Monthly Archives: February 2014


Malaysia, Perhentian-Environs

This page covers areas near to, but not on, the Perhentian Islands in North East peninsular Malaysia. See the main Perhentians page, for general info about the Perhentians.


Rawa Islands

I took a daytrip boat out to a small group of uninhabited islands 5km Northwest of Perhentian Kecil.

One of the islands is called Rawa Island, but the term “Rawa Islands” seems to be used to refer to the whole archipelago.


There aren’t many detailed maps of these islands, so it was a bit of a detective series trying to arrive at one.  This one  names the individual islands as:

Pulau Rawa
Pulau Tukung Burung
Pulau Tukung Burung Kecil
Pulau Susu Dara
Pulau Susu Dara
Pulau Serengeh

I assume that the smaller of the two ‘Susu Dara’ is actually a ‘Pulau Susu Dara Kecil’.


You have to spin the top left corner of that map through 90 degrees to get it to fit with the satellite picture. Giving you this.

Mapping the island names onto the satellite picture gives you this final map:
But note that it is based on some assumptions. It might not be completely accurate.

Here’s the view of the islands from the West side of Pulau Kecil:


I booked a daytrip from the convenience store opposite the jetty in Coral Bay on Pulau Kecil. They seemed to be the only one running a Rawa daytrip. They are also the operator of the trip (the husband drives the boat).

They only go when there are enough people to fill a boat (about 12). I had to wait about five days for the bookings to fill up. The price was 50MYR.

No doubt you could hire a private boat if you wanted to throw money at it.

Area a – Pulau Rawa

The first stop was Pulau Rawa, itself. Arriving at the beach on the West side (marked “a” on the map), it was clear that some other operators do run public trips there.

P8102445 Rawa.JPG

We stopped near the beach and were directed to go straight out from the beach (towards the West) for the snorkelling.

The first thing of note was that the underwater visibility was awesome here – at about 12-15 metres, it was more than double what I had been getting on Perhentians Kecil and Besar. I guess that is due to the relative lack of sand here.

I looked all along the beach area. The corals close to shore were all dead and broken-up staghorn coral:
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but as you got about 40 metres out from the beach – coral quality started picking up.
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The further you got from the beach, the better the health of the corals. These fields of Staghorn coral are pretty awesome:


There was a good variety of fish here:
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..but not massive numbers. (Mouseover for speciesnames)


The fish seemed a little more chilled-out than usual. These three Orange Spined Unicornfish were about the most carefree OSUs I have ever seen.
P8102477.JPG P8102479.JPG


After about half an hour, we returned to the boat and set-off West for the next spot – Pulau Tukung Burung. (There wasn’t time to go exploring around the rest of Rawa).

This is the view as we left Pulau Rawa:
Tukung Burung is on the near right (you can just see some tour boats on its left). The two mounds on the horizon are the Susu Daras.


Area b – Pulau Tukung Burung

It is about 600m from Rawa to Tukung Burung. The boatman dropped us in the water 50m off the little beach on the South side (Area b).


There was some excellent, diverse coral at this spot.
Right where we hit the water was the best patch of coral at Tukung Burung.

I wandered about 200m Westwards for a look-around.

There were some more patches of beautiful coral:
Malay_Perhentian-Env_212_Area-B_Corals_P8102490.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_214_Area-B_Corals_P8102492.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_216_Area-B_Corals_P8102505.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_218_Area-B_Corals_P8102506.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_220_Area-B_Corals_P8102507.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_222_Area-B_Corals_P8102540.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_224_Area-B_Corals_P8102541.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_226_Area-B_Corals_P8102538.JPG
..although generally, the corals weren’t quite as beautiful as at the entry-point.

I also bumped into a Cuttlefish:

..who was systematically placing her eggs under a rock:

…and I followed a small herd of big Bumphead Parrotfish, a-grazin’ up the place:

Malay_Perhentian-Env_231_Area-B_Bumphead-Parrotfish_P8102528_.jpg Malay_Perhentian-Env_233_Area-B_Bumphead-Parrotfish_P8102515_.jpg

Back in the boat, we headed off West and passed the Eastern side of the two Susu Dara Islands. Then we swung round and headed South for the ~2km ride to Serengeh.

Here’s a shot of the Susu Dara islands from the boat.
The map shows them as both being called Susu Dara. I assume that there is a Susu Dara Besar and a Susu Dara Kecil – the same as the Perhentians.

According to the map, there should also be a Pulau Tukung Burung Kecil in the foreground. Maybe it is underwater or something!


