Sipadan Island, Pulau Sipadan, Sipadan Water Village, Kapalai, Mabul, Diving Reefs Sabah, Malaysia

 

Sipadan Island, Mabul, Kapalai are synonymous to fantastic diving experiences

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PuLaU SiPaDaN

Sipadan Diving Resorts

Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort (PULAU KAPALAI)

Sipadan Water Village Resort (PULAU MABUL)

Borneo Divers Mabul Dive Resort (PULAU MABUL)

More Information and Places of Interest in Sabah

Sipadan

 

For the true diving enthusiast, the island of Sipadan, located off the town of Semporna on the East Coast of Sabah, is a must and is considered to be one of the best diving areas in this part of the world. What makes this island special is that it is the only oceanic island (not connected to the continental shelf) in Malaysia rising 2,000 feet (600 meters) on a limestone pinnacle that 'mushrooms' out near the surface.

Pulau Sipadan is a totally new experience for many visitors. Not only are there fascinating coral structures but marine caves. Pulau Sipadan is reported to have the largest variety of soft corals in the world. Turtles swim and frolic freely in the waters around Sipadan and divers will find lobster, barracudas, beautiful coral fishes and sometimes even sharks swimming by.

Pulau Sipadan's waters are so clear that visibility is over a hundred feet. Coral formations 40-50 feet deep teeming with fishes can be clearly seen. Pulau Sipadan has excellent sandy beaches with a densely wooded central core. It is the perfect venue for hours of sunning and swimming. The evenings bring beautiful sunsets framed against a timeless horizon.

Pulau Sipadan is also a bird sanctuary and bird-watchers will be able to observe the many frigates, sea eagles, terns and sea-gulls that glide across the clear skies. Pulau Sipadan is also a stop-over point for the Nicobar pigeon which flies through from China during the colder months.

Dive Sites

Most are wall dives

Sipadan has 11 marked dive sites. All dives are wall dives. It is however possible to dive shallow at the southern and eastern part of Sipadan. Sipadan is small, very small, so most dive sites are so close that you enter at one site and exit at the next site... Following is a brief description of the sites.

Drop Off

Sipadan Dive Site - Drop OffThis is considered to be the best beach dive site in the world. Just 20 feet from the shore, the wall plunges a staggering 2,800ft down and is rated as one of the top 5 Beach Dives in the world. The wall is encrusted with different varieties of coral, turtles abound and a multitude of lion fish & smaller reef dwelling fish live on this wall. The entrance to TURTLE CAVERN is also found about 70ft down along this wall.

You are allowed to do all the beach dives you want, also all night dives are at the drop off. At night you will see the huge (1 to 2 meters) Bump Head Parrot Fish sleeping at the wall. It can be a bit crowded during the night though.

Turtle Cavern

Sipadan Dive Sites - Turtle CavernTurtle cavern is a complicated site with the entrance to the cavern located at about 18 meters. Sipadan is famous for its population of both Green Turtles and the smaller hawksbill Turtles and it was at one time speculated that the cavern was their mausoleum and that they came to this site to die. However, a more accurate representation, is that the turtles became lost in the caverns at night and drowned. Sipadan’s resort operators insist that all divers to this system of interconnecting caverns must be accompanied bya local dive master.

Inside the cavern you will see the skeletons of those previous entrants who failed to find the exit and perished. Deeper penetration of the system reveals the cavern as home to shoals of fish specifically adapted to the low light environment of the further reaches.

Barracuda Point Sipadan Dive Sites - Barracuda Point

Great dive site with lots of variation. As the name suggests, Barracuda Point is where a large concentration of Pelagic's converge. Expect to see large shoals of Barracuda, Jacks, Grey and White Tip Reef Sharks. The schools number in the high hundreds. Current is strong. It is a fast moving, high voltage dive site. There may be no guarantees in diving, but let’s just say there is every chance that you can find yourself in the middle of a swirling vortex of chevron barracuda on this, one of Sipadan’s most treasured sites. You may see both large and small stuff. Even a Leaf Fish, Nudi Branches, and the Clown Trigger Fish.

This dive normally starts quite deep 25+ and ends with a lot of time at 8 meters. Normally divers roll in to the top of the wall here at about 10 meters. There may be some current here but that means there is lots of food which bring tones of fish. Cruise along the wall dropping down as far as you wish here and keep an eye out for a herd of bump head parrotfish and turtles in every nook and cranny. Even without the barracudas this is a most colorful and entertaining dive but just when this thought flashes through your mind you may be engulfed in a tornado of barracudas – more than the eye can take in. A superb moment in an outstanding dive. It is little wonder that visitors leave with so many “Barracuda Point” entries in their log-books. You should have one too...

