Located at the north of Brunei Bay and facing the South China Sea is a charming island port and Malaysia’s only deep-water anchorage, namely Labuan. Seen from the above, Labuan has always been likened to a star floating on a turquoise sea. Declared as a Federal Territory on 16 April 1984, Labuan lies about 8 km off the coast of Borneo adjacent to the state of Sabah. As a prosperous duty-free port and an international offshore financial centre, Labuan has turned into an important spot for business and commerce.
The name Labuan was derived from a Malay word, “Labuhan” which means anchorage. It is popular to be an offshore financial centre that offering international financial and business services via Labuan IBFC since 1990. Besides that, it is also the tourist destination for nearby Bruneians and scuba divers.
The Federal Territory of Labuan comprises Labuan Island and six islets, namely Pulau Burung, Pulau Daat, Pulau Kuraman, Pulau Papan, Pulau Rusukan Kecil and Pulau Rusukan Besar. Over 70% still covered with vegetation, Labuan Island is mainly flat and undulating. Its highest point is 85 meters only. Bandar Labuan, previously known as Victoria, is now the major town and port.
Places of interest in Labuan include the Botanical Garden, a recreational park with old trees, the beautifully landscaped War Memorial, the Peace Park, the Labuan Square, the Surrender Point where 37th Japanese Southern Army surrendered to the 9th division Australian Imperial Forces which lead to the end of World War II in Borneo, the Labuan’s traditional water village and the famous Chimney at Tanjung Kubong, a reminder of the old coal-mining days. Others than that, there is the Labuan Golf and Country Club which boasts of the country’s finest nine-hole courses. A round-island tour of Labuan will spend around one and half hour.
Besides that, Labuan and its neighboring islands are the sun-seeker’s paradise with breathtaking panoramic views of the South China Sea, secluded white sandy beaches and lots of tropical sunshine. The remote islands of Papan, Kuraman, Daat, Rusukan Besar, Rusukan Kecil, and Burung have various offers. Visitors are welcomed to explore the beaches or the dense jungle inland which is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. There are also plenty of water sports such as jet skiing, wind surfing, scuba diving, fishing and even wreck diving.
Being a duty-free shopping heaven, Labuan has plenty in store for visitors, either local or imported goods. It is also a pleasure to eating out in Labuan as there is a wide range of cuisine available such as Western, standard local or traditional Malaysian fare, seafood, Chinese and other oriental dishes. Restaurants are normally open till late hours at night.
Why Not Go
There is no reason for you not to travel there. Labuan is not only the paradise of sea sports enthusiasts, it is also a duty-free shopping heaven, a food paradise and a place rich with cultures and historical background.
Labuan’s main attractions are wreck diving, sport fishing and duty-free shopping. Its crystal clear waters, ideal diving conditions throughout the year and a wealth of World War II and post-war shipwrecks have made it the region’s centre for wreck -diving. There are four fascinating wrecks in the seas surrounding Labuan, which are the American, Australian, Blue Water and Cement wrecks. Expeditions can be arranged to these island’s popular wrecks. Among these wrecks, the Cement Wreck is the easiest to dive and is normally used for wreck-dive training. The American and Blue Water Wreck are normally for experienced divers only. For those seeking for seclusion, the outlying islands of Pulau Papan and Pulau Burung can provide you the right ambience.
On the other hand, Labuan is also a world class sport fishing destination. Pulau Labuan is surrounded by six islets, namely Pulau Kuraman, Pulau Daat, Pulau Rusukan Besar, Pulau Rusukan Kecil, Pulau Papan and Pulau Burung. The crystal clear water around these idyllic islands is home to the world’s richest coral and fishing grounds. It provides unlimited deep sea tackling and coastal table-fish catches as the crystal clear water offers a window to the rich marine life of the South China Sea.
Duty-free shopping has made Labuan become a famous destination. Its modern shopping centers offer a wide range of locally-produced as well as the imported goods. Among the popular goods are spirits and tobacco, textiles and appliances. Normally, Labuan hosts a one month-long shopping carnival with attractive discounts at the end of every year. There will be cultural shows to maximize the excitement and liveliness of the carnival.
Labuan Bird Park
This tranquil bird park is beautifully landscaped garden and walking paths. It has three large dome-shaped cages surrounded by beautiful trees and flowering plants.
A slow, relaxing walk within the bird park is recommended if you wish to escape to a more peaceful experience where you can absorb the beauty of the flora and marvel at a large variety of tropical birds from around the region, under one roof.
Labuan Bird Park is home to many species of Borneo birds only likely to be encountered deep in the forests of Borneo. There are plans to collect a good percentage of the 580 species of birds found in Borneos diverse habitats.