Area c – Serengeh Island

The last stop in the Rawa group was at Pulau Serengeh.
Malay_Perhentian-Env_302_Area-C_Serengeh Island_P8102548.JPG
(Serengeh is sometimes spelled ‘Serengei’)


We snorkelled on the right-hand side, just past where the little boat is. There coral here was very nice too:

Malay_Perhentian-Env_304_Area-C_Corals_P8102552.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_321_Area-C_Blue-spotted-Ribbontail-Ray_P8102581.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_320_Area-C_Nudibranch_P8102558.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_318_Area-C_Corals_P8102577.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_317_Area-C_Corals_P8102574.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_316_Area-C_Corals_P8102573.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_314_Area-C_Corals_P8102571.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_312_Area-C_Corals_P8102568.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_310_Area-C_Corals_P8102564.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_309_Area-C_Corals_P8102562.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_307_Area-C_Corals_P8102559.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_305_Area-C_Corals_P8102553.JPG

but the previous two islands were a hard act to follow.

I saw another Cuttlefish laying eggs under some old coral about 4 metres deep:
Malay_Perhentian-Env_324_Area-C_Cuttlefish_P8102585.JPG Malay_Perhentian-Env_323_Area-C_Cuttlefish_P8102583.JPG


This took us up to about 1pm. At this point, we were taken back to Perhentian Kecil and we bought lunch in a restaurant in the village before getting back in the boat and going to two good snorkelling spots on Kecil (13 and 24d on the main Perhentians page). I don’t know if that means we had already covered all the good bits in the Rawa area. I suspect that it was more like the boat operator didn’t want the hassle of supplying packed lunches.

Anyway, there was not too much to complain about – the snorkelling at Perhentian Area 13 is awesome and we found a couple of turtles at 24d.


Overall, I would certainly recommend a Rawa trip. For snorkelling this good, 50MYR isn’t too much to pay and you will see prettier coral gardens here than you would ever have found on the main Perhentian islands.

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Written: Sept 2012  . . . . . . .  Last updated: Sept 2012



Snorkelling from kayaks

Having covered most areas that I can reach by swimming, I have recently taken to renting kayaks to increase my range, then snorkelling by jumping out the side of the kayak.
Here are some boy-scout tips for if you are planning on renting a tourist kayak and taking the whole day to paddle-out to that little rock on the distant horizon.    If you’re just pootling around off the beach, none of this applies.


Sea conditions
Obviously, don’t go out in the first place if the sea conditions aren’t safe. Stay within your limits. It’s good practice to tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.

Your kayak
Most tourist rental kayaks are meant for sculling around off the beach, or up a local river.  They might not be suitable to take out on the open sea.

Generally, tourist kayak design is a moulded fully-enclosed plastic-shell, filled with air and having drain holes/plugs at either end. You just sit on top of it, on moulded ‘seats’.  Check out your boat before you use it. Are there any cracks in the plastic?  Are the proper bungs in the drain holes?  When you get out in choppy water, is water going to splash inside any of the openings and fill the inside of the hull with water?  Check for any water already inside the hull.

When you eventually get to your destination and go snorkelling, you will want to tie-up your kayak to a mooring buoy or, if there is a current, tow it around with you. So you’ll need a decent length of line (say 3 metres) tied to the bow of the boat.  In life – you can’t have too much string/line.  You can find 3mm nylon line washed up on the rocks/beach in most places. Or carry some around with you (you can also use it to hang up your hammock!).

I tie the paddle to the kayak.  Most paddles float these days, but while you are swimming around looking at the pretty fishies, you don’t want your paddle to fall off the kayak and get blown a kilometre away, where you can’t see it because of the choppy water.  Make the line long enough that you can still use the paddle without untying it.

On the subject of paddles, if you can, try and choose one with those little plastic rings on the pole.  When you are paddling along – each time you take the blade out of the water, the salty-water will run down the pole and splash off your hands and into your eyes.  This gets pretty tedious after a few hours.  The little rings on the pole try to keep the water off you. If there aren’t any rings it might be worth making your own by tying loops of string/plastic bag around the pole.


You will probably want to take a few belongings along with you.  Use line/string to tie the bag to the boat, in case you tip over.

Learn a few knots so that what gets tied up, stays tied up and that you can untie it when you want to.


What stuff are you taking along?  Make it as little as possible.

There is always a chance that the kayak will tip over, so think about whether the stuff you are taking will (1) be damaged by sea water (2) sink like a stone before you can get to it.

