What many people don’t know is that Malaysia is actually bigger than everyone thought. It extended its territory to Sabah Island which is sandwiched between the Java Sea and the Celebes Sea, east of Malaysia’s mainland. The island is mainly known as an offshore financial center and duty-free shopping location. Pulau Labuan or simply Labuan is well-known to Malaysians, however, a less popular spot for foreign tourists, and this makes it a great place to find serenity, yet there are lots of things to do in Labuan.
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Pulau Labuan is 8 kilometers off the coast of Sabah and covers an area of 95 square kilometers. There’s one main island and six others. It was established as a Federal Territory on 16 April 1984 (one of three in Malaysia). It was declared an International Offshore Financial Center in 1990. Labuan Island is an ideal location for snorkeling, diving, or even visiting spots that have remnants from World War II. Not to mention that the entire island is Duty-Free, and many products are cheaper, especially alcohol which is often very expensive in big cities such as Kuala Lumpur.
How to Spend on Labuan Island
It will take you around 5 hours to get from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan Island if you come by ferry. If you’re heading on to Brunei afterward you’ll have another day of ferry and bus transport to get there. We’d recommend spending 2-3 days on Labuan Island.
Where to Stay on Labuan Island
There are a host of places to stay in Labuan – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Labuan, mid-range places to stay in Labuan, and budget accommodation in Labuan.
Hotel Labuan Point – The Hotel Labuan Point is in a great location and has very well-appointed rooms. There’s A/C, Cable TV and fridges in all rooms, as well as a coffee or tea maker and drinking water, is also provided. It gets great reviews for value for money too! There’s a fabulous rooftop bar here with super views. Check rooms and rates at this excellent place to stay in Labuan.
OYO 89344 Labuan Avenue Hotel – This is a great budget hotel option in Labuan, with WiFi in all rooms and public areas as well as A/C, rooms here are simple but well designed and clean. There’s an onsite restaurant too. There’s no lift here, but you’ll find a mini-mart, and supermarket nearby and the staff are really friendly too. You can check room rates and availability here.
Palm Beach Spa and Hotel, Labuan Island. Located at the end of the island away from the main town area, this is a great option if you want to get away from it all. There is both an outdoor and indoor pool here, and the Palm Beach Spa provides free transfers too. As the name suggests there’s a spa here so you can also truly relax with spa treatments or just on the beach. It’s a great place for a getaway! Check room and suite rates here.
The Best Things to do in Labuan
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to activities to enjoy in Labuan. From water activities, visiting historical places, learning about the island and Malaysian culture, and of course, outdoor trips like hiking and forest exploration. After all, Labuan is located in a region where the forest is very diverse.
Labuan is also a Federal Territory of Malaysia, it is self-governed and has its own flag and national anthem. However, Labuan still follows many of the federal laws of Malaysia. When it comes to tourist visas, the maximum of a 90-day free tourist visa is applicable on Labuan Island.
Go Scuba Diving while on Labuan
Diving is one of the greatest activities offered on Labuan Island and the most popular attraction here. There is a World War II 4-shipwreck diving spot that is now a favorite hangout place of many marine animals. The diving level in these parts is from beginners to intermediate, the depths are between 100-115 feet (30-35 meters). You can book through hotels and travel agencies, but there are also diving centers and schools around to book directly.
During World War II, Labuan Island played a large role in supporting the Allies in defending the Pacific. Not all these shipwrecks were participants of the war, and they are located in different areas, but if you book a tour, you should be able to get to them easily.
The Australian Wreck
The Australian Wreck (SS de Klerk) is located 14 miles (23 km) from Labuan, southwest of Pulau Rusukan Besar. This ship has a dark history, although originally built to be a cargo steamer, the Japanese took it over and used it as their own to transport women prisoners (comfort women). When it was trying to leave Borneo, it struck a mine, broke, and eventually, the ocean took it down. 339 people died in that tragic event. The wreck was named after the Australian Air Force, they bombed it and the ship sank about 30 meters underwater.
The American Wreck (USS Salute)
The American Wreck (US Salute) is about 1 mile (1.5 km) from the Australian Wreck. It was bombed by the US, cutting it into two parts in 1945. Nine people died, and their names are engraved on a plaque that can only be seen if you dive down to it. Due to its positioning, this dive site can be challenging.
The Cement Wreck
The Cement Wreck (MV Tung Hwang), is 21 km from Labuan, east of Pulau Kuraman. This wreck received its name from the fact that when it sunk, it was carrying cement from Brunei.