Coral Gardens

Sipadan Dive Sites - Coral GardenAlthough the temptation of the drop-off is always there, this site is a heaven for the underwater photographer. The health and diversity of the coral growth combined with the fact that almost every species to be seen in Sipadan’s waters is on view here. You can observe the turtle feed on the edges and encounter feather stars at every turn. If you are looking for an encounter with a wrasse then the Giant Wrasse will oblige. Triggerfish of the Clown and Titan variety are plentiful and may even allow you to take their photo without attack on their mind. Watching a Leopard Shark is like watching a Ferrari, it is very smooth and it certainly has the muscles compared to the White Tip Reef Shark. There was a Mantis Scrimp living in a hole of 2-3 cm. in diameter. Good luck!!!

Sipadan, it is often said, has everything that the Indo-pacific has to offer and for the macro photographer Coral garden will occupy many a pleasure filled hour.

White Tip Avenue
As with all the sites on Sipadan island, the name says it all. Expect to see huge Black & White Tip Reef Sharks, Grey Sharks, massive Green & Hawsbill Turtles as well as large shoals of Jack & Barracuda.

Turtle Patch
All the sites should be called something with "Turtle", but this site had a lot.  The Titan Trigger Fish were there too.
Many reef sharks also frequent this site. It is rather barren in comparison to some of the other sites, but trigger fish and other reef fish dwell on the upper coral reef, making it a well rounded site. Sipadan is the only place where you can encounter the Clown Trigger Fish at only 5 meters.

South PointSipadan Dive Sites - South Point

This is a good place to get a bit deeper in the morning as long as you don’t mind a thin layer of narcosis-on-toast for breakfast. There is usually a very strong current present at this site. Dives here can take you through up to three marked sites. Very large shoals of pelagic feed here (Barracuda, Jacks, Sharks and Turtles). On the upper reef, a multitude of smaller reef fish abound. Coral is bursting with color, many huge Anemone and Clown Fish at this site.

One of the most likely sites for the more rare sharks such as Hammerheads and Threshers, both of which tend to stay at depths here of 40m+. On this dive you will descend down to a ledge and then fin out gently into the blue scanning for a glimpse of action. If you are lucky enough to encounter Hammerheads or Threshers you will be the toast of the resort and the object of envy. The wonder of Sipadan is that visitors get used to countless Turtles, White-tips, Bump-headed Parrotfish and massive schools of other fish that the crossbar is always raised and South Point is often the site for the crowning glory.

Stafhorn Crest
Very close to the dive site LOBSTER LAIRS. It is excellent for filming. The Jacks are quite friendly...

Lobster Lairs
Excellent for shallow dives and good for afternoon dives due to the position of the sun.  

Hanging Gardens
This site was not all that exciting unless you like small holes to look in.
The wall is covered in a multitude of soft coral. Hawksbill & Green Turtles live on the ledges at this site and the current is usually quite calm. A great spot for photography as colorful corals hang from the interesting cracks and crevices along the wall.

West Ridge
Great place for afternoon dives and also for filming at the shallow area.

North Point
Go to WEST RIDGE and dive around NORTH POINT and get out of the water at the DROP OFF. This dive site is only worth going to at noon due to the position of the sun.

How to Get There

Most international flights arrive in Kota Kinabalu. Visitors to Borneo who are on their way to dive at Sipadan spend their first night in one of Kota Kinabalu's fine hotels and fly to Tawau early the following morning.

Some guests opt to fly to Tawau on their arrival day and overnight there before going on to Sipadan. From Tawau Borneo Divers transports you byroad to the seaside town of Semporna where the ferry boat departs for Sipadan each morning.

The flight from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau takes about 40 minutes. The ride from Tawau to Semporna takes a little over an hour. The boat ride to Sipadan from Semporna takes about an hour, depending on weather conditions.

Departure Trip Proposed Flight Boat Schedule

From your country, take a flight to Kota Kinabalu and transit 1 night in Kota Kinabalu before flying to Tawau the next day

MH2121 BKI/TWU

ETD0610hrs/ETA0655hrs

SEMPORNA/SIPADAN

ETD between 0830-0900hrs

ETA between 0930-1000hrs

From your country, take a flight to Kota Kinabalu and connect flight to Tawau same day