Take enough drinking water, in screw-top bottles.  Drink a bit out of each bottle, so they contain air and will float. If you have an underwater camera, take fresh water to rinse it between snorks – the hot sun will soon crystallise the salt from the seawater in its delicate nooks and crannies.  Take sun block and hats, clothes, etc for sun protection.  Going for the whole day? – I take some rice along in the Tupperware box that I usually carry my mask in.  Maybe take a bit of cash with you in case of demands for National Park fees or to make a donation to someone who helps you out of a tricky situation.

Bringing dry-cameras/cellphones?  Well, this is up to you, but plan for them getting dropped in seawater. Have you got one of those waterproof bags ?   Have you ever tested it?   Put some dry toilet paper in it then seal it up and swim round with it for half an hour and see just how ‘waterproof’ it really is.

Spare camera battery ?  – Get a small Tupperware container for it.  Then it is waterproof and it floats.

Most stuff that you take on a kayak is going to get wet, so just accept it.  I suggest collecting everything together in a plastic bag then tying that (with a piece of string) to the kayak.  It just means that if you tip over, you only have one thing to worry about, instead of ten, Maybe keep a bottle of water and some sun cream outside the bag, for easy access.

Life on the ocean wave

The tropical sun in the middle of the day is evil. In a kayak, it is not just the rays beating down on your head that you have to consider –It is those being reflected up from the surface of the sea, too.  Wear that peaked cap, but realise that it isn’t going to be enough by itself.

You face and nose is going to get fried.  I don’t have zinc crème and I’m still experimenting with ways to stop getting my face sizzled.  Those fullface/balaclava hats that you see road-builders wearing are a good start. But mine gets heavy and reveals my nose when it gets wet. Airline eyemasks positioned over the nose seem a reasonable solution to nose protection.

Obviously, wear sun crème on any exposed skin.

I wear a long sleeved shirt and long shorts.  But I always manage to get the inside of my knees burned. I can’t emphasise enough how much you need to cover-up/protect every square inch of skin if you are going to be in a kayak in the middle of the day.

Going over ?

There is a chance your kayak will be flipped upside-down as you are paddling along – maybe by a wave or just a bit of a bad balance.    Decide beforehand what your priorities will be if it happens. Which belongings are you are going to chase-after first? You’ll get nowhere if you can’t see under water, so keep your mask dangling round your neck while you are paddling.  Putting it on will probably be priority #1.  If you have fins, keep them on while you are paddling the kayak.  You’ll look stupid, but you’ll instantly be more agile underwater and it is one (well, two) fewer things to chase as they sink to the murky depths.

You’ve got valuables like room keys and waterproof cameras tied to you or in zipped-up pockets already, right?

If you’ve got those bases covered, when you tip over it should be a simple matter of chasing after your plastic bag of suncremes and drinking water.

Turning a kayak the right way up should be reasonably easy – from halfway along it, climb up on top of the hull, grab the kayak on the other side, below the waterline, then fall backwards into the sea, turning the kayak the right way up as you go.

Arrivals lounge

So you have arrived at the spot you want to snorkel at. First, make a note of the wind – how strong is it and which direction is it coming from. Are there mooring buoys?  Are you intending to use them?

If there is an option to tie the kayak to a buoy and come back to it after you have finished snorkelling, you need to figure out what the current is doing.  If there is a strong current, then it would be unwise to tie your transportation to a stationery buoy that you won’t be able to swim back to (against the current).

If there is a current, you will need to tow the kayak around while snorkelling, so that you and it are in the same place when you want to get out again.

If there is a current and you want to look at a particular feature (like a small rocky island), you need to start at the up-stream side of it, so that the current does all the work – taking you (and the kayak) along the length of it.

You probably won’t know whether there is any current until you get in the water, so expect to have an initial dip into the water to figure out the current.  You might need to get straight out again, to paddle the kayak to a better position before you start your actual snorkel.

Getting on and off

So how do you get from the kayak to the sea in deep water without tipping over the kayak?

Put on your mask/snorkel/fins while you are in the kayak.  Throw the paddle off the side (it’s tied to the kayak, remember?) then dangle your feet off the side of the kayak.  It’s a bit of a knack, but try to use your two hands to lift your butt off the seat and slide into the water at the same time.  If you are going to the right, you bend your right elbow as you go in, to keep the kayak level.  When you are in the sea, put the paddle back on the kayak, lengthwise.