The Blue Water Wreck
Finally, Blue Water Wreck (Mabini Padre) can be found 21 miles (34 km) from Labuan, northwest of Pulau Kuraman. It was a fishing ship that sank due to a fire in 1981, luckily, no one died during this unfortunate event. When the sky is clear, 40 meters of visibility is possible at this Labuan dive site.
All these locations are fantastic diving spots due to the corals and marine life that have built homes in the area. The difficulty levels vary but beginners should not have a problem enjoying these diving locations.
Visit the Labuan Marine Museum
This is an interesting Labuan attraction, especially if you are traveling with young children, this is one of the best things to do in Labuan. Suitable, however, for all ages, this marine museum is sitting right by the shore, east of the harbor, and next to Labuan Beach. If you are already curious about the diving and the marine life of Labuan, a visit to this museum will greatly enhance your trip to Labuan. Labuan’s Marine Museum educates visitors about the biodiversity of waters in the region, and how the local government is working to preserve its wildlife. There’s also an aquarium here with coral and starfish.
The best time to come in is during lunchtime when the crowd is much smaller, and you don’t need to worry about the heat, the entire place is blissfully airconditioned.
- Address of Labuan Marine Museum: Kompleks Sukan Air Antarabangsa Labuan, Jalan Tanjung Purun, 87008 Labuan, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Labuan Marine Museum: 9 AM to 5 PM
- Entry Fees for Labuan Marine Museum: Free
The Labuan Clock Tower
The Clock Tower is a replica of the one built at Malacca in 1906. It survived but was damaged during the bombardment of the island in World War II, and the tower that you see today was built in 2002. The tower has since been renovated. It can be found west of Labuan Beach or just north of the Marine Museum. It makes for a pretty photo. Labuan’s Clock Tower chimes on the hour and is lit up at night.
Ramsey Point (WWII history)
This was the place that was top of our list to visit on Labuan Island. It’s also Labuan Island’s most historic location. And its history goes back quite some way. This was the place, in 1846, where the Sultan of Brunei handed over the island to the British. More recently,
Ramsey Point was the entry point on the shore of the forces led by General Douglas MacArthur on June 10, 1945, to Labuan Island. There is a plaque to honor this event. Today, this area is also a popular spot to find local restaurants and street food. It is situated right next to the Marine Museum.
- Address of Ramsey Point: Labuan, 87000 Victoria, Wilayah Persekutuan Labuan, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Ramsey Point: 12.00 – 10.30 PM
Pay respects at the Labuan War Cemetery
Labuan might be a small island but it hosted many soldiers during World War II., and many of those who did not survive are buried at Labuan War Cemetery. The Cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. Pay your respects to the heroes by visiting the cemetery. It’s located about 1.1 miles (1.8 km) northeast of the Marine Museum.
This is the largest war memorial in Malaysia. Immaculately kept by the Commonwealth Graves Commission, this quiet reflective place is the final resting space of 3,908 Australian, Indian, and British soldiers, around 50% of whom were unidentified, some even by their country. Many of those who died on the Sandakan – Ranau death marches and in the camps are laid to rest here. Despite being on a reasonably busy road, it is a place of peace now. It’s also possible to reach it by minibus service number 1. There is a visitor book and a list of all those commemorated and interred here (including those Indians cremated in the India section) in the small memorial by the main road.
Inside the cemetery is the small Labuan War Memorial, which comprises a series of pillars on which are inscribed with the name of the men it commemorates. At one end of the memorial, there’s a small cubby hole, in which you’ll find a full list of those remembered here, their names, dates of birth, and where and with whom they served.
There’s also a brief history of the war in Borneo.
It’s a place of quiet reflection and of desperate sadness. Those who are named on stones here seem older than the memorial stones that we saw in Kanchanaburi, Thailand and I resolve to look it if that’s the case or not.
- Address of Labuan War Cemetery: 87000 Labuan, Labuan Federal Territory, Malaysia
Labuan Botanical Garden/Taman Botanical Labuan
West of the War Cemetery is Labuan’s Botanical Garden. A fantastic spot to admire the different trees and flowers that thrive in Labuan and Southeast Asia in general. The location of the Botanical Garden in Labuan is where the government state-owned mansion used to be located.
- Address of Labuan Botanical Garden:708, 87000 Labuan, Labuan Federal Territory, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Labuan Botanical Garden: 8 AM – 6 PM
- Entry Fees for Labuan Botanical Garden: Free
Gurdwara Sahib Labuan
South of the Botanical Garden is the beautiful structure of Gurdwara Sahib Labuan. It is a Sikh temple and was actually originally built as a wooden structure in the 1950s by Sikh migrants who were moved here by the British. You are allowed to enter the building but must cover your heads, and shoulders, and you must be clothed to below the knees.
