Underwater Paradise on Earth: Sipadan-Mabul Island

From Left, Sara L ( my dive buddy) ,Cesar Agusto ( Our divemaster) , and me before entering to Sipadan Island

Sipadan-Mabul Island – one of the top 5 diving locations in the world is a heavenly paradise for divers. Being a green badge guide and a beginner diver myself, leaving behind all the excuses, I have yet to explore this underwater world. I have friends who shared with me the magnificent marine life down to 600 metres. Nevertheless I can only get a dreamy expression and imagine the Picasso underwater painting of this beautiful scene. Thanks to Sara Luperto, Un amico Italiano (my Italian friend), who has been pestering me to come with her and be her dive buddy since both of us are novice and adventure traveler.

Getting There 

To get there, one can opt to take a flight to Tawau Airport, followed by an hour ride to Semporna. We chose to go with the most budget way- taking the 9-hour bus ride, thinking that Sara could also endure the classic way of discovering Sabah along the way. The bus ride was a misery since Sara and I have long legs and we could hardly stretch ourselves except during the pit stop at Telupid and Lahad Datu town.
Semporna is the ‘pit stop’ small town that allows you to meet up with other divers before leaving to Mabul Island the next day.
Borneo Global Sipadan Backpackers offers budget, warmth and friendly stay
Jasmine, our dormitory roomate gets herself ready by studying her PADI guide book before attending the first theory class tomorrow.
Semporna – The Gateway to Sipadan – Mabul Island  
We arrived at Semporna around 5pm, a little town located in Tawau Division of East Coast of Sabah. This town is mainly populated by the Bajau Laut – also known as the Sea Gypsies. A majority of them live life as fishermen or market traders. Kids were running around barefooted in group asking for attention from visitors, perhaps they are accustomed to live life with no tomorrow. We checked in to a budget lodge, Borneo Sipadan Global Backpackers, taking a dormitory room at only RM25 per person and off we go mingling around town to meet other travelers.
Sipadan -Mabul Island- a place for young, young at heart the veteran. 
The next morning, with full enthusiasm we headed to Semporna jetty, checked in ourselves to Uncle Chang Sipadan Mabul Dive’s Lodge. Once registered, we were totally lost, our bag pack were taken, we were directed to hop on a speedboat and off we go, a heart thrilling drift to Mabul.

Stilt wooden houses above Celebes sea where the Bajau Laut make their living here.
Another expansion of newly built chalet by UNCLE CHANG ; visit www.ucsipadan.com
for more details of  out accommodation
Mabul is a small oval shaped island shaded by tall palm trees, fringed with white sandy beaches and surrounded by turquoise water of the Celebes Sea. This little island offers various accommodation as there are no accommodation facilities on Sipadan, many divers choose Mabul as their base to explore it.  For non divers, they have the choice to snorkel around this fairly shallow water that offers entirely a different, yet equally fascinating experience!
Sipadan is Malaysia’s only oceanic island, formed by living coral on top of a volcanic cone, which produces the phenomenal symbiosis to the abundance of underwater marine life. Since this island was gazetted in 1963 as a protected marine park by the Sabah Parks Authority, a daily permit is required to enter the island. The park fee is RM40, however if you are taking a dive package, it will cost around RM500-560 including the park fee, lunch as well as scuba equipment.
Giant reef turtle passing through our lens
Up close with Ugly Frog Fish
A simple home cook lunch after the 2nd dive, everything is delicious when you are hungry!
An evening with the locals
Sunset view from Mabul Island


Tourists bargaining for the sea crabs
Fresh crab are cooked and served right after you purchased from the fisherman

After a day of sign language underwater communication, finally it is now the time to mingle, chit chat and crack a joke with the chilling locals. This is the time to experience locals’ life and savor the freshness of various seafood prepared in ala Bajau style ( the local cooking ). Reminiscing on the underwater marine life ; hammerhead sharks, massive barracuda and parrot fish schools, giant turtles, reef sharks and a reef wall reaching down to 600 metres. I can only promise myself that

“I will definitely return here again…; Sipadan is definitely an underwater paradise on earth”    
Dinner at the common hall, time to mingle and share about your experience throughout the day
While Sara and I singing the “Sayang Kinabalu” with the local Sea Gypsies.
See related Dive Package at Mabul-Sipadan.

Article and photos by:

Melissa Lim

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