School of jacks in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.
School of jacks in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.

Diving in the blue of Borneo

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

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: 

I'm coming back from Borneo! Highlight of the trip: the dives in Sipadan, Malaysia ... Yes, for me, Borneo has more the color of the sea than the jungle.

Return trip

Oops, I haven't published anything for a long time... 😡 The fault lies with the non-existent, random or ultra-slow internet connections during my trip to Borneo, in this month of July 2013.

Yet I like to tell my journeys as and when, almost live. The sensations are new, discoveries all fresh ... But there, it really was not possible. I only managed to put a few pictures on the Facebook page Bubbles Underwater & Beyond.

I have been back in France for a few days, but I still have my head there, in Borneo ... Underwater, most of the time. ????

The Kakaban pontoon. Derawan Archipelago. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.
The Kakaban pontoon. (Archipelago of Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013)

Borneo in blue

My Borneo to me is more blue than green. I spent more time above the coral reefs than under the canopy of the jungle.

As always, diving was the main theme of the trip ...

Kakaban, Jetty Wall. Derawan Archipelago. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.
Kakaban, Jetty Wall. (Derawan Archipelago, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013)
Barracudas Bank in Maratua. Derawan Archipelago. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.
Barracudas Bank in Maratua. (Derawan Archipelago, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013)
School of jacks in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.
School of jacks in Sipadan. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
Shark and divers in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.
Shark and divers in Sipadan. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
Turtle in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.
Turtle in Sipadan. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)

Five big steps

This trip of 2013 is my third stay in Borneo, after my previous trips to 2006 and 2009. I left almost a month, with five major steps.

1. The Derawan Archipelago (Kakaban, Sangalaki, Maratua), Indonesian side.
2. Mabul and Sipadan, Malaysian side
3. Kota Kinabalu, on the north coast of Sabah State
4. Kuching, on the north coast of Sarawak State
5. Kuala Lumpur, the capital, Peninsular Malaysia

Borneo: my journeys and stages. July 2013.
Borneo: my journeys and stages. July 2013. Click on the map above to open interactive Google Map in a new large window.

Three diving spots

1 - Sipadan / Mabul / Kapalai

The top! I wanted to see Sipadan again, where I had already dipped in 2006 and 2009. And Sipadan kept his promises: sharks and turtles in abundance, whirlwinds of barracudas and jacks ...

School of jacks in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.
School of jacks in Sipadan. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)

Located in the Malaysian part of Borneo, the island is a protected area, where attendance is limited to 120 divers per day. Underwater, Sipadan remained just as spectacular as when I first visited in 2006.

As for the diving around the neighboring islands of Mabul and Kapalai, it has nothing to do with the big show offered by Sipadan, but it remains very interesting for the muck-dive and the small fauna.

2 - Derawan / Maratua / Kakaban / Sangalaki

The archipelago of Derawan, on the Indonesian side, where I plunged in 2009, was rather disappointing: I did not manage to see so many "big" things in Maratua (a meager barracudas bench on lucky days) ).

Giant sea fan in Maratua. Derawan Archipelago, Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.
Giant sea fan in Maratua. Derawan Archipelago, Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

But most alarming, especially, is that the Sangalaki Mantas have disappeared, or have become very rare, whereas they were very numerous and very easy to observe 4 years ago. We were almost sure to meet them around the island ...

There, we did not see anything. It seems that other tourists divers have seen one, a few weeks before my stay there, but by far, and from the boat. In short, the meeting with the beautiful manta rays seems to have become much more random

The area of the Derawan Archipelago, of which Sangalaki is a part, is unprotected, and these harmless giant rays are now very fished for their gills that end up in soup (like shark fins). The dynamite fishing is also still practiced in the area (we have heard several times underwater explosions). In short, in my humble opinion, the situation is not going to get better ...

I detailed my impressions of diving in Sangalaki and Maratua during this new stay in July 2013 in this new article:
Sangalaki and Maratua: sadness and disappointment

The Kakaban sites are the ones I finally found the nicest, the richest in coral and wildlife. And then there is always the amazing jellyfish lake that did not sting that I had discovered in 2009. Regarding my journey of 2013, I posted these new articles on Kakaban:
Snorkeling in the Kakaban Jellyfish Lake
Multicolored dive on Kakaban reef

Finally, the island of Derawan itself remains very nice for the muck-dive. Turtles are found everywhere in the archipelago. To read at the end of this link:
Derawan, the turtle archipelago

3 - Pulau Gaya / Kota Kinabalu

Finally, I dive a little around Pulau Gaya, off Kota Kinabalu, which I did not know. But a big storm had stirred the bottom a few days earlier, so the visibility was particularly bad and did not allow me to really appreciate the sites. There is, however, plenty to do with the small tropical fauna and muck-dive.