- Address of Gurdwara Sahib Labuan: 708, 87000 Labuan, Labuan Federal Territory, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Gurdwara Sahib Labuan: 6 AM – 6:30 PM
- Entry Fees for Gurdwara Sahib Labuan: Free
Labuan Bird Park
When there is flora, there is fauna. The bird park is a great spot to visit especially if you have children, but remind them not to touch or feed the birds. There are a lot of different species of bird, some are free-roaming and others are in their rather spacious cages. the Bird Park on Labuan is on the northeast point of the island, about a 20-minute drive from the Botanical Garden.
- Address of Labuan Bird Park: 87000 Labuan, Labuan Federal Territory, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Labuan Bird Park: Tuesday to Sunday; 9 AM – 4:30 PM, Monday; 2:00 PM – 4:30 PM
- Entry Fees for Labuan Bird Park: children and senior citizens RM2 ($0.50) and adults RM3 ($0.68)
The Chimney on Labuan Island
The next Labuan attraction is a very interesting, mysterious, and unique location in Labuan. Join the mystery seekers and pay a visit to The Chimney. Labuan’s Chimney was built with about 23,000 red bricks which came all the way from England. It stands about 105 feet (32 m) tall. However, nobody knows why it was built and what its purpose was supposed to be.
It survived World War II and is still standing today. You will hear dozens of theories for the grounds of its erection but no one will agree on what is the right answer. There are theories that it was a ventilation shaft for the mines, or that it belonged to a since-demolished factory.
It’s hard to believe that there is a museum about a building that no one knows the purpose of, despite it only being built in 1890. And it’s harder to believe that it withstood the invasion of Labuan Island by both the Japanese and the Allies. But there is indeed a two-story museum here.
We spent a grand total of 18 minutes here (including a toilet break). There’s coverage of the history of the coal mining industry here on Labuan, a diorama of a coal mine, and then upstairs is dedicated to the restoration of the Chimney in 1990, plus various displays of pottery, tools, and random other items which remain unidentified by label anyways.
The Chimney is not a ventilation shaft for mines, nor is there any evidence that it was used as a chimney, it’s just a pretty 105-foot high brick structure (there are 23,000 bricks) that has become a tourist attraction.
You can find it just a few feet east of Labuan Bird Park.
- Address of The Chimney: 87000 Labuan, Labuan Federal Territory, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of The Chimney: 8:30 AM – 5 PM
- Entry Fees for The Chimney: RM3 ($0.64)
Visit the Peace Park at Labuan and Surrender Point
Although there’s not much to see in Labuan’s Peace Park, it was built by the Japanese to express regret over the atrocities they committed during World War II here. Symbolically it’s built near Surrender Point and also close to the location where Japanese officers were prosecuted for their war crimes. A plaque, in both Japanese and English, at the entrance to the park states “Peace is Best”.
It’s good, however, that time hasn’t stood still here. And now this area is a great spot for people with children to play around, it’s also very close to the Layang-Layang Beach which is a popular place to set up your own barbeque. Right next to it is the Surrender Point, which is also related to World War II. This stretch of a strip is also a go-to area for jogging and running trails for locals.
- Address of Labuan’s Peace Park: 87000 Labuan, Labuan Federal Territory, Malaysia
Surrender Point on Labuan Island
It was here on 10th September 1945, that the commander of the Japanese forces, Lieutenant General Masao Baba of the 37th Japanese Southern Army formally surrendered to Australian Major General George Wootten of the 9th Division Australian Imperial Forces by handing over a sword. This officially marked the end of World War II in Borneo. There’s a plaque here commemorating the historic moment in time.
- Address of Surrender Point on Labuan Island: Kampung Layang-Layangan, 87000 Labuan, Labuan Federal Territory
Located downtown, a colonial-era building houses the Labuan museum which features the history and innovation of Labuan in general, it showcases how this island became the place it is today. It stores historical artifacts and information, including details on the crucial role that the island played in World War II and the coal mining history of the island The museum is displayed chronologically, which makes it easier to follow through the island’s history.
We spent around 70 minutes in here (and pretty much read every information board). And took no photos (they’re not allowed).
The museum is spread over two floors, with a history of the island, and its people and a reasonable spread about WWII as well. There are details on the coal mining aspects of Labuan and the mix of the various races that make up this community. There are also details on particular wedding ceremonies (Chinese, Indian, Sikh). There’s a small mock-up of a Kandalay house.
