So there we were…exploring the underwater life at one of the top diving destinations in the world.
When diving in Indonesia, everyone we met said “you’re going to Borneo? You MUST go diving at Sipadan!” We had never heard of this place before, probably since we were a bit new to diving, but after doing some research online, we made a plan to visit the infamous island of Sipadan to see what it was all about. This was, yet again, another thing in Borneo where we had to plan ahead, but this time we did! Only 120 permits are given out for diving at Sipadan each day and they can be sold out months in advance. This being our last stop in Borneo, it was easy to work out some dates and email some diving operators. After several “we are sold out” emails, we came across Billabong Scuba who had two permits for us.
After ending our time at the river, our day of diving at Sipadan was still almost a week away. Once again, we tried to visit another jungle park for animals spotting, but again, since we didn’t plan ahead, the accommodation was full and we were not able to go. So, we decided to head to Semporna (the coastal, gateway town to Sipadan) to see if we could do more fun diving around some of the other surrounding islands. Semporna turned out to be one of the worst towns we have visited and not a place you want to spend more than one night. We quickly tried to find an alternative place to spend a few days and came across Singamata Resort. The entire hotel is built on stilts over the clear blue water so you can leave your room and step right down into the water, it was exactly what we were looking for. Since they also had a dive shop, Becky decided to do her PADI Advanced Diving Course (Jason didn’t want to do his) and Jason spent his days snorkeling and visiting the surrounding islands on some fun dives. It was a great place to relax and dive for several days before it was time for our reservation at Billabong.
Several years ago there used to be accommodation out on the island of Sipadan, but to protect the area and underwater life, they ordered all dive centers to leave. Now, all the dive shops operate out on the island of Mabul, a short boat ride away from dive sites. This is where Billabong’s accommodation was and where we bunkered down for several days. In order to get a Sipadan permit, you first had to dive around Mabul, which turned out to have some great things to see. Doing three dives, we saw a lot of frogfish, many turtles, a large jellyfish, some eels, stingrays and even a spotted eagle ray. We were very happy with our diving around Mabul but were anxious to see what Sipadan was all about.
The next morning, it was finally time to head out to the legendary Sipadan. A beautiful white-sand beach greeted us as the boat pulled in and we hoped off to register. After a quick briefing by our dive master, we jumped in and soon spotted our first of many turtles. The entire island is surrounded by a huge, deep wall and each dive site is similar with beautiful, colorful corals and plenty of big fish. The animal to spot here is the hammerhead shark, but to find them you must be very lucky. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any hammerheads, but on all three dives, the underwater life was overwhelming. We saw too many turtles to count, sometimes three or four all around us swimming, a few sleeping on the coral wall and we even saw some stuck together in a turtle sandwich mating. We spotted about 20 sharks, huge schools of jackfish, barracuda, another eagle ray and many other supersized fish. Everywhere we looked there was something impressive swimming around us. So did it live up to the hype? You bet it did! Now we know why so many people told us to go there, it was the one of the best days of diving we have done of this whole trip.
After visiting Singamata and then diving around Mabul and Sipadan, we both needed a break from the water. We spent our last few days in Borneo just relaxing at Billabong before heading back to Kota Kinabalu where we had to catch a flight. Next stop, The Philippines, where we are looking forward to becoming a beach bum for several weeks!
- Of course, diving at Sipadan, it was an amazing underwater experience
- The other diving around the islands, we saw a lot of unique things and were able to practice our underwater photography
- Becky finishing her PADI Advanced Course
- Having too much time in Malaysian Borneo, we booked plane tickets to far in advance so we were kind of ‘stuck’ there with not enough to do. This led to many boring days.