You probably won’t be able to get back on the kayak from the side without tipping your belongings into the sea.  It’s best to come up over the back (stern), but if your belongings are stored there, you can come up over the front (bow), too.   You are looking to haul yourself up with one leg on each side of the kayak; and the kayak between your legs like a huge, yellow penis. To start, throw the paddle into the sea (it’s still tied on, right?), then position yourself at the end of the kayak. Pull the tip of the kayak underwater then haul yourself (face down) on top of it. Keep your body as low as possible. If necessary, keep your legs splayed out for balance.  Keep hauling yourself (face-down) along the length of the kayak until you reach the seat.  Only then, try to roll-over and sit upright.  Roll-over in small stages, holding on to the sides of the kayak, lifting up your midriff as necessary.

So, assuming you’ve got in the water, figured out the current and paddled your kayak to where you want to be, you’re ready to snorkel.  Drop back in the water again.

If you are tying-up to a buoy – do it from in the water and use the line you tied to the bow/stern of the kayak, not the middle.  Be aware that the tide might rise while you are there, so leave enough slack. Also leave a long enough line for other boats (e.g. tourist long-tail boats) to tie-up on the same buoy.  While you are snorkelling, have a look back occasionally to see that your kayak is still there and that you will be able to swim back to it when the time comes.

If there is a current, don’t tie your boat up – keep it with you.  If there’s a current and no wind, you can probably just let you and the boat drift along on the same current while you dive-down to look at the reef.  The worst case is if there is a strong underwater current taking you in one direction and a surface-wind taking the kayak in the opposite direction.   You really don’t want to get separated from your boat.  If you have currents and winds going in different directions, hold on to the line (that you tied to the kayak) at all times, towing it round like a dog on a lead/leash.  Obviously this limits the depths can dive, so to the longer the line, the better.

Do you want to look at both sides of the island?  Simple – kayak to the upstream end of the island, jump in the water and drift down one side of the island.  They get back in the kayak, paddle back up to the upstream end then jump and drift down the other side of the island.

–    – –
Well, that’s about all I’ve got on the subject.  It sounds a bit scary-mary, but the point is that if you plan for risks, then they won’t happen.

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
A couple of kayakey stories.

I once stayed at a small island on the very far west of Thailand.  On the horizon (about 30 km away), you could see the enticing looking islands of Southern Myanmar.   Three French kids decided that they were going to use the resort’s rental kayaks to go over there.   They were eventually picked up by a Myanmar immigration boat. Myanmar immigration beat-up on Thailand immigration.  Thailand immigration looked embarrassed and beat-up the resort owners. There were only the two owners of the resort and they had to close-up for a week while they went back to the mainland to get a telling-off from immigration.  The French kids got sent back to France.

Another lad took a kayak to do a trip around the island.  He was intending to stay out overnight and sleep on a beach.  But he didn’t tell anyone that this was his plan.  The sea was pretty rough and the resort owners spent the whole evening chasing around the island, trying to find out his contact details and whether anybody knew where he was. There was talk of calling out search parties, and/or his embassy or parents to report him missing. He was eventually spotted on the remote, other side of the island about 10am the next day, blissfully paddling away on the second half of his adventure.  If you are planning on taking a rental kayak overnight, it seems pretty obviously that you should tell the owners of your intentions.  Just be sensible.


Written: Feb 2014



This page will include some stuff on maps and logistics for the Park and Semporna.


Pulau Kapalai, Malaysia


Malay_MalbulTEMP_02_Locationmap1.jpg Malay_MalbulTEMP_03_P7021420_.jpg


I only had a one hour snorkel outside the Resort at Kapalai, during a trip from Malbul.  I haven’t had a chance to upload the photos yet.  Yer local fishlife is the same as in Malbul.


I’ll upload some photos later. . . .


Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia


Pulau Sipadan (Sipadan island) is a small island in the Tuk Sarakan National Park. It is about 20 km from the town of Semporna in the South-East of Sabah State, Eastern Malaysia.

Malay_MalbulTEMP_02_Locationmap1.jpg Malay_MalbulTEMP_03_P7021420_.jpgDivesiteMaps_Malaysia-Tun-SakaranNP-Sipadan_P6170098_.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

Sipadan is famous for scuba diving. The island is formed from an ex-volcano in the middle of the Celebes sea, rising up 600 metres from the seabed.  This isolation makes it a magnet for all kinds of aquatic life.

To protect the environment, all accommodation is banned from Sipadan and all the resorts there were all torn-down in 2005.  There is also a quota system  where only a couple of hundred people are allowed to visit the island each day.  This quota is shared between divers and snorkellers.

