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Semporna and Scuba Diving in Mabul

MALAYSIA | Tuesday, 15 June 2010 | Views [1144]

The bus journey from KK to Semporna turned out to be more eventful than I thought it would be; we were told that the trip would take around 10 hours so we decided to take the bus that leaves KK at 7:30 pm. The hostel reserved seats for us earlier in the day but when we got to the bus terminal, we were immediately accosted by touts who paid no heed to our cries of "I already have tickets, leave me alone!" 'Accosted' is not an exaggerated comment; the touts swarmed around us like killer bees shouting the name of their respective bus company (there are only two) and it was a contest to see who could yell the loudest, with extra points for screaming directly into my ear. Other touts lunged at us trying to grab our backpacks and carry them to a bus saying "You go Semporna? This way SIR!" In the midst of all this, Emma and I were trying to find the ticket counter, prevent our bags from being taken, and push away the over-zealous salesmen who were attempting to pull us in opposite directions. It was very irritating and stressful. Anyone else planning to get on a bus at Innanam bus station, take note that this will happen to you too. Now that you have been forewarned, another thing to take note is that you can probably bargain down the price of your bus ticket at the station by engaging the touts as they are so desperate to make a sale. The hostel told us that the price of the bus ticket with Dyanna Express was 75 RM, so that's what we paid but we met another backpacker in Semporna who paid 40 RM for hers. She was on the other bus though, so I'm not certain if there is any difference in bus quality.

The bus ride itself was like being on a roller coaster in the artic circle. It was uncomfortably cold, and I think my body's natural hypothermia-fighting instincts kicked in because everytime I started to sleep, I would have dreams of slowly freezing to death in a lake, which would immediately make me wake up. Adding to this, the bus driver seemed oblivious to the fact that he was driving a large vehicle full of other human beings all counting on him to get them to their destinations, alive. The majority of the roads had no illumination from streetlamps and were up and down mountains, but the driver went hurtling along, barely avoiding oncoming traffic in a bid to overtake slower trucks, going around turns at great speed, and braking at the last moment (especially, appropriately, when we were behind a truck carrying petrol) so the bus would slow down barely a nose away from the vehicle in front. A number of times, luggage in the overhead compartments would topple over into the middle aisle and scare us sleeping passengers witless. The man in the seat in front of me got hit square in the head by a box labeled "LCD TV" elicting a loud "aiyoh!" from him. Luckily, the box didn't actually contain an LCD TV but I'm sure it would have hurt nonetheless, and for that reason, I shouldn't falling over laughing about the incident, but I am.

We finally pulled into Semporna at 4 am, 1.5 hours ahead of schedule thanks to our suicidal driver, and made our way with another backpacker over to the Dragon's Inn where we planned to stay. However, we weren't able to check in until 6am so we spent the hours in between sitting around chatting at the restaurant of the hostel and watched the sun come up. It was very beautiful, and we were lucky to have witnessed it as the sun rises very early in Semporna. If you were waking up at 6 or 6:30 am to go scuba diving (as is normal), you would have already missed the sun rise.

The Dragon's Inn is impressive to look at as the hostel is built on stilts on the water, but we weren't very happy with our stay there.


We paid 60 RM for our room and the shower didn't work, but more offputting than that is the amount of rubbish floating around in the water. Empty bottles, plastic bags full of polystyrene containers, used paper cups, bits of string all in the same water that houses the fish, crab and prawns that are cooked in the restaurant. Also, every time you take a bath, the soapy water drains straight through the bathroom floor into the sea water below. It was disgusting, especially keeping in mind that we came all the way here to go scuba diving in a protected marine park. However, it's not just the Dragon's Inn; all the water around Semporna is filthy and for that reason, it is nicer to just stay at the accomodation in Mabul. We went scuba diving with Scuba Junkie and their resort in Mabul is very nice and about 30 or so RM more  (for a double room) than staying in Semporna.

We weren't able to dive in Sipadan - passes for Sipadan need to be pre-arranged and run out a month or more in advance - but the diving in Mabul was really great too. The Scuba Junkie instructors were excellent (we had Paul and Vlad on our boat) and we saw tiny nudibranchs, lobster, crabs, lionfish, stone fish, puffer fish, snappers and, my favourite, heaps of turtles (including one which was just enormous), all very unperturbed by us divers. It was an awesome day out, and made lugging around my dive gear completely worthwhile.  

Tags: awesome sunrise, dragons inn, freezing to death, i heart turtles, long bus rides, mabul, scuba diving, scuba junkie, semporna, suicidal bus drivers

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