SiPadan Island has been constantly being referred as one of the top dive sites in the world according to many scuba diving magazines. It is definitely my top dive site by far from my dive experience. This amazing SiPadan Island is located at the north-eastern corner of Borneo, Sabah - Malaysia.
Visibility: 10 - 30m
Dive Season: All year round! Perhaps better condition from April - Dec before the rainy season (Dec-Mar). Peak season generally during holidays such as Christmas, Chinese New Year, school holiday etc.
Water temperature: Approx 26 - 30 degree
To protect the environment, the government only issues 120 permits daily (Inclusive of divers and snorkelers) to the dive resorts. So if you are thinking of traveling to Si Padan Island, make sure you:
- Book with a reputable resort (better review of the dive guides/ more permits)
- Avoid visiting during peak season (Your chances will go up with less travelers)
- Extend your trip (The longer you stay, the more chances to get the permit)
Once you have the permit to SiPadan Island, you are required to register your name and nationality at the jetty. For those who go snorkeling, it would be a fantastic experience too. I snorkeled once with clear visibility of white/grey tips sharks, scorpion fish etc from the top while sea turtles was surfacing to take a breathe of the air next to me.
Based on the Government announcement on 10 Feb 2013, Only Advance Open Water Divers/ Open Water Divers with minimum of 20 log dives are allowed to dive in SiPadan Island.
Certain dive spots may have strong current such as Barracuda Poitns Dive Site when school of barracuda approaches the strong current (I had to hold on the rock and stay very low or I would get swept away) & Hanging Gardens Dive Site where drift diving is likely. I guess without more than 20 log dives or the Advance Divers Licence, novice divers will struggle at those sites.
How do you get there
Personally, I have tried three ways:
1. Book with dive agents from your countries
They will arrange air tickets, land transportation such as bus transfer & boats, accommodation, dive packages & rentals etc. In doing so, it is very convenient to let them handle all the nitty-gritty for your trip. Since the dive agent makes commissions from the dive resort, they sometimes even get a free trip going with you.
2. Book with local agents from Kota Kinabalu
There are many agents station in the city, Kota Kinabalu and you can book through them. Their websites provide necessary details, you can get them to book everything if you feel more comfortable to do so.
3. Book with the dive resort directly
Once you find your preferred resorts, email them directly to enquire for the dive package with accommodation and even half/full boards options. If you are uncomfortable with transferring money via credit cards or bank transfer, you can always check out their reviews from different websites such as tripadvisors for reference. I once booked through the resort, they arranged everything from the airport pick up, speed boat, accommodation stay, dive rental equipment and full board package. It was amazing and I totally enjoyed it.
Airport from your country --> Kota Kinabalu Airport
Kota Kinabalu --> Tawau Airport (Approx 50mins)
[Local land transfer]
Tawau Airport --> Semporna Jetty (Approx 1.5hrs)
[Local Speed boat]
Semporna Jetty --> Your resort
(depends on which resort you stay so could be 30 - 40mins to Mabul Island or Kapalai Island)
Woala! Bon Yoyage ~ Enjoy you stay!
Where to stay
There is no resort in SiPadan Island itself but Royal Malaysian Navy has an outpost on the island. Only day trips are allowed to visit SiPadan Island with permits but your resort may bring lunch for you and you can enjoy it in the island with limited facility.
You may consider accommodation nearby such as in Mabul Island, Kapalai Island or even in Semporna. There are many budget accommodation or water bangalow resorts but personally my preference is to stay closer to SiPadan Island just to shorten the boat ride daily, hence I stayed in Mabul and Kapalai Islands for these trips. In doing so, there are so many beautiful house reef/ dive sites to visit such as Kapalai house reef, Mabul house reef & Seaventure house reef.
Just to remind you that these accommodations are really for divers or those who want to snorkel, it is not a location for a white sand beach with all sort of water activities. So you may get disappointed if you are after places like Maldives, Bali or Phuket.
What can you expect from SiPadan Island Dive Sites
School of Barracuda/ jackfish, Bumphead Parrotfish (maybe 10 - 50 of them at times), Sea Turtles (Green Turtle & Hawksbill Turtle), White Tips Sharks, Grey Tips Sharks, Scorpion fish, a range of soft corals and hard corals variety.
If you are lucky, you can even spot Whalesharks, Hammerhead Sharks & Leopard Sharks.
Sharks and their breakkie
During one of my dive trips, we arrived very early the morning and - Early Bird Catches the Worms! We witnessed 10 - 20 white tips sharks circling around this site where it was full of corals and suddenly started attacking one specific area one after another. OH MY! They were forming a circle, feasting their meals one after another.
There were a few groups of divers when it happened, hence all divers seems to systematically form a larger circle above the sharks. It was all under our dive masters' instruction/ care so we were safe and excited to watch all these. For that crazy 5 - 10 minutes, we were all geared up to caputure the best moment of the action with all sort of gadgets for photos and videos. After the interesting sharks encounter, the whole dive trip was absolutely all about the sharks! We couldn't help but kept talking about it during lunch time on the island. Well, you have got to see it to know how it feels.
There are always concern of safety when one is considering this dive destination, Borneo where there were cases of kidnaps or pirates etc.
Since I love diving and am willing to take the chances to dive in this top dive sites in the world, I could only think of a way to minimize the chances. I chose to stay in resorts that with Marine Police Boat parking overnight. In doing so, the cost that I paid to stay in those resort really made me feel safe and slept soundly - it was worth it.
Well, the chances of car accidents are higher than marine incidents. Having said that, you can always give it a miss if you feel uncomfortable about it.
As for me, I will be back one day!
This indeed is one of my favourite sports!