Labuan, Malaysia

My adventure on this tiny island began much further before, in Kuala Lumpur. The distance between the two places could be around 2500km! I had just arrived in Kuala Lumpur, without even a vague idea of my plans for the future. But within the first evening, I met a Russian citizen who gave me a brilliant idea, which was to view volunteering opportunities on a particular website. That same evening, I spent several hours exploring the possibilities of where to go, who to volunteer for and what exactly to do. The most important factors in making my decision were, first, the distance and, second, how to get there, given my rather undesirable financial position. I explored several options across Thailand and Malaysia, and decided in favor of the latter. A Malaysian visa is not required. Being a Latvian, you receive a stamp in your passport which is valid for 90 days. After 90 days has passed, you have to leave the country for a day (or even a couple of hours) and reenter the country to get a new stamp for the next 90 days. Given, that I am a lazy ass when it comes to bureaucracy, my heart chose this path! Living in Malaysia is rather cheap as well, yet another bonus to my stay here.

The next pertinent thing that had to be clarified was which of the two major islands to choose from. This question was resolved quite simply, that is by looking at the job opportunities for volunteers in the field; finally deciding in favour of this small island called Labuan, located on the north side and in the middle of the larger island - Borneo.

I found an excellent description of a guest house, which had decided to try operating on a voluntary basis. This guest house owner wanted someone who could help publicize the guesthouse by publishing information of it on the internet. In return, he would provide accommodation, meals and a scooter with which one could travel around the island! Additionally, he wanted to start up a diving, cruising, and island hopping business, which would allow travelers to wander the surrounding islands. I immediately decided to write a letter to this Crazy Uncle Jack. I did not have to wait long, as the very next day I got a reply from Uncle Jack. He asked me to just get myself to Labuan, and after that I wouldn't have to worry about anything! I could stay as long as I wanted, or more appropriately, as long as my visa allowed it. I was incredibly happy about his reply and immediately started organizing my trip to the East Malaysian island of Borneo. The airline ticket I got for RM107 which is about 35 USD, one way. The plan was to land in Kuching... and via hitchhiking, get to Brunei. From Brunei, there is a speedboat daily to Labuan island, meaning I could get a new 90 day stamp in my passport, very conveniently. Now it was time to set the plan in motion!

Labuan is a tropical island; here the average temperature, year-round is around 26 degrees Celsius, rarely less, often even hotter. It rains once, twice a week, usually less than an hour or two, mostly at night. The days are clear, cloudless and full of sunlight. Due to the wind from the sea, even days where it's more than 30 degrees, it's easily bearable. Even more when you're in a room with an air-conditioning unit! There is an approximately 9km long beach with clean sand and virtually no people around. Every evening the sun, gives a brilliant performance, mingling with cumulus clouds and the reflections in the sea. The show starts precisely at 6:15 pm and ends around 7 pm. Amazingly, as soon as the sun goes to sleep, it becomes very, very dark.

The sunset every evening on the island of Labuan.
sunset (94K)

The island has a very peaceful atmosphere. Here even cars will stop for a pedestrian, which itself is a very unusual phenomenon on Malaysian roads. There are low crime rates and everyone lives in harmony with each other, although the island is 92 square kilometers and the population is about 85 thousand people.

The work I was entrusted, was a walk in the park. Uncle Jack is a great mixture of Chinese and Borneo Aborigine descent. He moved to Labuan and opened a backpackers place. All he requires from me is to promote the guest house and the island on the Internet. So for approximately 4 hours a day I work with computer - helping to answer e-mails and organize future volunteers. In return I get accommodation, food and even some pocket money as well as a scooter to ride around the island to look for great places which I would later recommend to travelers. Plus I snorkeled for the first time in my life here and after that I was able to show people where are the best places for that.

Always smiling - Crazy Uncle Jack
Jack (101K)

So I, in that fashion, lived there, and spent six weeks on that small island of Labuan. Honestly, there is not much to see, but what's attractive about this place is how it's all about peace, relaxation and enjoyment of the sea. The beach is spectacular, with layers of white sand, surrounded by the clear blue sea, tiny crabs scuttling around the coast. Corals that lay hidden beneath the sea blankets, fish, colorful and strange. There is some nightlife as well as something to do if you are spending a day or two.

Labuan is surrounded by several smaller islands, on and around the National Marine Park. I myself have been to all of them. My favorite was the miniature island of Pulau Papan, literally 200 meters wide and about 400 meters long. This island is wonderfully decorated with huts and houses, a bathroom and fireplace, clean beaches and paths. Interesting fact - this island is not inhabited by a single person! The only living creatures we encountered were lizards. I went to the island with a family from New Zealand. So there were only 5 people, with a sense that we had arrived on a deserted island, which made our small tour even more beautiful.

Pulau Papapan, lovely island
pulau_papan (90K)

Even though we were a mere 5 minutes boat ride from Labuan, the noise of the city faded away and on this island there was absolute silence. Just as we heard the birds singing, our world was replaced amazingly fast - from the hustle and bustle of the city to this uninhabited island of peaceful tranquility.

Our plan was to swim in the sea, with goggles and a tube in our mouths, more commonly known as snorkeling. I had never done something like this in my life. See, the place where I come from is useless for snorkeling. Our sea is one of dirtiest in the world. Even if I would try to snorkel, I would not see further than fifty centimeters to one meter. Snorkeling is amazing, that goes without saying. I spent about 45 minutes swimming and did not feel even a little bit tired. Also, I did not use rubber fins, just my own feet (which are not too large). Conclusion - snorkeling rocks!!

I saw corals, colorful large and small fish, sea hedgehogs (fortunately no one stepped on them), one stingray, which suddenly passed me from underneath, almost touching my stomach - we both were startled by this! ...and even more tantalizing fish - shark. This was about 50 meters from the coast and I had barely begun to snorkel, along the way, I looked at sea hedgehogs and some fish - it was very slender and about a meter long, with a weird nose and almost completely transparent. I was looking closely to this newly encountered creature. In one moment this beautiful fish at high speed just vanished away to my right. Certainly I was trying not to lose the sight of it, so I drove my gaze to the direction of the fish. I was too slow.

I suddenly noticed another larger fish, and thought in the same tenth of a second: "Look, this is a good little place, so many beautiful little fish around !" It did not hit me until the next second when my mind realized that I was not looking at a TV screen and those sharp movements and sleek lines which built up to a fin on the fish back, reminiscent of something very familiar and very dangerous - a shark. Uh ... ermine! Heart began to pound as unwise! First thought: "Peace only peace, sharks will not attack you if you're still! Besides, you're bigger than this one and it is more afraid of you than you are from it!" My eyes darted around, exploring the environment, looking for the big fish, the big shark.

I do not know a lot about the sea; and automatically assumed that if there is a baby shark, mummy must be just around the corner. But I guess sharks aren't like that. So we briefly stared at each other in surprise, my new met shark friend decided to do what it knows the best and swam to it's own business and in an instant was gone. Satisfied that the sharks were not dangerous and people were hardly aware of my absence, I continued my sea journey.

After an hour we went back to the bigger island - Labuan. The boat arrived on time and as we were making ourselves comfortable in the boat, we realized that we were pleased with the time spent on this small island called Pulau Papan.

Edit by: Liga E. Grante, Inga Meiere and Britton Nicol

Cosmos and I did this stop-motion movie on Labuan island.

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First published - 21.10.2011