The island of Labuan is situated off the northwest coast of Borneo and north of the Brunei Bay which also faces the South China Sea. As mentioned besides the main island of Labuan there are also six smaller islands which includes Pulau Burung, Pulau Papan, Pulau Rusukan Kecil, Pulau Daat, Pulau Kuraman and Pulau Rusukan Besar. The cluster of islands is located at 05 latitude North and 115 longitude East and about 10km southeast off the coast of the East Malaysian state of Sabah.
You can reach Labuan from Menumbok which is a small fishing town in Sabah that is only 8km or a twenty minute boat ride. There are also high speed air-conditioned ferries that operate the routes to Labuan from various departure points that include the state of Sarawak, Sabah and the neighboring country of Brunei. The journey from the capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu will take at least 3 hours while traveling from Brunei will last about an hour. The journey is roughly equidistant of traveling to Jakarta, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Manila. If you plan to fly to Labuan there are direct flights from Kuala Lumpur and also from Brunei.
The island itself is mainly flat and undulating while the highest point on the island is measured at only 85 meters. While more than 70 percent of the island is still underdeveloped and consists mostly of vegetation, the area that is utilized are geared more towards property and industrial use as such there is less agricultural activity in the area. The island’s prime land, waterfront and suburbs are then used for development in terms of tourism and residential use. The shipbuilding, manufacturing and oil and gas industries are located on a sizeable area on the south western side of the island.
Like the other areas in East Malaysia, Labuan also has a tropical climate with two annual monsoon seasons. One is the South West monsoon that occurs from the month of April to June while the other one is the North East monsoon that happens from the month of September to December. Apart from that Labuan is also free from natural disasters such as typhoons and hurricanes while enjoying good climate all year round. With its tropical climate you can expect the temperature of Labuan to average between 28 to 32 degrees Celsius.
As an island you can expect to find that most of the activities that are found here are water related, so if you are the type of people that fall into this particular category then Pulau Labuan is definitely the place for you.
International Offshore Financial Centre – The island of Labuan is Asia’s newest international offshore financial centre. There are 65 foreign banks that are located in the island that offer sophisticated offshore banking services and numbered accounts facilities to the world’s rich and famous.
World War II Sites – Pulau Labuan is a significant historical destination especially from the time of World War II and there are three major World War II sites located here that attracts both foreign and local visitors which includes the Japanese Surrender Park, the Labuan War Cemetery and the Allied Landing Point. During the month of November, a ‘Remembrance Day’ is held at the Labuan War Cemetery which is to honour the 3,900 recorder graves of the Fallen Heroes of World War II. This particular event is attended by the Malaysian and foreign war veterans as well as their family members of the Allied troops that were killed in action during the war from the year 1942 to 1945.
Wreck Diving – Pulau Labuan has probably the best wreck diving sites in Asia and there are four wreck dives located around the island which are known locally as The Cement Wreck, The American Wreck, The Blue Water Wreck and The Australian Wreck.
Duty-Free Shopping – This may be one of the main draws of Labuan and equipped with modern shopping centers that carry a wide variety of both locally produced products as well as imported goods. The most popular items that are sold here include tobacco, appliances, spirits and textiles. At the end of the year, the entire island hosts a month long shopping carnival with attractive discounts; there are even cultural shows that add the excitement.
World Class Sport Fishing Destination – As you may or may not already know the island of Labuan is surrounded by a cluster of six smaller islands namely Pulau Burung, Pulau Papan, Pulau Rusukan Kecil, Pulau Daat, Pulau Kuraman and Pulau Rusukan Besar. The clear blue water around these idyllic islands is home to one of the world’s richest coral and fishing grounds that will definitely offer you unlimited deep sea tackling as well as coastal table fish catches.
International Sea Sport Complex – Besides the various activities that are available on the island, Pulau Labuan is also the host to the International Sea Challenge which is held in the month of May every year. The event itself comprises of four other main events which includes the Jet Sport Challenge, Big Game Fishing Tournament, the Underwater Treasure Hunt and the Cross Channel Swim Challenge.