MH2137 BKI/TWU

ETD1330hrs/ETA1415hrs

SEMPORNA/SIPADAN

ETD1600hrs/ETA1700hrs

Returning Trip Proposed Flight Boat Schedule

From Tawau, take a flight to Kota Kinabalu and connect flight home

MH2663 TWU/BKI

ETD1740hrs/ETA1820hrs

SIPADAN/SEMPORNA

ETD1330hrs/ETA1430hrs

MH2126 TWU/BKI

ETD1050hrs/ETA1130hrs

SIPADAN/SEMPORNA

ETD1630hrs/ETA0730hrs

MH2132 TWU/BKI

ETD1235hrs/ETA1315hrs

SIPADAN/SEMPORNA

ETD0630hrs/ETA0730hrs

The internationally famous island of Sipadan lies five degrees north of the equator in the Sulawesi Sea (Celebes Sea). Lying 35km south of Semporna, on Sabah's mainland, like many tropical islands it is thickly forested and surrounded bysandy beaches. Sipadan is an oceanic island and was formed byliving corals growing on top of an extinct undersea volcano, which rises 600m from the seabed.

The geographic position of Sipadan puts it in the centre of the richest marine habitat in the world, the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin. More than 3000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this richest of ecosystems. Sipadan is well known for its unusually large numbers of green and hawksbill turtles which gather there to mate and nest and it is not unusual for a diver to see more then 70 turtles on each dive. Another unique feature to divers visiting Sipadan is the turtle tomb, an underwater limestone cave with a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers that contain many skeletal remains of tribes that became disoriented and then drowned.

The residential schooling barracuda and big- eye trevally are one of the highlights on every divers wish-list which often gather in thousands forming spectacular tornado-like formations. With the possibility of seeing pelagics such as mantas, eagle rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks, each dive at Sipadan is a highly anticipated event. Its not only the frogfish that amaze divers coming to Sipadan, the macro life is equally mesmerizing. Garden eels, leaf scorpionfish. mantis shrimps, fire graces and various pipefish are guaranteed at various dive sites. The diversity and abundance of marine life found at Sipadan gives it its reputation of being one of the ten best dive locations in the world. Presently, the island is in the care of Wildlife Department, which has stationed several park rangers to oversee the state of nature of the island. To protect the world unique flora & fauna on the island as well as the underwater world the Malaysian Government has decided that from 2005 no more overnight facilities shall be on Sipadan itself. This means that all dive operators on Sipadan have to move; diving Sipadan will be conducted from other destinations, such as Mabul and Kapalai. It is likely that Sipadan will be designated a marine reserve under Sabah Parks, and there are plans for a World Heritage Site listing.
 

Between Sipadan and Mabul Island lies a sand bar known many years ago as Kapalai Island Unfortunately, erosion has taken its toll and now the sand bar sits on top of the reef known as the Liman Reefs, a very extensive stretch bordering the deep and vast Celebes Sea. Sipadan-Kapalai Resort is actually a water village style resort built above the water. All structures are erected on water and guests are able to observe the antics of squids and needlefish from their chalet balcony.

The underwater scene together with nearby Mabul offers some of the best "muck-diving" in the world. Rare subjects such as flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, sea moths, and mating mandarinfish are seen on a regular basis. Giant frogfish sly ribbon eels, harlequin ghost pipefish and crab-eye gobies are seen on many of the dive sites.


The jetty dive itself has plenty to offer including leaf scorpionfish, pink-eye gables, ambonian shrimps and the comical antics of the mantis shrimp. Other frequently seen creatures such as the crocodilefish, lionfish and scorpionfish are almost ignored as being too common!

 

Mabul Island first became popular due to its close proximity to Sipadan Island. However, in the last few years it has gained its own recognition as one of the best "muck-diving" sites in the world. 

 

Mabul Island is a small oval shaped island surrounded bysandy beaches and perched on the northwest corner of a larger 200-hectare reef. The reef is on the edge of the continental shelf and the seabed surrounding the reef slopes out to 25m-30m deep. 

 

There are two resorts on Mabul Island, Sipadan Water Village and Sipadan-Mabul Resort and one resort on a nearby refurbished oil rig called Sea Ventures Dive Resort. 

 

Mabul is arguably one of the richest single destinations for exotic small marine life anywhere in the world. Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, mimic octopus and bobtail squids are just a few of the numerous types of cephalapods to be found on Mabul's reef. The sight of harlequin shrimp feeding on sea stars and boxer crabs waving their tiny anemone porn-pours are lust a small example of the endless species of crustaceans. Many types of bodies can be found including the spike fin goby, black sail-fin goby and metallic shrimp gory. Frogfish are everywhere giant, painted and clown frogfish are all regularly seen Moray eels and snake eels of many types can be seen along with almost the whale scorpionfish family. 

 

It would be quicker to list the species not found at Mabul - crazy critters are in abundance at this magical macro site!

