Ever wondered what it would be like to be in a place where you could to it all together? Let’s introduce you to Labuan island, an island with its history dating back to the 15th Century, once known as ‘Pearl of the South China Sea’. It offers a place for everyone, be it a backpacker or a classic tourist. So, without much ado, let’s dive right in.
Labuan is located 8 kilometers off the coast of Borneo, adjacent to the Malaysian state of Sabah. It’s situated in the north of Brunei Darussalam, on the northern edge of Brunei Bay facing the South China Sea.
Best time to visit
Labuan has no dry season almost throughout the year as it has a tropical rainforest climate. Taking reliability of weather into account, the best time to visit are the summer months, mainly June through September.
How to reach
There is a daily ferry service to the island from Kota Kinabalu. Though the daily flight services from Kuala Lumpur to Labuan are pretty convenient (and could be quite reasonable, if planned properly).
Places to explore
As mentioned earlier, Labuan has a vast variety of places to offer.
Being mostly surrounded by water bodies, it has perfect beaches for every mood.
➢ Batu Manikar Beach, Batu Manikar Beach, the beach offers a fantastic venue for a beach holiday, especially if you are a newly wedded couple in search of some tropical romance, or a not-so-new couple looking for ways to rekindle the fire! Take your partner by the hand and stroll down shaded footpaths to look for a good spot under one of the many casuarinas and coconut trees that dot the beach. This beach has won the COBSEA clean beach, UN ’08.
➢ Pancur Hitam Beach, mostly covered in orderly rows of Casuarina trees, offering privacy and beautiful sunsets. It is one of the most established and happening beaches to be found on Labuan Island, which is located at the north shore of Labuan, near to Jalan Pancur Hitam (Pancur Hitam Street) and Jalan Batu Manikar (Batu Manikar Street).
➢ Pohon Batu Beach, on the other hand, provides a more activity-filled day, from plenty of fish and food stalls to places perfect for team building activities. There are a couple of wooden stalls for them local fishermen. This is so that they can sell their fresh from the sea seafood once they landed on the beach from the catch of the day. If it is your last day of vacation while visiting, you can purchase some seafood there as their freshness is guaranteed.
Labuan Island is surrounded by 6 islands, which might be privately owned. If you want to visit these islands, make sure to take permit at the Old Ferry Terminal and also enquire the Tourist Information Center. It might seem like a hassle, but these beauties are totally worth it:
➢ Daat Island: Daat Island has absolutely gorgeous views of the South China Sea and Labuan Island, as well as a patch of rainforest. Due to its private nature, it is not open to the public but hey, if you have a cool USD 51 million to spare, you may just want to consider getting this charming island all to yourself.
➢ Papan Island: The island is 5 minutes boat ride away from Labuan and a popular weekend getaway for Brunei citizens and local residents. Activities here include jungle trekking, picnics, snorkeling, and other water sports activities. Blessed with blue waters and underwater treasures, it is well developed with beautiful land and seascapes with and old colonial lighthouse.
➢ Kuraman Island: Kuraman island is a small tropical island belonging to Malaysia in the South China Sea located off the coast of Federal Territory of Labuan. It is sparsely populated and is popular with expatriates, divers and those who travel between Labuan and Brunei. Kuraman island has two main beaches and is noted for its fishing, large sand spit, and pleasant tropical island atmosphere. The interior is forested with a range of timbers and contains cleared paths for jungle walks.
➢ Big Rusukan Island (Pulau Rusukan Besar): Pulau Perhentian Besar is a part of Pulau Perhentian island which is few miles far away from Malaysian Coast, it is one of the most happening islands famous for late night party and its luxury. This island is the first choice for honeymoon couple and family trip so most of the resort and restaurant in this island is luxurious.
➢ Small Rusukan Island (Pulau Rusukan Kecil): Pulau Perhentian Kecil is a part of Pulau Perhentian island which is 19 km off the Malaysian Coast, caters mostly for backpackers with simple wooden chalets and longhouses with a young and lively atmosphere with warm crystal clear water which is best for swimming and snorkeling. The second main reason for the popularity of this island, having budget accommodation with multiple food options.
Labuan offers 4 popular wreckage sites for underwater explorers:
➢ American Wreck (with rich and tragic history)
➢ Australian Wreck (less than 10m of visibility and has skeletal remains of the ship)
➢ Blue Water Wreck (abundance of marine life)
➢ Cement Wreck (shallowest wreck, great for wreck diving training)
With its rich and diverse history, Labuan is a treat to people who love exploring history and culture of a place. A few must visits are:
➢ The Chimney: The people on Labuan Island are quite proud of their towering chimney, although no one is sure exactly what it is! The 106-foot-tall tower was constructed in the late 1800’s of red bricks imported from England.
The chimney was once believed to be a ventilation shaft for the nearby coal mines, however recent studies have found no evidence of smoke on the inside.
➢ World War II Memorial: Erected to remember the fallen that freed Borneo, the World War II memorial on Labuan Island is the largest in Malaysia.
Soldiers’ names from Australia, England, India, Malaysia, and New Zealand (3908 in all) are listed with ranks and units on the walls.
➢ Peace Park: This nicely landscaped beachside park at Layang-Layangan was built by the Government of Japan in cooperation with the Government of Sabah in 1982 “in memory of all those who sacrificed their lives on land and at sea around Borneo during World War II and in a dedication of world peace.
➢ Surrender Point: Right next door to Peace Park, Surrender Point marks the spot where 9th Division, Australian Forces received the formal surrender of the 37th Japanese Army in North Borneo on 10 September 1945. Historical information and old photos on Labuan in the Second World War are on display here.
➢ Labuan Museum and History Square: This is quite a good museum with exhibits relating particularly to the history of Labuan. In front of the museum is a small square with flame-of-the-forest trees in each corner planted in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Here too are various stones and plaques of historical significance.
➢ Marine Museum: Just east of the city center, the Labuan Marine Museum is housed in the International Sea Sports Complex. The museum contains an interesting array of artifacts from shipwrecks as well as live and preserved sea life. The museum has several exhibits catering to children and even an aquarium where they may touch live sea cucumbers and starfish.
Other places of interest might include Labuan Bird Park, Internation Golf Center, Kina Benowa, Botanical Garden.
Labuan has very few hotels and resorts to offer. In fact, it has pretty good homestays:
- Patau Patau ( water village)
- Bukit Kuda ( technology meets tradition to produce authentic Labuan food)
- Sungai Labu ( experience making of Labuan delicacies)
Shopping and Food
Labuan is a duty-free island, a shopper’s paradise. Alcohol, tobacco, and chocolates are really cheap here. With a few shopping complexes in town, the best place for budget shoppers is Labuan Bazaar, where you can even get fresh seafood. An open-air market is held every Saturday-Sunday.
Anjung Ketam, the Labuan town, is the best for foodies, with a variety of seafood to offer.
Things to keep in mind
- The exchange rate on the mainland might be a little better than the Island. Though there are a few ATMs available on the island too with limited withdrawal capacity.
- Many telecom companies offer high-speed internet and reasonable packages. Most of them have stores at Kuala Lumpur Airport.
- Labuan could be explored on foot or by renting a bicycle. If you have an international driving license, rent a car as it has cheap fuel price.