The Chimney – Due to the size of the island most of the attractions that can be found on the island is just a short drive away from town and The Chimney is also one of them. In the early days it was actually a coal mine; however the true purpose of the chimney still remains a mystery even until this day.
Bird Park – The bird park is located just opposite that of the Chimney and it consists of 3 domes with each of them connecting to one another. Here you will be able to find a number of species of birds. The entrance fee to enter the bird park is RM3 for the locals while foreigners are charged RM5.
Beach – Pulau Labuan is called the Pearl of South China Sea and with that kind of name you can expect to find beautiful stretches of beach here. Some of the more popular ones include Pancur Hitam and Pohon Batu where you will find the locals hanging out and having a BBQ picnic during the weekends.
There are ferries that operate regularly between various place around Labuan such as Kota Kinabalu in Sabah as well as Muara in Brunei.
Regular flights from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu can be booked to Labuan and all of the flights land at the Labuan Airport or known in Bahasa Malaysia as Lapangan Terbang Labuan. From there you can catch a taxi to town which will cost you about RM8.
Getting in to Labuan
By plane – There are daily flights from Kuala Lumpur that is operated by Malaysian Airlines as well the low cost carrier, AirAsia. If you are traveling from Miri then you can take MASWings a subsidiary of Malaysian Airlines which they operate thrice daily flights.
By boat – There are vehicular ferries that operate routes to Labuan from various places such as Kota Kinabalu, Limbang, Menumbok, Brunei, Lawas and Sipitang. Labuan is also the usual port that is used for changing boats for those that are traveling from Kota Kinabalu to Brunei in a day by sea. The following is a list of the schedule for the ferries;
To/from Kota Kinabalu – There are at least two ferries that operate this particular route. The ferries from Kota Kinabalu depart at 0800 and 1330 with the journey taking an estimated time of 3 hours.
To/from Limbang – The ferries operate two trips daily with the ferries from Limbang departing at 0730 and 0800 while the ones from Labuan depart at 1230 and 1400.
To/from Brunei – There are five ferries that operate daily between Labuan and the Serasa Ferry Terminal in Muara, Brunei. During the weekends there are additional services to accommodate the influx of people from both countries that have come for the weekend.
To/from Lawas – There is only one trip daily with the ferry departing from Lawas at 0800 and from Labuan at 1230.
To/from Sipitang – Two ferries operate this route with the one from Sipitang departing at 0900 and 1000 and the one from Labuan departing at 0900 and 1300.
Duty Free Labuan!
While the island is considered to be duty free, the things that are sold on the island is not cheap. However the following list is some of the items that are cheaper on the island as opposed to other places and they include;
Cars – Cars and especially the imported ones are quite cheap however you should be aware that if you require them to be transported out of the island then the cars will be subjected to certain taxes.
Cigarette – The prices of the cigarette here are actually half the price of the ones that are found in Peninsular Malaysia. Unfortunately they are not in demand as their flavors are not that desirable to some smokers.
Alcohol – Besides cigarette, the alcohol that is found here is also quite cheap and in fact if you compare the items that are sold here they are almost similar to the items that you would normally find at the airports.
Chocolate – There are a variety of chocolates that are sold on the island and some which are hard to find even in Peninsular Malaysia.
Pearls and Crystals – The pearls and crystals are made into jewelry such as bracelets, earrings, brooches, pendants and even buttons of the traditional Malay costumes. If you wish to purchase these types of jewelry then the best place for you to shop id at the Bazaar Labuan.
Batik sarongs – The reasonable price for the batik sarongs should be around RM10 which is also the normal price that should be sold in Malaysia. However if you find that the asking price is more than that, then just walk away as there are plenty of stores and stalls that sell this particular item.
