Recently Gaya Travel Team explored Labuan, known as the Pearl of Borneo for the 23rd edition of the annual Labuan International Sea Challenge (LISC). Began since 1997, this event has been getting international participation due to its exciting water sports activities that eventually boost the local economy as well. With a total of 17 activities being held, the Cross Channel Swimming Challenge, Labuan Round Island Kayak Challenge and Island to Island Fishing Tournament were the centre of everyone’s attention.
When I first arrived here, all I could think of were whether it is necessary to apply a second layer of sunscreen lotion and what kind of shopping malls do they have. Although this annual event manages to turn Labuan into a premier tourist spot, for a city girl like me, it feels odd not to see Starbucks store every few kilometres as the bus drove on but fret not, they do have one at the Labuan Airport! My first trip to Labuan was an eye-opener as I never thought that a small island like this has many fascinating spots that can actually be charming! Read on to see the highlights of my trip that I think any city girl would adore!
The following are what city girls should experience when they visit Labuan:
Rusukan Besar Island
Every time I think about a small island, I can only imagine being accompanied by mosquitoes and getting tanned unevenly, hence killing my mood. Surprisingly, my smile grew bigger when I reached the pristine and underrated Rusukan Besar Island because it is a perfect getaway for any city girl to run away from urban bustle with her besties! Blessed with a beautiful underwater scenery and colourful tiny fishes swimming around the corals, I forgot immediately about the scorching sun! Besides snorkelling, you can also kayak and have a barbeque. If you’re interested in becoming an island girl, there are also several huts in hot pink available for rent! With crystal clear water, coconut trees and a cute Hawaiian top, you will now have a new stunning picture to update on your Instagram!
Peace Monument Park and Surrender Point
Though exploring Labuan can be exciting, I feel melancholic when I reached Peace Park because it was built to remember the fallen soldiers and civilians during World War II. Located close to Layang-Layang beach, it was mainly built out of guilt by the Japanese to testify as a promise towards peace and mankind. Next to it, the Surrender Point is the place where the Japanese ceded their control of Labuan to the Australians and also the place where the remaining Japanese soldiers committed hara-kiri en masse to save face from returning home as failures. Some locals even claim that the bodies of the remaining Japanese soldiers were buried in the park. I believe Labuan’s dreadful stories regarding the atrocities of war serve as great reminders for us to value peace.
Patau-Patau Water Village
I get it, you’re a city girl and living in the concrete jungle where traffic runs endlessly during the day is the norm, but at one point, don’t you just have enough of it? I do! Visiting this village opened my eyes to a new perspective of life as most of the houses here have their own boats as mode of transport. Furthermore, the houses there are made of stilts and wood, and built between five and six metres above water! If you’re a bold city girl, you can even spend your night here with a host family! Mostly inhabited by Brunei Malays, the locals are more than happy to share with you about their culture and lifestyle, and some would even welcome you with local treats!
What other better way to enjoy Labuan than crossing over the crystal clear ocean? If you’re not competing in the Cross Channel Swimming Challenge, I suggest you ride perahu larai (sail boat) instead. Operating perahu larai depends on the direction and speed of the wind and obviously, the skipper’s expertise as well! Although I’m not a big fan of the ocean, with the sea water touching my feet and a good 30 minutes lying on the boat, I’ve to admit that the ride was therapeutic.
Not only it becomes a great way to feel the breeze, it is also perfect for photography and filming because you can take advantage of the incredible sunset if you schedule your activity later in the afternoon! I highly recommend you put your phone away so you could get half an hour respite from your smartphone and just enjoy the moment. Ramsey Point and Papan Island are two places where travellers can experience Perahu Larai.
Where to eat:
Mawilla Yacht Club
Labuan is a seafood Nirvana and Mawilla Yacht Club is known for its exquisite choices of seafood. You wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to dine here with your group of friends as you can feast on a beach with the ocean wave in the background and breathtaking sunset view! If you’re in Labuan, this is one place you should not miss. The restaurant’s steamed fish and butter milk prawn are my personal favourites and come recommended!
Café hopping is a must for all city girls, so spend your time hanging out with your friends at a posh café and taking aesthetic pictures for your social media platforms. One cafe you should head to is Mortar café, which is attached to Lazenda Hotel. Not only the cafe is spacious and cosy, it also offers an all-day dining experience. My favourites on the menu are Mortar laksa, creamy salted egg fettucini and mushroom bruschetta!
If you crave for live seafood, this is definitely the place! Built on stilts by the river, this restaurant displays fresh water tanks where you can choose the desired seafood. Bored of the ocean view? Well, with a view of the river and mangrove trees, you might just want to stay here a little longer. When dining here, please try the restaurant’s famous pumpkin fish maw crab meat soup, lobster with two-flavour tiger prawn, and hot and spicy mud crab.
Mayang Sari Sunset
Eating chicken or beef satay would never be the same once you savour them on the beach while watching the sunset. Located at Batu Manikar Beach, the place possesses a relaxing vibe, excellent for those seeking serenity. Ease your stress and worries here by appreciating its panoramic view and fresh coconut water!