The pontoon of Mabul Island, near Sipadan, off Borneo. July 2006.

Borneo: projects and dilemmas

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

In just over a month I fly to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). With my mania not to do too much preparationI still don't know what my itinerary will be. Only thing I know for sure is that I'm going back to Borneo, for diving in Sipadan, as in 2006.

For those who are not familiar with the geography of the area, look at the small map below, to locate. I put in big black spots where I want to spend.

Map Malaysia

You see the thing? Malaysia is made up of two very different regions: the peninsular area, which is an extension of Thailand, and northern Borneo. South Borneo is part of Indonesia.

Fortunately, from Kuala Lumpur (KL for the close friends), the many Air Asia routes allow to go everywhere in Malaysia and Indonesia, for cheap.

My other envy, dive question, after Sipadan is Derawan.

Only, Derawan, it's not in Malaysia, but on the other side of the border, in the Indonesian part of Borneo ... And the journey is not very simple. It takes two days of travel, mixing boat + plane + road, starting from Tawau (the Malaysian city on the other side of the border).

Diving sites, in northern Borneo. (Source:
Diving sites, in northern Borneo. (Source:

That said, Derawan is worth the detour, both for underwater wildlife (turtles and mantas, among others) for the scenery. Read Yann Senant's mesmerizing travelogue and take a look at the fabulous images of Pierre Poilloux.

Derawan by Pierre Poilloux

I get a month's freedom. July then. With these new Asian getaway plans, I'm faced with terrible dilemmas. 😀

First dilemma: to dedicate this trip to Borneo exclusively?
Or give in to the temptations of Peninsular Malaysia ... and go back to Perhentian IslandsFor example, to mix pleasantly lazy and quiet dives? So, I would go to Besar (the big one) that I hadn't had the opportunity to discover, instead of Kecil...

Another dilemma: to go to Kuching or not?
I'm aiming for Sipadan, of course, but it might be a shame not to take advantage of this new incursion into Borneo to visit Kuching, the capital of Sarawak (Malaysian state in the northwest of Borneo), whose charm is praised by all travellers. But it is completely the opposite of Sipadan. And there are not too many dive sites in the area. It's rather a good base to radiate in the surrounding natural parks.

Third dilemma: jungle or no jungle?
I am rather aquatic, like traveler. I like the sea, the beaches and the islands. In short, the very moist treks in the tropics, I do not like the masses. Especially if it is recommended to put on anti-leech socks (brrr, special dedication to Thib'). At the same time, if there is a place where the jungle and the natural parks are sumptuous, it is Borneo... Good. On this one, I'm going to be blasé, but too bad: I've already done a lot of jungle walks during my previous trips, in Thailand and Vietnam for example. And then, during my trip to Borneo in 2006, before heading to Sipadan, I took the time to stop in the Sepilok Center to admire the orangutans: a piece of jungle with comfortable wooden footbridges (perfect for the poor hiker that I am). So, now, uh... I think I'll dispense with the jungle and tribes trip, even if it's in principle a "must" of the trip to Borneo.

Last dilemma: after Derawan, which way do I go home?
If I leave by Balikpapan, a big oil town with no great interest further south, it is relatively easy to reach by plane a lot of enticing destinations in Indonesia ... If I take the road to Malaysia again by Tawau, it is also relatively easy to join many tantalizing destinations on the Malaysian side.

The pontoon of Mabul Island, near Sipadan, off Borneo. July 2006.
The pontoon of Mabul Island, near Sipadan, off Borneo. July 2006.

So many dilemmas that I have not decided yet ... (Yes, I know, I'm sorry to have such problems.)

And yet it is not for lack of having received several e-mails from readers of Bubbles Underwater & Beyond, giving me advice and possible itineraries. Thanks, among others, to Ludovic and Olivier, for their suggestions!


  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

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  1. Indeed, there is enough to hurt your head. But what to do in the face of so much suffering ????? Empathize? Certainly not.
    We have what we deserve. Do I leave one month in the sun, enjoy all this time to do everything I want, no! And I must not be the only one!
    You're going to blow your retinas out again.... 🙂

  2. @Blue Lagoon: Hey, hey, I'm hoping to get a good look!!! 😀
    But it is not with such unconstructive and compassionate remarks that I will solve my dilemmas... 😆

  3. I'm so sorry and confused !!!
    You speak.
    It's going to be great again, and it's coming very fast.
    The preparations are already the trip, well before getting on the plane.
    Can you tell from there?

