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Mabul, Borneo

Sipidan Kapalai resortBorneo Divers Borneo Divers
  • Sipidan Kapalai resort
  • Borneo Divers
  • Borneo Divers

Over the past 25 years, Palau Sipadan, close to Mabul, has developed into one of South East Asia's premier dive destinations and one of the most important marine habitats in the world. The sometimes challenging dives offered around Sipadan means more experienced divers will gain the best from what this destination has to offer. Sipadan Island is a short fast boat ride from both Mabul and Kapalai.

Diving Sipadan Island (Palau Sipadan)*

The island marks the pinnacle of a maritime mountain, which drops vertically 600m into the Celebes Sea. This stunning drop off is home to a myriad of marine life, which has few equals anywhere. Sipadan is primarily recognised for its resident population of Green turtles, which accompany divers on most dives and nest on the island from July to October. Although not as numerous, Hawksbill turtles are also seen on many dives.

Schools of jacks and barracuda circle the island feeding on the numerous species of reef fish that inhabit the drop off. Out in the blue, a variety of sharks are commonly seen. White Reef and Grey sharks may be encountered in large numbers and provide an exhilarating spectacle as they come into feed at the end of the day. Scalloped Hammerheads are occasionally encountered in deeper water, whilst above them, Whale sharks, Eagle and Manta rays are all periodically seen near the surface.

Sipadan is a tiny oceanic island, bordered by a steeply sloping coral shelf that leads out to the drop off. Once you are over the lip of the cliff the soft and hard corals create a colourful backdrop to the small endemic species for which South East Asia is renowned. Minute shrimps and rare Nudibranchs hide amongst the sea fans and gorgonians. Large sponges grow in the gullies that cut into the top of the cliff, which in turn provide cover for a concentration of marine life.

Since December 2004, it is no longer possible to stay on Sipadan Island. Efforts are still underway to gain the island the marine protection status that the island deserves.

* Please read the information regarding Sipadan permits, which can be found under the 'Dive Prices' tab.

Diving Mabul (Palau Mabul) & Kapalai (Palau Kapalai)

The islands of Mabul and Kapalai lie within easy reach of Sipadan, but offer an entirely different type of diving.

The islands sit on the edge of the continental shelf, with the seabed gently shelving away from the beach and sandbanks. The silt rich waters surrounding the islands are an incredibly rich habitat for unique macro life, with many small coral head and pinnacles to explore. Here you can revel in the world of 'Muck diving' which involves observing at close quarters the strange rare creatures of the macro world. Multi-coloured cuttle fish, outsize frog fish, ghost pipe fish, mandarin fish, pegasus fish, snake eels, shrimp and coral crabs all live in this outstanding reef system.

Water visibility can range from superb to terrible, according to water movement in these rich, silt laden waters! Mabul and Sipidan Island are part of the Malaysian province of Sabah, on the island of Borneo. The island of Borneo is the third largest island in the world, and the only island divided into three countries - Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Since December 2004, it is no longer possible to stay on the island of Sipadan. Divers access the dive sites around the island with a quick journey across the strait from Palau Mabul and Palau Kapalai by boat.

There is a daily cap on Sipadan permits of 120 visitors per day. Permits are applied for daily and cannot be guaranteed, with the exception of the SMART Divers package (see below). However, it is very likely on a 6-7 night stay that you will have the chance to visit Sipadan at least once over 5 days diving. We would like to, but are not in a position to guarantee any Sipadan visits and prefer to be honest. The longer your stay, the better the chance of increasing the amount of times you dive Sipadan

Sipadan permits - staying on Mabul: SMART Divers package - based on the diver package for a minimum of 6 nights stay in a detached chalet - will include the application and cost of 1 Sipadan permit.  Any additional visits, or if booking fewer nights or a standard chalet, is subject to availability and it is not guaranteed.  Additional Sipadan permits are managed locally and cost approximately RM 550 per diver per day, including 1 day entry permit fee.  The permit will entitle you to 3 boat dives at Sipadan Island.  It is advisable to enquire on arrival for any extra permits to Sipadan.