 

Beginning life some 450-500 million years ago, the Earth's coral reefs are now the largest ecosystems on the planet. They sustain and support over 1 million species worldwide and one coral reef alone may harbour some 3000 species. The major Indo-Pacific ocean currents cross the seas that surround Sabah's sandy shores, making them amongst the most biodiverse marine environments in the world.

Within a single dive in Sipadan, divers may observe many of the 150 species of butterflyfish. Used bymarine biologists as indicators of coral reef health, a great number and species diversity of butterflyfish reflects the abundance and diversity of corals. Pristine coral reefs not only play landlord to countless butterfly fish but also other reef dwellers such as angelfish, snappers, wrasse, sweet lips, parrotfish as well as the larger pelagics, barracudas, mantas, schools of hammerhead sharks, dolphins and whales.

Pulau Sipadan is famous for its vast numbers of Green and Hawksbill turtles which feed and breed within its waters before the females climb ashore to lay their eggs in the white sandy beaches.

Diving near the coral reefs surprises with incredible phenomena such as thousands of schooling chevron barracuda and big-eye trevally or 'Jacks'. Floating inside such a tornado of fish is a truly breath-taking experience that is very hard to beat.

Sabah is also becoming a world famous location for 'muck diving' - the term used bydivers to describe the search for rare and exotic small marine animals. Many rare and newly identified gobies can be found living in the corals, sand, mud and mangroves of Sabah, along with the little understood and rarely seen mimic octopus, neon patterned blue-ringed octopus, delicate flamboyant cuttlefish, psychedelic mandarin fish and ghost pipefish.

Dive guides are specifically trained to find such rarities and can show divers several of these oddities on a single dive. Many new islands and reefs are being explored around the coast of Sabah and with this exploration comes the discovery of new dive sites and rarely seen marine creatures.
 

Sipadan Island - Conservation

 

Sabah and its surrounding waters have been recognised as a marine turtle sanctuary since the opening of the Turtle Island Parks on its east coast. Managed bySabah Parks, the beaches within the park welcome nesting green and hawksbill turtles every night all year round. Similarly, the Wildlife Department monitors and protects nesting green and hawksbill turtles that visit Pulau Sipadan's shores. Go nearby Pulau Mabul, the Fisheries Department, in conjunction with Sipadan Mabul Resort, have sunk hundreds of concrete pipes to form small artificial patch reefs surrounding a small wooden shipwreck A fish poaching vessel was also sunk off the island of Pullen Lankayan and already hosts a myriad of creatures from the smallest ghost pipefish to the giant stingrays and schooling barracuda.

Sipadan Water Village on Pulau Mabul. is also actively engaged in coral reef research Dive masters and instructors are encouraged to study bath the fish and coral life in detail in collaboration with a Japanese Natural History Museum. Each year, in June, the dive centre's management and outside guest speakers run a specialized Marine Day and provide hands on lectures to guests sharing their studies' and encourage them to take part in their coral relocation and growth studies so that divers may learn more about the coral reef environment.

Gayana Island Eco Resort located on Polar Gaya has a Giant Clam Rehabilitation Centre and also runs a "Reef Project". Here they have a coral growth nursery and conduct clam induced spawning. Giant clams are one of the many marine species that have become endangered around Sabah in recent years. Universiti Malaysia Sabah (DMS) runs an extensive marine research program especially into alternative mariculture programmes designed to reduce fishing intensity and illegal fishing methods from Sabah's coral reefs. Giant clams, groupers and Napoleon wrasse are some of the subjects grown and bred in specialised farms They also run a whale shark research programme, each year when the whale sharks pass through the waters close to Kota Kinabalu they attempt to tag the sharks to document their migration routes. Each year PADI Project Aware Beach and Reef cleaning events are run to heighten public awareness in the importance of a clean marine environment. This has become a popular event with all the Dive Resorts and local people participating.

 

Ever since diving celebrity Jacques Cousteau raved about the diversity of marine life, this dive mecca has been indisputably the most famous scuba destination in Malaysia. It is located off the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia's eastern most state, and lies on the north-eastern corner of Borneo, the world's third largest island.

The Sipadan diving legend has passed through the world's dive community to the extent that all divers with an interest in visiting the best sites in the world, have this small island near the top of their wish list.