Clownfish near Pulau Gaya. Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.
Clownfish near Pulau Gaya. (Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)

Well, I'm just back home and I already have the nostalgia for Borneo ... I console myself by plunging into the blue with my images. There is enough to do: more than 3,000 photos and videos stored on the hard disk.

Of course, I come back to tell you all this very quickly! You can always find all the articles for this trip by clicking on the link below:

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Always beautiful pictures ... Well, I'll really have to go hang out my palms in the region one of these days ...

  2. Everything delighted me, as usual, but I enjoyed the visualization of the different stages of the trip, and the map "big" with a single click! Thank you.

  3. This article makes you want to see more!
    For us this year it was journey in Sri Lanka: I was able to do 6 dives. It's not worth Indonesia or Malaysia, but some beautiful encounters anyway.
    Looking forward to read more!


  4. What beautiful pictures,
    For my part I have to go in 4 days but I heard that the corner was somewhat discouraged with clashes between Filipino and Malay ...

    Should I review my plans? !!!

    1. @Roman: but no ... The area where there were these clashes in February 2013 (which did dozens of deaths anyway) is not at all in the same place as Sipadan.

      A dark history of an old territory owned by a Philippine governor that a small troop wanted to take over from Malaysia ... I guess you're not going to hang out in the jungle and palm plantations where these guys in arms have taken refuge. And I guess since February, all that is over ...

      In short, as a tourist, you have nothing to fear.

      Finally, the area of Sipadan / Mabul is ultra-secure and protected by the Malaysian army since the story of the hostages of Jolo (it goes back to 2000). There are soldiers on the island of Sipadan and the other islands where the divers stop.

      I'm coming back from the corner, no problem.

  5. Hi Corinne,

    In view of your photos FB you have still dipped with Billabong Scuba Mabul?

    Without thinking you're a travel agent 😛 😛 😛 (I know everyone else does, sorry 😐 )

    Would you still advise?

    (I hesitated with Scuba Junkie, the roots aspect disturbs me no more than that, I look more a center pro level diving and secu)

    Thank you in advance and good luck for the recovery


    1. @Steven: oh, but no worries about giving fresh info and personal impressions about places I've been (it's just that it makes me tired when I'm asked for stuff that's in every travel guide or easy to find with Google, or when I have to design the itinerary for people who want everything and its opposite... 😡 )

      So, yes, I opted for Billabong Scuba, because they are good at having licenses and I was able to dive 5 days in Sipadan (over 10 days). It was my main criterion: dive as much as possible to Sipadan.

      The experience at Billabong can be very nice or disastrous, in my humble opinion, depending on:
      - the influx of Chinese tourists, more and more to dive (lived at the beginning of the trip, a group of 19 Chinese who tumble to learn how to make bubbles, it changes the mood)
      - the motivation of dive-guides (there are days when some are jaded and it feels, it's a shame, because when they are in shape, it gives dives really top, they know the sites very well).

      There is a lot of turnover in the staff, as in most centers in Mabul. So all that can change from one month to another, of course ... When I was there in July, they were short of people (guides and instructors), so the organization (even the security) was a bit limited sometimes. I would recommend the place to experienced divers, who, like me, do not need to be specially "supervised", who know their limits and are old enough to take control of their own lives.

      But the atmosphere in Billabong was very nice. It's good when you travel solo like me, you sympathize with many people after the dives in the evening, around dinner. I really had a nice stay.

      Scuba Junkie has become a huge resort on the beach since my last visit there 4 years ago. The rooms are much more comfortable than at Billabong (where the "comfortable" pretty cottages outside take the water inside stormy days), but the atmosphere of Scuba Junkie has become much more impersonal than before when it was smaller (for what I could judge by going there to have a drink).

