Labuan: Borneo’s duty free haven

Labuan ship traffic
Our anchorage neighbors in Labuan: oil rig supply ships. cozy!

Labuan has Duty Free Shops the way Seattle has coffee shops: in such excess you cannot imagine how they all thrive, and yet there they are.

Malaysian customs checkpoint
Duty free –> smuggling. Customs hid behind us to snag boats one day.
We passed through Labuan twice on our way to a U-turn at the north end of Borneo. It sits just north of Brunei, and independently of the two large Malaysian states on Borneo- Sabah and Sarawak. Since it was little more than a pit stop along the BIYC, we looked forward to having time to poke around and explore a little on our return south. The weather had other ideas.
It was unusually miserable- squally enough that we didn’t want to leave the boat unattended some days, the buffeting wind and tropical downpours curtailing our shoreside activities. We watched our neighbors roll from gunwale to gunwale, drag in the middle of the night, and hook junk on the mucky bottom and crossed our fingers while feeling grateful that we were an iota more comfortable. It’s a shame the public marina is closed, although it has such faulty engineering (it opens toward prevailing weather, the breakwall is permeable doesn’t actually break much, and so the docks are literally breaking apart) that even a snug berth might not have made much of a difference.

self-destructing docks
Docks strapped together in a vain effort to prolong their life
The kids spent a fair amount of time on the boat, getting into short stories that they’re writing and catching up on a few movies as one squally day rolled over another. Jamie and I used the time to work on recovering photos. We lost primary and backup storage drives within a few hours of each other recently. Because we have other backups, there’s only one gap we need to recover, but it’s a big one: basically, everything we took during the months we spent in Papua New Guinea last year. I’m not crushed yet because I’m hopeful we’ll recover them, but it’s still making my heart hurt to think about it. We have to run the recovery software 24×7, so it’s not bad to be parked.

file recovery
file recovery zone. glass of wine required.

Once the weather broke, it was time to scope out the duty free shopping. I have no interest in the finery-for-the-masses that clutters the usual DFS shopping experience (perfume? Just makes me sneeze. High end ‘statement’ watches? Not impressed. Fine chocolates? Well OK, you might have me there…).  On the other hand, Jamie and I enjoy an evening sundowner, but spirits have either been unavailable or unaffordable since we left Mexico. That was a long time ago. Enter duty free shopping: although junk rum ran $65/bottle in Australia, a delicious Caribbean hooch was only $10 in Labuan. Time for Dark and Stormys!

In more family oriented activity, the kids and I explored town, walkable from our anchorage near the public marina. There’s a marine museum, which was effectively an aquarium without many tanks- mostly dioramas. The quality isn’t great, but this is the first aquarium we’ve seen in a very long time. The kids felt sorry for the lone blacktip doing laps in a too-small pool (“it’s so cute!”). On one hand, it lowered our standards; on the other, based on what we’ve all seen underwater in the last few years, it’s hard to be impressed. Still, it was interesting to see local marine life showcased… even if it was in modeled, cracked plaster.

I think they preferred the jellyfish swarms at the marina.

jelly water
jellies swarming at the dinghy dock
jelly water
what it really looked like… so thick, it was like jello
There was also plenty of opportunity for Malaysia’s great pastime, eating delicious food. It’s ramadan now, so many people are fasting during the day- but the population in this Eastern side of Malaysia is less dominantly muslim, so it’s easy to find a spot for lunch. Mmmm…. Sarawak style laksa!
mmmm.... Laksa!
With poetic brilliance, the weather cleared after a week, and we sailed down to Brunei.
Labuan ship traffic

3 Responses

  1. Those docks would make nervous just walking on them! Fingers crossed that you recover the photos. I just do not even want to contemplate a failure on this front.

    1. They were crazy, Cidnie! We’re still working on file recovery… it’s partial so far… hoping for the best. Meanwhile, it’s time to look into cloud storage.

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