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One of the World Best Diving Sites

mabul island sabah

What tourists said about Mabul Island, Sabah

“World best dive site!!”

It is magnificent underwater view.. barracuda, bumphead fish, lion fish, white tip sharks, jack fish…. the visibility of the water up to 35m. water surface is calm and warm.. it is totally another paradise.. would definitely go again soon.. i miss it so much.

“Excellent diving experience!”

Being a low budget, yet high quality trip, I’d say that this trip can be recommended to almost anybody, whether preferring going solo, or going with a family, or even just going with your friends or spouse.

The weather in Mabul is generally calm all year round, so you can go there for vacation anytime. However, I’d advise against going in August and September, which is the prime of the rainy season. The surrounding area may rain more, the waves may be choppier, causing the visibility at the dive sites to decrease, and the whole bay area would be more prone to storms.

Also, it doesn’t matter if you can swim or not! That’s what snorkeling and diving are for! All you’ll have to do at most is kick your legs to propel yourself forwards. Mabul island and its natural underwater treasures nearby can be the perfect place for more experienced divers, and new divers looking to learn.

An advisable length of this trip would be around three days, seeing as how diving isn’t a strenuous activity, but does eventually tire you out. From personal experience, a three day stay in the village, with two or three dives each day would be an ideal range of time to satisfactorily enjoy the local culture, food, and the diving.

Visited December 2013

“Mabul was majestic.”

Brilliant – Jackfish, Barracudas, Bumphead Parrots and a million Turtles. Absolutely worth it. Dive guides were professional and as seasoned divers we will surely visit again.


Thats a wonderful diving experience, I can see every kind of spices under the water, Manta, shark, turtle….jack fish…I love it and I must come again.

“Mabul delivered on expectations”

Have done 75 dives now, but Mabul is definitely in the top 5! Lots of sharks, turtles, plenty of other fish, great coral and we saw a devil ray and manta ray too!

“The best of the best”

Wow….. pristine reefs, over 40 sharks in one day, turtles galore, masses of colourful reef fish and schools of Jack, Barracuda and bumphead parrotfish.

This place is insane! By far the best reefs I have ever seen which shows that marine protection does work. I was lucky and got a permit because someone dropped out but to be sure you can get a space book ahead!

Visited November 2013
Source: Tripadvisor

mabul island

The majestic Mabul Island

About Mabul Island, Sabah

The removal of all structures, including the dive resorts, on Sipadan Island has greatly benefited the nearby islands of Mabul and Kapalai.

These islands were not affected by the government order to completely move out all man-made structures from Sipadan by the end of 2004. It was a bold move aimed at conserving the fragile ecosystem on the tiny 12ha island which had become congested with tourists after consistently being voted one of the top five dive sites in the world.
Source: The Star

Attractions of Mabul Island

I decided to make a brief visit to Mabul Island recently after reading that it had become a popular destination for both divers and photographers from around the world. A catchy slogan — “Now everyone can stay at Mabul Island” — by one locally run “backpacker resort” made me want to go there even more badly.

mabul island sabah 01

An adventurous boat ride to Mabul Island.

After two nights in Sandakan, I boarded a long-distance bus to Tawau. The 320km journey took a long and torturous six hours, with just one 20-minute stop in between at a roadside restaurant in Lahad Datu to stretch my legs and have some refreshment.

Gateway to several islands

In Tawau, I made arrangements for accommodation in Semporna, the gateway to Mabul and all the other islands in the Sulawesi Sea. At noon the next day, I was in a rusty van jam-packed with 15 other passengers leaving for Semporna, 105km away. An hour and a half later, the van pulled up at an open space behind some pathetic-looking shophouses and the driver announced, “Semporna, Semporna . . . sudah sampai (we have reached Semporna).”

mabul island sabah 02

The Sipadan Mabul Dive Lodge landing point.

I asked the driver for directions to Dragon Inn, a hotel built on stilts in the clear and shallow waters of Semporna Bay. It turned out to be a short five-minute walk away at the end of Causeway Bridge. A helpful Filipino reception worker at Dragon Inn recommended Uncle Chang’s Lodge for my tour of Mabul Island next day.

The only dive lodge

According to her, Uncle Chang is a legendary personality on Semporna, especially among the tourism and diving communities. Having gained experience in his early days working for dive operators in the area, the man ventured out on his own more then 10 years ago and established Borneo Jungle River Island Tour Sdn Bhd, which owns Uncle Chang’s Sipadan Mabul Dive Lodge.

“Most people come here to dive, and the majority of them just need basic accommodation. That is the idea behind the setting-up of this simple dive lodge we fondly call the Backpacker Resort,” explained an employee at the Semporna office.

mabul island sabah 03

Crystal clear waters surround the lodge.