Seafood – You are on an island and the most natural thing to buy here is of course seafood. The recommended places to buy this item us at the wet market which is located near the Bazaar Labuan. The seafood that you buy can also be packed in a way that is ready for flights, just ask the sellers to do so when you are purchasing the seafood. Another place that also comes highly recommended is SBS Seafood Sdn Bhd which is located in the centre of the town, if you are not familiar with the area just ask the locals or even the taxi driver and they will take you to the place. Besides the fresh food that is sold there, you should definitely buy the frozen fish that is coated with flour which will cost about RM14 per bag.
Items that you may want to stay clear away from are electronics and computer related items as the prices here are sometimes double the amount of what you would normally find in Peninsular Malaysia.
Eat and drink in Labuan
Eating at Pulau Labuan can be an expensive experience especially if you desire fresh seafood. Seafood does not have to cost you an arm and a leg and the best way to do so is ask the locals as they may suggest cheaper alternatives to you.
Your journey to Pulau Labuan can only be complete is you have tried the crab delicacies here and the best place that serves this particular dish is ‘Anjung Ketam’ which is located at Tanjung Aru, not to be confused with another Tanjung Aru that is located in Kota Kinabalu. This is actually a food court that consists of only 4 stalls that serve mainly crab, lobsters and other type of seafood dishes. It is advisable that you book in advance so you would not have to queue up for a long time and for the fear that the ingredients may run out even before you get the chance to sit down and order. Some of the popular dishes on the menu include the crab in butter milk, crab curry and just the plain old boiled crab which is actually preferred by the locals as they say that this method of cooking retains most of the crab’s natural taste.
Another place you can consider is ‘Manja Rasa’ which is actually a floating restaurant that is located near the Labuan Sea Sport Complex. Come and enjoy the lunch buffet at only RM9 per person or the dinner special which is steam boat for RM20 while enjoying the panoramic architecture that this place has to offer.
Located near the Labuan Waterfront Hotel is ‘Mawilla Seafood Restaurant’, which is considered to be the best restaurant is Pulau Labuan that serves fresh seafood delicacies. There are a variety of seafood items here for you to choose from and they include prawn, squids, fresh fish and lobster. The more popular items on the menu that you should definitely try are the Nestum Prawn and Butter Milk Prawn dish. The price of the items here are reasonable and matched with the taste of the food, it is worth it.
The BBQ chicken wings are considered to be Labuan’s delicacy; they are cooked on skewers over smoky charcoal and wood barbeque. 6 chicken wings will cost you about RM6.
Coconut pudding is the most famous local dessert that you will find on the island of Labuan, in fact this is a must try as you will not be able to find it anywhere else. The pudding will cost about RM6 and the best place that makes these desserts is at the Pulau Labuan Restaurant.
Since alcohol here is duty free you can expect to find a number of bars and night clubs located on the island. The following is a list of some of the clubs and lounges that are located here and they include;
Sheraton’s Some Place Else (SPE) at the Grand Dorsett Hotel
Kings KTV, The Relax, Crossroads, POPIN, Jungle Park, Strawberry KTV, Jupiter 8
Labuan is generally a safe town to be in as compared to the major cities located elsewhere, in fact the whole island Labuan is quite a safe place to live in. The locals are very nice and friendly while police presence is hardly noticeable besides the occasional road blocks conducted with JPJ the local Department of Motor Vehicle.
You can even see the locals jogging around in the evenings and even in secluded areas in the hills without the fear of being mugged like they would if they had done this in major cities. The crime rates here are very low with the rare occasion of petty crimes as well as physical confrontations between the immigrants themselves.
As for the roads they are not as busy as the ones found in cities except may be in the town centre but even still it is not as congested. The people here are quite relaxed in the way that they drive meaning that they are not rushing off to their respective destination; you should also take note that there are a lot of jaywalkers and pedestrians that cross that road without practicing much caution, so you should be careful when you are driving.
English as well as the national language, Bahasa Malaysia is widely spoken here while major Chinese dialects especially Hokkien are spoken amongst the Chinese community.
