Thursday, June 5, 2014

Duty Free in Labuan, Malaysia

Labuan…we had never heard of it until a few months ago.  It’s a small island just outside Brunei.  It’s part of Malaysia but is not part of the states of Sarawak or Sabah.  It’s its own little entity.  I would tell you the history of the island, it's part in WWII, and how it became it's own federated state, but that would require me to do more research to make sure I was being accurate and well, I'm lazy.  Google it.  Being duty free, it’s a major stop for most cruisers as alcohol in this part of the world is both scarce and expensive. 

We had low expectations as everything I’ve heard or read from other cruisers made it sound dirty and industrial without actually saying that.  It just goes to show, one cruiser’s rolly anchorage is another cruiser’s paradise. 

As we pulled into the harbor, we were astonished by the number of huge ships.  Jake tried to count them all and decided when he hit 40 that it was just too many.  Labuan is the landing site for much of the equipment needed on the oil rigs around this area, so the ships are always coming and going.  Lucky for us, we were able to skip the rolly anchorage and dock inside the newly renovated marina.  It’s the cheapest marina yet.  While it didn’t have many amenities (you get what you pay for), it did serve our purpose and was conveniently located right in town.

In addition to the duty free shops on every corner, Labuan has a lot to offer to a cruiser.  I was later told by a young lady that grew up there that four years ago we would have been disgusted, so I feel lucky to have arrived after the “major clean up.”  We found the market, all the grocery stores and even the pork shop (a well kept secret). 

I would have liked to have rented a car and seen some of the more touristy things like the white sand beaches and bird sanctuary, but we were only there for a week and had a lot of stocking up to do (and the days were hot, so a few hours out and we were done until the next day).  We did manage to see the Marine Museum (not much, but it did have some really clean aquariums, extremely old whale bones and it was free…can’t complain) and when I went jogging I would jog to the WWII memorial, so I checked that off on the list.  There is a weekend market and we arrived while the Strong Man competition was happening.  Jake really enjoyed watching the ridiculously large men do things like lift cars up and down. 

Unfortunately, we failed to take many pictures of the city.  We did manage to capture a few fun moments at a new friend's house ( a fellow southerner for sure!) with our other cruising buddy's....

Our host Jerry, on the right, good friends Richard and
Katie enjoying a good laugh, cigar and wine.

Richard, our very good friend, enjoying a rare
treat, a cuban cigar while drinking a 15 year old wine.
Jake, passing time while we get treated to a gourmet happy hour
complete with fine wine and a gorgeous view of the
South China Sea.
 Our week came to an end and we, along with three other boats, motored the short distance to the tiny country of Brunei, tucked between Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysia.  Playing a big part in the oil industry makes Brunei one of the richest countries in the world.  It may sound familiar to you as it’s been in the news for recently implementing Sharia Law (and owning the Beverly Hills hotel...Hollywood is all up in arms about it.).  While I normally wouldn’t want to drop a dime here, the insanely cheap fuel makes it irresistible (.31 liter...we need over 400 liters...add it up).  We find ourselves motoring more than sailing here in Malaysia.  As we begin to explore, we’re getting a little more insight into the country and the people.  I’m going to hold off on my judgment for the time being.  I will say the Royal Brunei Yacht Club is top notch so far…swimming pool, clean showers, nice restaurants, toilet paper in the bathrooms (don’t laugh, I’ve had a roll in my back pack ever since we left Palau), and even a large washing machine free of charge.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

I"ll leave you with some pictures from Tiga Island at the mud volcano (more like mud hole...but cool anyway).

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