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Sloggs' Travel Blog A journal of my travels in 2008 & beyond...

Snorkeling on Sipadan, and the rest of my week...

MALAYSIA | Thursday, 13 March 2008 | Views [7459] | Comments [9]

Myself and Andy on Sipadan after a day of snorkeling

Myself and Andy on Sipadan after a day of snorkeling

Saturday morning Andy and I met at the ferry point to go for a day of Snorkeling at one of the best dive sites in the world. Sipadan is one of a group of islands off of the south east coast of Sabah from the port town of Semporna. It had a sheer reef wall that drops some 800 meters, and the top half is covered in soft coral and a multitude of species of fish.

Before we got the boat ride out, two of the Swedish girls we'd met at Uncle Tans, who were going diving from the same boat, told us about the risk of kidnap from this island! (It happened a few years ago) I knew nothing of this, and my guide book didn't mention it. Apparently a boat of tourists were kidnapped at gun point whilst traveling out to the island and held to ransom and later killed! Great news, thanks for making the start to the day nice and edgy! I decided I wasn't going to let that worry me, and I'm sure the boat captain and crew wouldn't put themselves at risk knowingly on a regular basis...

The boat ride out was quite nice, and we went to an island halfway out where the dive shop had all its gear along with some accomodation for the people doing a dive course with them. We were greeted as we pulled in to moar by a live band playing and singing some traditional Malay songs. It was really nice! The drum kit was awesome, made entirely of buckets with steel plates with old flip flops attached as dampers... lol! It sounded great though.

After everyone got kitted up, and myself Andy and a random Italian old-boy called Alberto got issued our snorkeling gear, we were off to the island itself. We decided to drop off of the boat with the first dive for some snorkeling, and it turned out to be fantastic! We saw a large turtle immediately and followed it along the reef edge until we were met by more of them. They place is teeming with life, and there are lots of turtles here, mostly being followed by giant batfish. I'd bought a disposable underwater camera for the trip, and managed to get a couple of good pictures with it, although they usually disappoint, lol! I saw a huge Emperor Angle fish which I dived down to snap, and disappointingly after me effort this was the only snap that didn't bloody come out from the roll of film! Bah! We also saw 3 sharks, 2 plain grey and one white tip reef shark which was pretty lively swimming near us. Once we got picked up by the boat, the dive crew came aboard only to reveal that they only saw a few turtles compared to our 8 or 9 from the surface, and they saw zero sharks! Result... snorkelers 1 divers 0 ;-p

From the rear of the island we went around to the jetty and went onto the beach for lunch, which was the standard Malaysian fare of bland chicken and veg with rice (can't wait to get back to Thailand for some proper food!). We decided to snorkel from the beach for the 2nd session and if it was crap we could get back on the boat for the 3rd session with the divers. This 2nd session turned out to be quite amazing. The reef around the island is incredible, and the drop off of the wall is right off the jetty and spectacular! We swam up close with more turtles, there were so many it was actually getting boring to see turtles... "oh look, there goes another turtle... yawn" ;-)

Personally I think both the 2nd and 3rd sessions were better for snorkeling than diving, as the divers didn't spend any time over the shallow shelf, which is stunning with soft corals and all the colourful small fish you could ever wish to see, plus lots of angel fish, triggers galore and over the reef edge we could see all the big fish and sharks that the divers saw. The only thing we didn't get to see that they did, was barracuda. At one point a huge shoal of giant 'lumphead' fish went past us, followed by two large sharks which was a great site! Just before we finished and had to go and meet the boat, Andy and I saw a large turtle having a cleaning session just below us from the angel and bufferfly fish. We hung around above and as it moved off it came right past me, I instinctly put my hand out onto the shell on its back and swam along side it for a few minutes... it was in no rush and just looked round at me and kept on swimming... when I took my hand off it looked around again and then sunk down over the wall and disappeared! Shouldn't really touch them, but it was awesome. :)

The boat ride back was uneventful and the island holds no risk anymore as an army base is on the island now which is fully staffed all year round, ready to tackle any pirates! What a great gig those guys have, they have a home made pool table out the back of their quarters, with painted golf balls for the balls, and a volley ball court. They were basically sat around chilling in the sun listening to music... lol.

That evening I found the only bar in town that was showing the Rugby (Semporna is a small fishing port that is pretty dead at night!). I was supporting Ireland against Wales (just because :-)) which was disappointing, but not as disappointing as the dismall England performance!!!!! Bah! Still, I had a good night with a Welsh girl (who was almost unbareable of course ;)) and a couple of Scottish lads, and sunk a few beers...

Sunday morning Andy and I got a bus to Tawau from where we were going to try and go across country back to Kinabalu. This turned out to be tricky and expensive, as the concrete road that several tour places had told Andy was complete, was most certainly not! The only option was to wait for another passenger and to take an expensive 4x4 ride across... we ended up going for the long distance luxury bus which goes round the long way in 10 hours for about 7-8 quid.

Tawau was a funny little town, I don't think they see many foreign visitors as they all giggled and laughed at us when we spoke to them. We had a nice meal in a Malaysian restaurant which didn't have an English menu, so that was fun!

