Duration: 4 days, 3 nights
Island:Pulau Mabul, Malaysia
Language: Malay / English
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit
Pulau Mabul is the stepping-off point for divers who have come to dive Sipadan, a world premiere dive site renown for its abundant macro sea life.
The island is tiny. No vehicles. No roads. No urban centers. No 7-eleven. No ATM’s. No beach bars pounding out jungle rave beats or fire dancers.
The island is for diving and there is plenty enough to forget everything else.
Locals populated the island years ago with small fishing villages made up of raised shanties. Those are (thankfully) ever-present. Wandering through the villages, spending time with the locals, watching their way of life, taking part in their games and activities, gives as much candy for the soul as the sea provides candy for the diver’s eyes.
For the visitor, staying on Mabul is a pre-booked plan with a dive resort on the mainland in Sabah. The island hosts a small number of dive resorts, some live-aboards, and some over-water bungalow retreats. A person cannot just decide to “show up” and look for a place to stay. The resorts are all-inclusive as well. Dining, diving, and your room are all bundled into one package price. There are local restaurants for the villagers and small family storefronts selling small items like toiletries and candy snacks which you might find useful to pickup shampoo or toothpaste. However, resorts serve a buffet breakfast, mid-day snacks, and a buffet dinner and (most if not all) have a recreation lounge (basic bar and possibly a television playing international channels) for their residents.
Once you are prepared for those limitations, the island and all of it’s retreat living is a paradise away from everything.
- Sight Seeing 99% 99%
- Food 60% 60%
- Transportation 60% 60%
- Activities 95% 95%
For me, Mabul and Sipadan was part of a multi-nation dive journey which totaled 27 days and three countries across Southeast Asia for a once in a lifetime experience.
1. Scuba Junkies – Best diving company
Scuba Junkies offers an assortment of packages from three days up. Their beach bungalows are spacious and right on the sunrise beach with the main facility, dinning hall, and lounge pushed back from the beach less than roughly 50 meters. They’re priced right down the middle – more affordable (and available) than the water village next door, and better equipment, staff, and amenities than some of the less expensive resorts on the sunset side of the island. Map
2. Eel Garden – Best alternative dive site to Sipaidan
While you are waiting for your turn to dive Sipaidan there are plenty of sites all around Mabul to satisfy. Of the six dives around Mabul, Eel Garden had the most abundant variety of fish and sea life to offer. Map
3. Family Cafe II – Best place to grab a meal in Semporna before your boat to Mabul
Everyone going to Mabul starts in Semporna to get a boat to the island. Out of a row of restaurants nearby the dive shops, Family Cafe II offers a wide International menu for a cheap and delicious meal and fresh squeezed pineapple juice smoothie before your trip. Map
Diving is the reason for coming to this island. No matter the resort you book your dive with, the dive sites are all around. There is a lot of good coordination between the resorts to ensure everyone has a good dive experience without over crowding any particular site all at once.
Visit the Village
Diving may take up the bulk of your day from before dawn to mid-day, but after that you have plenty of downtime to rest and recover for the next day’s dive. Spend the time visiting the locals. See how they live. Watch as they hand-carve long tail boats and children play jumprope or a modified game of “marbles” involving skipping coins instead of flicking marbles to knock the others out.
Whether you stay on a live-aboard, in one of the over-water resort villages, or right on the groomed beach of a resort, watching sunset and the millions of stars following is the best nightcap a tiny-island retreat provides.
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