Pulau Sipadan Island was at the top of Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine Gold List for 'The Top Dive Destination in the World'. In fact the island shared its top spot with two other destinations known for the amazing diversity of their marine life - the Galapagos Islands and Truk in Micronesia

The list of attractions is quite staggering and all the more exceptional as it involves big fish encounters, something very rare in Asia these days - at Barracuda Point you can find yourself surrounded bya spiralling vortex of barracuda, so large that the sunlight is often clouded out. At South Point there are scores of reef sharks, large schools of passing trevally and herds of massive marauding bumphead parrotfish. When diving in Sipadan everywhere you turn you'll see turtles, munching on the sponges and algae, or lazing on the wall ledges. If you take the time to look closely at the walls you'll see a wealth of macro life and fish species to rival most destinations, although this is often overlooked due to the other major attractions vying for your attention

Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is blessed with an abundance of both marine and terrestrial riches.  With rainforests, river deltas and coral reefs, to mountains, tropical islands and limestone cave systems, Malaysian Borneo is a truly inspiring place to visit for spectacular wilderness and wildlife that is both above and below the water.  The island can lay claim to having the highest diversity of trees in a single hectare, the greatest known concentration of orchids anywhere in the world on the highest mountain in south-east Asia, and many rare and endemic species of flora and fauna.

The intensity and diversity of habitats and wildlife in Borneo is astounding. Orang utans are of course one of the island's most famous highlights and on your journeys with us you can witness one of the world's most famous wildlife rehabilitation and conservation programmes. Sea turtles are abundant in this part of the world and as well as seeing these below the water we can take you to see them laying eggs at an island sea turtle sanctuary.

Of Borneo's rainforests, one of the richest and most unique areas is the delta where the majestic Kinabatangan River meets the sea.  The river and its surrounding forest wetlands are incredibly diverse and one of only two places on Earth where 10 or more primate species can be found living side byside.  This area comprises the largest tract of mangrove in Malaysia and is home to the Proboscis Monkey which is endemic to Borneo.

Within the interior of Borneo, the Danum Valley is an area we like to explore, comprising 438 sq km of undisturbed lowland rainforest and one of the most important conservation areas in southeast Asia.  Over 275 species of bird have been recorded here and the area is also rich in mammals including leopard cats, orang utans, gibbons, elephants, Sumatran rhinos and the elusive clouded leopard.

Limestone pinnacles and caves are a spectacular feature of many of Borneo's landscapes.  Another feature of our explorations in Borneo is Mount Kinabalu - the highest mountain in southeast Asia and Malaysia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Its forests contain an outstanding array of flora and fauna with the world's greatest known concentration of wild orchids (more than 1,200 species).  For those with the energy to climb, the view from the peak at sunrise reveals forested hills, rivers, estuaries and coastline more than 4000 metres below.

Beneath the waves, whether byscuba or bysnorkelling, there is a tremendous range of world-class sites around northern Borneo including the prolific corals and pelagic life of Pulau Sipadan and the Layang Layang atoll.  In contrast, the islands of Mabul and Kapalai are havens for their diversity of tiny marine life such as frogfish which literally walk their way through the water.  Pulau Lankayan, on Sabah's northeast coast, offers coral reefs with a huge variety of inhabitants and fortunate divers may be mesmerised bythe occasional whale shark and dugong.  

Whilst Borneo's emerald waters reveal treasures to satisfy the most avid of divers, we always recommend that you include an element of land-based exploration to absorb one of the world's richest and most complex terrestrial ecosystems.  In this way, we can provide some of the best combined diving and safari experiences imaginable.

 

The internationally famous island of Sipadan lies five degrees north of the equator in the Sulawesi Sea (Celebes Sea). Lying 35km south of Semporna, on Sabah's mainland, like many tropical islands it is thickly forested and surrounded bysandy beaches. Sipadan is an oceanic island and was formed byliving corals growing on top of an extinct undersea volcano, which rises 600m from the seabed.

The geographic position of Sipadan puts it in the centre of the richest marine habitat in the world, the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin. More than 3000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this richest of ecosystems. Sipadan is well known for its unusually large numbers of green and hawksbill turtles which gather there to mate and nest and it is not unusual for a diver to see more then 20 turtles on each dive. Another unique feature to divers visiting Sipadan is the turtle tomb, an underwater limestone cave with a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers that contain many skeletal remains of turtles that became disoriented and then drowned.

The residential schooling barracuda and big-eye trevally, which often gather in thousands forming spectacular tornado-like formations, are one of the highlights on every diver's wish-list. With the possibility of seeing pelagic species such as mantas, eagle rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks, each dive at Sipadan is a highly anticipated event.

It is not only the big fish that amaze divers coming to Sipadan, the macro life is equally mesmerizing. Garden eels, leaf scorpion fish, mantis shrimps, fire gobies and various pipefish are guaranteed at various dive sites. The diversity and abundance of marine life found at Sipadan gives it its reputation of being one of the ten best dive locations in the world.