      As for the dives themselves at Scuba Junkie, it looks (by far, huh, I only saw the boats and the divers) more "square" and more organized than at Billabong. As there are quite a few Western dive masters, the organization seems more "western" too. But as at Billabong, we see many groups of Chinese tourists disembark. Finally, they welcome more people but have no more license than Billabong, it seems to me, from memory (but I have to check, I took a picture of the array of rangers Sipadan where are listed resorts and the number of permits granted ...).

      Here. So, if what matters to you is something a bit square and "serious" I would opt for Scuba Junkie. If you like the more relaxed atmosphere and you're a truly autonomous diver, you can opt for Billabong.

      Otherwise, in "affordable" options, there is also Uncle Chang (who has also grown a lot, with small cottages on a long pontoon); or Seaventure (the oil platform reconverted) which I always heard good. Or, more expensive, if your budget allows, Borneo Divers, which has very good reputation on all levels (comfort, reception, dives, safety). Finally, the only solution for diving in Sipadan every day for sure is the cruise option on the Celebes Explorer ...

      But I'll talk more about this in a future post. Now that I'm back to work, I need to find the time to tackle it when I get home at night... 😉

    2. Thank you very much for this super complete answer ... very rich in info, make sure!

      In the end I booked with Billabong, the side of contract makes me no more afraid than that ... we will redouble our attention and we will avoid making too wacky profiles!

      I also confirm that they have the desire to have the best ratio: capacity of reception / permit.
      It is they who "guarantise" the most dive on Sipadan (take with tweezers for now, we will see on site).

      For information, on the Christmas period (at least at the most expensive):

      Billabong scuba: among the cheapest ... but we must be patient and be extremely detailed and clear on the request for quote / resa (they really treat the cool !!!) but in the end: for 7jrs / 6nts we have 3 days on Sipadan (3 x 3 dives) and 2 it makes us a ratio rather good I think: 16 dives Mabul / Kapalai etc for 18 dives on Sipadan

      Scuba Junkie (the most transparent, but not flexible at all on their package): 3jrs / 2nts mini to do 1 day of 4 dives on Sipadan

      Seaventures (the oil platform): 4jrs / 3nts mini to make 1 day of 3 dives on Sipadan but they let you dive in unlimited on their reef "house".

      Borneo Divers: 5jrs / 4nts mini to do 1 day of 3 dives on Sipadan but they let you dive in unlimited on their reef "house".

      Sipadan-Mabul Resort (SMART): 5 days / 4 minutes mini to do 1 day of 3 dive on Sipadan.

      To understand the benefits and advantages / disadvantages of each resort:

      I can't wait to read your future posts (But no pressure eh 😉 ) and see the beautiful pictures of your July trip.

      PS: To return the elevator: do not hesitate to contact me for info (real time) on Australia 8).


    3. Before diving again at the Molluks and Alor (Indonesia) in May 2015, we plan to make a "small" stop in Borneo and discover the mythical dives of Sipadan. I read carefully the various posts (as well as the answers including Steven rihe info) to take options (cruise and / or resort). Hard to get a sense of budget on the resorts listed by Steven. In any case, thank you for the map, the different articles and photos. Take new info (especially on security). If you have any, think of us. Thank you Corinne ... we will be able to cross one day, under water can be! Isa and Marco

  6. What beautiful pictures. And I especially remember the shark diving, which demonstrate, once again, that the shark is not the serial killer claimed here in Reunion ...

  7. Thank you for sharing these always beautiful pictures well documented.
    I understand that there are economic problems but fishing with explosives is a calamity that saddens me deeply. 😡 So the disappearance of the great mantas does not seem like a myth...
    A +

  8. Hello Corinne,
    I really hope that the next time we (re)cross paths, we'll both have time to share a Bintang 😉 . I too spent 3 weeks in August on the Sangalaki archipelago, and I really loved it, especially the turtles. People there told me that there were still plenty of mantas on Sangalaki 3 months ago...but they come and go depending on the currents and plankton. A friend of mine saw a lot of them in Nusa Penida (near Bali) in August. Anyway, like you, I will come back to Derawan.

    1. @Anne Lafon: Yes, really, it's funny that we bumped into each other like this at the airport... Next time, we'll make time, promise!!! 😈

      The mantas of Sangalaki were, not so long ago, almost permanently present around the island, like those of Nusa Penida near Bali (which they are still there, it seems).

      All the better if you can still see Sangalaki on occasion, but you still have to be lucky now.

      Delighted that you loved the archipelago! 8)