  4. @Blue Lagoon: Yes, it's almost approaching "too" fast... I still haven't booked my dives in Sipadan, which is not very smart if I want to have a place on a boat, because for the preservation of the site, there is a quota limited to 120 divers and snorkelers per day... 😕

    In any case, I intend to tell my journey live or almost, as I always do. It all depends on the internet connections that I will find on site.
    No worries, I think, for the northern part of Borneo, including on the island of Mabul where we stay for diving in Sipadan, because I know that one of the resorts even offers wifi (at worst, I will connect when from my trip back to Semporna, the port on the coast, where there are internet centers and cafes).
    On the other hand, in Derawan, I doubt very much that we find a lot of computers or connections other than on fixed telephone line, by modem 56K, with the old one ... So, I will tell the story of this stage while going back in a city or tourist place.
    Since I launched "Little Bubbles Elsewhere", recount my journeys as and when on this blog is now really part of the pleasure of travel. I also make traditional tourists laugh, when in the evening, after dives or dinner, I have nothing more urgent than to connect to swing text and photos, respond to new comments, etc.

  5. Why decide everything now? You reserve portions that are important to you and for the rest, you go according to your impulses (lucky!)!
    I DREAM of seeing the monkeys in Borneo... 😉

  6. And for me, the turtles of Sipadan.
    At the same time we saw so much in the Maldives ...
    For the story of your turpitudes and the lack of connection, I see only one solution: an immarsat suitcase with an internet connection that must exist!
    That way you can even do it from on the boat still all wet from the dive. 😆

  7. @ Marie-Julie: Yes, I think that if I'm so slow to "plan", it's because I hate to decide everything in advance. However, it's in my interest to book for Sipadan, as I explained above. And even if I keep some freedom, I have to decide on arrival and departure dates for some sections... dilemma. 😡
    For the monkeys, I have never seen any nasal, but the orangutans are there:
    The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center
    »Malaysia • July 2006 • Sepilok Center [photos]

    @Blue Lagoon: I promise, there will be pictures of turtles... They are so numerous in Sipadan, that we come out "blasé" after a few dives: "Ah, there! Still turtles, there... Yeah, OK." 😀
    For connections, Immarsat is not in my means, but don't worry, I have resources. As soon as I arrive somewhere, it's part of my very first scouting, the internet... In general, I'm not doing too bad 😉

  8. Hi Corinne,

    I confirm, no connection possible on Derawan ...

    A little advice from me for your project. Don't try to see too much, you'll be running around all the time...Forget the Perhentians 🙁 and Kuching....

    Concentrate on Sandakan / Kinabatangan, Sipadan and Tun Sakaran; then Derawan. You will see that it will already be well filled ...

    For the Derawan Archipelago, it takes time ... a lot of time; especially if you come by Tawau.



  9. @Yann: I hate running, as you know... 😉
    And I generally agree with your advice ... That's why I was in a dilemma. That is to say that we will have to make choices, so eliminate things, if I want to enjoy each place quietly.

    That said, to this day, I'm almost decided: I'm going to give up Kuching, as well as the jungle and the monkeys. If I had a week more, why not, but there, with the time "lost" in transport, it will be too fair. I remain resolutely aquatic, and I will leave on holidays "islands and diving".

    Nevertheless, I think I still like my first step to Perhentian, so beautiful (this time, I would aim well Besar, I do not know): I like, early in the trip, ask me in a relaxing and easy place to rest and acclimatize for a few days before attacking the main part of the journey. And then it will allow me to remake some small dives nice and scuffed to put me in palm before Sipadan.

    With Air Asia, I looked, schedules stick to Kuala Lumpur> Kota Bahru the same day of my arrival in Malaysia; and then, to go to Borneo and do the same day Kota Bahru> Kuala Lumpur> Tawau ...

    But I'm finishing all that, I'll come back to say more when I get fixed. Otherwise, it will not hurt to be deprived of web connection to Derawan (disconnect for good, finally !!!)