The Government of Malaysia has decided that all existing onsite dive resort operators are to move their operations out of Sipadan Island by31st December 2004. The move is mainly to conserve and maintain a balanced marine and land eco-systems on Sipadan and its environs. Diving will continue in Sipadan for divers to be ferried in byoperators operating from the mainland or nearby islands other than the islands of Sipadan and Ligitan.

 

Getting There - For service, price, and effective scheduling when traveling to Asia and the Pacific Rim, Malaysia Airlines is hard to beat. Repeatedly ranking among the top international airlines, their equipment and in-flight service are excellent. If your initial destination is Sipadan Island, the best routing is to fly non-stop from Los Angeles to Taipei, with a change of planes for Kota Kinabalu, the capitol of the Malaysian state of Sabah. From "KK," catch a 45 minute connecting flight directly to the small coastal town of Tawau. From there you can continue on bycar to Semporna, the jumping off point for Sipadan, or spend your first overnight at Tawau. Other options include connections from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and various other gateways.

Options in Tawau - Rather than the exotic Dragon Inn, built on stilts over the water in Semporna, on this trip we elected to stay at the 5-star Marco Polo Hotel in Tawau. This commodious hotel costs a bit more than the more rustic Dragon Inn, but it's a far superior lodging, and breaks up the long journey from home at a more opportune time. Tawau offers an interesting night market just outside the hotel, and some good seafood food stall diving down along the waterfront. The next morning you should arise somewhat refreshed from the rigors of the flight, and better able to enjoy the two hour, scenic drive from Tawau to Semporna that precedes your boat ride to beautiful Sipadan Island. Of course the Dragon Inn at Semporna offers its own distinct charm, albeit a much simpler style of lodging. A benefit of overnighting at the Dragon Inn is the opportunity to walk through Semporna's floating market the next morning, before setting sail to Sipadan. Semporna's rustic market offers great photo opportunities and a face to face look at the simple life of in a small Asian coastal town, complete with the ubiquitous "sea gypsies."

Monsopiad and the House of Skulls - Another option might be to overnight in Kota Kinabalu, where Ron Holland, the discoverer and original developer of the diving at Sipadan Island, has a new business venture afoot. Ron is married to Ema Bajarian, a Kadazan princess who's mother is priestess of a former headhunting tribe (non-active they say...but we're sure that Ron is careful to treat his wife exceedingly well none the less). With the assistance of the tribe's elders, Ron and Emma have developed a tribal village tour where visitors can learn more about the Kadazan culture, history, music and dance. Named after a famous warrior and headhunter of antiquity, who is said to have taken forty heads, the site is called Monsopiad and the House of Skulls. If you are overnighting in Kota Kinabalu during some portion of your stay, this site offers an interesting and educational afternoon's diversion.

More Sipadan Resorts - The island of Sipadan is tiny - you can walk around if in just twenty minutes - but at this writing Sipadan is home to five different dive resorts, plus two more on neighboring Mabul Island. There is even a floating jack-up rig recently anchored near Mabul that will supposedly also be turned into a dive resort. At least two of the resorts on Sipadan are operating illegally - but apparently "money talks." Some of these resorts cater predominantly to Japanese tourists. Another is operated byChinese. There is some pricing differential - but you will learn that you do "get what you pay for." As a result, you will have to chose which resort is right for you. For many reasons, I have selected Borneo Divers Sipadan Diving Lodge as my resort of choice. Borneo Divers are clearly the most advanced, experienced, and best organized operators on Sipadan. They have the best resources, and the most complete physical plant - ie. refrigeration, kitchen facilities, showers, toilets, generators, compressors, water desalinization system, etc. Borneo Divers also have the only decompression chamber in the region, and most importantly, appear to be the most ecologically conscientious. The real question is - how many resorts, and people, can Sipadan's tiny ecosystem support, before the effects of humanity begin to take their toll?

Borneo Divers' Sipadan Diving Lodge - The Borneo Divers (Ron Holland, Samson Shak, Randy Davis, Clement Lee) literally discovered the diving at Sipadan Island, and over the years have developed it from overnight camping trips to a full service, fifty guest dive resort; celebrating the tenth anniversary of Sipadan Diving Lodge in 1994. The cabins at Sipadan are referred to as chalets, but perhaps are best described as "grass shacks on the beach." They are much improved from the camping days, but still relatively Spartan in design and accouterments. Remember back to summer camp, or perhaps your college dorm room, and you'll get the general idea. The small, thatch roofed rooms have 220 v. electricity, florescent lighting, and a big ceiling fan, but most still have no toilet or running water. The beds are narrow, and while I had no trouble sleeping after a day of four or five dives, loving couples will surely pine for double beds. (Fear not however, love will find a way!) Beyond that, there are one or two small cabinets, and a bed side table. With so little provision to stow your clothing, it's almost easier to work out of your suitcase, though my previous complaints regarding a lack of hooks on the walls and more clothes hangers do seem to have been acted upon. In 1996, Borneo Divers has been building all new two-story chalets, which do include a complete bathroom in the unit. Some of these should be operable bythe time you read this report, so feel free to contact me personally for an update.

