Where to start!! Most people I have spoken to had not even heard of Borneo! 😕
It is a beautiful country filled with wildlife, and surrounded by beautiful coral reefs home to thousands of sea life. I found it very hard online to find an itinerary that would suit my short time here, so I wasn’t sure if it was possible, but I managed perfectly, so I hope this helps any of you planning to go!
It sounds like a lot of travelling to get there, and a bit overwhelming, but once you are on the road, it is completely manageable. ➡
The main reason I went here was for diving, after hearing that Sipadan is in the top 3 spots in the world I could not resist, so if you are not a diver skip this part! For diving you should stay on Mabul island. I stayed in Uncle Chang,and paid around €350 for 9dives/ equipment 4 nights dorm, food and transfer, and while the people were lovely, and diving very professional, the dorm was basic, with no toilet paper, and you shower out of a hose next to the toilet. They were not accommodating to my vegetarian needs, even when giving plenty of notice, they had no wifi, and no electricity from 8am-5pm.
Also it is 90% Chinese who stay here so it is not easy to meet people who speak English, except for the people who work here. Other than that they usually have permits left for short notice for Sipadan, so if you are booking last minute book with them.
If I could recommend a place to stay, I would say to stay in Scuba Junkies, they are a bit more expensive but have a bar, wifi, big variety of food, and it is largely westerners that stay here, that have drinks and socialise in the evenings, so it is great for meeting people!
When booking a dive package you need to book online, so email the resort before, and make sure you organise a package which includes at least one day diving in Sipadan, as you need a permit to dive there. I would recommend to book a 4 night 5 day package, which most resorts on Mabul island have and, this will include your permit to dive in Sipadan, but ask is it possible to book 2 days diving in Sipadan, it is well worth your while!
The diving in the other places around Mabul are nice but if you are looking for the big fish book for Sipadan, as it has been voted in the top 3 dive spots in the world! When I got to Mabul I was so lucky and I managed to book a second day diving in Sipadan with Billabong due to last minute cancelation, so it is worth your while when you get to the island to go around to the different resorts to ask for another day diving in Sipadan if you only have the one day booked!
I would advise to do 3 or 4 days diving, I did 4 days, 3 dives a day with 2 days in Sipadan. You are usually out on the boat from about 8.30-4pm, and when diving in Sipadan you can go onto the island in between dives for lunch and a break.
The diving is amazing and it is so nice to see so much sea life in this protected area. Check out some of my dive videos here.
I flew from Kuala Lumpar to Tawau. From there your accommodation should organise transfer for you to Semporna, which you will need to stop over for a night before getting the boat ride to Mabul island. I booked into Aloha Hostel which was €12 a night including breakfast which was perfect and very cosy for a quick night stopover. The boat to Mabul island only leaves twice a day at 8.30am and 2.30pm and takes approx 45 minutes. The only thing that is so disappointing to see on the boat ride to Mabul is everywhere there is rubbish floating in the ocean. 😦
They are trying to educate the people, but between the people living on the main land, and on the islands, there is also sea gypsies it seems almost impossible, as a lot of the people are quite poor and don’t really seem to care. 😦
After my time in Mabul, I had 2 more days left of my trip, so I decided to get the bus up to Seiplok to see the Orangutan sanctuary . It leaves Semporna at 2pm, (just ask the dive shop you book with to drive you to the bus station) and costs 8euro and takes 5-6 hours, but it is a very interesting bus ride as you get to see some of the country. It has spacious, comfortable seats with air conditioning,
The bus actually goes to Sandkan, so you need to tell them to stop at Seiplok to let you off. They will let you off at a roundabout on the side of the road with nothing around, but their will be some taxis waiting there to drop you to your hotel and they should charge €2 to bring you to the forest edge resort.
I spent 2 nights in Forest edge resort, for 10 euro a night including breakfast I could not recommend this place enough. Hot water, lovely variety of food and cosy beds and beautiful gardens with forest trail walks. Best of all it is just a 10 minute walk from the orangutan and sun bear sanctuary, which Is a must do in Borneo. It will break your heart watching the introduction video about the orangutans, and after the feeding you are free to roam around the forest. This is where I got incredibly lucky and one came right up to me, I think he thought my yellow phone cover was a banana!! 😛
The sun bears are cute to see also, they have all been rescued after being taken from the wild to be pets. However their habitat is under danger due to the palm oil plantations around the country, that is cutting down where these beautiful animals live. When you are leaving the sun bears they have a big nestle ice cream box selling all nestle products, which in coincidence they are one of the biggest consumers of palm oil in their ingredients. 😦
From Forest edge they can organise a tour for you to go to the Kinabatangan river which is famous for having some of Borneos best wildlife living along the river edge. Depending on how long you have most people choose to do a 3day 2 night tour where you stay in the jungle. However, I was short on time so the resort organised for me a day tour for about 50 euro where they pick up and drop off. The drive takes 1.30 hour. When we got there, just before the river tour was to start, it began to rain torrentially. 😡 After about an hour it died down a little but it was still far to heavy to bring any cameras etc, so we were given ponchos and went out into the rain on this little wooden boat.
It was a 2 hour boat tour, and you see mostly different types of birds and monkeys, and if you are lucky crocodiles. Towards the end of the tour we were incredibly lucky, and managed to see a few wild pigmy elephants grazing by the river bed. It was absolutely incredible and everyone kept telling us how lucky we were to see these, as there might be no spotting of them for up to weeks at a time!! 😛 After this we were brought back for a lovely dinner before returning to the resort in Seiplok.
The next day I flew back to KUL from Sandkan airport which is about. 20 minute drive from forest edge resort.
It really is a beautiful trip and country and it is not crowded with tourists as some other parts of Asia are. If you are short on time I would recommend doing what I did, as I got to fit a lot in 🙂
Check out my diving video here.