Adventurous journey to Mabul

Luck wasn’t with me, though, during my three-day stay in Semporna, because Uncle Chang was out of town. I would have liked to have interviewed him. I booked a day tour to Mabul, specifying that I was not diving or snorkelling, just taking photographs. I was quoted RM115, which included the return boat journey, breakfast, lunch and a free flow of drinking water, tea and coffee.

This was a good deal, considering the boat journey was going to take more than an hour and the duration of the tour was from 7.30am to 4pm.

The fibreglass speedboat I boarded was laden with drinking water, gas tanks, other diving equipment and 12 passengers, locals as well as foreign. The boat ride wasn’t interesting in itself but it was thrilling to see the fishing villages with their wooden homes on stilts and the myriad activities of the fishing communities.

There are some 150,000 people living in Semporna, a good number of them Bajau-Sulu who live in these fishing villages.

What to expect in Mabul

Mabul is a small, oval-shaped island situated off the south-east coast of Semporna. It is recognised as one of the best muck diving destinations in the world, offering the richest exotic macro-life found in a single destination.

“Muck diving” is a term used to describe limited visibility dives in warm and shallow waters with sandy bottoms.

mabul island sabah 04

New boats being built behind the lodge.

Mimic octopus, blue-ringed octopus, bobtail squid, harlequin shrimp, mantis shrimp, boxer crabs, spike-fin goby, black sail-fin goby, crocodile fish, stone fish, scorpion fish, mandarin fish, frog fish, ghost pipefish, ribbon eels and snake eels are only a few examples of the rare and unusual marine creatures that can be found at Mabul’s reefs.

About lodging in Mabul

Built entirely of hardwood timber over the shallow waters of the Sulawesi Sea, Uncle Chang’s Lodge offers very basic accommodation with its twin-sharing rooms going at RM50 per person per night.

Meals are served buffet-style, with a free flow of drinking water, coffee and tea.

“You shouldn’t expect five–star treatment and services for this rock bottom price. If you love meeting people from different backgrounds, this is the place with a real sense of community,” a Australian tourist pointed out.

She said it was her second time staying here in two years.

A new block with eight rooms that can accommodate 20 or more people is almost ready. It is linked to existing blocks by a raised plankwalk. There are several fully qualified instructors and dive masters to closely monitor all diving and snorkelling activities. Diving in the deeper waters of Sipadan and Kapalai islands less than half an hour away can also be arranged.

Diving in Mabul Island

Well-maintained diving equipment are also available for hire. Apart from enjoying the water-based activities, visitors may freely and safely explore Mabul in its entirety by foot. Right behind the dive lodge is the Mabul fishing village, where you will meet friendly villagers eager to exchange greetings with visitors passing by their homes.

“The entire island has more than 2,000 inhabitants. We have a school and a mosque and also security personnel here,” a proud villager disclosed.

diving mabul island

Diving is the most popular activity in Mabul Island.

Mabul is also home to four other dive resorts offering high-end accommodation and services. But for now Uncle Chang’s backpacker resort is living up to its slogan of everyone being able to afford Mabul by providing basic accommodation, food, diving and fun on a budget.

Uncle Chang’s Sipadan Mabul Dive Lodge: Tel +60 089 781002 (office hours) or Tel: +60 089 786988 (24 hours).

Promotional Rates for Hotels in Semporna, Sabah

Other attractions in Sabah that you might be interested

  • Banggi Island – Banggi island is one of Sabah famous islands for tourism. Its lush greenery, crystal clear water, white sandy beaches, and diversified wildlife are some of the attractions.
  • Sipadan Island – Sabah has a number of excellent dive spots, with the jewel being the world-famous Sipadan. Its location at the heart of the Indo Pacific Basin makes it one of the richest marine habitats in the world.
  • Sunday Gaya Street Market – This open-air market is the place to get handicraft, local delicacies and fresh jungle produce. The Tamu Kota Belud is another popular Sunday market for all traditional things. Watch the vibrantly dressed Bajau horsemen riding gaily decorated ponies during ceremonial occasions. They are known as ‘Cowboys of the East’ for their horsemanship.
  • Kudat Long House – Make a visit to the traditional long house of the Rungus tribe. Their traditional attire and intriguing culture will make your trip unforgettable. Homestay are a fascinating way to observe their lifestyle.
  • Mountain Kinabalu – The majestic Mount Kinabalu, standing at 4,095.2m, is one of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia. It is the main attraction of Kinabalu Park, Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site.
  • The Tip of Borneo – Experience the thrill of standing at land’s end! Simpang Mengayau Bay is the northwestern tip of Borneo. It offers glorious views of the sea and surrounding islands.

Photo credit: YikLung

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