Also within the Malay language there are also dialects such as the Kedayan which is spoken here as well.
Labuan Marine Park
Situated about 2km off the southern region of the main Labuan island, the Labuan Marine Park is covers 10 square kilometres of some of the most natural surroundings of the wild in the country.There are 3 islets here which are the Pulau Rusukan Besar, Pulau Rusukan Kecil and Pulau Kuraman. Here is where you can see the long sandy beaches which seemed to be untouched as well as many types of different species not seen in other natural parks around Malaysia including birds, insects and fishes.
Take note though that fishing and anchoring are banned around here although you could enjoy snorkelling and enjoy the underwater wonders here, which are beautiful, rare and totally awesome. If you head out to Pulau Papan which is the smaller islands here you will come to the most developed one among all of them. Keraman Island has its own jetty and some chalets which you can stay in while Rusukan Besar is a great place for a day trip of picnicking and swimming. Rusukan Kecil is where you can enjoy nature at its best because there are no chalets here, so you need to bring your own tents for camping and enjoy the natural surroundings.
Labuan International Sea Sports Complex
Situated along Jalan Tanjung Purun on the waterfront, the Labuan International Sea Sports Complex is part of the waterfront beautification project for the Federal Territory that cost RM25million to build covering 5.91 acres of land very near to the city center of Labuan.
It was opened in 2001 and is hose to the Labuan Sea Challenge that year. The facilities here are international standard where it could host more events of this kind where there are 3 main structures. The Sea Sports Center is used for sea sports events where there is a storage area for large boats. You would enjoy the permanent exhibition here of all types of sea sports.
The Main Plaza is where one can enjoy a spectacular view of the events and sea sports taking place. This building was designed as a windbreaker which can hold any type of weather conditions especially from the strong gushing winds coming in from the sea. Meanwhile, the Museum of Marine Biology here is where you can also visit the Martime Museum. Among other facilities here include rooms for meetings, offices as well as galleries. There is also a handicraft center and some small eateries for those who would like some shopping and snacks while enjoying the shows.
Financial Park, Labuan
Located in the town center of the Labuan Federal Territory, the Financial Park was officiated in 1996 to further cement its position as a financial hub of the country and region. As Labuan is an island, the Financial Park is located very near the city while it is also within walking distance to the seafront. On top of that, it is also located very near to the airport which makes it a convenient stop for those coming here for business. A 1,800 capacity convention hall is available here where exhibitions and performances are held throughout the year.
There Financial Park complex has 2 16 storey office towers and another one which has 18 floors. Apart from that, it also has its own podium that has 130 commercial and retailers. This means that the Financial Park is not only a business and commercial center but one that offers entertainment and leisure too. This includes boutiques, a department store as well as cinemas. Banks, insurance companies, accounting firms and companies in the financial sectors too operate here as the name suggest. For the people working here the Alpha and Beta Park Towers are typically condominiums that come with gyms, swimming pools and other high-class facilities.
Peace Park, Labuan
The Peace Park in Labuan is a memorial built to remember the horrors of war and how the Japanese terrified the place during World War II. Here is where one is reminded how the country fell on hard times during the war where there are very beautifully and mesmerizing landscape gardens. The pavilions and ponds here are built and designed in some Japanese inspired motif. Located very near to Surrender Point at Layang-Layang, this was the place in 9 September 1945 when the 32nd Japanese Southern Army surrendered after having been here for about 4 years.
During the Japanese occupation here, Labuan was called Maida island named after the Chief commander of the Japanese forces in Borneo then, General Maida who died in an air crash in Bintulu en route to Labuan. The Allies attacked Labuan when it was under Japanese occupation in June 1945 and that was when the surrender ensued. This park was a project which was funded by the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation and was handed to the state of Sabah in 1984. The Foundation is still a heavy funding member of the park until today. There is a stone slab at the entrance of the Park which seeks to remind everyone that ‘Peace is the Best’.