What this adds-up to, is that if you want to go to Sipadan, you have to (1) book well-ahead (2) pay a lot of money.

I went diving, not snorkelling, in Sipidan on a couple of days in June 2012.  I did some surface-snorkelling during the lunch breaks. This page is just a dump of some photos I took while snorkelling, (plus a few more from the shallow, end-part of some dives) to illustrate what you might see if you went on a snorkel trip there.



Snorkelling Pictures
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These pictures were taken while surface-snorkelling near the dive site ‘Barracuda Point’.

Diving Pictures
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These pictures were taken in less than five metres of water. They are reasonably representative of what the reef-top is like.


Sipidan is a beautiful spot, but, on balance,  I don’t think I would spend 1000 MYR to do a one-day snorkel trip here.  That’s a lot of money.  If you have a lot of money, then fine, go for it.  But if you are on a budget, you can find somewhere else that is 80% as good for one-third of the price.

If you are going to book a snorkel trip package, I suggest that you ask your operator whether it is a dedicated snorkel trip or whether you will be just tagging along on a dive boat.  A lot of the reef-top is more than 7 metres deep and unless you are taken somewhere specifically suitable for snorkelling, you might find it too deep to see very much.

There is a map of the dive sites in Sipadan on the Dive Sites page.

Other Linkies:


Written:  Jul 2012               Last Updated: Jul 2012


Pulau Mabul, Malaysia

It will be a while before I get a chance to write this up properly, so working on the theory that anything is better than nothing, here’s some rough-and-ready notes and a few pictures.  A fuller and shinier version with lots more photos will replace this someday when I get the chance.

Mabul Island from the South-East


Pulau Mabul (Mabul island) is a small island in the Tuk Sarakan National Park. It is about 15 km  from the town of Semporna in the South-East of Sabah State, Eastern Malaysia.

 Malay_MalbulTEMP_02_Locationmap1.jpg Malay_MalbulTEMP_03_P7021420_.jpg


Mabul is quite close to the famous diving island of Sipadan. It is mainly known as the place that you stay on when you want to dive Sipadan. There are numerous dive-resorts on Mabul.

There is also some interesting diving to be had around Mabul itself.  Every article you read will tell you how the phrase “Muck-diving” was founded in Mabul.  (‘Muck diving’ means looking up-close at small creatures in areas where the visibility or surrounding scenery is otherwise poor).

What nobody seems to mention is that there is some very nice reef on Mabul and it is within snorkelable depths.

The difficult part is how to snorkel on it safely without getting killed by all the speedboats zipping around on the surface.

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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions


I came to Mabul in June, mainly for the purpose of diving Sipadan.  I dived there with both Billabong Scuba and Uncle Chang and stayed at their dive resorts on the East side of the island.  I also dived and snorkelled around Mabul itself. Sometimes independently, sometimes off the resort’s boat. Uncle Chang’s resort lets its guests snorkel for free from their Mabul dive boats (while their divers are down).

West Side
The drop-off on the West Coast (G H I) is by far the best area I snorkelled.  Unfortunately, it is also the most dangerous.  It is fine if you have the protection of a dive boat, but if you are out there by yourself, there is a significant danger of being run over by a speedboat driver who won’t be expecting snorkelers there.

Independent snorkelling isn’t the done thing over this side.  If you want to do it, take a big surface marker buoy with you.  It’s a bit better at lower tides, when the speedboats can’t get over the reeftop and divert out over the deep water instead.

Access to the water is mainly via long ladders down from the resorts’ stilt-village locations. There is also a beach which has walk-in access at the Southern end, (near F on the map).

o o o o o o o o o o

There is a huge expanse of sandy shallows with lots of sea grass in Area ABCD. Ostensibly not too interesting, I did find some cool critters here including a wide range of small eels, some duelling hermit crabs and, once, a passing Eagle Ray.
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As you go further out towards the drop-off, you start to get some coral.  The best stuff is at 1-2 metres depth and is ~30 metres from the drop-off.

As you work your way along G-H-I you find 100 metres of really good stuff,

then 30 metres of not-so-good stuff

then 40 metres of good stuff

then 20 metres of not-so-good stuff

then 30 metres of good stuff

etc., etc.


Here’s some pics of the drop-off itself.
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There are a few turtles around, mostly swimming out in the blue.