Sipadan permits - staying on Kapalai: Permits are applied for daily and cannot be guaranteed. However, it is very likely on a 6-7 night stay that you will have the chance to visit Sipadan at least once over 5 days diving. We would like to, but are not in a position to guarantee any Sipadan visits and prefer to be honest. The longer your stay, the better the chance of increasing the amount of times you dive Sipadan. There is no additional charge for successful permits.

Those staying at SMART Divers Resort on Mabul dive with SMART Divers.

Those staying at Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort dive with Kapalai Dive Resort.

SMART Divers

SMART Divers are a well established resort and dive operation offering a relaxed but well-organised programme. Unlimited unguided diving is offered from their house reef on Mabul island including night dives, plus a large choice of dive sites reached by boat spread over Sipadan, Si Amil, Mataking, Ligitan and Kapalai.

Some trips are full day, departing after breakfast and other return to shore early afternoon or between each dive. Check the board at breakfast each morning and you can see your assigned boat for the day. After the first day, your kit is taken care of from start to finish.

The 13 fast fibreglass boats offer some shelter from the strong sun, seating and small overhead shelves to store small ‘dry’ items. The boats take around 10 divers, plus boatman and dive guide. Nitrox is available locally plus boat night dives, at extra charge. There is a secure dive kit storage area and items of kit can be rented.  Clients are also able to use DIN regs.

In order to make the most of your dive packs and the range of dive sites on offer, some of which can be challenging, we recommend divers have a minimum PADI Advanced qualification or equivalent, with minimum 40 logged dives. Proof of logged night dive experience will be requested.

Diving Offers

Group offers for 10+ paying guests are available, please enquire.

Dive Packs

2-3 boat dives per day are included in your holiday cost except on day of arrival and day of departure, plus unlimited house reef diving day and night (until 10pm). Air tanks, weights and weight belt are also included.

Dive Courses

Dive courses can be organised in resort. Scuba review, advanced courses and adventure dives are available, paid for  locally. Entry level technical dive courses can also be booked locally.

Extras in Resort - payable locally

  • Sipadan permits: Approximately 550 RM per visit
  • Night dive (boat): 3+ divers RM 100
  • Nitrox fill: 12l to 40% RM 35
  • Nitrox fill: Sling tank 40% + RM 45
  • Nitrox fill: 12l 40% + RM 55
  • Digital Camera rental and Videography

Equipment rental - per day - payable locally:

  • Mask & Snorkel: RM 20
  • Fins: RM 20
  • Wetsuit: RM 25
  • BCD: RM 25
  • Regulator: RM 30
  • Dive computer: RM 35 (limited units)
  • Dive light: RM 40
  • Tanks: 12l Aluminium (450 International valves, 70 DIN)

Kapalai Dive Resort

Some trips are full day, departing after breakfast and others return to shore early afternoon or between each dive. Check the board at breakfast each morning and you can see your assigned boat for the day. After the first day, your kit is taken care of from start to finish.

The 9 fast fibreglass boats take up to 10 divers plus boatman and guide and offer some shelter from the strong sun and bench seating. There is a secure dive kit storage area, items of kit can be rented plus kayaks for a small local charge.

In order to make the most of your dive packs and the range of dive sites on offer, some of which can be challenging, we recommend divers have a minimum PADI Advanced qualification or equivalent, with minimum 40 logged dives. Proof of logged night dive experience will be requested.

Diving Offers

Group offers for 8+ paying guests are available arriving and departing on the same days/same package, please enquire.

Dive Packs

2-3 boat dives per day are included, except on day of arrival and departure. Unlimited house reef diving day and night dives off the house reef, air tanks, weights and weight belt.

Dive Courses

Please enquire locally. This resort is more suited to divers already qualified with a reasonable level of experience.

