatever reason some guy in the office comes up with. This is not the American system where things have to be justified.
Another thing that is useful to know is finding the ferry’s office is not quite so easy. I looked all over Sandakan for two days before I actually found the office on the backside of a second story building on a side street. For some reason, the taxi driver there just don’t know where to find this. It is a few blocks off the main road. As you can see below, you will go just past the Toyota dealership and turn to the sea. The actual address of Standard Marine is Block G, Lot 1, Bandar, Ramai-Ramai, Jalan Leila, Sandakan.
If you are in the main part of Malaysia or close to Kota Kinabalu; it makes more sense to travel to Manila by Air Asia than trying the ferry to Mindanao. The only reason that I took the ferry was that my passport was about to be no good and airlines wouldn’t honor it. (Make sure you have six months or more on a passport when traveling to Malaysia)
If you get caught forgetting about renewing your passport because it has been over nine years while in Malaysia, it is better (and faster) for Americans to get it done in Manila instead of in Kuala Lumpur. However, it is best to just stay on top of when you passport needs to be renewed in most cases. I am not sure how useful the US Embassy in Bangkok is for renewals.
How to get from Malaysia to the Philippines by ferry
First of all, you can only leave from Sandakan on the Malaysia side and the ferry only serves Zamboanga on the Philippines side. This means you will have to fly from Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia or take a bus from Kota Kinabalu. Sandakan has quite a bit to offer as well so it is worth the visit to be honest.
Once I found it, I remember paying about $65 worth of Malaysian Riggit to them for the ticket. By ferry pricing in the Philippines, this is quite high but they are the only option to use currently.
On the day that the ship is coming (will be evening), you go out to the Port of Sandakan and wait for them to load you. It is alot of waiting because alot of supplies from the Philippines have to offloaded and other supplies going to the Philippines has to be loaded.
One other thing that I remember is when we got to Zamboanga City, the Immigration officers did not want to come to process us. We waited from 8pm in the evening to 9am the next morning right off the port area which was not cool. However, there was nothing that the ferry company could do about it!
I do think if the ferry gets out of Malaysia on time than you will not have that problem. It would get to Zamboanga City before the immigration people go home.
What about terrorism in the Sulu Sea?
I know this is a big concern for many as there has been some serious problems with yachts being stolen and the people on them kidnapped. It is something that any one in this part of the world would be mindful about.
Aleson Lines seems to be pretty much the go to ferry for all these small islands in the Sulu. They bring supplies to the island that the terrorists live on. Why this matters is I think they have relationships with the leaders of these groups and have agreements to leave the ferry alone.
An attack on the ferry could lead to Aleson Lines cutting the route to Jolo and that would end the ability for the people there to get much needed supplies. What I am saying it is in the best interest of the terrorists to leave the ferry from Malaysia alone.
If you have done the trip, let me know what is the latest.