  10. Life is about choices 🙂

    Sarawak, around Miri:
    - dives not terrible, but nobody
    - no tourist, cheap
    - oil wells and oil palm fields
    - interesting if you want to do the "Jungle", because there are many parks around. For leeches, your socks are not good for walking. The best is to take real walking shoes with simple gaiters coated with the repellent, but well in many parks of Borneo it is so arranged that you can go in flip-flops 😆

    Sipadan, you know, it's a bit like the Disneyland of diving in Asia, but it's worth the detour 😉

  11. @Alimata: The choices are made... 😉
    I finally stay on my desire for aquatic holidays, with beaches and islands for immediate environment. Too bad for the jungle, even laid out for tourists in flip flops like me, it's much less my thing.
    So I give up on Sarawak, no time for this trip, and I hate to zap from one place to another. As for the landscapes of oil palms and oil wells, which I had already observed a bit during my crossing of Sabah in 2006, as much give me this time ...
    My steps will be finally Perhentian Besar to begin (a few days of rest and acclimatization with all the tourist comfort in a splendid setting), then Sipadan-Mabul (dives which I keep a stunning memory), then Derawan (there, it will be more the expedition, off the beaten path, but it's obviously worth the detour).

  12. 😀 Hi and congrats on your blog!
    We want to go to Malaysia in July (4 weeks) and dive to Sipadan.
    I consulted a lot of people on but you seem to be by far the most seasoned on the destination!
    We think to do like you, flight + backpack and we will see on the spot ... but I think to book Sipadan to be sure not to miss it!
    With whom to dive and where to sleep ??
    I'm leaning for Billabong. Is their Long house nice? In 2006 you said you prefer to stay in Semporna, it's still true?
    Thank you in advance for your help !!!
    If you have good plans not to miss in 4 weeks I'm interested!

  13. @ Costarico32: Yes, you must book your dives for the Sipadan site itself. As you must know, you need a license to dive in, and these licenses are limited to 120 per day. The different dive centers must share them with each other. On the other hand, no restriction to dive on the neighboring sites (Mabul, Kapalai, and, from Semporna, the islands of Mantabuan, Sibuan, etc.)

    During this July 2009 trip, I stayed in Mabul and dive with Billabong. I was very satisfied with our email exchanges. They answered me promptly, indicating precisely the dates of the days when they had obtained a license for Sipadan (and they even granted me a discount, when I asked them for it). Either: four days of diving in Sipadan in total, over a week's stay, the other three days being devoted to Mabul. Very very good, compared to Scuba Junkie who could not guarantee me any dives in Sipadan ...

    The Billabong longhouse is very friendly to the atmosphere, but the comfort is more than rustic. So, during my stay, I zapped in the neighboring guesthouse, Arung Ayat or Hayatt, something like this, better known as "at Big John". The different longhouses all work more or less together with the diving centers. In short, we managed to transfer myself to the side. At Big John, it's a bit less noisy and better held, the food is better and you can have your own bathroom in the rooms that are on stilts.

    People told me that they had made the choice to dive with Billabong, who guaranteed them, like me, licenses for Sipadan, but that they were staying in the new Mabul Beach Resort in Scuba Junkie (from other side of the island, on the beach next to Borneo Divers). This new construction (which I saw, but not tested) offers a level of comfort much higher than the "low budget" longhouses for the same price ...

    Below, all of my tickets on Sipadan / Mabul, during this July 2009 trip:
    »Sit with Sipadan sharks
    »Mabul Village
    »Latest bubbles in Mabul and Sipadan
    »Nudibranch Festival

    For the rest, since you have already visited the Asia section of the forum, you must have a lot of information about Sipadan and the various operators on site ... What to make your choice knowingly!

    Finally, know that Semporna is mochissime, and has no interest, except the choice of restaurants and comfort of housing. (And now, on Mabul, web addicts like me can still connect to the wifi of Borneo Divers, going to drink a beer at home, but shhh ...)

    Good preparations! You will see, Sipadan is an extraordinary site !!!

  14. @ Costarico32: Mmm ... beware anyway of "on-said" on the forums. Nothing proves to you that what this guy is saying is true. He may have had a dispute with Chok, and now seeks to harm him through the divers' forums. Or maybe the story is true, I do not know. In any case to take with the necessary reserves ...

    One thing is certain, Billabong is one of the centers for "low budget" divers, and will not necessarily be suitable for people accustomed to a German-style organization and a Swiss-style environment, to fall into the clichés ... For my part I had not stayed in their longhouse, actually very rustic to say things nicely (and yet, he would not miss much to make it a great option in the cheap category).

