Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
124Trip End Oct 22, 2012
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You haven’t been able to stay on Sipadan itself since they closed it and turned it into a national park in 2004
As you can’t stay on Sipadan most people stay on the nearest island of Mabul, itself only 20 hectares and sits on a continental shelf with plenty of awesome dive sites of its own. We couldn’t stay at Uncle Chang’s (it being full with a big group of Chinese holiday makers) and so we stayed at Sipadan.com (a much more superior standard of dive operation but alas with no Sipadan permits). Mabul itself has some beautiful beaches but as the water is shallow and the reef comes right up to the beach its not really sea for swimming in espcially due to the likelihood of bumping into urchins or sting rays
Thankfully there are also plenty of backpacker dive operations and accommodation on the island mainly in the form of ‘homestays’ in the village in local style longhouses built on stilts over the water. The locals are Bajau who have lived in the surrounding waters for generations farming fish, sea cucumbers, shells etc. They used to be nomads living in intricate carved wooden boats but now live mainly in wooden stilt houses sometimes right in the middle of the shallow waters out at sea rather than attached to the land like at Mabul. The Bajau are known as ‘sea gypsies’ and you may remember that they featured in the BBC’s Human Planet series as some have adapted so they can hold their breath for huge lengths of time under water while spear fishing.
Unfortunately though, with the introduction of non decomposable plastics and I’m not sure if its lack of education, different cultural attitudes, a combination of the two or what but the locals both on Mabul, the Sea Gypsies that pass by and those on the mainland at the nearest town of Semporna mean that the level of rubbish and plastic on the ground in the village, in the sea around some parts of Mabul and floating in the oceans between Mabul and the mainland is absolutely disgusting
All that aside, the three dives we did around Mabul and the neighbouring island Kapali were ace. The first Dive Master I had was a bit lame (no buddy checks, no dive brief, didn’t point out many fishies) but thankfully I had decent equipment and know how to do my own safety checks. The second two dives I joined Will and an Aussie couple after they had done their scuba reviews and our DM was much better. There’s tonnes of macro stuff on Mabul that you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know where to look, like banded box shrimp and beautiful ornate ghost pipe fish that just look like a bit of seaweed floating until you look carefully (actually one of the seahorse family)
The following day we headed off to Sipadan. As you approach to island you know you are in for something special. Even looking over the side of the boat you can see the beautiful coral landscape and plethora of beautiful multicoloured tropical fish below. It truely is an underwater paradise. Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia and was formed by corals forming on top of an extinct volcano. Off the continental shelf is a massive drop off into the depths and so much of the diving there, as at Mabul, are wall dives. Due to the strong currents you get loads of big things there too so we saw sharks on every dive and got to do our first drift dives. At one point there were 2 sharks circling maybe 10 metres below us that were around 7 feet long so quite big, but I got too excited and forgot I had a camera in my hand. We saw white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks, 2 eagle rays which looked so graceful as they glide past you through the blue, loads and loads of turtles including two mating which although beautiful to watch their little mating dance in the water did at one point make us feel like maybe we should give them some privacy ;-), and loads of my favourite bat fish who are always so curious and cute and aren’t bothered by you at all.
In between dives you get to go and sit on the beach on Sipadan for your snacks, tea and lunch and to have a swim in the turquoise waters there
Our only complaint of the day at Sipadan was again our DM. He seemed to have little regard for usual diving standards and sent half the group off with an a local who is an advanced diver not a DM! He also led us all into the blue at baracuda point, got lost and wasted half our dive swimming through blue nothingness – a tad frustrating. The rest of it totally made up for that though and also inspired us to buy our own dive computer so we can monitor our own safety levels in the future.
The evening after Sipadan there was a party at our homestay as two dive instructors were leaving to do a season in the Similan Islands in Thailand so there was free Filippino rum all round
Sad to leave island paradise we got the night bus back to KK where we relaxed and did pretty much nothing for a few days before our next and last adventure in Borneo, Gunung Mulu National Park....