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Labuan, Malaysia

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Sunday, February 19, 2006


Ah, a wonderful weekend in Labuan, Malaysia.  It was so nice to be in a place that has some life and spice to it!  As Mike’s work day was cut short on Friday (around 9:30 AM!), we decided to grab the 1 PM ferry to Labuan.  It was a bit of an adventure, as we didn’t have tickets and didn’t have a taxi.  We went over to the bus station were we promptly got on the wrong bus.  We didn’t know it until this nice Brunei guy (who’s famous in almost all the travel books, especially Lonely Planet.  His name is Danny and all he does is hang around the bus station in Bandar and aide tourists.  Of course, he also gives tours, arranges for hotel rooms, etc., but he is definitely the one in the know if you need information) who got us on the right bus.  He chatted with us a while, gave us some tourist information on Labuan, his email address, showed us photo copies of all the travel guides and magazines he’s made it into, and told us to call him if we needed anything upon our return to Brunei.  Was pretty interesting.  I remember reading about him on someone’s blog when I was looking for information about Brunei. 


ANYHOO, finally got on the right bus, waited about 20 minutes for it to leave and took the uneventful express to the ferry station, purchased our tickets and boarded the ferry.  Here’s where Danny may have been able to shed some light on our journey.  Apparently we were on the oldest and worst ferry in the fleet, and it was awful.  Very reminiscent of our journey down the Tonle Sap river in Cambodia from Siem Reap, except that it was only an hour, thank GOD!  Smelled like diesel fumes sooooo bad, but unlike our Cambodian vessel, there was nowhere to go outside.  I kept thinking about the ferry that just sank in the Red Sea (I’m such a worry wart).  But, we didn’t sink, docked on time, changed some money into Malaysian Ringitts (which we will now refer to as ringy dings), and grabbed a cab to the Tiara Hotel.  Of course, our original reservations were for just Saturday night, but I called them from Brunei before we left and reserved a room.  They apologized and said we would have to take a room with only two single beds for the first night.  Okay, whatever.  However, upon arrival we were booked into the Deluxe King Size Bed Suite. . . .


It was a nice room.


Plus, the hotel was pretty much deserted, so we had the run of the place.  And let me tell you, Malaysia is CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP!  Exchange is 3.7 to $1 and everything costs about the same. 


Had a late lunch at the hotel (melon and crab salad for me, Caesar Salad for Mike) which was tasty, took a quick nap and prepared for the evening.  Now, this is a very small island, and there isn’t much there, but we didn’t know that yet.  Headed down to the Sheraton Hotel to the “Someplace Else” pub, as everything we read said this was the best bar in Labuan.  Arrived just in time for happy hour, half price drafts. . . . YEAH!  And even at the Sheraton we had a hard time spending $10 on 8 beers.  Played a couple games of darts and called for a taxi to carry us on to the next place.  They had a live band scheduled for 9:30 and said that it would be pretty busy.  We had all intentions of stopping back there on the way home, but alas, we couldn’t do it.  As we didn’t know anywhere to go, we asked our taxi driver to take us someplace where we could just chill out, no karaoke, no disco, just a pub.  He dropped us at a stretch of bars very near the ferry terminal.  We started at the end and worked our way down, finally reaching a bar called Uncle Phil’s Sports Bar, where we met Uncle Phil!  His name is Charles Phillips and he was a hoot.  Had a couple beers there and decided we’d had enough.  We asked Charles about hiring a car for the next day (with a driver as they drive on the wrong side there, not gonna do it!) and he offered to pick us up and show us the island.  He’s from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but has lived on Labuan for 13 years.  How could we say no?  Plus, he had his bar man Joe drive us home that night.  What a great guy. 


Woke up with a hangover. . . first one in a long time!  But, recovered after a light breakfast and a couple cuppa’s, and a stroll along the beach.  That equatorial sun is HOT!  Charles showed up at eleven and off we went on our island tour. . . which was completed at 12:30. HAHAHA.  It is a small island.  We took him to lunch at a great seafood place he knew of, had some awesome spicy prawns, mixed vegetables and a whole sweet and sour whitefish that I will dream about for weeks to come.  It was delicious, and for the three of us cost someplace around $15.  Well worth the tour!  Let Charles off the hook for the rest of the day, did a little shopping at the handicraft center, and grabbed a cab to the hotel.  Best to stay indoors or in the shade in the heat of the day!  


Decided to treat ourselves with a steak dinner at the hotel restaurant (up to then had proved to be pretty good food), but were sorely disappointed with the service.  They were pretty busy, but still only had two waitresses servicing the entire dining room, which was clearly not enough.  We were going whole hog, and ordered the Crab AuGratin as an appetizer, but it showed up after we were almost done with our entrees.   Didn’t eat it, as my New Zeeland strip steak had me pretty full up.  But, we made the best of it and grabbed a cab to go visit Charles at his bar.  Arrived around 9:30 and stayed put for the rest of the night.  Charles drove us home and offered to take us to the ferry on Sunday (which is funny, as a taxi only cost about $2), but we said sure.  Offered to buy him lunch if he took us to another good restaurant.


Sunday morning we slept in, missed our free breakfast, and went down for another crab and melon salad, as it was soooo good.  Charles picked us up at 1:30, went to lunch at a place called the Banana Leaf and again had wonderful food.  I had a wonderful mutton curry over rice with some green beans and cabbage.  Ate like pigs for even less than our meal the day before. . .  I could so live here.


Charles dropped us at the ferry, we did our requisite duty free shopping (Mike even got some of his second favorite beer, Victoria Bitter from Australia. . . I got six Budweisers!) and boarded the ferry for the ride home.  This ferry was the original one we were supposed to take over on Saturday morning, and it was so much nicer than the one we came on.  No diesel fumes, roomy, a nice cruise.  Never thought once about sinking. . . .

Upon arrival in Brunei, went through immigrations and customs, and jumped the Express Bus back to Bandar (this bus cost $1.20 apiece, very good deal).  Arrived back at the hotel around 6:15 PM.


Planning on going to Miri, Sarawak this next weekend (also a Malaysian state, here on the island of Borneo to the west of Brunei).  Charles and his gang told us this was a worthwhile destination and even cheaper than Labuan.  Not sure how to get there yet, but it’s not very far so I’m thinking we can probably take a two hour bus ride there.  Will keep you updated!

Beach across from the Hotel

Cool cloud hanging over island in front of our hotel