Sipadan is situated off the east coast of Borneo. Although there used to be a resort on the Island the Malaysian government stopped this some years ago. So we were actually staying on Mabul island, a 20-minute or so journey away. Another resort is Kapalai, which is a set of water bungalows built on a sandbank that is only visible above water at low tide. There are two more islands close by where diving takes place, Siamil and Danawan. Diving off Sipadan is strictly regulated by permit and there are only so many permits per day.
There is a small bar at the end of the jetty, which is a nice place to congregate at the end of a day's diving to swap stories and show photos. There's a small swiming pool area and you can walk through the middle of the island to visit the Water Bungaloes part of the resort on the north-east part of the island. There is a shop here, as well as one in the resort itself. Elaine and I visited the water bungaloes for a relaxing massage. A can of coke/tonic/etc. in the resort costs about 8 MYR (~£1.50). A bottle of wine at dinner would cost upwards of 65 MYR (~£13) No-one had any tummy troubles during the holiday (though Roger was a bit "iffy" one day). The staff were very pleasant. All meals were a buffet affair and there was an "egg-lady" at breakfast, who would cook omelets, scrambled egg, or other preparations to order. The food was adequate, not brilliant, but after all we were there for the diving, not for cordon-bleu meals.
There was a whiteboard in the restaurant area on which you indicated whether you were using air or nitrox and whether or not you had a DIN fitting for your regulators. If you were using nitrox (Neil and I used it only for the dives on Sipadan) you'd analyse your tanks in the evening and the following day they'd be on the boat waiting for you. There was a set of boxes for each boat and you'd put your kit in there overnight. There was a large area for washing kit and hanging it out to dry, as well as showers. It was quite well organised. Everything was close to hand. We had only to walk about 60 feet from our chalet to analyse our nitrox tanks. The technical centre where they sorted out problems was only 50 yards from the chalet. Your kit was set-up for you in between dives and nothing was too much trouble.
In general there were 3 dives each day. However, if you were going to Sipadan then this became 4 dives, with only 2 dives included in the package the following day. You could dive as often as you wished on the house reef. All of the dives on Mabul and Kapalai are close to the resort, so after each dive the boat would return to the resort, and you could spend your surface interval doing whatever you liked, such as grabbing a snack from the restaurant, reading on the verandah, or filling in your logbook, rather than bobbing up and down on the sea, such as at other resorts.
Yusri, his assistant and the boat skipper were all very helpful. There was no rushing about and no panic for everyone to get in the water. Entry was a backward roll off the boat and you got back onboard via the ladder, having previously handed up your camera, fins and weightbelt. Normally we would have breakfast from 7:30 onwards, then, about 08:15, walk the fifty metres to the equipment area to get into our wetsuits before getting onboard the boat. I say "normally", because if you were lucky enough to be going to Sipadan you had to be down at the boat by 5:30am! While diving on Sipadan is regulated by permit (120 per day in total), we did manage to dive there on 3 separate days, 12 dives in all.
If you read about Sipadan on the Internet you can't help, because of the scare stories, but wonder about the possibility of another terrorist incident like the one that occurred in April 2000, when a group of tourists were kidnapped. There is now a military presence on the island that is quite visible, being on the beach next to the dining area. I'm sure it's mainly there to reassure the tourists and they aren't expecting any more such trouble. Several of the young army guys with their guns were quite happy to have their photos taken with some of the girls during the "shore break" from diving. There haven't been any other such incidents here since that unfortunate one over 10 years ago. One thing you do have to watch out for on Sipadan is sand-flies. Neil got bitten to death by them. Thank goodness they don't appear to be a problem on Mabul.
When you arrive at Sipadan you have to sign in and then you do your first dive. You then come back to the island and have breakfast in a large open-sided hall. After that you do your second dive and come back for "elevenses". Thankfully there are good toilet facilities on the island. After the third dive you come back for lunch before having a final dive and then back to Mabul. There are some fantastic dives on Sipadan. After 12 dives you could become a bit blasé about all the turtles, sharks, and shoals of barracudas, but they never cease to amaze. One dive we were pootling around on the Turtle Patch dive site when all of a sudden Yusri banged on his tank to get our attention, he then went finning like a madman into the blue. We followed him, not knowing what he had spotted, when all of a sudden we came across a shoal of at least 1,000 barracudas circling in a vortex-like structure. It was absolutely amazing!
A couple of times we decided to dive on the house reef. After the last dive on the boat we would tell Yusri that this is what we planned to do and the skipper would steer the boat to the steps at the water bungaloes and offload our BCD, weights and fins. Then later on that afternoon we would mosey on over to the water bungaloes (about 10 minutes from our rooms across the causeway) and set up our kit on one of the tanks stored there for such occasions. We'd then walk down the steps and into the water. Several structures of wood and rope have been positioned on the seabed to attract growths, nudibranchs and fish and you can see some large shoals of fish such as Jacks or Trevallies weaving in and out of these. At one point Neil vanished from sight as he was completely surrounded by a swirling mass of such fish.
The house reef and sites nearby, such as Paradise 1 and 2, are where you do the night dives. I did two night dives while we were there and I must say that the second one was the best night dive I have ever done. I never thought that the "night pier" dive on Bonaire could ever be bettered, but this one was better. The colours that night were fantastic and the variety of creatures was out of this world.
