On the pontoon of Mabul, the little gypsies of the sea welcome the divers. Borneo, Malaysia. July 2006.
On the pontoon of Mabul, the little gypsies of the sea welcome the divers. Borneo, Malaysia. July 2006.

Gypsies of the sea and soldiers in arms

#Sipadan #Mabul #Bornéo #Malaysia

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could have been generated during the process. If you can read French, the original and correct version can be found here:

  Malaysia: Peninsula and Borneo - July 2006

The other islands surrounding Sipadan are unknown and yet they are worth seeing. I dive there almost every day until the end of the week, while waiting for my turn to go to Sipadan. In the genre "mise en bouche", these small islands are fantastic spots.


On the pontoon of Mabul, the little gypsies of the sea welcome the divers. Borneo, Malaysia. July 2006.
On the pontoon of Mabul, the little gypsies of the sea welcome the divers. Borneo, Malaysia. July 2006.

The main one, Mabul, is inhabited. Whole families of fishermen, "gypsies of the sea" more or less sedentary, live there in stilted wooden barracks, next to a luxurious resort for ultra-fried divers and longhouses rustic for low-budget divers.

The island is pretty, seen from the sea, but I preferred to stay in Semporna and make the boat trip every morning. The port of Semporna is ugly, not very nice, I would not advise tourists looking for an exotic postcard to stay there. But there is a semblance of modernity that I appreciate: internet access (although not super fast), electrical outlets to recharge the batteries of the camera, restaurants, hot water, market, etc.

Small annoyance in my quest for modernity: I receive SMS, but I can not send. It's annoying, all the same ... Hum. I feel like a backpacker who gets bored!

Small animals

During my many dives in Mabul, Sibuan and Mantabuan, I am not disappointed. The dive masters are competent and know the funds as their pocket. I discover every day animals that I have never seen before.

Crocodile fish. Mabul, Malaysia. July 2006.
Crocodile fish. Mabul, Malaysia. July 2006.
Frog-fish. Mabul, Malaysia. July 2006.
Frog-fish. Mabul, Malaysia. July 2006.

Highly sought after frog-fishes aka fish-toads (I must find the real name in French), indolent and shapeless fish, disguise themselves in sponge and nestle incognito between two stones by leaning on their fins become quasi-paws.

Crocodile fish, kings of camouflage too, merge with the sand. And, again, there is a truly incredible variety of nudibranchs ...

Nudibranch. Mabul, Malaysia. July 2006.
Nudibranch. Mabul, Malaysia. July 2006.

A treat for amateur photographers of which I am a part. We also meet the tropical underwater tropical fauna: batfish, moray eels, angelfish fish, clowns, parrots, etc. etc.

Between two dives, decompression literally and figuratively on the sand, the time to eliminate the nitrogen accumulated in the body and resume some forces.

Military welcome on white sand

On each island, there are soldiers, who control the sailing records of the boats, the names and the number of divers. Security measures put in place by the Malaysian government since the 2000 hostage-taking by Philippine terrorist Abu Sayyaff (divers taken to Jolo were kidnapped in Sipadan).

Mantabuan Island is also guarded by soldiers. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2006.
On the island of Mantabuan the faction soldiers are in tong ... Borneo, Malaysia, July 2006.

It's a little funny, anyway, when we arrive on these cute white sand beaches postcard with their coconut trees, to see the arrival of trellis men, some armed with an impressive machine gun, by way of welcome committee .

The bikini divers are for them the main attraction of the day ... And the French are of course entitled to a little ironic football commentary. Thanks Zidane!


  Malaysia: Peninsula and Borneo - July 2006

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  1. Hello,
    First of all thank you for your blog it is very interesting.
    I'm leaving for Borneo next April and I'm counting on going diving in Sipadan (I'm AOW with 60 dive), I wanted to know the difficulty of diving on Sipadan because I have with me 2 level 1 who have only 15 or 20 diving? In addition, does the current allow you to take your time for the descent because my friend has pb ears and usually goes down very gently?
    Thank you in advance for your answer



  2. N1 with only 15-20 dives, it is possible, even if it seems a bit fair for a site like Sipadan. In my opinion, a little more experience can better enjoy (if only in terms of air conso: it's frustrating in a place so spectacular to have to go back after a too short time ... ). With your AOW + 60 ploufs, it's without worry I think.