And a few interesting fish species.
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Generally, there aren’t too many mid-sized/bigger fish around and those that are, are pretty jumpy.  There is an indigenous population and they use whatever fishing methods they can,  including spearguns.  One day at low water I saw a local guy who had waded out the 1km to the drop-off and had set-up a tripod on it with a speargun mounted on top.  It looked like an underwater World War II machine-gun emplacement, with our man poised to mow-down any unsuspecting enemy fish.

But the fish aren’t unsuspecting.  They have developed an instinct to flee as soon as a trigger is pressed.  Unfortunately, this instinct also kicks-in when a camera-shutter button is pressed.

Here are a few interesting invertebrates:
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East Side
The East side has a designated snorkelling area which is marked off from boat traffic by buoys. It has easy access to the water from a gently sloping beach.  This is where you are ‘supposed’ to snorkel on Mabul.

The snorkelling over this side is no as hot as the West side .  If people tell you that there isn’t much snorkelling on Mabul – this is the part that they are talking about.

Actually, there is some really nice coral around here, but mostly the underwater visibility was appalling – less than 2 metres.  All there was to do was take macro picture of the coral from a couple of inches away.
Malay_MalbulTEMP_39_P6180355_.jpg Malay_MalbulTEMP_40_P6180274.JPG

But on one day, it picked up to reveal some extensive coral reef.

There are a couple of jetties on this side.  There were some pretty growths underneath them

The area M N O is roped-off for snorkelers.  It is probably not safe to go anywhere outside of this area as there is a lot of boat traffic going to and from the jetties.   Here is the line of buoys at the edge, looking out towards the dive-resort based on one of those Ikea oil-rigs.


One day I found a big-old lady and followed her around into the shallows near the village, for a chomp on some sea-grass.



There are about 10 dive resorts on the island and most people stay on one of these as part of an all-inclusive dive-eat-sleep package for 2-3 days.  At most of them, you can pay for extra days accommodation and/or diving.  I guess that many will let you go out on the boat to snorkel while they are diving around Mabul.

There is a list of resorts at wikitravel here.

I guess you can buy dedicated snorkelling packages, too, but I haven’t looked into it. (You can get certainly get these for Sipadan trips).

Independent travellers.
When I was there (2012), there was a single ‘backpackers’ type place on Mabul.  It was 40MYR for a dorm.  (for comparison: the cheapest dive resort dorm was 80MYR, with most dive resort accommodation being double rooms starting at about 120MYR).

If you are going independent, you will have to take a dive-resort boat from Semporna to Mabul for about 100MYR each way.  If you are on a package, transfers will be included in the price.  In both cases, there is an extra jetty fee of 10MYR in Semporna.

For independents – there are a few local eateries on the island, selling basic food at mainland prices (about 5-10MYR for a simple rice-and-meat dish).   Package-deal people will have all resort meals included in the price.

There is a wide dust-track running along the length of the island, near to the West coast.


You can use it to reach a scrappy beach on the South West corner of the island. There is easy access to the water here and there is a channel cut through the coral (F to E on the map).  Give way to boats in the channel.  Further North, you must use ladders from the resorts to get down to the water.

On the East side of the island, there access to the water from the one sloping beach, at the North end.

There are a couple of points where you can cut across from the West side track to the East side of the island, including the demarked snorkel area in the North East.

Some people mention that there are rats on Mabul.  Yes, I saw one or two, usually scurrying around in the rafters of one of the stilt accommodations.  It’s pretty unlikely that they are going to come down and bite you.

The couple of beaches are nothing special – you probably wouldn’t want to lay-out on them.

Some local fishermen paddle by the resorts in the mornings looking to sell last night’s catch to tourists. The resort’s kitchen will happily store these and cook them for you in the evening (for a small fee).  Resorts encourage people to pay the fishermen in non-monetary items (usually sweet or savoury snacks). If you’re doing this, take the wrappers off first as the fisherman’s kids will just throw the plastic wrappers straight into the sea.


Local islanders are used to natural food with its wrappings that biodegrade naturally. They haven’t quite got used to plastics and the need to dispose of them differently.  Some accounts of Mabul mention a plastics pollution problem, but I can’t say I saw much of it.   If you do see a plastic bag in the sea, please grab it and take it with you as turtles think they are jellyfish and choke trying to eat them.

Other linkies:

Divesite maps
Sipadan page

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Overall, I loved the snorkelling on the West side of Mabul and I would say that if you can find someone selling a trip that will let you snorkel the West coast drop-off safely, then it is worth coming to Mabul for the snorkelling, (even if you aren’t going to Sipadan).


Written:  Jul 2012               Last Updated: Jul 2012


I haven’t snorkelled here, but I might give it a try later this year.