In 2017, I came across a documentary, Aerial Asia, on Channel NewsAsia. I was fascinated by the story on the Bajau Laut in Malaysian Borneo. That part of the video was filmed near the islands of Semporna.
First Trip to Lahad Datu in September 2017
When Sabah Stargazers announced a trip to Tebah Batang Ruby Lagoon in Lahad Datu where I could see the Milky Way and stay with the Bajau Laut community, I was very eager to join the 3D2N Astro Trip: Lagoon of Stars.
In September 2017, I made my first trip to Lahad Datu. It was a long way from home. I have to fly from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu, stayed for a night before taking a domestic flight to Lahad Datu. Then I joined the rest of the group at Lahad Datu town to share a car to travel another 50 km eastward to Membatu Jetty where we were ferried to the stilt house built over the lagoon at the Tebah Batang.
We spent the day swimming in the lagoon and snorkelling at the nearby coral reef. It was a very unique experience to be immersed in such unspoilt natural beauty and the warm hospitality of the Bajau Laut. My experience could be best summarised by Canadian photographer Mark Lehn’s words:
“Seeing these people and being the recipient of their kindness really made me appreciate some of the more simple things in life and the connection between people and our environment.” —Mark Lehn
To find out more about Mark Lehn’s photos on Bajua Laut, click here.
It was already towards the end of the Summer Milky Way season, so we had a very short window of time to shoot the Milky Way in the early evening. Sunset was about 6.30pm in September and we were all set up by 6pm. However, the sky was not cooperating.
It was cloudy but windy so I managed to capture a glimpse of the Milky Way at about 7.15pm. Then we spent the rest of the night waiting for the sky to clear.
We had more luck on the second night and I captured enough shots before sunrise to compile into a time-lapse video.
Second Trip to Lahad Datu in April 2018
It was an amazing experience staying out in the sea and seeing a dark sky with billions of stars. I liked it so much that I went to Tebah Batang again despite having to endure a long tedious journey from Singapore.
In April 2018, I followed Sabah Stargazer’s Hunt For Sabah Milkyway 2018 trip and visited Lahad Datu again. Since it’s still early in the season, the Milky Way would rise later in the night. We expected it to be visible after midnight and for clear sky.
The advantage of shooting early in the season was that we would have ample to time to get ready (maybe even took a nap) for the shoot, and the entire band of the Milky Way in view.
Light Pillar: a common sight on cloudy nights
In the early evening, it was cloudy but windy. Thanks to the cloud, I was able to capture my first shot of the light pillar phenomenon.
I guessed those vertical streaks of light were caused by the distant commercial fishing boats flood lights. Afterwards, I was told this light pillar phenomenon is quite common at Tebah Batang lagoon.
The Milky Way Arch
The sky clear up in the early hours of the morning and I finally got a shot of the Milky Way arch. It would have been a better photo without those glaring flood lights in the horizon!
The weather was not as good as the first night. The Milky Way was partially covered by the passing cloud and I was feeling disappointed so I decided to go to bed at 2am.
The Lagoon of Stars
At about 4am, I was woken up by a commotion caused by the power generator failure – blackout!
Suddenly the entire place became very dark and I could see a lot more stars. Even the Milky Way was visible to the naked eyes! My first time actually seeing the billions of stars and it was an exhilarating moment.
Tebah Batang Ruby Lagoon is indeed the Lagoon of Stars!
Stargazing in Sabah
If you’re interested to visit Sabah to stargaze and hunt for the Milky Way but do not wish to travel all the way to Lahad Datu then check out this Stargazing & Milky Way in Sabah itinerary that includes proper accommodation and does not require camping. This is an interesting itinerary because you’ll be able to see the dark skies at the beach(Tempurung Golden Beach Resort), in the mountain(Hounon Ridge Farmstay) and next to a river(Tambatuon Homestead)!