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I went to Labuan because it is one of the 3 ‘duty free islands’ of Malaysia (the other 2 are Langkawi and Tioman). Labuan is, also, touted as being the ‘undiscovered’ Penang and there are rumours that they are planning to build a bridge connecting it to mainland Sabah (as they have done with Penang and Butterworth).
Is Labuan going to be a ‘perfect merger’ of Langkawi and Penang in years to come? I needed to find out…
I took the Ferry Express from Jesselton Point in KK to the International Ferry Terminal in Victoria, Labuan.
I walked down to Jesselton Point and bought my ticket at the Ticket Office the day before I left. There were 2 ticket prices: MYR37 or MYR41 for 1st class. There are 2 boats each day: 8:00am and 1:30pm. I chose 8:00am.
I bought a 1st class ticket and, with taxes and service charges, the total cost was just under MYR45. Malaysians are still ‘catching up’ on telling people about the 6% GST that was introduced on April 1st 2015.
I was at Jesselton Point at about 7:15am.
There were a couple of little local cafes on the peer selling food. I had a vegetable boiled rice with a fried egg on top (Malaysian ‘eggs on toast’) for MYR3 and a black coffee for MYR1.50.
The boat started loading at 7:30am. You needed to show your passport to get past immigration and get on the ferry. There is no need to rush as, in true ‘Malaysian fashion’, you have your own seat number.
The fast boat took 3.5 hours. The seats were comfortable but did not recline. They played a DVD with English sub-titles. The aircon was COLD… many people put on an extra layer of clothing; I only had a sleeveless T-Shirt with me – so I cuddled myself. I discovered that I’m very cuddly :-).
ACCOMMODATION / WHERE TO STAY:
I found it hard to find anything online and even harder to find anything within my GRANDPAcking budget.
So, I broke my modus operandi and did not book anywhere in advance. I took a chance…
Uncle Jack’s Bed & Breakfast:
You will find many online references to Uncle Jack’s and it is one of only 2 that appear under ‘backpacker’ accommodation when you search with Google.
I emailed them the day before I arrived but got no reply. I gambled on the fact that they would have a private room with ensuite if I just ‘turned up’.
On landing in Labuan Ferry Terminal, I headed straight for Uncle Jack’s; it is only a 5 minute walk and, after 3.5 hours sitting on a ferry, I was more than happy to stretch my legs.
I found the address easily but there was no Uncle Jack’s… apparently, it closed down a long time ago! Amazing really because I always limit my internet searches to ‘within the past year’ and Uncle Jack’s is still listed everywhere. It just goes to show how many plagiarists exist on the internet.
Anyway, I ended up doing what I usually try and avoid… I ended up walking the streets (bags in tow) looking for accommodation.
There are a number of cheap and ‘iffy’ guesthouses in the backstreets in the MYR100 range. These guesthouses are intermingled with pubs, karaoke bars (which are, usually, a front for prostitution), snookers / pool halls, and corner shops.
I walked into many of them and walked out of many straight away. As I approached one counter in one of these ‘hotels’ there were 3 young girls sitting on a bench seat watching me. The room rate was too high for me (MYR120 / night for a Single) so I turned to walk away. As I did I got a ‘hello baby!’ from one of the girls. I got the impression that if I had booked a room, I could have booked a girl at the same time… That’s not my style…
After trudging the streets, looking for somewhere decent to stay for nearly 3 hours, I decided that enough was enough. I didn’t want to just take any hotel and I definitely didn’t want one near a ‘karaoke’ bar.
I spotted an isolated hotel on the waterfront which was well away from everywhere else: the One Hotel. So, I went there.
They had Single rooms with aircon, in-room wi-fi, local TV (which is useless for anyone who isn’t Malaysian), and hot water ensuite for MYR78 / night. It was the best value accommodation that I had seen in my price range, so I took it. I booked 1 night.
Don’t misunderstand me, this was still the worst value accommodation that I have paid for in the 7-8 months that I have been travelling so far! It was just the best that I could find in Victoria that night.
Around The Island:
The next day I was up early. After a simple breakfast (and a bit of work), I was down at the Ferry Terminal by 9am. I had been told by some locals the night before that this was the best place to rent a car.