The museum proudly displays 707 artifacts (I didn’t count, but that’s what it says in the brochure)
- Address of Labuan Museum: U 0364, Jalan Dewan, 87008 Wilayah Persekutuan Labuan, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Labuan Museum: 9 AM to 5 PM
- Entry Fees for Labuan Museum: Free
The Water Village on Labuan Island
At the first look, tourists might think that these houses are standing on top of the water to serve as fishermen’s lodges. But it’s more than that, it’s a village; meaning they are residential houses, there are shops, and even mosques. The water village in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, might be more famous, but that’s a whole other country (and ferry ride away_
If you want to gain a deeper understanding and insight into the life in Labuan, there are homestays run by the locals where you can spend a few nights and speak with the residents. There are two floating villages on Labuan Island; one is called Kampung Patau-Patau (which is open for overnight stays) and the other is Kampung Bebulouh.
- Address of Labuan’s Water Village: Kampung Bebuloh Laut, 87000 Labuan, Wilayah Persekutuan Labuan
Go Duty-Free Shopping on Labuan Island
Duty-free shopping is a must-do in Labuan. Take advantage of discounted prices of liquor, cigarettes, perfume, and even international food brands. There are plenty of shops, walk around and compare prices before spending your money. Most of the duty-free shops are near the harbor area or just a few meters from Labuan Museum. Head to Jalan Merdeka street where most duty-free businesses are operating.
- Labuan Island Duty Free Shopping Address: Jalan Merdeka Street and Jalan Bunga Raya Street
- Labuan Island Duty-Free Shopping Opening Hours: 9 AM to 9 PM – depending on the shop
Beaches on Labuan
As an island, you can expect that this Malaysian territory also has some lovely beaches.
- Labuan Beach is the most popular one both to locals and foreigners. It can be crowded especially during the weekend afternoons. If you get up early enough, it’s the place you want to be for the sunrise.
- Pohon Batu Beach is on the northwest of the island and offers a little more serenity. It is an awesome location to wait for the sunset while many vendors sell food, drinks, and fresh coconuts.
- UMS Beach is the spot to go for complete tranquillity. However, there aren’t many shops, so make sure to bring some food and drinks with you. There are plenty of shaded areas that are a nice location for a picnic and tanning while reading a book. You can also enjoy the sunset here.
Map of things to do on Labuan Island, Malaysia
You can also see this Labuan things to do map here.
How to Get Around Labuan Island
Getting around Labuan is very easy. There are many pedestrian areas that motorists tend to follow and respect. Around the main town, you can simply walk around since shops and attractions are near each other.
You can rent a car easily here, and international driver’s licenses are valid in Malaysia which means you can rent a car and drive on your own. You can also rent one with a driver or rent a motorbike or scooter. While the traditional taxis and the modern ride-hailing apps are also reliable on the island.
There are buses everywhere that will drive you anywhere on the island, but remember to ask your hotel reception which bus number you should take. If you are heading to the water villages, you can use water taxis to get around.
Where is Labuan
Pulau Labuan is off the coast west of Sabah, northeast of Brunei via Brunei Bay. Malaysia was colonized by the British from 1826 to 1957, however, Labuan Island was part of the Brunei Empire until 1946. Two other islands in Malaysia are duty-free; Langkawi and Tioman Island.
It was James Brooke, the first White Rajah who proclaimed Labuan as a free port back in 1848, that status and rulers changed over the years, but Labuan is once again a free port. In 1990 it was also because of an international offshore banking location.
It is a developing offshore financial center in the region. Labuan is already a popular tourist destination, but becoming duty-free attracts even more visitors.
How to get to Labuan
There are two ways to get to Pulau Labuan; by air or by sea. The best choice depends on where you are coming from.
From Brunei, it takes about an hour on a ferry to get to Labuan Island. You have to get yourself to the Serasa Ferry Terminal, located in Muara. Our guide to the Labuan Brunei Ferry is here.
If you are coming from Kota Kinabalu, head to Jesselton Point to get your ferry the travel time is about 4 hours. You can read our guide to getting from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan here.
You can also take a flight from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah or from Miri in Sarawak, which is the fastest way to get to Labuan.
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Final Words on The Best Things to do in Labuan
Pulau Labuan might not be on many tourists’ radar when they are in Southeast Asia, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on your list. It’s more affordable, lots of water activities to enjoy, and you can find many areas where you can simply relax and get away from the big crowds. We visited as part of our explorations of Malaysian Borneo and came to Labuan from Kota Kinabalu, then went onto Brunei, then Miri, and Mulu.
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