Extras in Resort - payable locally:

  • Sipadan permits: No extra charge on days permit obtained
  • Night dive (boat): Enquire locally
  • Nitrox fill: Not available

Equipment rental - per day - payable locally:

  • Mask & Snorkel: RM 15
  • Fins: RM 10
  • Booties: RM 10
  • Wetsuit: RM 25
  • BCD: RM 30
  • Regulator: RM 30
  • Dive computer: not available
  • Dive light: RM 20/dive
  • Tanks: 12l Aluminium (450 International valves, 70 DIN)
  • 220/110v charging station

The Federation of Malaysia consists of three separate territories: Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah.

Climate

The whole of Malaysia has an equatorial so temperatures vary little from month to month and humidity is high. Temperatures are fairly high all year round ranging 23°C to 34°C average and the sun is very strong.

Borneo is tropical and lies only a few degrees north of the equator. Rainfall can be expected at any time of year, though will be greater between November and January. You can dive here all year round. Overall, the best conditions at Sipadan Island exist from April to December, especially July and August. January to March can see some unsettled weather and a decrease in visibility but with weather conditions corming more unpredictable, you can still have great diving conditions.

Sunny year round, always tropical showers.
Best months: April to December
Peak months: June to September*
Traditionally wettest months November to January, but less predictable now.

Water Temperature and Visibility

Temperatures average 26°C - 30°C.

Visibility can range from superb to terrible, according to water movement in these rich, silt laden waters!

Currents can be very strong around Sipadan, to non-existent. The dives around Sipadan in strong current conditions only suit the more experienced diver, as the water movement can be very challenging at times.

Getting to Mabul and Kapalai

Dependant on your individual travel itinerary, you may fly in to or out of Tawau, Kota Kinabalu (KK) or Sandakan.

Malaysian Airlines

Tawau - Outbound:
London Heathrow - Kuala Lumpur - Tawau: Daily, 1 connecting flight.
London Heathrow - Kuala Lumpur - Kota Kinabalu - Tawau: Daily

Tawau - Inbound:
Tawau - Kuala Lumpur - London Heathrow: Daily, 1 connecting flight
Tawau - Kota Kinabalu - Kuala Lumpur - London Heathrow: Daily

Flights to/from Tawau have less availability and are therefore generally more expensive than Kota Kinabalu with an internal flight, but far more convenient.

Sandakan - With Sepilok and Orang-Utan extension:
If flying with Malaysian Airlines, we can arrange an 'open jaw' itinerary where you fly into one airport and out of the other. Internal flights run frequently between Tawau and Sandakan.

Sandakan - Outbound:
London Heathrow - Kuala Lumpur - Kota Kinabalu - Sandakan: Daily. No through connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur without stop over.

Sandakan - Inbound:
Sandakan - Kuala Lumpur - London Heathrow: Mon / Weds / Fri / Sun only, otherwise your return is via Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore Airlines also offer flights from several days per week into KK, via Singapore. An internal flight to Tawau or Sandakan would be arranged on a separate ticket and an overnight may be required.

City stopovers can be arranged for Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Singapore.

To Mabul and Kapalai from Tawau
There are 2 or 3 transfers from Tawau to Semporna each day, resort dependant.
Tawau to Semporna port by land, approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.
From Semporna port, 45 minute fast boat ride.

Essentially, it takes the best part of 2 days to get to Mabul and Kapalai from leaving your door, and for this reason we do not recommend anything less than 9 nights stay. But don't let this journey put you off! It is interesting, with plenty to look at along the way. When you arrive, you really feel like have travelled somewhere to arrive in the middle of nowhere!

Time

Malaysia is +8 hours GMT.

Currency

Malaysian Ringgit - RM

£1 = 4.9 RM
$1 = 3.2 RM
€1 = 4.2 RM

* As of June 2013

GBP, Euros and USD can be converted to Ringgit once in Malaysia.

Tipping

Although entirely voluntary, tipping is a recognised part of life in this region of the world. Some local staff will look to travellers for personal recognition of the services offered. If you do not have local notes in small denominations, foreign currency may be used.

Activities

No other activities aside from diving, relaxing, booking a massage and snorkelling are available on Mabul or Kapalai.

