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Malaysia Islands 2
World Class Diving around
Sipadan, Kapalai, Mabul and Sibuan

"Everything you need to know about scuba diving, open-water diving and snorkeling around these
tropical island destinations"

Mandarin fish in Sipadan
Malaysia Islands 2 - Mandarin Fish

Welcome to the Malaysian Islands outside Semporna!

The islands, especially Pulau Sipadan, have been rated as one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world.

So why should you visit the tiny islands outside Borneo?

Click here to share a tip or a review of a guesthouse/cheap hotel you like in Semporna or Mabul Island

Ah, you won't regret this! Enjoy the article! :-)

How to get to Malaysian islands
Malaysia islands 2

So where are these gorgeous islands?

-- The islands are located in the Celebs Sea just outside Semporna in the state of Sabah, in Borneo.

For more information on how to get there, click here!

(You'll be redirected to my article on Semporna: How to Get To Semporna)

Map of Borneo
Malaysia Islands 2: Image credit:

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Best time to dive/snorkel around
Sipadan, Kapalai, Sibuan and Mabul

Diving in Sipadan island, Borneo
Malaysia Islands 2: Tropical island destinations

When we got in Semporna, we were told that it was one of the perfect diving months (June, along with July and August).

The visibility around Sibuan Island was very clear, or more correctly: transparent.

And I could easily swim in the water without being drifted away by strong currents. The temperature? The water was warm as the air.

In theory, you can dive in Sipadan all year! The best time to dive is between April and November. The rainy season is from November to March. But we talked to people who had been there previously in March, and the visibility was OK for them. They could still dive, but the visiblity wasn't at its best.

Can any traveler handle the diving at Sipadan?

Well, the currents around Sipadan are not predictable. Handling these currents is not a problem for the experienced diver.

Newly baptized divers should be conscious about these currents, and be comfortable with this. Drift with the currents, and don't fight it.

If you're taking the open-water diving course with Skuba Junkie, your first tryout will likely be Sibuan Island. After the course, you can decide if you want to try the diving around Sipadan!

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Sipadan Restrictions

Fortunately, Sabah Parks only allow a certain amount of divers on Sipadan...

If I were you, I would try to get a permit as early as possible. As I wrote in my review of the Skuba Junkie course, we arrived in Semporna in the beginning of June, and we heard that there were no available spots until August….

The good news is that the other islands don't require a permit! ;-)

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Common Diving Rules
Malaysia islands 2

It's essential that you know how to behave underwater.

I'll tell you why:

  • Don't touch the animals if you don't know what you're looking at - this decreases the chances of provoking an attack. Experienced divers who know what animals they're dealing with are the only exception here.

    Our divemaster gave us a remarkable reminder: If it's very pretty, stay away from it!

  • Don't touch the corals

    Consider the corals as the rainforest… It provides shelter, food and breeding grounds for a lot of marine species.

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The Underwater Life of the Islands
- what is there to see?

Sipadan turtle
Malaysia Islands 2 - Tropical island destinations

Although I couldn't complete the diving course at Skuba Junkie, I still got to witness the rich life of Celebs Sea! ;-)

When you arrive at Skuba Junkie in Semporna, you will constantly hear the "divers-talk."

The divers chat and talk about the sights of the day. I remember when we stepped into Skuba Junkie, and a British girl was talking about how she saw large mantas at Sipadan. I got so jealous!

Barracudas at Sipadan
Malaysia Islands 2 - Barracudas

On top of that, I talked to the rookie-divers and some experienced divers in Semporna. My biggest question to them was:

What did you get to see?!"

One of the dive instructors we talked to at Skuba Junkie restaurant was talking about the reef life while he was stuffing his face with pizza. It was clearly that he was passionate about diving…! Haha

Here's a rough summary ;-)

What species can you see around Sipadan?

Yellow snappers at Sipadan, Borneo
Malaysia Islands 2 - Yellow snappers

Green turtles and Hawksbill turtles nest on Pulau Sipadan, so that's the reason you'll see so many of them when diving… Moray eels at Hanging Gardens, bumpheaded parrotfish, white tip and black tip reef sharks at South Point.