I rented myself a Viva Elite automatic for MYR70 / day. I could have had a manual one for MYR60 but couldn’t be arsed with changing gears as well as looking out the window. 🙂
The plan was quite simple: I didn’t really like Victoria, so I will go around the island to find a nicer place to stay.
On the internet and in the tourist brochures you will find 4 homestays:
- Siang Homestay (on the outskirts of Victoria)
- Patau-Patau Homestay (in the water village just across from Victoria)
- Sangai Labu Homestay (at Sangai Labu Beach)
- Bukit Kuda Homestay (set back a few kms from the Layang Layangan Beach coast)
All of the above seem to have a standard rate of MYR65 / night for a Double with hot water (usually shared) bathroom. This cost usually includes 3 meals each day.
Homestays are popular and usually need to be booked in advance (especially the ones listed, above, as these are the only ones publicised). When you see what you get for MYR100 in Victoria, you can understand why.
I drove the whole coastline around the island and many of the inland roads too. There is very little tourist accommodation available outside of Victoria.
The biggest ‘cluster’ of accommodation is around and south of Layang Layangan Beach where you will find about 10 Homestays that are not found on the internet.
Some of the housing along the beachfront park looked very nice; I was unable to find out about costs.
I stopped at about 3 of the Layang Layangan area Homestays without success. It was a Friday (the Muslim ‘Sunday’) in Ramadan (the Muslim ‘Christmas’) and I couldn’t find anyone to talk to nor show me a room. This didn’t disappoint me – as they were all very ‘uninspiring’.
Simply put, whoever chooses to stay in one of these cheap Homestays is ‘existing’ – which, as you know, is NOT what my blog is all about.
After spending over 5 hours touring the island, I ended up back in Victoria. I concluded that I might as well stay there than anywhere else. Everywhere else looked boring.
I drove to each area of town, parked the car, and checked out the hotels that looked within my price range (i.e. there was no point in me going to the Dorsett). As an aside, I did actually go to the Dorsett one night to check out their ‘Some Place Else’ bar ‘Happy Hour’. I got there OK… happy hour is 6pm to 9pm… a large beer in Happy Hour is MYR19!… I left.
You will NOT find anything decent in Victoria for less than MYR120 / night. Period.
So, guess what I did! I went back to the One Hotel and did a deal… MYR90 / night for a Queen Room (down from MYR98) for 3 nights. I had every intention of leaving on Monday!
DO NOT take this as a recommendation to go to One Hotel! It was ‘Hobson’s Choice’ , and I took it.
Rental Houses in Labuan:
If you intend to settle in the island, make sure that you secure your rental house in advance; it is very difficult to find a rental house on the island.
House prices and rental rates on Labuan are expensive and disproportionate to what is an already over-priced environment.
Victoria is easily discover it by foot.
By Bus / Minibus:
If you want to discover more distant locations, there are several bus lines that cover the entire island.
Although buses drive often and cover the island well, BEWARE as they stop driving at 7 pm.
For Bus travel, the island is divided into 6 ‘zones’. One way bus journeys will cost a minimum of 1 Ringgit and not more than 3 Ringgit. Here are some bus lines examples:
- Bus line 3, circling around Labuan Hospital, Sungai Bedaun, Sports Complex, Kiamsam Bebuloh.
- Bus line 4 going around Labuan Hospital, Peace Park, Layang-layangan Beach, Surrender Point, Sungai Lada, Sungai Labu Homestay, Sekolah Menengah Sains Labuan and University Malaysia Sabah-Labuan.
- Bus line 5 goes around Tanjung Aru Kerupang and some of most popular Labuan’s restaurants of Terumbu Warisan and Anjung Ketam that serve tasty seafood.
- Bus line 6 will take you to Labuan Matriculation College, Lajau, Bird Park, The Chimney, Manikar Beach Resort, Pancur Hitam Beach, Batu Manikar Beach.
Taxi drivers in Labuan don’t have taxi meters; agree a price in advance. Taxis are, generally, an expensive form of transport.
You can find rental places at the ferry terminal. There are also some places in the backstreets of Victoria if you can be bothered to walk around.
In the past, you were able to rent Scooters but (for some reason) this is no longer possible.
You won’t find the ‘cheap’ options like you do in places like Penang. If you get down to the night markets you can pick up a ‘take away’ deep-fried chicken drumstick with rice and dip for MYR-5-6. This is, probably one of the cheapest ‘with meat’ meals that you will find. Chicken Goreng is about MYR8 and Nasi Goreng about MYR5.