    But everything depends also how you are supervised ... I saw beginners with excellent dive-masters, for which it went very well.

    As for the descent, it depends on the sites around Sipadan. I would have to re-populate the pages of my dive log at the time to see if I had noticed things about the conditions of launching or not. I do not remember any particular difficulty or current difficult to manage at the descent. But it is true that I am part of happy divers who swallow instinctively down and whose ears usually go by themselves, without even having to think about it ...

    I will reconsult my notebook and I will return to give you more precise indications.


  3. I have just left my notebook ...

    Question level, so I was AOW and I had more than 130 dives at the time. Current question, I noted on some sites "strong current" or "a little current" but nothing that left me a particular memory in terms of difficulty.

    The average depth of the dives ranged from 35-30m to 20m at the Sipadan sites themselves, and around 18-12m at Mabul. When drifting at Sipadan, we tend to go down without realizing it, very quickly, in the 30m zone, as the show is amazing (sharks, barracuda, turtles everywhere). The currents can be a little traitor.

    But during outings, the clubs a little serious make sure to group people by level. Beginners will go shallow and will be supervised accordingly, on sites with less difficulty. Divers of a higher level will be able to benefit more while remaining within the framework of the "recreational diving".

    The best thing would be to ask these questions directly to the club you plan to dive with.

    Good bubbles !!!


  4. Hello

    Thank you for your great blog that makes me good service to organize my travels.
    Can you tell me if a diver name can enjoy semporna?
    Come snorkelling by boat on sites, beaches and others ???
    thank you

    1. @Laurent: Semporna itself is ugly, it's a city-port without charm. For a non-diver, there are snorkelling trips possible on the neighboring islands, very pretty, but frankly, Semporna-Mabul-Sipadan remains a destination "diving" ... I'm afraid that a non-diver is bored quick…

  5. Good evening Corinne,

    First, I wanted to congratulate you for your site, it's a dream and it forces us to already think about diving destinations for the next 10 years as there is to discover!
    We leave my boyfriend and me (All 2 AOW, him thirty dive and me 21) in Semporna in September for diving Sipadan of course but also on other sites given the exorbitant price of Sipadan. We decided to stay on Semporna because we do not want to take a package and stay on Mabul for 4 days.
    I found a dive shop Scubaholics that has very good comments but unfortunately they can not bring themselves divers to Sipadan, so they get the famous permits by other centers. The centers with licenses oblige everyone to take the famous packages and the service is the minimum union (given the comments of the divers!). That's why I'm leaning towards Scubaholics. I am writing to you because I find little experience of diver concerning the other islands near Semporna (Mantabuan, Sibuan Island, Mataking, Timba Timba Island, Tabawan Island)
    95% of the divers going on Mabul & Kapalai Island, it is really difficult to get an idea of what the other islands are worth. Could you help me and advise me? Regarding Mabul and Kapalai, are they really worth it? A big thank you in advance, France

    1. @La France : Mabul is the closest island to Sipadan, where it is convenient to stay for anyone wanting to dive in Sipadan. It offers accommodation and diving services at all prices, from the cheapest to the most chic.

      I would recommend on Mabul: Billabong Scuba and Scuba Junkie for the cheapest, Scubadventures platform or Borneo Divers for the mid-range. All have their quota of permits per day. The first two also have options from Semporna. Contact them for details of prices.

      To my knowledge, but it has evolved since my last visit, we can not stay on the islands you list.

      Kapalai is a chic and expensive resort-island, close to Mabul. We dive in, the site is nice, but the accommodation is expensive.

      Mabul is an island stuffed with people, all kinds of travelers-divers, chic and cheaps. There is a small village in the local fashion, house on stilts, a bit crado, but that corresponds to the "real" way of life of the locals, even if the influx of tourists has upset a little the deal. This is most convenient for diving on Sipadan.