Mabul, Bohey Dulang, Kapalai Island Sabah are few of the islands in Tun Sakaran Marine Park but what do we know about this park? We heard a lot about how dangerous the area could get. Most of us have seen news on TV that scrutinize the security between the borders. Kidnapping is common. Who has not heard about Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines or Lahad Datu insurgency that happened recently? If you are one of them let me tell you, the area is indeed unstable but not every corner of eastern Sabah is dangerous. Few years ago, luxurious tourists were targeted by the kidnappers due to the ransom that these tourists carry. But that was few years ago. The security is now tighter especially at Tun Sakaran Marine Park. Moreover, not all tourists are the target. How to not be the target? I will elaborate more soon.
Sipadan Island is the most popular island at the area. A diving heaven, Sipadan was once listed as top 10 most beautiful island in the world. Unfortunately today, people are not allowed to visit Sipadan because of the coral erosion. Due to this erosion, the island could collapse anytime but I am not sure about diving activities there. Maybe it is still allowed to dive at Sipadan. Fortunately, there are many other islands to explore at the park. Mabul Island, Kapalai, Bohey Dulang and Sibuan Island are quite commercialised. Kapalai Island is the closest to Sipadan. For those who are concern about safety, I would suggest to avoid the luxury resorts because kidnappers will target the visitors there. That is why, the security is quite tight at these resorts. By night fall, the ESSCOM (army) will begin their rounds at these resorts and will leave by sunrise. We chose to stay at budget accommodation. That way, the safety is guaranteed and we could mingle with the locals (we could not afford the luxury anyway).
Now, let’s move on to the main story shall we?
Our journey began after we landed at Tawau Airport. For your information, there is no airport in Semporna and the distance between the airport to Tawau is about 90km (1 hour and half) and you need a ride to get to Semporna. We booked Mabul Island Package that covers the trip from arrival to the day we left the airport to Kuala Lumpur. You may contact Dwan (+60109303800) for more information or visit his facebook D’one Bbm. His speciality is budget trip at Semporna (very low budget). If you prefer luxury, you may try search for other service providers. It was quite a long journey in the van and the ride was bumpy. When we arrived at Semporna Jetty, Dwan was already waiting but he did not follow us to the island. The boat ride would take another hour to reach Mabul which is another 40km to the south of Semporna.
On that day, the weather was cloudy and windy. The boat ride was very challenging and bumpy. Prepare yourself medicine in advance if you have low tolerance with motion. Before we passed through the end of the strait separating mainland and Bum Bum Island, we were stopped by an ESSCOM boat. I thought this was quite normal for them to check boat leaving and entering the water for safety. Please ensure that you use an authorized agent and have registered your permit at Semporna. They will provide everything to the ESSCOM and you should bring ID just in case. After few minutes of waiting, we finally at the open sea. There was no island to barricade the wind, so the ride was not that pleasant but for Mabul beauty, we brushed it all off.
When we were approaching Mabul, the dark clouds were gone and we were greeted by crystal clear bluish and greenish sea water. The sea level decreased rapidly and the boat had to cross the water very slowly. We could see everything from sea urchin to sea stars resting on the seafloor. It was really an experience worth remembering. It was so shallow that the kids could walk freely. This was due to low tide. As we harbored at Arong Hayat (our accomodation for tonight), the local kids with dark skin (exposed to constant sun) flocking us and started swimming and jumping or tried to sell their catch. Avoid giving money to them because there were so many of them. If you want to give, you have to give to all of them. My suggestion is to buy the catch and ask the accomodation cooks to cook for you.
The weather was quite hot and the electricity would only be turned on after 6pm. So, bear with the heat. If you are looking for luxury, you can try Mabul Water Bungalows or Sipadan-Mabul Resort (>USD600 per night). One more tip is that, if you want to dive, do not book from mainland or through the packages offered to you because the accommodations would usually provide diving at lower cost. Another one more tip, when travelling with package, please ensure the schedule is transparent and let it be known to you if anything is missing. Always ask the guide if he is not informative. Unfortunately for us, our guide was quite passive and I had to push him (literally I wanted to push him from the boat to the sea) to inform us about our next activities.