Unlike bird watching in the wild, here at the bird park, nature lovers can watch birds without the arduous treks in the jungle or towing heavy equipment.
Peace Park at Layang-Layangan is situated close to Surrender Point, the place where the 32nd Japanese Southern Army surrendered to the 9th Australian Imperial Forces on 9 September 1945. The Japanese arrived at Labuan on January 1, 1942, less than a month after they had started their campaign in Malaya at Kota Bharu. They took formal possession of the island on the 3rd, having faced no resistance.
The Peace Park was built as a memorial and also as a renunciation of the horrors of war. It is dominated by the memorial mound which is surrounded by landscaped gardens and pavilions. Small ponds with stone bridges and park seats are all Japanese-inspired. A bronze plaque commemorating the surrender is mounted on a stone slab near the entrance.
The Tanjung Kubong Tunnel
The Tunnel was once a site busy with coal mining activities for more than half a century from 1849 through 1911. This expansive network of underground tunnels is one of many important historical landmarks in Labuan. Operated by various British companies for 64 years, it was during the administration of the New Central Borneo, that an 8-mile long railway track was installed from here to Victoria Port to facilitate the export of coal, resulting in a flourishing coal mining operation here. However, an unfortunate string of mining accidents led to the closure of the mine in 1911.
Today, what still remains in the area are pits and tunnels dug long ago, old bricks and pieces of rail tracks and rusted cables strewn on the ground. Visitors may enter a low tunnel with the help of a short rope and emerge from the top, although this should only be attempted with great caution. Across the road next to the Chimney, is a vertical well that is 10 feet wide, measuring some 100 feet deep. Entrances to more tunnels, which are yet to be explored, can be found at the bottom of this well.
A trip to Labuan would not be complete if one does not visit Kampung Air (Water Village). There are two main water villages on Labuan – Kampung Bebuloh and Kampung Patau-Patau which are mainly inhabited by Brunei Malays.
The houses here, which are built right at the water’s edge, are made of wood and sit on high stilts, joined together with a maze of wooden walkways.
Visitors are free to roam around the vicinity of the water villages and observe the humble lifestyle of a predominantly fishing community.
Almost every house owner here has his own boat. The houses can be quite large and they all have cool decorated verandahs.
Ba San Miao Temple
Also known as the Eight Deity Chinese Temple, or the “Heaven and Earth” Temple, this Taoist temple is one of the many Chinese temples on the island. It is relatively new and was built by the Hokkien community.
The temple has a centre hall, which is divided into two: All the deities stand proudly at the centre of the ‘Heaven’ hall, while a dark passage leads visitors to the ‘Hell’ hall, where there are walls of sinners in torture chambers being slashed and beaten and boiled in cauldrons of fire.
On the nineth month of each lunar year, the temple conducts a colourful celebration of the birth of the Nine Emperor, a deity in the Chinese mythology.
Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple
This Sikh temple was built by a local Sikh philanthropist in 1997. The architecture was inspired by the Sikh ‘golden temple’ in Amritsar. It offers people in need of free accommodation in the temple hostel. Visitors are expected to cover their heads with a piece of cloth. Smoking in the temple is strictly prohibited.
Jamek An’Nur Mosque
The Jamek An’Nur Mosque is the only Muslim mosque on the Labuan island. Located at Jalan OKK Abdullah, the building features a grey futuristic architecture.
Best Time to Visit
Labuan has a tropical balmy climate with two monsoon seasons every year. The South West monsoon is from April to June and the North East monsoon is from September to December. Labuan is free from neither hurricanes nor typhoons. It enjoys good climate throughout the year. The daily average temperatures are between 28 to 32 degrees Celsius.
Hence, it is convenient to make you way there all year round, but the best is on May. Labuan hosts the International Sea Challenge in May every year at Labuan’s International Sea Sport Complex. The International Sea Challenge comprises of four events, which are the Underwater Treasure Hunt, the Jet Sport Challenge, the Cross Channel Swim Challenge and the Big Game Fishing Tournament.
Where to Stay
In Labuan, there are accommodations to suit all types of budgets. For budget backpackers, it is recommended to stay at Mariner Hotel due to its rates and facilities provided. The Mariner Hotel can offer you an unsurpassed value for money.
For luxury, the best is to stay at the Sheraton Hotel due to its perfect location and superior service. Strategically located in the business centre of Labuan town, Sheraton Hotel overlooks the harbor and nearby islets, making it attractive to both businessmen and vacationers. It offers deluxe rooms as well as the premier suites and a royal suite.