Guideline Resort Prices (RM)

  • Beer (Can) - RM 9
  • Beer Bottle - RM 17
  • Coke - RM 2.50
  • Tonic/Soda Water - RM 3
  • Wine - RM 110
  • Mineral Water (Lge) - RM 5
  • Mineral Water(s) - RM 2
  • Ice Cream - RM 3

Flight Information

Getting to Mabul and Kapalai

Dependant on your individual travel itinerary, you may fly in to or out of Tawau, Kota Kinabalu (KK) or Sandakan.

Malaysian Airlines

Tawau - Outbound:
London Heathrow - Kuala Lumpur - Tawau: Daily, 1 connecting flight.
London Heathrow - Kuala Lumpur - Kota Kinabalu - Tawau: Daily

Tawau - Inbound:
Tawau - Kuala Lumpur - London Heathrow: Daily, 1 connecting flight
Tawau - Kota Kinabalu - Kuala Lumpur - London Heathrow: Daily

Flights to/from Tawau have less availability and are therefore generally more expensive than Kota Kinabalu with an internal flight, but far more convenient.

Sandakan - With Sepilok and Orang-Utan extension:
If flying with Malaysian Airlines, we can arrange an 'open jaw' itinerary where you fly into one airport and out of the other. Internal flights run frequently between Tawau and Sandakan.

Sandakan - Outbound:
London Heathrow - Kuala Lumpur - Kota Kinabalu - Sandakan: Daily. No through connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur without stop over.

Sandakan - Inbound:
Sandakan - Kuala Lumpur - London Heathrow: Mon / Weds / Fri / Sun only, otherwise your return is via Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore Airlines also offer flights from several days per week into KK, via Singapore. An internal flight to Tawau or Sandakan would be arranged on a separate ticket and an overnight may be required.

City stopovers can be arranged for Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Singapore.

To Mabul and Kapalai from Tawau
There are 2 or 3 transfers from Tawau to Semporna each day, resort dependant.
Tawau to Semporna port by land, approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.
From Semporna port, 45 minute fast boat ride.

Essentially, it takes the best part of 2 days to get to Mabul and Kapalai from leaving your door, and for this reason we do not recommend anything less than 9 nights stay. But don't let this journey put you off! It is interesting, with plenty to look at along the way. When you arrive, you really feel like have travelled somewhere to arrive in the middle of nowhere!

Passports & Visas

Passengers travelling to Borneo should have six months valid on their passport from the date of return to the UK.

UK citizens do not require a visa for stays in Malaysia under three months. Other nationalities must consult their consular office.

Vaccinations

Further information regarding vaccinations for travel to this country can be found at www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk and from your local healthcare provider. Vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed before departure. For the most up to date advice please consult your travel clinic. Some parts of Borneo are malarial. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on different prophylaxis available against malaria. There are no compulsory vaccinations for travel to, but we recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A and polio.

SMART Divers Resort

Feedback

"Hello Clare,

Happy to provide feedback that all aspects of our holiday at Smart Divers / Sipadan Mabul Resort, Malaysia, went well and was well organised. Collection from the airport, and the boat transfer went smoothly in both directions, and even the slightly worryingly minimal 1 hour at Kuala Lumpur to get from the international to the domestic terminal including having to go through the immigration desk went OK.

Whilst your website says 2-3 boat dives a day are included, leaving perhaps a small element of doubt as to the fullness of the diving programme available, we were pleased to find that the principle adopted was that 3 dives a day is the norm (always returning to shore between dives). When a Sipadan trip is available a 5:30am departure (wake-up call available if needed) is made, and 4 dives made returning to the Sipadan shore between each dive with breakfast, snacks, and lunch available there at the three surface intervals. The following day only two Mabul / Kapalai dives are made to return the average to 3 a day.

Diving was well organised with all crew and guides good. On the first day it was found when we were on the boat ready to go that a pressure gauge on one of our own regulators had failed. A replacement from the hire shop was quickly got for us and between dive 2 and 3 over lunch the repair shop swapped our gauge for one of their spare gauges on loan so that we could use our own reg for the remainder of the holiday. This was excellent service for which no charge was made.