On Sunday we left early for Kinabalu. The bus was comfy enough, but it was a long old slog and knackered us both out. We had been recommended a nice guest house in KK, which we got to early evening and were made to feel very welcome straight away. After a shower and a quick meal and a few beers at a cafe across the road, we both crashed out for some much needed sleep.

Monday we chilled out to the max, and did some more planning for our next week or so. Neither of us could be bothered to do much and we literally laid around in the comfy guesthouse lounge and listened to music, read our guide books and discussed places to see! That night we had a pizza hut across the road, which was expensive by Malaysian food terms, but nice anyway!

On Tuesday we walked around the whole town of Kinabalu! We were walking for around 5 hours pretty much non-stop and took in all of the big malls and the little markets, plus the side streets which were full of hawker stalls and small open fronted shops selling all sorts of things. We also found an Indian restaurant that is recommended in the lonely planet guide book, and it was fantastic! Easily the best meal I've eaten in Borneo. We both had a chicken biryani, which was served on a massive banana leaf along with 4 seperate vegetable dishes and roti with dipping sauce. The gravy for the biryani was delicious and the meal was so satisfying! We will definitely be going back there before we leave!

The fish market was stunning! I couldn't believe the species they had there... hammerhead sharks, massive tuna, porcupine puffers, squid, jacks, and lots of different shrimps! They had lots of internal organs on display too, which people must use to make stock I guess! It didn't smell as bad as the guide book said either, I thought it was much nicer and more hygenic than the meat market next door which was a breeding ground for germs IMO!!

Wednesday and Thursday this week were filled with blog writing, photo uploading and sorting and planning my onward travels. I arranged to climb mount Kinabalu on saturday, with the final ascent on sunday morning for sunrise followed by the descent. I've booked all my flight for Asia now and fly to Kuala Lumper on Tuesday the 18th where I will spend two days checking out KL and maybe take a cave trip just north of the city. Then I'm at the Malaysian grand prix in Sepand (south of KL) for the weekend and fly to Krabi in Thailand on the 24th from where I will get the ferry to an island called Koh Lanta in the south west of Thailand. It looks very nice and is not one of the most used islands. I can relax there for a few days (and take a cookery course) before I fly to Bangkok on the 29th, two days before I fly to Sydney!

Its all go this traveling lark!!

Tags: beaches & sunshine, markets, on the road, onward planning, sightseeing, snorkeling, walking




the turtles must have thought 'blimey its sloggs he gets everywhere!'

  mum Mar 15, 2008 5:57 AM


Hi, i chanced upon your blog after googling "book snorkel sipadan". Your blog entry for the sipadan snorkelling is such a good read! it makes me want to pick up my bags right now & take the first flight available there.
May I know which company did u book the snorkelling trip with? Do u have to wait in Semporna for a while to get a chance to go Sipadan cause' i understand there are limited passes each day ?


  william Mar 22, 2008 2:49 PM


Will, I've sent you an email mate... :-)

  sl0ggs Mar 27, 2008 12:46 AM


hi, i realize ur trip was a year back, but i would very much appreciate if u can provide me some crucial details. i'm going there in 3 weeks time, and i'm not a diver. i heard that it is hard to book for snorkelling in sipadan, as the operator favor divers that snorkeller. from ur stories, seems like ur operator is reliable. let me thanks u in advance!


  wan noor mala Mar 16, 2009 8:19 AM


Hi Mala,

There are lots of dive schools in the town of Semporna, near the port and fish market. It's easy to find as the place is very small! I used a company who's name I forget now, but their office is right next to the entrance to the Dragon Inn, which is the big hotel on stilts over the water. They are happy to take snorkelers out on their boat... although it isn't cheap!

Good luck, hope you go as Sipidan is amazing!!
Sloggs :-)

  sl0ggs Mar 16, 2009 9:25 AM


Hi, my wife and I are off to Semporna in a few weeks though neither of us are divers so snorkelling is our only option. When you say "no cheap" what was the cost for a single snorkelling session? Ringitts/pounds ok.

Thanks, Reg

  Reg May 16, 2009 5:30 AM


Hi Reg, being almost a year ago I can't actually remember, so much has happened since then!

I've just checked my bank statements too, but I just withdrew cash and used that when in Malaysia... I recall it being about half the cost of diving, which is a lot obviously. Not too bad by western standards, and certainly worth the cash for the fantastic trip... its still the best snorkeling I've done anywhere in the world!

Sorry I can't help much more... have a great time!
Sloggs :)

  sl0ggs May 16, 2009 6:34 AM


Hi Sloggs,

So glad I read your blog, I have done a few dives but not licenced and just found out I can't dive without having Padi Open Water so have booked snorkelling trip with Uncle Chang staying 2 nights on Mabul Island with all meals, boat transfer and snorkelling In Sipadan one day and off Mabul Island the other (including Park fee for Sipadan) came to £130 - its only £170 to dive (6 dives - 3 at Sipadan and 3 Mabul) But after reading your blog I'm not so gutted as you obviously saw heaps and sounds like more than the divers, so thanks for cheering me up!. (do you remember where you stayed in Semporna?) :)

  Drens May 22, 2009 9:59 PM


hey, may i know which operator you engaged to do snorkeling in Sipadan? thanks!

  yy Aug 25, 2012 1:11 PM

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