A Whole New World; Diving in Sipadan, Borneo

I first fell in love with diving back in Koh Tao in 2012 and having only dived a few times since was desperate to take to the waters again. Mabul and Sipadan Island and the surrounding reefs are repeatedly voted in the top ten dive sites in the world so diving in Sipadan on this trip was a must!

Whilst hanging out in Kota Kinabalu we met another couple who had just come from diving the famous Sipadan Island and after raving about it for at least an hour I set about researching myself! Diving in Borneo had already been top of my bucket list but after hearing so many amazing stories it was something that. despite the scarily high price tag, I just had to do! Luckily, my friend Nicola from back home was coming to visit us in Borneo and being equally as diving mad she jumped at the chance to visit Mabul with me!

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The name Scuba Junkies had been mentioned so many times as one of the best dive resorts out there so between Nicola and I we bombarded them with about 3000 emails on booking, details, accommodation and food etc. I think by the time we arrived they were already pretty sick of us – whoops! That being said they were super helpful and after explaining everything for the hundredth time we booked and paid! So, I was right in thinking that this was going to cost a lot and be completely out of our usual budget travel but some things are just once in a lifetime right!? We booked a four night package for, this hurts me to even write, £600! But PLEASE, don’t stop reading now and let me justify this!! For this price you do actually get quite a lot as it included a night in the Scuba Junkie hotel in Semporna the night before and after your stay, a three night stay in a Deluxe Double Room which is actually a pretty amazing chalet, three buffet meals a day, tea and snacks, a PADI refresher course and wait for it…13 dives including 4 at Sipadan Island itself! Now, I have looked at diving in many other locations we’ve been and each one was around £60-£100 a dive so with this in mind the above is actually a pretty great deal. (There, that’s me justified!) There are loads of companies and resorts which dive in and around Mabul so its important to shop around and find the right place for you. Visit sipadan.com and mabul.com as a great place to start your research on these beautiful islands. The most important thing with diving is that the company has good, modern equipment and is up there on safety standards so you feel comfortable throughout every dive.

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A few things to note;
1. To dive Sipadan Island you must hold at least an Open Water PADI qualification. If you just want to dive around Mabul then you do not
2. To dive at Sipadan you must have a permit and there are only a limited number of permits per day. Of course, being such a popular dive site these get booked up pretty quickly, especially in peak season which is April-December, so if you are planning on diving make sure you book early to secure your place
3. You can’t stay on Sipadan Island itself anymore as it is now a protected area so to dive around here you must stay either in Semporna or on nearby island Mabul
4. Despite many stories in the press and word of mouth within the backpacking community about the “pirates” operating around Mabul I would say do not let this put you off. Being two, over the top, worrying girls we were obviously spooked about the stories but the security and safety on the island is taken very seriously and we couldn’t have felt more safe and secure the whole time we were there. Of course, be mindful but don’t let such things stop you from this once in a lifetime diving.

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After a fun few weeks exploring Sabah we headed off to Semporna to check in with the dive school and begin our trip! We wouldn’t recommend staying in Semporna too long as its a pretty dismal place and is really just the jumping off point for diving. We set off early on the boat transfer, arrived on Mabul island around 45 minutes later and literally dived right in…apologies for the pun! As mentioned, neither of us had dived for around 4 years so we started our trip with a refresher course and we are SO glad we did. This took us through all the basic skills again including putting together all the gear, operating your gear under the water and a short dive to reacquaint yourself with the strange feeling of breathing under water. We had been a little nervous as it had been so long but this certainly put us at ease and we couldn’t wait to get going with all our dives! The next few days went something like this…

Day 1;
1 x Refresher Course and first dive!
2 x dives at North Mabul

Day 2;
2 x dives at Kapalai
1 x dive at North Mabul

Day 3
4 x dives at Sipadan (woohooo!)

Day 4
3 x dives at South Mabul

All of the dive sites we visited were spectacular and ranged from small wrecks to huge artificial reefs, from a multitude of wall dives to diving through caves! Every dive we saw and experienced something new; waving and tapping each other frantically trying to show each other what we had seen and dancing under water to keep warm or just to make the other one laugh and attempt not to spit out their regulator…the best dive buddies ever! After every dive we were so excited to get back down again and see some more. However, I don’t think anything could prepare us for the delights of Sipadan itself!

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Everyone had told us that we were stupid to dive Sipadan so early on in our diving experiences as nothing else would ever compare…I’m sad to say that I think they were right! The dives we did here were like experiencing a whole other world. We saw every type of reef fish imaginable and all absolutely huge in size like the giant humphead parrot fish, we saw turtles (our favourite!!) on every dive and the biggest ones I’ve ever seen, we saw sharks and sting rays and swam in the middle of huge shoal ls of barracuda and trevally – it really was incredible. The currents at Sipadan were quite strong but as we let them carry us along this way and that we were truly mesmerised in every direction at the life just under the surface of the water. The reef here is the most colourful I have ever seen and, promisingly, all resorts on Mabul are certainly doing their best to keep it this way with daily reef and beach clean ups and talks on marine life in the evenings to raise tourist awareness.

All in all it was a four days I will never forget and something I am so pleased I spent the money on. Only trouble is now my diving bucket list has increased hugely and I will just have to dive Sipadan again! Maybe I can drag Josh along next time!

For more information on Sipadan, Mabul and the diving in this area check out these useful sites:
sipdan.com and mabul.com

Until next time!

C x

 

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