You are of course correct to not raise hopes too much about availability of Sipadan permits, but you can be assured that the allocation seemed to be done fairly, and if there is scope for repeat visits staff appear to be sensibly receptive to requests from competent divers who can be seen to look after the reef and who appreciate the sea life around the island. We did see that even on a one-week stay some people were able to go twice - but perhaps not the more hands-on divers with limited experience. We went three times in 9 days diving which was much appreciated.

There is a good choice of food at the resort and it was nice that the dining area always has hot water on tap with tea, coffee etc available at all times of day plus a good supply of fresh cake in the afternoon, nicely timed to fit in with having showered and changed after returning from the third dive (or from Sipadan).

The diving is excellent with a rich variety of sea life. Sipadan itself certainly lives up to its reputation, and all of the local dives on Mabul and Kapalai are also good in their own right. All in all we would certainly recommend this to anyone, and will consider returning. Whilst we note that the resort has now expanded and added water bungalows on the other side of the island, the original part of the resort set in palm trees where we stayed was more preferable for us.

Regards

Chris H
"

Chris

10
Guest rating: 10/10 (1 vote)

SMART Divers Resort

Smart divers

"Smart divers

Mabul island is on the east coast of Borneo. It takes about 1.5 hours to walk around and has 2000 inhabitants, mostly fishermen and their families. Smart divers isn't the only dive outfit, there are at least three others.

Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur is 11 hours and then KL to Tawau another 2 hours 45.
From Tawau to port of Sempora is 1.5 hours by minibus and then 45 mins by speedboat to Mabul. All in all it will take the best part of 24 hours to get there.

Don't be put off by the weather forecast from the UK. It was appalling for us in early Feb 2013 and we wondered what we had done. It turned out to be sunshine all but for one day out of twelve.

The island is idyllic and if you can see past the less than perfect bathrooms of the chalets it's a fabulous setting. The water bungalows are a far higher standard but if you are here for the diving the chalets are fine. No tea and coffee making facilities in the room but we asked for a kettle and then got tea, coffee and milk from the restaurant. There is a fridge and TV in the room the BBC World on channel 512. No hair drier though. The sockets are UK three pin square.
You won't need any cash except for tips at the end of your stay. Tee shirts and shorts is all you will wear daytime and evening.
The dive centre is very well organised and the hardest thing you will do all week is pull your wet suit on, everything else is done for you. After one dive we knew how everything worked.
Dives around Mabul and Kapalai are two in the morning and one in the afternoon. You will return to the island after each dive, an hours break between the morning dives and 2.5 hours for lunch.
Diving Sipadan Island ( 15 minutes by speedboat) is awesome. The breaks between dives are similar but you spend them on Sipadan Island where the guys will prepare drinks and lunch for you. There are toilets, shade and showers on the island ( no toilet paper though ).
The visibility is less than we are used to in the Red Sea but the amount and variety of things to see means it's not an issue.
We were told that we could expect one trip to Sipadan and anything more would be a bonus. In the event, because the resort was relatively quiet, we dived Sipadan every other day ( 6 times in total). We may have been very fortunate that we were here during Chinese New Year ( 90% of the visitors are Chinese) so there were few divers. It's also a less popular time of year because of the weather. This might explain why we had more Sipadan dives than we expected.
In summary this has been the best diving so far with something new on virtually every dive. Suitable for experienced and novice divers alike. The accommodation and food is good although the Water Bungalows are better. Staff are friendly and helpful. Overall we were very impressed and would recommend it."

Paul Stevenson - Staffordshire | 20 February 2013

9
Guest rating: 9/10 (1 vote)

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Mabul, Borneo accommodation options

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Please email us any questions or booking enquiries...

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Questions or for help on choosing your trip call

01353 659 999

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Mabul, Borneo accommodation options

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Please email us any questions or booking enquiries...

Call us

send enquiries

Questions? For help on choosing your trip call:

01353 659 999

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Malaysia Facts

  • Area: 329, 758 sq. km
  • Population: 26,000,000
  • Language: Bahasa Maleyu, English widely spoken
  • Time: GMT + 8
  • Electricity: 220 / 240 v

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