If you go diving at one of the popular Sipadan sites, Barracuda Point, you'll of course encounter the Barracuda predators. Don't wear reflective objects when diving with barracudas, as this might provoke an attack…

Nudibranches at Sipadan, Borneo
Malaysia Islands 2 - Nudibranches

Then you have the majestic manta rays, hammerhead sharks, leopard sharks, fox sharks swimming around at Staghorn Crest.

You'll probably be shocked by the size of the mantas, but no worries. They're harmless, and actually curious and gentle. Mantas can be up to 9 meters wide, but because of overfishing they can only grow to 2-4 meters.

Other rays to stare at are the blue-spotted stingrays. They're actually very common and hide in the coral reefs of Sipadan. Snorkelers and divers often see them. But watch out -- its tail is poisonous.

Ghost pipe fish at Kapalai island, Borneo
Malaysia Islands 2 - Ghostfish around Kapalai

Or what about the whale shark? -- Yes, they occasionally pass the area around the islands! Whale sharks can be up to 14 meters and weigh 15 tonnes. This is the world's largest and heaviest fish. Hope you're lucky to see one! :-)

Visiblity around Sipadan: 10-30 meters

What species can you see around Mabul and Kapalai?

Mabul and Kapalai are considered as macro divers' paradise!

Pygmy seahorse at Mabul island, Borneo
Malaysia Islands 2 - Pygmy seahorse around Kapalai

Frog fish, the beautiful blue-ringed octopus, cool ghost pipefish, cuttlefish, strange sea moths, sea shrimps, pygmy seahorses, snake eels, mandarin fish, stone fish, icky nudibranches, and even the rare mimic octopus which mimic several sea creatures to confuse the predators.

If you can't dive, don't worry about not being able to see the gorgeous animals. When you go snorkeling in Mabul Island, you can see turtles from the surface!

Visibility: 5-15 m

What species can you see around Sibuan Island?

Turtles, eagle rays, mandarin fish, scorpion fish, harlequin ghost pipefish, and I remember that a lucky diver group got to see the famous frog fish!

Ghost fish at Sibuan island, Borneo
Malaysia islands 2: Image attribute Jason Chao - Ghostfish around Sibuan

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Can you stay the night on Sipadan?
Accommodation on the Islands

I'm afraid that you can't stay the night on Sipadan. Your chance of being close to the island is to stay on Mabul, Kapalai, or mainland. If I were you, I would go for the accommodation on the islands. You're right on the sea, and it would be a shame to miss out on the water and the turtles coming in frequently.

How close is it from Mabul/Kapalai to Sipadan?

20 minutes by boat!

If you're interested in staying at Skuba Junkie, here's a review and practical information for you.

If you want to stay on Mabul Island, Skuba Junkie can arrange that for you. If you're on your last days in Malaysia, and traveling with your girlfriend and boyfriend, you might try to splurge a bit and go for Skuba Junkie Mabul Beach Resort.

We've never stayed here, so I can't give any personal review.

If you want to arrange it yourself, try Uncle Chang's Sipadan Mabul Dive Lodge which offers budget accommodation for the sporty divers. The huts at Uncle Chang are basic, so don't expect any luxury. But they're at least "cheap."

Have fun! :-D

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Have A Great Tip on Where to Sleep?

Got any recommendations for where to sleep on Mabul or Kapalai Islands? Or maybe you own a guesthouse/cheap hotel and want to promote it? Share your story, tip or review of the guesthouse/hotel you like!

Tell us: What did you like/not like about the guesthouse you stayed at in Mabul or Kapalai? How was the service? Did you meet fellow backpackers?

PS: I reserve the right to delete a submission if it's not original, duplicate content, or if it's too short.

By original I mean the content is NOT copied from another website. That also means your own website. I will check if the content you provide is duplicate or not. Sorry for sounding strict, but I aim to deliver excellent and original content to my readers - that's my priority no. 1.

Any submission below 300 words will be deleted.

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