Labuan Island, or Pulau Labuan, is a small, duty-free island just off the coast of Sabah in Borneo. Despite being only a few hours by boat from Borneo's tourist hub Kota Kinabalu, Labuan Island is strangely void of Western travelers. The tax-free prices and deserted beaches have yet to draw the crowds; the local people remain friendly and hassle-free.
Aside from the secluded beaches, nightlife, and discounted shopping, there are many interesting things to see and do around Labuan Island! Most sites on the island are free and easily reached by bicycle, bus, or rental car.
Labuan Island - particularly the west coast - is surrounded by undeveloped beaches. Peaceful parks, esplanades, and a couple of outdoor eating areas compliment the beaches which, aside from weekends, are usually void of people.
Don't let the industry and dirty water at the port fool you, Labuan Island's beaches are clean, unused, and a delight to stroll. The six-mile stretch of sand on the west coast between Layang-Layangan Beach and Surrender Point received the UN's Cleanest Beach Award in 2008.
Pancur Hitam Beach and Pohon Batu Beach in the north both have picnic areas, public toilets, and are rarely visited on weekdays; you may leave the first footprints across the fine sand on any given day!
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.
Admission is free.
The Labuan Museum has two floors of displays showcasing the history and culture of Labuan Island. This is the place to learn about the island's role in World War II, the coal mining which attracted British rule, and the local customs.
Some exhibits contain pre-historic artifacts found on the island. Admission is free. The museum is housed in a colonial-style building opposite of Labuan Square in the city center.
Although not as sprawling as the world's largest water village in nearby Bandar Seri Begawan, the water village in Labuan is just as interesting. A matrix of bridges, walkways, and wooden planks connects the homes and markets constructed on wobbly stilts.
The water village was first settled by fishermen from Brunei, traders, and sailors; homestays allow visitors to see what everyday life on the water is really like.
The water village is located just a few minutes northwest of the city center; admission is free.
The beautiful, shaded Botanical Gardens was once the home of Labuan Island's Government House before it was destroyed in the war. Winding paths cover the sprawling, green garden. A small graveyard inside the garden dates back to 1847, the oldest on Labuan Island.
The Botanical Gardens are located only a mile northeast of the city center; admission is free.
Labuan Bird Park
The small but pleasant Labuan Bird Park, or Taman Burung, has probably seen better days. Unlike the classy Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, the Labuan Bird Park appears slightly run-down. Even still, the bird park is worth a visit if only to have a conversation with the talkative and comical mynas.
Popular attractions within the Labuan Bird Park include the brilliant hornbills, eagles, and large ostriches.
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 1800s 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.
The chimney site contains a museum showing the history of coal mining on Labuan Island. The complex is located in the very north of the island, about eight miles from the city center. Admission is free.
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.
Every year on November 11 (or the closest Sunday), a formal, military remembrance ceremony is held at the site. The World War II memorial is located only two miles northeast of the city center; admission is free.
Directly adjacent to Surrender Point is the Peace Park - a landscaped memorial constructed in cooperation with the Japanese to renounce the horrors of war. A large monument in both Japanese and English carries the simple message "peace is best."
The Peace Park on Labuan Island is made up of two large arches, bridges, ponds, and manicured grounds. The park lives up to its name as an excellent place to escape the heat and enjoy a picnic. The Peace Park is also located on the west coast, seven miles from the city center.
Labuan Island was occupied by the Japanese during World War II until freed by Allied forces. The Japanese Army officially surrendered on September 10, 1945, marking the end of the brutal war for Borneo.
Now a large stone and beautiful park on the coast marks the actual spot where the Japanese ended their campaign. Surrender Point is located on the west coast, only seven miles from the city center; admission free.