New Bath House - A great improvement at Sipadan Diving Lodge is the new bath house. Constructed in 1994, behind the main row of cabins, it is spacious, well lighted, and tiled throughout. The solar heated showers, flush toilets, and wash rooms are kept immaculately clean. I used to be obliged to point out that "solar-heated" often translates to "cold shower." However, on this trip thee was always hot water available, even after the night dive. Still, once the diving's done you'll appreciate a soak in a hot bath all the more, and the unabashed luxury of the Sandakan Renaissance or Kuala Lumpur Hilton, once you've returned to "civilization."

What to Bring - In point of fact, you'll need very little in the way of clothing at Sipadan, so pack lots of cameras, film, and dive gear, and just a few pairs of shorts and t-shirts, plus one light, long sleeved shirt or jacket. Comfortable footgear is important if you plan on doing some touring after Sipadan. I suggest a sturdy pair of walking or running shoes (wear these on the plane), and a good pair of "Tiva-style," waterproof sandals. But at Sipadan, remove your shoes on arrival and stow 'em, everyone goes about barefoot. The dive shop provides ample storage for your gear, and a 110 v. charging station for your strobes. It's preferable to bring your basic dive gear, but don't feel obliged to haul a bunch of back-up equipment, as Borneo Divers keeps a good supply of well-maintained rental gear on hand. Water temperature generally ranges from 80-84 degrees Fahrenheit, but if you intend to maximize your bottom time, I suggest that you do bring a light weight, full wet suit, or a good dive skin. A dive computer will certainly add to your dive time and safety.

The Basic Program - Borneo Divers' program includes air transfer forward from Kota Kinabalu, land transfer from Tawau to Semporna, and boat transfer from Semporna to Sipadan. Airport taxes, the cost of the hotel overnight in Tawau or Semporna, and meals in transit are not included. Once at Sipadan, the basic package includes lodging, tax, three daily meals, three boat dives per day, and unlimited beach tanks, with the dive shop open for business from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Coffee, tea, and juice are available all the time and are free. Canned soft drinks, beer, and alcoholic beverages from the well-stocked bar are additional. Based on twin share, Borneo Divers' 1996 basic package prices at USD $1455 per person, per week. For additional nights, add $130 per person, per night, which includes lodging, meals, and diving. (For durations less than seven nights, subtract $130 per night from the $1455 weekly rate.) To my mind, the best duration is 7-10 nights. For an additional $375 you can ride in high-style, with round-trip helicopter transfer from Tawau to Sipadan, though this service has recently been unavailable. When you are ready to travel, I can confirm that for you if you are interested in arriving Donald Trump-style.

Dining for Divers - While the lodging at Sipadan hasn't changed much, the dining at Sipadan Diving Lodge has really improved over the last few years. A large, new kitchen has been constructed, with commercial grade gas stoves and ample refrigeration. There are two full-time chefs, one Chinese, one Malay, and a team of Filipino assistants to help with preparation and serving. Repeat guests and Sipadan aficionados will be intrigued to learn that Rambo is now the restaurant's maitre' d. All meals are served buffet style and no one will go hungry. Breakfast included pancakes or french toast, eggs over easy, sausage, and toast. There's usually also an oriental noodle breakfast. Lunch and dinner always included salad bar, rice, noodles, a variety of excellent stir fried vegetables, and often french fries, plus a choice of two entree's such as chicken, pork, shrimp, and fish cooked in a number of delicious fashions. In addition there was often also excellent tuna sashimi and/or ceviche in copious supply. At least once a week, the resort hosts an outdoor barbeque including sate (the Malaysian specialty of beef or chicken tidbits cooked on skewers over an open fire) served with peanut sauce. Rather than baked goods, dessert is a selection of delicious fresh fruits. Throughout the day there are biscuits, crackers, toast, peanut butter & jelly, coffee, tea, and juice, plus afternoon snacks. On this most recent visit, my group continually pronounced the meals to be excellent.