Manikar Beach Resort, Labuan’s only beach resort, is a perfect family getaway with various water sport activities like diving, snorkeling and fishing. You can find beautiful rooms, suites, pool, a grand ballroom, boardrooms, the Bunga Mas Restaurant, lounge and bar in Manikar Beach Resort.
Where & What to Eat
If you visit to Labuan, you must try its crab delicacies. Go to the Anjung Ketam at Tanjung Aru, Labuan to have crab dishes. This food court comprises of 4 stalls and all serving fresh crabs, lobsters and others seafood. It is strongly advisable to do advance booking because some of the ingredients maybe running out when you make your way there. For examples, you may book the crab curry, crab in butter milk and just boiled crab because these dishes retain most of the crab taste.
Others than that, you also must visit Manja Rasa, which is a floating restaurant located near the Labuan Sea Sport Complex. Panoramic architecture, the restaurant serves lunch buffet at RM9 per head, while for the dinner are all steamed-boat delicacies, which is RM20 at all-you-can-eat.
Mawilla Seafood Restaurant is the best restaurant in Labuan which serves seafood delicacies likes fresh fish, prawn, lobster and squids. You shouldn’t miss out the Butter Milk Prawn and Nestum Prawn. It is the best in Borneo and the price is reasonable also.
In Labuan, the most popular local dessert is coconut pudding, which you wouldn’t be able to get it in anywhere else. It can be found in Pulau Labuan Restaurant with RM6 each.
Labuan is famous with its duty free especially alcohols, hence the main entertainment in Labuan is its night clubs and lounges. Among the famous places where people go are POPIN, the Sheraton’s Some Place Else (SPE) at the Grand Dorsett Hotel, Kings KTV and Crossroads. POPIN is the most popular night club in Labuan Island as it the only one stop entertainment center offering many delights, from our raving disco, well-stocked bars and relaxing lounge to delicious restaurant and fun-filled karaoke suites.
My to do List
– Sport fishing
– Shop for the duty free liquor (everyone is allowed to bring one liter out of the island)
– Visit Labuan Birds Park
– Visit the Chimney
– Visit An’Nur Jamek Mosque (it was built at a cost of US$11 million)
– Visit World War II Memorial Park
– Go to Peace Park
– Visit Kampung Ayer (Water Village, one of the interesting features in Labuan)
– Attend the one-day “Discover Scuba Diving” course (if you don’t know how to dive)
– Underwater Treasure Hunt
– Nitrox Diving (Nitrox is a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen)
– Night Diving (divers must show proof of night, cavern or wreck diving in the form of certification cards or log books documenting such dives. If no proof, divers who wish to night dive will be required to take a certification course in night diving with additional cost)
At Labuan Marine Park
-Sea Snake Watching
There are daily flights to Labuan Airport (IATA: LBU) from Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia as well as 4 flights a day to Miri with MASWings and a couple more flights to and from Kota Kinabalu
For cheaper approach, you may get there by ferry as high speed air conditioned ferries ply daily from Kota Kinabalu, Sarawak and Brunei to Labuan. The ferry there can accommodate trucks and passenger cars. This is the most economical way to get to Labuan. Travelling time from Kota Kinabalu is about three hours and for Brunei is about one hour.
You can arrive in Labuan by ferry from Brunei, Kota Kinabalu, Lawas, Limbang, Sipitang and Menumbok, where a vehicular ferry operates. Labuan is the usual port for changing boats for those getting from Kota Kinabalu to Brunei in a day by sea.
To/from Brunei: Five ferries daily, with additional services during the weekends, run between Labuan and the Serasa Ferry Terminal in Muara, Brunei. The journey takes 1 and a half hour.
To/from Kota Kinabalu: At least two ferries daily at 08:30 and 13:00. From Kota Kinabalu, ferries depart at 08:00 and 13:30. The journey takes about 3 and a half hours.
To/from Lawas: One trip daily, departing Lawas at 08:00 and Labuan at 12:30.
To/from Limbang: Two trips daily, departing Limbang at 07:30 and 08:00 and Labuan at 12:30 and 14:00.
To/from Sipitang: Two ferries daily, departing Sipitang at 09:00 and 10:00 and Labuan at 09:00 and 13:00.
To/from Menumbok: An alternative way to visit Labuan from Kota Kinabalu. Buses will leave at 6:40, 7:30 am etc from Kota Kinabalu (RM15) and reach Menumbok in 2~2.5 hours. The bus stop and ferry jetty in Menumbok are on the same street. Speed boat will depart when it is full. It takes 20 minutes and costs RM15. There are at least two Menumbok Express trips daily to Labuan, which will take 40 minutes to reach.