Anyhow, after a short rest and light lunch, we headed to the first snorkelling location near Mabul Park Jetty. The water was deeper there and the current was strong that day. More energy was required to swim and maintain at one location. It was especially more fun if you could dive to the coral and take go pro or waterproof camera with you. The water that day was quite dark probably due to the strong current. If you are a diver there is a platform designed for diving. It was interesting to look at but I heard because of the strong current that day, the divers need to be more cautious. The first snorkelling ended near sunset time and we headed back to Arong Hayat. The electricity was now available but it was still quite early to settle down for dinner. The water was rising and we decided to lounge on the bridge separating accomodations at Arong Hayat. The view was amazing as we were facing the sunset.
We had dinner and it was so good. The guides told us that the cook was a chef who used to work in Abu Dhabi. No wonder even the simplest dish tasted so good. Too bad the portion was quite small or probably because we were too hungry after a day of adventures. The night was young and with no television to entertain us, we walked to the village and to my surprise the food supply and coconut water were so cheap. We should have walked to the village earlier. Earlier, we were quite wary with the safety but the village was so normal and simple. The villagers were very nice too. We walked to the other side of the island to visit Mabul Water Bungalows. The resort was very serene and pretty but we could not afford it. The only thing we could do is to walk along the bridge. And then we returned to Arong Hayat to sleep.
The next morning, me and the guides walked again to the resort to witness beautiful sunrise. As we were walking, we saw the ESSCOMs were leaving the resort. Sunrise was usual because I used to see offshore sunrise when I worked on ships before. But what made this special is the crystal blue clear water below the resort. The sand is white and there were hardly any seaweeds to disrupt the view of the seafloor. It was so surreal. The sunrise view plus the blue ocean with platform in the background is definitely luxury for me. What a start of the day.
Later, we went to Kapalai Island located about 30 minutes from Mabul. There was no island to be seen. Probably due to high tide, the island was submerged. We jumped into the water again to snorkel and the current was not as strong as Mabul but the corals were too deep to be seen. The sea level was quite high and the deep water fear engulfed me. However, that did not stop me from swimming without life jacket (please don’t do this if you don’t have confidence). Overall, nothing much can be seen here in the morning but we had fun playing around. We left the island and went straight to the water at Water Bungalow area. It looked shallow but it was still quite deep. So, we swam from one moving platform to another. Along the way at man made coral skeletons, I encountered a sea snake and that gave me a slight panic. Sea snake is known as the most poisonous snake in the realm. I don’t want to get bitten. I was taken aback and immediately swam to another area near the water bungalows but I was pulled by the guide. The area that I was heading is inhabited by felsh eating fish and they do bite human. What an experience.
When we arrived at Mabul after a morning snorkels, we were left clueless over what to do next. The day was still early and I was not happy about the arrangement. We did nothing for few hours until the guides brought us to another snorkelling location. This time at the cliff of Mabul. I believed we would be seeing a cliff covered with corals. Unfortunately, the current was very strong and the water was very choppy. I did not dare to jump in the water even with life jacket. Too bad because we didn’t get to see the corals.
In the afternoon, we returned to Semporna and this time, the water was even choppier. The swell was quite high and it was nerve wrecking moment for me. I prayed that we reached Semporna as soon as possible. At Semporna,we stayed at a very low cost accomodation. I wish I had asked Diwan earlier about this and if I knew, I would book the accomodation on my own or at least asked him to book at better lodge located near the jetty. We do not mind about the cost though in exchange for comfort after a day in the heat. Although the day ended at low note, we were still looking forward to Bohey Dulang on the next day.
On the next morning, we travelled by boat for about an hour to Bohey Dulang. The wind had subsided and the ride was way much better in the morning. The view along the journey was mesmerizing. I wonder what we would see when we reached Bohey Dulang peak. We immediately hiked up hill to the peak of Bohey Dulang at 600m above sea level. The view from the top was absolutely breath taking. It managed to make me forget a moment about the troubles in my life and drama the day before. Due to time constraint, we hiked to the jetty and immediately hopped on the boat to the next island. Because we did not have much time, we had to choose between two islands to have lunch. We chose Sibuan Island. The island in between Bohey and Sibuan was gorgeous and we did not stop there. There are houses stood from the ocean near the island.
Sibuan Island is a small island where the aboriginals live. The sand was white and the water was crystal clear but it was too hot and sunny by that time. We ate lunch in the boat and enjoying the view. At the tip of the island, there is a sand bar where two waves met. If you happen to visit Sibuan, go to this area and enjoy the moment. Soon after that, we left the island to Semporna to rush to the airport. All of these happened in 3 days 2 nights. So, what are you waiting for?