Diving the waters of Sipadan, Borneo

Posted on December 30, 2008 by

A hawksbill turtle

Spending X’mas in Sipadan was perhaps the best break of 2008. After a year of major changes – moving from Spain to Singapore, travelling in Africa, and short trips around tropical Asia, I urgently needed a break from everything. Just time to sit, relax and clear my head alil.

Thou it didn’t feel like X’mas, with the tropical heat and the oceanic setting, we undoubtedly immersed ourselves in the beach bummer lifestyle both of us adore. Everyday was breezy and carefree – waking up to a stunning sunrise by our simple water chalet, diving the deep waters and swimming amidst turtles, then napping away on our verandah overlooking the sea in the evening.

 Looking out on our verandah

On our little piece of haven in Sabah, we found heaven. Truth be told, I had been swaying in the seabreeze and getting high on the smell of saltwater too much to even realise that I was still on earth.  

Tons of untouched islands dot the area – we dived around Sibuan Island where we found 3 turtles playing hide-and-seek under the coral reefs, and clown fish mingling around with the sea anemone. As we reached the shore of Sibuan Island, some 3-year-old boys stared at us, stark naked and smiling in puzzlement. We were told later that they were Filippino immigrants who’d taken refuge on this previously uninhabited island, living on their own catch from the sea, and basic rattan huts they’d thatched together themselves. Inhabited by perhaps only 20 of them, Sibuan is an unspoilt, rustic island that had managed to escape the clutches of tourism, as yet.

the children of Sibuan Island

clownfish playing amongst the sea anemone

blue Dory 


Schools of batfish

For every diving enthusiast, Sipadan is the Mecca, and the ultimate answer to paradise. It’s what dive worshippers have been looking for. Blessed with rich biodiversity, you can find over 500 species just of coral and 3000 species of fish around the reefs of Sipadan. From the intimidating white-tip sharks to abundance of hawksbill turtles, Sipadan is one of the few sites in the world where you are guaranteed a visual feast of marine life. Luck was on our side as we were almost caught in a whole school of trevallies as they swam in coherence with one another. A turtle even swam so close to me, like he wanted a cuddle. I just stared straight into his eyes, and said hi to my new friend.

turtle amidst the colourful corals

school of trevallies

What makes Sipadan a world-famous dive site is its majestic drop-off that seems to cascade down to endless depths (700metres).  Sipadan Island is only 14 hectares in size, encircled by vibrant coral gardens, which are cut steeply vertical into the deep sea. The drop-off is where you can find incredible diversity and density of marine life, and the most popular dive sites like the barracuda point, and white-tip avenue.

black-tip shark

I had the most fun with this interesting group of divers – all middle-aged Malaysians who had funny tales to share and a heart of gold. They were there to calm my nerves and share their precious life experience with me. 

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

27 Responses to “Diving the waters of Sipadan, Borneo”

  1. Boon February 1, 2009 10:11 am

    Oi! Me middle aged!? my sister and me also barely quater age! haha! Cool website Nellie! interesting to read about your travelss!

    • Nellie February 8, 2009 7:32 am

      hey Boon! I was referring to your relatives. lol. Good to hear from you! I really had a great time with you guys diving Mabul! Thanks for the compliments btw! Keep reading ;)

  2. Borneo Travel January 11, 2010 11:30 am

    While doing research for borneo travel on Sunday your post regarding Diving the waters of Sipadan, Borneo | Wild Junket came up. Just wanted to drop a note to let you know what a great site you have. It is a great resource and a great place to drop by.

  3. David Jr January 27, 2010 4:20 am

    I was planning to visit Sipadan and was searching google and came across your site. Great work you have going here. If you would like to do a link exchange, please do let me know.

    • admin February 1, 2010 5:47 pm

      Thanks David, appreciate the kind words. I’ll be in touch!

  4. livgaunt November 4, 2012 5:02 am

    Hi Nellie – I love your photos of all the critters. I know they don't sit and pose so well done! Can I ask for a link exchange too please?

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  6. az-tech.com.au April 21, 2013 10:11 am

    I just visited your site via Facebook..I found myself regurgitating what you said in your 1 and 2 points while answering the three questions. =) I’ll be brief insteadwould you be interested in becoming weblog partners?


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