Diving, snorkelling, beach, R & R
Mabul, about a mile off Borneo’s North-Eastern coast just below Semporna, is barely a mile long and home to 2,000 villagers, most of whom live by fishing the richly stocked seas nearby. It’s not just handy for fishermen, either; the coral reef which extends East and South of Mabul offers some of the richest diving you’ll find in the world today.
Your stay on Mabul would give you access to expert dive-masters with daily boat trips nearby and across to Sipadan, where you’ll find green and hawksbill turtles, white-tip and grey reef sharks, scalloped hammerheads, barracuda, bumphead parrotfish - just a few of the large pelagics that congregate there in vast numbers. Mabul itself is especially great for muck & macro, with an abundance of small exotics like frogfish, hairy squat lobsters, bobtail squids, pipefish, pygmy seahorses... the list goes on and on.
Dive round Mabul and pop back for a shower and a stretch in between, or make a day trip to Sipadan; whichever you choose, you can do the other one tomorrow. This ecosystem is guaranteed to shoot straight into your all time top five dives - dare we say to number one?
We favour two of Mabul’s resort options. The Mabul Sipadan Water Bungalows is a lovely little cluster of 15 stilted chalets, linked to the beach by a wooden walkway, while the Smart Diver Resort is nestled in a coconut grove looking out towards Sipadan. They’re both very much geared towards divers, though also certain to please any non-diver with a love of tropical beaches, the ocean, sea turtles and perhaps a little pampering in MSWB’s Ka’andaman spa..
Divers will be in heaven at the Smart resort; you just need to check the whiteboard each morning to see which dives are scheduled, and hop on your boat, with a few fellow divers and one of the resident dive-masters. Night-dives are possible too, and all your equipment is taken care of by the experienced staff, so you won’t need to lug heavy tanks around.
Each of the Smart resort’s 45 air-conditioned wooden chalets has an en-suite bathroom with cold and hot water (if you can bear to think about hot water when it’s 32 degrees C outside) and is sweetly decorated with polished woods and airy colours. Every Water Bungalow has its own expansive sundeck and huge French windows, which wash the rooms with natural light. The air-conditioned bungalows are tastefully decorated with white walls, pale bedding, wooden furniture and a few traditional textiles scattered around to remind you where you are, in case the gentle lapping sound beneath your chalet ever lets you forget.
Whilst not truly an island, more a sandbank-cum-man made playform, Kapalai undoubtedly deserves its place on our list. The Kapalai Sipadan Dive Resort is an astonishing resort of 42 stilted bungalows which sit on shallow sandbanks just off the coast of Semporna, near tiny Mabul island. Surrounded by some of the best diving in the world, Kapalai is only 15 minutes from famous Sipadan Island, while excellent snorkelling can be found by simply swimming from the resort.
It’s not all about diving, here - weddings are also catered for - but it is very much about the sea, with barely any land in sight and the utter peace of being out on the water. There is a mile-long sandbank, when you fancy a stroll or a little sunbathing, and the chalets have their own balconies and sundecks. Rooms are elegant & airy, each with its own private bathroom. You can rent diving gear from the resort’s dive centre, and there’s broadband if you’re itching to provoke envy amongst your friends by emailing them those dive photos. Non-divers who’d like to have a go will find PADI qualified instructors on site.