If you want a Vegetable Mee Goreng at a Night Market, you will pay about MYR3.
In the mornings (and at lunchtime) you will find some local cafes selling the ‘banana leaf pyramids’ that are filled with rice, some sauce, and a tiny piece of meat for MYR2.
In such environments, some days, you can end up eating a reasonably substantial breakfast and a reasonably substantial lunch. On many occasions, I found that I didn’t need to eat Dinner; I wasn’t hungry. But that’s me.
A lot of Filipino girls come to Victoria to work.
If you come, you will have to find out which ones are which by yourself (these things change fast).
In the local cafes, a big bottle of Tiger should cost you MYR6 and a big Heineken MYR6.50. That differential isn’t bad for a ‘premium beer’ so you will see most foreigners drinking Heineken.
I found myself drawn each night to the Kedai Kopi Fah Fah (see pic) which is an open-air pub near the centre of Victoria town. There was very little else around (unless you wanted to go inside to one of those overpriced bars mentioned, above).
As an aside, I love Tom Yum soup and try it everywhere I go. I had one in the Kedai Kopi Fah Fah one night – it was the worst Tom Yam that I have ever had. It was just all liquid with no ‘goodies’ in it and the liquid was some sort of generic thing (it wasn’t even a Tom Yum recipe).
Most beaches have a park in front of them.
At high tide, don’t expect much of a beach.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
So, I went to the Maybank ATM in Victoria. In Langkawi, I was able to withdraw MYR1,350 each time. Back then, this was just under NZ$500 (my NZ bank’s ATM transaction limit). The NZ$ has weakened a lot in the last 6 months so this limit is now MYR1,200. When I tried to withdraw MYR1,200, the Maybank ATM refused saying that I was over my transaction limit. There was a long queue of people behind me so I aborted.
I went across the road to the Alliance Bank and tried their ATM. Out of curiosity, I decided to try and withdraw MYR1,500. To my surprise, it worked.
I can only surmise that different banks have different levels of communication back to my bank in NZ; some seem to be more sophisticated than others. Some banks do not seem to act upon my NZ bank’s ATM transaction limit. This happened to me in Krabi (where I was able to withdraw THB20,000 from an ATM in a single transaction (which was over NZ$1,000).
As a ‘Duty Free’ island, you would expect more but this only applies to a few products such as alcohol, cigarettes, and chocolate.
It is also worth trying some of the shops in the streets. You can find some very reasonably priced branded clothes and shoes. I picked up two Adidas sports tops for MYR50.
I walked down to the International Ferry Terminal and booked a fast boat ticket to Menumbok on the Sabah mainland. I booked for the next morning. There are 2 boats each day: 8:15am and 1:15pm.
At the pier there were taxi drivers touting for rides. I was quoted MYR30 for an 8-10 person shared Minibus/Taxi to KK.
A few metres further on I was approached by a man selling Aircon Bus tickets for MYR18.
I wouldn’t advise planning to stay in Menumbok. From what I saw, there was little (if any) accommodation.
There is a little cafe at the bus terminal where I stopped for breakfast. Fried noodles with egg and a Kopi-O for MYR6.
The bus left at 9:30am and was in KK 2 hours later.
To say that I was ‘disappointed’ with Labuan is an understatement. Labuan left me ‘cold’.
The beaches are nothing to write home about. Whoever decided to include Layang Layangan Beach in the ‘top 101 beaches of the world’ must have been paid to do so – because it is not.
Labuan has a very very long way to go before it will become attractive to (a) tourists and (b) GRANDPAckers. Don’t waste your time, go somewhere else.
In honesty, I was tempted to leave after my first night. However, my experiences elsewhere told me to ‘hang in there’ and look around because, as with Penang, I may be pleasantly surprised somewhere else on the island (like I was with Batu Ferringhi) . I wasn’t.
In the end, I decided to stay over the weekend because it was more practical to do so than not. My attitude was simple: ‘I’m here, it’s the weekend, so I might as well stay and enjoy myself over a couple of cheap beers’.
I hope that mainland Sabah has more to offer – I need to chuck in a couple of ‘adventures’ soon… and, KK is the place to be to organise them.
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