Borneo: Mabul Island.

I think I should start with some sort of introduction and answer a basic question: why Borneo? I have to say the island had never made it onto my “to do” list. There were just so many other places so I did not even think of planning a visit there. Why did I go then? When I booked a fairly cheap flight to Singapore I started to think that I should visit the neighboring countries as Singapore was not a viable option for 2 weeks. I thought I would spend a few days in Singapore and the rest in Malaysia. Then I looked at the map and realized that a part of Borneo was actually a part of Malaysia and a quick google search convinced me that the Island should actually be THE destination and not an addition. Couple of months later I found myself flying from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau!


Kuala Lumpur airport from above.



Flying over Borneo. The Island is huge and green. Unfortunately most of the green part is no longer a natural jungle but rather patchy collections of palm tree plantations.


Tawau airport. A small, quaint and welcoming. The weather was amazing too!


Public transport is pretty decent in Borneo. Unfortunately I was rushing to catch a boat to a small island so I could not risk jeopardizing the trip by any delays – I booked a shuttle to Semporna. Lucky to be alive as the driver knew no road limits! And my first contact with the place was rather sad – I knew the damage we have caused to Borneo but I could not see any natural forest as I traveled up. The prehistoric jungle has gone from the area for good it seemed.


Yes, they drive on the left hand side!


I finally arrived safely to Semporna, a small city on the coast – I had an hour or two until the boat departure so I thought I would give the place a walk. Not the grandest of places I have been to and I felt I was an attraction and I target of pickpocketers so tried to stay alert. The city is the main port for divers on this side of Borneo so I did not have much choice of places to go for diving but I think the city is bound to shine sooner or later due to it’s location to one of the greatest diving sites. Sort like Cairns? *Cough* *Cough*….


The guys below do a pretty good job so worth checking them out!


The boat ride to Mabul island was pretty smooth. The views from the boat – interesting but also pretty sad. Why? I have never seen so much trash outside of landfill. Trash in the water seems to stick together creating puddles of waste on the surface of the sea. It does look both disgusting and worrying. All the images you have seen of animals getting caught by nets and plastic bags? They are real and the problem is big…


So much trash in the sea… poor animals thinking it’s food. Can we do something about it?


After a 45-minute boat ride we have finally arrived to Mabul island. The reality was a bit disappointing at first but it was soon replaced by a sense of curiosity. I suppose people living in those houses have lived this way for whole of their lives and they know no luxury. But then again there is a 5 star resort built right behind their village…. and no I do not mean the placed I stayed in 🙂 I do not do 5*! 🙂


As it gets dark pretty early around the equator I did not have too much time to discover what the island was like so I dropped my bags and went for an adventure. I was told that a walk around the island should not take more than 1h so I decided to give it a go on the very same day as I arrived.


And what I saw was pretty rough indeed. Many parts of the island were not maintained as they should. Such a shame the beauty of the island is hidden underneath piles of trash…


All them houses on the water… Doesn’t the sea get rough sometimes?


Some kids are lucky enough to attend schools down on the main land (Borneo land).


Local graveyard next to the houses.


The island is small – but it only takes a few steps and you enter a different world. How people can enjoy their posh lives knowing there is hunger and poverty right next door? There is a special agreement between the locals and the resort owners that no trespassing will take place. Local people can sell stuff to the tourists as part of the agreement though. Some sort of symbiosis. Better this than the eviction I guess?


I was on the other side of the island when the night caught me so I could not explore anything anymore. I decided to repeat the trip during a day light and possibly interact with the locals some more 🙂


A night in one of them houses on water pictured belo was priced at $500. Do you think it’s worth it? I did not get the details but I believe similar houses in Maledives offer more for the bucks.


It does look inviting though…


Ever got hit by a coconut? I did not want to take any chances…


A few steps right from the paradise and you are back in sad reality.


The sea is still alive though. Little crab hiding!


Good morning to a heavy tropical rain! The main purpose of my visit was diving and a little bit of rain will not stop me 😉


If diving is your thing, then Mabul Island is the perfect destination. A little island off the east coast of Malaysian Borneo is well known as being the gateway to Sipadan, which is one of the most beautiful sites on the planet. It’s said to be one of the best places to dive due to it’s unique location and formation (an extinct volcano covered with corals that took thousands of years to develop). It’s so good and desired that the government had to limit the number of dive permits. If you want to get one book your trip MONTHS ahead. I didn’t…! 😦



Night diving is perhaps one of the most interesting experiences. You are surrounded by dark matter and cannot see anything around but the narrow area lit by your torch. You know there are scary creatures around but aren’t they more scared of you?


Mabul Island is one of them places where you look at the pictures on Internet and you think: Paradise! Well, not really. The island is inhabited by local sea gypsies, poor people without nationality that just live off what they manage to catch, produce and sell. It’s not a paradise when you see people struggling to live a decent life.  But this shall not scare you off from visiting but rather convince you to see a society that survives without modern perks. And if you’d like you can always lend them a helping hand and buy something small. A can of coke for example. Bajau Laut, the Sea Gypsies, can be found on a few islands around including Mabul. This is enough of a reason to visit the island, but if you dive too, then Mabul is a must when visiting Borneo!

Thanks for visiting,




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