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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Borneo, Bucket List, long term travel, Malaysia, Scuba Diving, Semporna, Sipidan, Southeast Asia, Travel

Sipidan – A Diver’s Delight

From Sepilok, I made my way to Semporna – the homebase for diving Sipadan. There is no bus station in Sepilok, so you basically wait in the intersection for the bus you need, hoping that the guesthouse has been accurate with the times they’ve provided you with. Eventually my bus showed up and I made the 4 hour drive, getting to Semporna mid-morning.

I had heard that Semporna was a sh*thole, so I’d prepared myself for a real dump. It wasn’t much to write home about but it also wasn’t as bad as I expected either.

I made my way to Scuba Junkie to see if I had cleared the waitlist for Sipadan. Sipadan is a national marine reserve and well protected, so only 150 diving permits are released each day, which are then divided evenly amongst the dive shops. It’s a great thing that they are taking measures to keep this area protected, but I was still a little concerned I was going to have come all this way and not be able to dive this world-known site.

The other thing is many companies request you do one day diving with them prior to diving Sipadan. Apparently the currents can be quite strong, so they like to evaluate you as a diver. This worked out well for me, as I was #1 on the waitlist for my second day there, and so I signed up to do some other recommended sites (Mabul and Kapilai) for my first day.

I had the afternoon to chill out and ended up running into friends from Mulu, so we caught up and they shared stories of their Sipadan dives. The following morning, I made my way out to Mabul and Kapilai for three dives. The first was a bit of a disappointing dive. The current was really strong, and the corals weren’t that great, but the second dive was one of my best dives ever, simply for the fact that I saw more marine life on this one dive than I have in other dive trips combined.

When we entered the water, there were 2 spotted eagle rays swimming right by us. This was followed by a yellow and black ribbon eel, tons of green turtles, huge sideways swimming Titan trigger fish, moray eels, lionfish, tons of crocodile fish, nudiebranchs, bubble coral, big bright clown fish, and at the end of the dive, a banded sea snake. Absolutely Amazing!
The third dive of the day was at an artificial reef, and to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I love bright, colorful coral, and I knew this would be completely different. Basically this site was constructed by sinking plank like structures, but it was done so long ago that marine life has taken it over and made it home.

On the way to the reef, we saw two ghost pipe fish, which I had never seen before, and at the actual site, we saw tons of frogfish, lion fish, a school of bat fish, oriental sweetlips (one of my favorite), boxer shrimp and moray eels. On the way back to the boat, we were literally swimming underneath a huge school of jackfish, so we sat and watched them circle above. It was a great day of diving, and I hadn’t even made it to Sipadan yet!
However, when we made it back to the shop, I found out that I had cleared the waitlist for the following day.

So, the following morning, we made our way to Sipadan Island to check in and show our permits to the authorities (it IS that strict). Our first dive was a drop off, literally a coral wall that plummets down to 600 meters deep. We made our way into a small cave called “Turtle Tomb.” You feel like you are swimming into the pitch black, but when you turn around, the entrance to the cave is glowing electric blue.

A couple of swim thrus later, we spotted a leopard shark, white tip reef sharks, so many turtles, just an abundance of fish like I have never seen before. We finished the dive on a shallow coral bommie that was just beautiful. Even a snorkeler would have been content. After the dive, a few of us sat on the top of the boat to warm up and counted the number of turtles coming up for air.

The second dive was at Southpoint and was probably my favorite dive of the day. I counted ten white tip reef sharks in total. At one point in time, three were asleep next to each other in the sand below us, and another one was so curious as to who we were, it swam so closely to us. Not to mention, the coral here looked like a big bowl of fruity pebbles, the colors seriously looked artificial. The number of fish were amazing- wrasse, triggers, sweetlips, and even more turtles.

We stopped for lunch on Sipadan Island, being careful not to disturb the huge Monitor Lizards, and then headed out for our last dive of the day at Barracuda Point, where you guessed it, we followed a school of about 250-300 for almost the entire dive. Sipadan did not disappoint!

I’ve been really fortunate with the diving I’ve been able to do in the last 4 months and to think I haven’t even got to Indonesia yet…