    However, during my stay, the staff was nickel (except perhaps a dive-master, jaded and nonchalant). But, in Asia, it turns all the time in the centers, as the seasons go by. Side gear, I had mine, so no worries, and finally, never noticed anything weird or not clear around the compressor and maintenance tanks. (But, I did not go to inspect the inside of the bottles, or check the certificates of control.)

    Finally, the website that you indicate, as far as I can judge, is not a dive center, but an intermediary, an operator who sells the dives and accommodations of the various resorts on site, as does Olivier Martinez. 'Asiaqua (aka Martinoo on To organize your stay in Sipadan, and to save you the hassle, as much to pass by Olivier ...

    If you want a center less "cheap" and more reassuring than the Billabong or Scuba Junkie, but affordable anyway, rather Borneo Divers, or the famous platform Seaventure (which I had only good echoes). Or even in a cruise version, as Olivier often suggests, because here you are sure to have your license for ploufs in Sipadan.

    Come on, good preparations!

  15. @ Costarico32: Yes, Borneo Divers offers a good standard, a good Western comfort, hence the price. But it's worth it, I think. Otherwise, the other option to stay more comfortably and cheaply in Mabul, as I may already have said, is to book nights in the new Mabul Beach Resort Scuba Junkie. It is the same price or almost as longhouses, but much better.

    Semporna, yes, it's mochissime, but there's "civilization" and modern comforts and the internet is pretty fast. If you stay at Dragon Inn (the rooms, in the 60-80 Rm of memory, are very good), however do not eat at home, it's bad and not good. There is a choice of restaurants around for all meals. Sipadan Inn, I do not know.

    The Semporna-Sipadan/Mabul trips are sometimes difficult and sometimes not. It depends on the weather, the waves, the style of the boat, the mood of the captain, and so on... It forces you to get up earlier and to repeat the trip on the way back. But it is done. I didn't keep a horrible memory of it, when I did it in 2006. But that was on the Scuba Junkie dive boats. I think Billabong does the trip, not on their nice dive boats, which stay on the mooring in Mabul, but on wooden trad boats, which are much less comfortable. I don't know on which type of boats the center you are talking about (if you dive with them, I count on you for the CR! 😉 ) makes the trips... to see.

    Finally, yes, the advantage of Semporna is that from there, we can do all the other small islands, Sibuan, Mantabuan, etc. which I loved a lot, during my first stay in 2006.

    Besides what I put as images here, on my Little Bubbles Elsewhere, there are pictures of my 2006 stay on my other site, following these links:
    »Sipadan / Mabul / Mantabuan / Sibuan

    Finally, there, tonight, I do not have much time, but tomorrow, I will send you, privately on your mail, some more recent photos of my trip of 2009 so that you see a little better what the places in Mabul.


  16. Thank you very much Corinne !!!
    I contacted Olivier with whom I am building my stay ...
    He will inquire for Billabong.
    Comics are very good but in price we are double Billabong ...
    During your first trip to Sipadan, you said you prefer to stay in Semporna I think.
    A not very expensive and reliable option would be to stay in Semporana (Sipadan Inn or Dragon Inn) and dive with Sipadan Scuba which is PADI 5 *.
    Are the journeys really painful? Is Semporna so horrible?
    The advantage would be in 7 days: 3x Sipadan and 4 dives on other islands between Mabul, Kapalai, but also Sibuan, Mataking, Mantabuan, Boheyan ... maybe this solution would not hurt right?

    Thank you again for the time you grant us ... it's gold!

  17. Thanks again for giving us time!
    It's promised for the CR on and!
    I submitted the idea of the Scuba Junkie resort to Olivier but he told me that we had to dive with them ... which I do not recommend.
    We read a bit of everything about this club!
    You who did the 2 (Billabong and SJ), what do you think? is brand new on the market apparently.
    I read on a blog that the stuff was brand new ... it inspires confidence. Housing Arung Hayat that seems to be a safe bet ...
    I put you the link:
    Otherwise there is always the Semporna option.
    If you have to come back one day, what option would you take?
    Another possibility with Sipadan scuba: take their package and find a club on Mabul that will take us to Sipadan on days 4 and 5:
    DAY 01: Day Trip To Sibuan Island from Semporna (Own accommodation or Book Sipadan Inn)
    DAY 02: Day Trip to Sipadan Island from Semporna (Own accommodation or Book Sipadan Inn)
    DAY 03: Day Trip To Kapalai & Mabul Island from Semporna and overnight at Mabul Island.
    DAY 04: Stay at Mabul Island
    DAY 05: Stay at Mabul Island and Free at own leisure
    DAY 06: Check-Out from Mabul Island at 9.00am and transfer to Sipadan Island before back to Semporna at ~ 5.00pm

    We must hurry because some clubs are already complete for Sipadan ... :(

  18. @ Costarico32: So ... I will try to answer the best ...

