I may have peaked too soon.
My first dive in Borneo was my 7th dive ever.
My first dive at Sipadan? 14th dive ever.
So began in earnest my love of life under the waves.
I decided to go to Borneo more because it seemed like a close, exotic, place to start an independent adventure following a weekend in Kuala Lumpur with girlfriends, than any search for great dives. A friend of mine had previously worked at Uncle Changs on Mabul, so Uncle Changs is where I went.
And what a decision.
The waters of the Semporna Archipelago are so interesting, diverse and full of life that the length of my stay easily extended beyond my original intention.
Between the muck diving of Siamil and the AMAZING pelagic creatures of Sipadan, there’s enough diving for everyone.
Mabul’s is the accommodation centre. But don’t let me overstate it. It’s still an island barely bigger than a few football fields.
There’s a bunch of dive lodges on Mabul, some more fancy than others. But for me, Uncle Changs was great. It’s very much a communal place, with all meals being served on a schedule, and the dining area being really the only hang out area. On my second or third night we had a birthday party for one of the divers – who then become my fast friend, Jenni. Yay!! So, turn up with your friends, or on your own, it doesn’t matter, everyone’s there for diving.
I started with the house sites around Mabul – Paradise 1, 2 – doing my advance open water. It’s a great place to do it, there are so many fun things to see, it to me was as much fun as any dive. There are giant turtles just hanging out at the house reefs, sleeping no the structures that have been sunk on the sea floor to encourage coral growth and sea life. Even if you’re just snorkelling, there’s still plenty to sea – the depth around Mabul is very shallow, you can easily snorkel off the shore.
From this shallow, sandy environment, it’s a very short boat ride to drop offs like the 60m Lobster Wall (yep, lobsters live there) and second wall*, and on to Sipadan.
*This was one of my favourite dives – a muck around dive with the local dive guides, who, needing a customer so they could use a boat, got me to come along (yes, I’m talking about you, Cesar). Such freedom just being under the water and exploring. And when you’re with guys who dive all day, every day, it’s such a different atmosphere than an organised dive group.
But, what I’m sure you’re waiting for is the Sipadan account. WICKED.
If you’ve ever been to Sipadan before, you’ll know, it can be annoying to book the permit to visit. If you’re intending to go – look ahead. Some of the dive shops insist you dive with them a day or two before you can have a permit, others (like Uncle Changs, at least, when I as there), don’t have these stipulations – but even then, they have their quotas limiting how many can be taken. Not that that it’s a chore to have to dive at any of the sites nearby, but if you’re on a schedule, book in as many days as you can before you go.
Getting in the water at South Point was incredible. Just under the water was a large school of bumphead parrotfish – waaaaaaaah! – and turtles, of course. And swirling Jackfish, all shimmering in the sea.
But my favourite dive in Sipadan was Drop off, where there’s a turtle (graveyard) cave, and the current allows for a drift dive along the wall. Just like being on a fairground ride.
Siamil is ACE for muck diving. Stay shallow, wetsuit optional, and be prepared to stare at the sand carefully to see any sort of giveaway that a creature lies beneath, or camouflaged.
If you like the ugly-but-cute fish, this is the place for you. Porcupine fish, crocodilefish, scorpionfish, and my faves, frogfish, all hang out here.
I can’t wait til the day I get back.
If you fancy seeing a video of it, check out this video from a friend’s friend.
Tip: If you can help it, don’t stay in Semporna. It’s a transport and fishing hub more than anything else. So if you can arrive early and get the first boat over to Mabul in the morning, you may as well.