The Bottom Line is Bottom Time - How can I describe the diving at Sipadan? I could tell you that after more than 1,850 open water dives logged at the world's most renowned dive spots, Sipadan is still the best I've ever seen. I could say that this is my seventh time here and I still get excited about every dive. I could remind you that "In Depth Magazine," the consumer reports for divers, named Sipadan "The World's Best Beach Dive." Or I could just say it was GREAT!!!, with lots of exclamation marks, but I'm afraid that you would think its just hyperbole. So with the help of my dive buddies, I've tried to record for you all the marine life we saw in just our first day of diving on a recent trip to Sipadan. On our first day we sited and swam with:

Ten or twenty white tip and black tip sharks, at least fifty giant sea turtles (both green and hawks bill), some very big jack cravalle feeding on swirling schools of terrified chromis, schooling bar jacks, giant bump head parrot fish (balbometopon muricatum), exotic unicorn fish, a broad variety of beautiful anemones and clown fishes, at least three different kinds of lion fish, harlequin trigger fish, a big titan trigger fish building its nest, colorful crinoids, starfish, a swirling school of 500+ barracuda spiraling in the sunlight, squirrel fish, big eye, puffers, leaf fish, quartets of balletic Moorish idols, gorgonians, sponges, sea squirts, a broad variety of hard and soft corals, rainbowed fusiliers, goat fish, bat fish, banner fish, tridachna clam, silver pompano, lobster, parrot fish busily crunching coral, various species of grouper, damsel, and surgeon fish, Bennie the blenny, a racing-striped corvette nudibranch, hawk fish, pairs of fire goby, sweet lips, maguro sashimi on the hoof (big pelagic tuna), octopus, moray eel, a range of beautiful angelfish, many pairs of butterfly fish, a commensural relationship between a spotted shrimp goby standing sentry and a blind yellow shrimp busily maintaining their shared burrow, and "at least two million three hundred thousand"* golden, turquoise, and fuchsia fairy basslets flashing above the finger corals. *This unaudited accounting courtesy of a member of our group, a CPA byprofession.

During our surface intervals, we saw a large flight of Imperial pigeons, swallows, a kingfisher, herons, tiny yellow finches, and soaring sea eagles. Terrestrial curiosities included baby turtle hatchlings scrambling into the sea, a giant coconut crab climbing up the tree just outside the dining hall, a monitor lizard sunning on the side of the dive shack, and from the end of the pier, a manta ray leaping completely clear of the water. Right now, as we await dinner, my buddies are down the beach with a flashlight watching a flight of fruit bats feed on the nectar of flowers blooming in a tall tree above their little own grass shack on the beach.

Yes...that's what I, and the eight divers on my boat, had seen bythe end of our first day and just the first three boat dives of our trip. The three buddies that accompanied me on our first beach night dive also came face to face with sonambulent turtles, seriously big bumphead parrot fish, and opportunistic lion fish feeding on the small fishes blinded byour dive lights. Best of all, once I convinced my buddies to turn off their dive lights, we were surrounded bysparkling schools of flashlight fish lighting up the reef in an ethereal, nocturnal dance that defies description. That's why I love Sipadan...and why it's worth the grueling trip and the Spartan accommodations. The diving is just plain wonderful...the ambiance is totally laid back and relaxed...and who knows what surprises and diving delights tomorrow may bring?

Adding Mabul to the Picture - The island of Mabul is a 25 minute boat ride from Sipadan. Closer to shore, it houses a military base, a large sea gypsy village, and two dive resorts, Sipadan Mabul Resort, and Sipadan Water Village. Borneo Divers is now including in its normal program, two-tank trips to Mabul. The underwater environment is quite different from that of Sipadan, in great part due to the years of fish bombing to which the reefs of Mabul have been subjected. It's not wall diving, and you won't see any schools of fish, turtles, sharks, or other pelagics. You will see an intriguing array of the reefs more unusual creatures - cuttlefish, mandarin fish, eels, juvenile batfish, nudibranchs, frog fish, pipe fish, razor fish, etc. As a result, Mabul is a favorite of macro photographers. If you are interested, just let your divemasters know and they will be glad to include Mabul in your Sipadan diving itinerary.

Sipadan Squirrels - Some years ago coconut rats scrambled off a supply boat onto Sipadan Island and established themselves as part of the environment. Cats and traps have been employed to reduce their number, but they were best controlled when in a stroke of publicity leger-de-main, the rats were renamed Sipadan squirrels. My advice to guests in this regard is that you keep absolutely no food in your cabin. This includes candy, granola bars, vitamin supplements, etc. If you've brought food items, just keep them in the fridge behind the bar in the dining room and you can get into them whenever you like...but the squirrels can not...and they won't be attracted to your room in search of free eats. Fortunately, it seems that eradication efforts have been successful. On my most recent trips (1995, 1996, and 1997) I did not see squirrel one, though we have been awakened in the early morning hours bythe passionate howling of a pair of cats, obviously taking a break from their patrol duties for a more amorous pursuit.

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