Shoestring budget: From KK to Labuan

Sandy beaches and beautiful sea view — that is what you get when you visit the island of Labuan. Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? Then why is it that when you go to Labuan, there are hardly any tourists in sight? It is mind boggling indeed.

Enjoying the sunset at Mempakul.

I tried to come up with reasons as to why Labuan does not lure as many tourists as I think it should. Perhaps it is the lack of promotional and marketing activities? Or perhaps the lack of flights going to the island? Even I seldom visit the island, even though it is a mere two hours drive away on a very good road condition, and then an hour ferry ride from Menumbok to Labuan. Otherwise, one could always take the ferry from Kota Kinabalu to reach the island (I have yet to try this though).

That said, I did recently go to the island. It was for work and I thought a bit of holiday. But it turned out to be more work than fun. In the end though, I did manage to see a lot more things and remember many of the sites I visited, as well. So what do I think about the island now? It is a pretty cool place — particularly if you’re into chocolates (because they are duty free), or if you’re into imported cars (aren’t we all?). I would like to say that a day trip to the island is simply not enough for one to really know, learn and love Labuan. I think I would like to have spent more time running around its park when the sun is not directly above my head, and I would love to jog along its long beaches looking as the sun gets ready for its zzzz…I would also love to have more time discovering the shopping malls, going in and out of the coffee shops to discover any new menu I’ve yet to taste, for example. But the trip was just too short. Next time, I will just go on a leisurely tour all by myself or with my kids, and just enjoy whatever there is to enjoy, and nap when we get too tired. That will be fun!

Staying the night in Menumbok at the Jiwaja Resthouse.

So anyway, foreign readers who are keen to learn about the tiring but otherwise informative journey to Labuan might want to know how they could get to the island (and hopefully, without spending so much).

In my case, I drove all the way in my Nissan X-Gear (my kind of ride). I packed my three kids and drove from Putatan all the way to Menumbok and arrived at nearly 7pm at the Jiwaja Resthouse in Mempakul, Menumbok. Mempakul is part of the Menumbok district, and is located just five minutes drive (a very slow drive)to the seaside. You can see Labuan from there, and my friend Irene tells me that if I was lucky, I would have spotted several buffaloes in the sea, possibly trying to cool off after a long and hot day. I didn’t see any, so I wasn’t so lucky, I guess. But the night view, without the presence of fluorescent lights from houses and buildings made the star and the moon look much more lucid, and that was mesmerising. I have forgotten how tranquil nights could be living away from the bustling and busy city district, away from man-made lights.

I love the service rendered at Jiwaja Resthouse. The workers were superb host, and although the accommodation does not have that five star rating, their friendliness definitely exceeded any kind of rating. Nothing could beat the hospitality of kampung people.

We were given a room with four beds — two big ones and two single sized ones. It was night, so we could hear the sound of cicadas and lizards echoing their orchestral melodies. I think I heard owls as well and the sound of someone firing their gun (it was near the police station, so they probably had some training going on, who knows). It was so tranquil and quiet and mosquito-less. The drive had been tiring, and we slept almost immediately. The sleep was bliss, something I haven’t had in a long time and I wish I could have napped longer, but Irene wanted us to catch the 6am ferry so at 5am she was already trying to wake us up. Ahhhh…I just wanted to nap. Let me sleep…let me sleep…but alas, work is work and I must abide.

The ferry ride to Labuan from Menumbok.

Still groggy from sleep, the kids decide they don’t like the trip anymore. I couldn’t blame them really. It was really one of the best naps I’ve had in a long time. We caught the ferry — the first time for me, while the kids have been on it several times in the past) and Irene was telling me about Labuan and how it was not getting the attention it deserved. I would have paid more attention if I had a bit more sleep. The ferry was quite empty, which was nice. And we had some hot Milo and Maggi Mi. The ride would last an hour and the boys kept occupied playing video games on their handphones, while my daughter stuck with me. Usually uneasy out in the sea, I found the sight of the light waves and morning breeze refreshing. It was nice to see the sun rising with me. There were more than a dozen of boats and ships of different sizes and Irene explained that they were parked there because they didn’t have any business. “They used to be busy, carrying out odd jobs for oil and gas companies, but since the price of fuel went down, they just sit there without moving.” That is the good thing about having a guide — you don’t have to wonder and come up with the wrong conclusion as to why the boats were there in the first place and why they are not going anywhere. That was one of the advantage of having Irene (she was our guide) around — I learned more about Labuan than I ever did with hours of reading useless brochures with information that did not stick to my mind! I would encourage anyone wanting to learn more about any place to hire a guide. They are great educators!

Welcome to Labuan

Arrived finally
Welcome to Labuan.

When the ferry finally landed at the port, we walked to the waiting Avanza owned by the Jiwaja Rent-A-Car. The vehicle was clean, with no unappealing stench from any past drivers that it might have had. It was a nice drive. And Irene took us to the duty free shop to see or buy chocolates or alcohol (these two items are cheap in Labuan). And then we drove around the Labuan town and to the Kompleks UTC and stopped by a Food Court for some dim sums (which were quite expensive, by the way). Then we headed to the Kompleks Sukan Laut Antarabangsa for food but unfortunately, it was fasting season and none of the stalls were opened. We were famished with no food or drinks in sight!

Attraction at the Kompleks Sukan Laut Antarabangsa

While at the complex, we visited the Marine Museum. There were plenty of things to see and learn, watching the exhibits and reading through the various descriptions. Of course, the most distinctive exhibits that were easily noticeable and one that everyone knows of were Dory and Nemo. Yup, they were there too!

Outside, you can catch the view of the ships docked at the port and palm trees lining the sandy beaches. It was a beautiful sight and my tummy was croaking.

Marine exhibits.

And next…checking out the Oil & Gas facilities

One of the most established industries or sectors in Labuan is her Oil and Gas sector. Irene brought us to see the Petronas facilities (from the outside), and several others that I have forgotten to jot down. “These are attractions in Labuan because it is the industry we are most famous for,” explained Irene.

Oil and gas refineries.

Getting some food…finally

I would really discourage anyone who is not fasting to visit the island during the Holy Month of Ramadhan. Food is scarce, literally. And we were not prepared for it. We knew it was fasting month, but we didn’t expect all the stalls to be closed. When we finally saw eateries that were operational, it was past lunch-time. So we had a bit to eat, can’t remember much what it was anymore. Just happy to have something to stop the groaning sound inside.

And coming up…five places to visit in Labuan…

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