    • Scuba Junkie: I dipped with them, but it was in 2006. From one year to another, especially in Asia, the centers can change (better or worse), and the staff is rarely the same. even. But it is often the staff and the organization that makes the difference. Scuba Junkie has a lot of turn-over: the ideal is to find guides who know the sites thoroughly ... If you fall with a guy who discovers the site at the same time as you, it's average. In 2006, I was lucky. I dive with several dive masters and instructors who knew the place very well, who were also photo enthusiasts, and very nice people. Today, according to comments posted here and there on the forums, Scuba Junkie, a small friendly center for mowed divers would have become a bubble factory, which now does not care about the satisfaction of the mowed divers.

    • Billabong: I dive with them in 2009, so recently, and the advantage is that the guides were locals who had been working there for a long time. All except one, obviously jaded, were fine. Ditto, by the way, for the other dive-masters and Western instructors who worked there for the season: real passionate people, adorable people too.

    • Arung Hayat (Big John): a basic longhouse, like all longhouses in the village. I mean, it's better to be accustomed to "comfort" to Indonesian ... But the place is better kept, cleaner and more welcoming than many others. The food is better, more hearty and more varied. I managed to get room A, at the very end of the pile. It's nice to be there, facing the sea. Except in case of storm, thunderstorm, gust of wind, the night in particular (still something that I did not have time to tell, but I a recording of the terrifying hissing gusts): it's awfully awesome, it's shaking, squeaking, moaning everywhere, the wind is screaming around, it's scary, we're wondering if it's going to be swept away by the squall, if that is not a typhoon that has just arrived on the island. And then no, it fits ... But it's hard to close the eye, suddenly.

    • The link of the blog that you tell me: the pictures that they put of the room in Semporna, it is the Dragon Inn. The photo of the longhouse, I'm not sure to recognize, they are all alike ...

    • Semporna: When I return to Sipadan to dive, I think I will house Mabul again. Saving money or finding someone to share the cost for the room, to offer me a more comfortable accommodation than longhouse (one of the beautiful bungalows of Borneo Divers? The platform Seaventure which in addition has even the Wireless ?). It's nice and cheerful, the longhouses, and then there's the village vibe, the kids, and everything, but sometimes, what would I have given for a long hot shower in a bathroom worthy of that name ... (Oh, there, I'm embarrassed.)

    • Your schedule: I do not understand, the center in question can not make you dive to Sipadan on days 4 and 5?

  19. What happiness to correspond with someone like you!
    Your tips are a gold mine 💡

    I would like to stay at the scuba junkie but in theory it only houses their divers and the club does not look great ... :(
    After, I tell myself that if the story of Billabong intoxication is real they had to react as soon as possible!

    I'm going to see with Arung Hayat (Big John), but Olivier can not reach them.
    The Seaventure platform tempts us too and I do not feel that it is much more expensive (or I'm wrong!)
    In any case I must make a decision as soon as possible!
    I will also visit Sipadan scuba club if I can dive on Sipadan on days 4 and 5!

    Finally, thank you very much for the photos you sent me!
    See you soon I hope !

  20. Hi Corinne,
    Thank you for all your advice ... we booked 6J / 5N on Seaventure!
    Olivier guarantees us at least 2 dives on Sipadan ... and unlimited below (it seems that it's great!)
    Decidedly, we will follow your footsteps because we just learned that a friend of the family is the owner of a guesthouse on Derawan !!!!!
    The trip seems very complicated but the game is worth the candle!
    I even think you met one of his friends ...
    Result: less jungle and more diving !!!! 😀
    We may ask you again to enlighten us! 💡
    Thanks again !

  21. @ Costarico32: Ah, that's it !!! Seaventure has a good reputation. The dives under the platform are very cool, indeed (rather muck-dive), but beware, there is often a lot of current, it's a little sport to the ascent.
    For Derawan, it's not that complicated from Semporna / Tawau. Send me your questions by email ( and read the tickets of my trip:
    Good preparations!