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The Best Diving In Sabah, Borneo

A DIVE GUIDE 

Sabah is at the heart of the Coral Triangle - the world's epicentre for marine biodiversity. It is part of Borneo the third largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. It is Malaysia's second largest state and the wild and rugged interior is dominated by mountains, jungle and rivers. The state capital is Kota Kinabalu on the northwest coast. The diving is concentrated into roughly two regions - the northwest including the outer lying island of Layang-Layang and the southeast with the internationally renowned dive hotspots of Sipadan and Mabul.

 

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Manta Layang

Manta rays are a common sight in this isolated group of 133 islands forming a giant atoll

Malaysia's only atoll sits 300km northwest of Kota Kinabalu and is the place for exciting pelagic action with schools of hammerhead sharks, giant manta rays and whales sharks. Excellent reefs with dramatic drop-offs and coral covered walls. The diving season is between March and April.


Pulau Tiga is just 50km southwest of Kota Kinabalu – sometimes known as Survivor Island as it was the location for the first series of the reality series of the same name. Dive centres in KK offer day trips by fast boats, often with one overnight stay in the volcanic islands which were only formed at the end of the 19th Century. The mineral-rich hot mud baths are a popular attraction. It is a marine park and the reefs are in good condition. Nearby Snake Island is famed for the large number of sea kraits found on its reefs.


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The nearest dive sites to Kota Kinabalu are just 15 minutes away from the city centre on a fast boat. The marine park comprises of five islands and is popular for dive training. Some good muck diving for those searching our weird critters and between January to April you can come across the occasional whale shark. In 2016 the KM Kuraman (a former Malaysian Navy patrol boat) was sunk in the park as an artificial reef for divers.

whale shark


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Blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena sp.)

Mantanani Islands are a group of three small islands northwest of Kota Belud, about an hour’s drive from the  Kota Kinabalu. They are an hour speedboat ride from the mainland Kuala Abai Jetty. You can stay at stay at the Mari Mari Backpackers Lodge on Pulau Mantanani Besar (Big Mantanani Island) and there is a PADI dive centre on Small Mantanani Island which also has some accommodation. Very isolated with little tourist development. The underwater viz is normally excellent - up to 40m and expect to see lots of blue-spotted and marble rays and big schools of reef fish. Excellent muck diving with delights such as blue-ringed octopus lurking on the rubble around the reefs.


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Sitting a few degrees north of the Equator, this isolated island off the northeast coast of Sabah out in the Sulu Sea is a bit of a quiet backwater with only one dive centre. It means sites to yourself, pristine reefs and effective marine protection in the past decade has led a dramatic increase in marine life. Today you stand a good chance of seeing reef sharks on most of the 40-odd sites. Plus a couple of interesting wrecks and excellent macro life.


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A luxury resort with great diving both in the surrounding area and now you can be explored further afield with the resort's liveaboard built in traditional Indonesia style, the Pom Pom Princess. Lots of hawksbill and green turtles which nest on the island from the end of April until August. 


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Palau Bodgaya the largest island in the park

The park is 35,000-hectare of protected ocean with a string of small coral islands and seamounts at the entrance of Darvel Bay off Semporna and is the home the nomadic Bajau Laut people who live in houseboats or homes built on stilts perched above the sea. There are eight main islands with two large areas of reef. While it doesn't quite have the exceptional biodiversity of Sipadan, it is still remarkable with well over 500 species of fish and 200 invertebrates. There is a giant clam and marine invertebrate hatchery at Bohey Dulang. Dive trips can be arranged from Semporna or from Mataking and Pom Pom Island.

 


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Mataking Island is a 40-minute boat ride from Semporna on the southeastern tip of Sabah. Dramatic drop-offs and walls brimming with marine life. Plenty of sharks and other pelagics. Increasingly a popular alternative to Sipadan.


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A unique diving experience - a dive centre and resort on a former offshore oil rig just north of Mabul and Sipadan. The rooms have been comfortably converted from the crew's quarters and are far more spacious than any liveaboard. Stunning views from the sun deck of the Celebes Sea and there is even a snooker room! The diving is equally impressive.


Borneo Divers

 


 

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One of the most famous muck diving destinations on the planet with a staggering array of weird fish and cephalopods. The reef sits on the edge of the continental shelf. It is also a popular base for exploring nearby Sipadan. Mabul is reached via the gateway of Semporna on the southeastern tip of Sabah.


Sipadan

Sipadan Island is a world-famous dive site. More than 3,000 species of fish and coral are found around the island earning it the reputation as having the best diving in Sabah. Aside from the stunning variety of marine life, Sipidan is also host to the 'turtle tomb' - an underwater cave system filled with the skeletons of sea turtles. Divers are no longer allowed to stay on Sipadan, you must stay in nearby Semporna or on Mabul Island. In an effort to conserve the reefs, only 120 dive permits are issued per day. 


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This resort was originally developed as a base for visiting nearby Sipadan. It is a string of wooden bungalows perched on top of a sandbar. Divers quickly realised that the reefs beneath offered world-class muck diving with blue-ringed octopus, ghost pipefish, wasp fish, leaf scorpion fish, galore. You can even watch the evening mating ritual of mandarin fish right next to the resort's jetty. Today plenty of visiting underwater photographers never venture any further than the island's macro delights.


  • WeatherWeather
    Typically hot and humid,  it can be wet at anytime, although most rain falls between November and January and less so between June and August. Temperatures fluctuates little throughout the year; the average is between 21 C and 32 C.

  • visaVISAS
    British Citizens do not need a visa to enter Malaysia.
  • PhonePhones
    Local SIM cards can be bought on arrival and prices are about 40 RM for 1Gb of data with a wide variety of packages, some including free calls. Shop around for the best current deal. The main companies are  Celcom (www.celcom.com.my), DiGi (www.digi.com.my) and Hotlink (www.hotlink.com.my). Celcom is fine for cities, while DiGi and Hotlink have more extensive coverage of more rural areas. Free WiFi is fairly common in places such as Starbucks and international hotel lobbies. The country code is  60. Emergency numbers: dial 199 for medical attention or the fire service; dial 191 for police.
  • sabah currencyCURRENCY 
    The ringgit (RM) is made up of 100 sen. Coins in use are 1 sen (rare), 5 sen, 10 sen, 20 sen and 50 sen; notes come in RM1, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50 and RM100hinggit (RM) is made up of 100 sen. 

  • malaysia lanuageLANGUAGES
    Bahasa Malaysia is the official language spoken in  Sabah. Other widely spoken languages include Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil and English. All the indigenous tribes in Borneo also speak their own language.
  • HealthHealth
    Good general health service. There is a hyperbaric chamber is at a naval base between Semporna and Tawau for those in the southeast and another facility in Kota Kinabalu. The World Health Organization recommends the following vaccinations for travellers to Sabah: adult diphtheria,  tetanus, hepatitis A and typhoid.

  • ElectricityElectricity
    Electric supply is on a 240-volt 50-cycle system. The plug type is G which is the same as the UK.
  • TimeZoneTIME

    Malaysia is 8 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) 

 

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