We arrived late in Kuala Lumpur and it was raining. It took about an hour to get from the airport and just as we were exiting the freeway we could see a ghostly image of the Petronas Towers, lit up through the mist. The next day some of us took the hop-on-hop-off bus trip through the city. We stopped off at chintown and the central market, before alighting at the stop for the Orchid Garden, Butterfly Park and Bird Park. The Orchid Garden had, as you may have guessed, hundreds of different types of orchid, though October may not be the best time of year to see a lot of them. The Butterfly Park was great. There were hundreds of them, some as big as your hand and beautifully coloured. Unfortunately it started to rain so we decided to cut the journey short and get a taxi back to the hotel, rather than wait for the HoHo bus. Kuala Lumpur was OK, but I'd have much preferred an extra day's diving at Sipadan-Mabul.
This was yet another great holiday. It took a long time to get to the resort (we figured that a trip to Australia would only have taken about 6 more hours) but it was well worth it. The diving was stupendous. Never before had we seen such variety and numbers. If you didn't get to see at least a couple of dozen turtles and a similar number of sharks when diving Sipidan you felt short-changed. The resort was very good, though a little dated in some respects but the informality of the room arrangement meant that we were not crowded together and each had their own space. The arrangement of coming back to the resort after every dive was great and this meant that while we were tired at the end of the day, we had managed to get some rest inbetween dives, on land and in one instance in bed! The weather was very good and although we had a couple of tropical downpours, they only lasted an hour or so and didn't impede the diving. Having said that however, boat 6 did have problems one day getting to Sipadan - they had to turn back twice because of rough seas, but this was out of the ordinary.
I would definitely recommend Sipadan-Mabul as a diving holiday destination; it is the best dive location I've been to so far. For more (higher-resolution) photos and videos, click on the PHOTO and VIDEO ALBUM icons at the top.
|Date||Depth (m)||Time (min)||EANx||Sipadan-Mabul Dive|
|19 Oct||19.5||44||-||Mabul House Reef - Brilliant first dive, large shoal of jacks, 6! frogfish|
|19 Oct||17.7||55||-||Mandarin Valley (Kapalai)- Amazing, batfish, frogfish, leaf fish, you name it|
|19 Oct||14.3||54||-||Paradise 1 - At first appearance nothing special, but it was!|
|20 Oct||19.1||51||32%||Whitetip Avenue (Sipadan)- Steep wall huge shoal of batfish|
|20 Oct||16.2||50||32%||Barracuda Point (Sipadan)- Amazing shoal of barracuda, bump-headed parrotfish|
|20 Oct||18.0||54||32%||Hanging Gardens (Sipadan)- Unbelievable wall dive, turtles by the hundred|
|20 Oct||22.0||55||32%||Dropoff (Sipadan)- Fabulous wall dive, jacks, sharks, turtles, lovely corals|
|21 Oct||17.4||51||-||Platform - Brilliant dive underneath the Seaquest|
|21 Oct||16.2||51||-||Paradise 2 - Turtles, rays, nudibranchs crocodile fish etc.|
|21 Oct||15.2||62||-||Paradise 2 - Night dive, saw the mandarin fish plus loads of others|
|22 Oct||20.4||61||-||Froggy Lair - Lovely dive, saw a ghost pipefish, wow!|
|22 Oct||13.7||55||-||Platform - Stunning corals and sponges, giant clam etc.|
|22 Oct||17.1||57||-||Gurnard Ground (Kapalai)- Decent dive, but not brilliant|
|23 Oct||26.5||53||32%||Barracuda Point (Sipadan)- Lovely wall with a steep dropoff|
|23 Oct||24.1||58||32%||Midreef (Sipadan)- Wonderful dive, beautiful corals, nudibranchs etc.|
|23 Oct||20.4||56||32%||South Point (Sipadan)- Fabulous dive, besutiful corals zillions of colourful fish|
|23 Oct||21.3||57||32%||Barracuda Point (Sipadan)- Another great dive, huge shoal of Jacks at the start|
|24 Oct||25.4||51||-||Ray Point - Lovely dive, garden eels, frogfish, octopus, nudibranchs etc.|
|24 Oct||14.3||63||-||Paradise 1 - Great dive Many rare and unusual creatures, weedy pipefish|
|24 Oct||11.3||36||-||Mabul House Reef - poor viz. but still lots to see|
|24 Oct||18.9||57||-||Mabul House Reef - WOW! THE BEST NIGHT DIVE EVER!!!!|
|25 Oct||25.9||53||32%||Barracuda Point (Sipadan)- not as good as last time, but still a good dive|
|25 Oct||25.0||55||32%||Turtle Patch (Sipadan)- Awesome spectacle of a thousand barracudas in a whirling vortex|
|25 Oct||21.0||60||32%||Hanging Gardens (Sipadan)- Wow! Even better than before|
|25 Oct||22.9||62||32%||Whitetip Avenue (Sipadan)- Fabulaous dive following a fantastic snorkelling session|
|26 Oct||25.6||52||-||Siamil Reef - Lovely dive, despite destroyed reef. Marilyn saw a Flambouyant Cuttlefish|
|26 Oct||24.4||57||-||Danawan Reef - sandy bottom dive, but still good nevertheless|
|26 Oct||19.8||50||-||Mabul House Reef - Great dive, Giant potato grouper and loads of Lionfish|
|27 Oct||22.9||55||-||Mandarin Valley (Kapalai)- Lovely dive with amazing artificial reefs|
|27 Oct||17.1||60||-||Platform - Poor viz. but loads of crocodile fish and scorpion fish|
|27 Oct||15.2||62||-||Nudibranch Avenue - Quite a bit of current but lots to see|