Once again you delivered a spectacular dive experience. Our expedition to Malaysia on the islands of Mabul and Sipadan was one of the greatest we have ever undertaken with you.

Your pre trip dive site inspections helped provide another flawless outing. As usual you provided the TOTAL dive adventure.

From top accommodations, to knowledgeable and thoroughly experienced local dive masters, to help with photographic questions, to some of the greatest dives I have ever seen; you did it all.

Your encyclopedic knowledge of our oceans' fishes and corals always adds that extra facet which makes GDE's trips so wonderful.

...I can safely say Sipadan ranks up there with the world's best dive sites. Thanks for providing ANOTHER in a string of 'Once in a lifetime adventure
~ Jerry & Susan Braet, Founding members since 2003.

Resorts/Yachts/Dive Ops

Our Favorite Sipadan Resort

Our Favorite Sipadan Dive Operator

Our Favorite Sipadan Resort- Sipadan Water Village

Sipadan Water Village (SWV) is simply one of my most favorite places on earth. But don’t worry! You’ll get, as always, an honest review of the place. Yep, it’s definitely a schlep to get to; halfway around the world if you live in the US like I do. But to me, getting there is half the fun. If you don’t believe me, check out my ebook on the subject at http://www.live-adventurously.com/adventure-store/ . At any rate, this place is extremely romantic, definitely cultural and out of this world for diving. How can you resist an all over-water bungalow resort? And if you like sea snakes….well…EVEN BETTER!!

From www.swvresort.com

Sipadan Water Village is a resort beautifully constructed with Bajau architectural design. Part of the Mabul Island is also home to groups of Bajau fishermen who have built their traditional palm thatched houses.
The entire resort is built over water on stilts. In its design, Sipadan Water Village has achieved near utopia in its over-the-water layout, splendid water cottage accommodations with flowered sidewalks, wonderfully prepared Asian and Continental cuisine, and impeccable and personable service.

Overall Feel of Sipadan Water Village

SWV has only 45 “chalets” and as mentioned, not only are all the rooms over the water but the entire resort is built on stilts off the sheltered side of Mabul Island. At night the lights of the resort shine into the brilliant blue water and I can watch the fish swim around. It’s quiet, only the sound of flip flops on the wood walkways. At the bar, you might hear music from an underwater video or a few people bellied up at the bar. If it’s nightlife you want, go elsewhere but if it’s absolutely world class diving in the remote Celebes Sea you’ve found it!

It’s an easy 30 minute circumnavigation of the island of Mabul which has two small villages kind of smushed together as one. The people are friendly and there are a gazillion children and it’s fun to walk over and hang out with them. I learned a couple of cool new games from the kids including a variation on marbles and a jumping game which involves keeping a flipflop between your knees. This is the kind of place Mabul Island and Sipadan Water Village are.

Resort Spec Highlights

  1. 45 bunaglows
  2. 1 restaurant
  3. 1 bar
  4. On site dive center
  5. world class diving right off the dock
  6. Incredible friendly staff
  7. Peace and quiet
  8. One masseuse as a last resort only
  9. All inclusive

Beach

The resort does not really have a beach. The beach on the island of Mabul is used by the villagers and would not be appropriate for taking a towel and “laying out”. There are many boats off the beach which are actually lived on as the villagers closest to the resort come from the Bajau tradition, a culture of sea gypsies. You can swim, snorkel and dive off the dock at the dive center. There is no pool at SWV.

Snorkeling

You can snorkel off the dock at the resort and snorkel to your hearts content around and under the resort pilings. It’s very interesting snorkeling and you can find everything from lionfish to sea snakes and crocodile fish to mandarianfish in just a few feet of water. At low tide the coral under the resort is just about exposed meaning the water is VERY shallow so you need to be careful and know if the tide is going out or in. Alternately the highest tides bring the water just a foot or two below the wood pathways of the resort. You can also join the dive boat to Sipadan Island (extra fee) and snorkel on some of the most pristine coral in the world.

The reefs of Mabul are known more for “muck” style diving and so the coral is not prolific and there is lots of sand. But you can find really cool stuff in the sand if you look! If you want beautiful corals, Sipadan is the only place in the area as it is an oceanic island away from the shore.

Bars and Restaurants

There is only one restaurant at the resort and it is all inclusive so you won’t find any prices listed which is a nice way to not worry about spending more on your dive trip. All meals are buffet with a number of different stations. So if you abhore buffets, you may have a problem here. There is a salad station, a dessert and fruit area, hot pans with both Asian and Contintental food and a grill station at which you can find everything from hamburgers to tempura to spicy pasta. If you are at the resort for more than a couple of weeks, the food may get tiresome but I like the ease of in and out and no waiting for plated service. This works well if you have a group.

While there is “technically” bar service at the restaurant, you will need to ask for it as most people I noticed didn’t drink at meals. But if you want something, they will be happy to arrange it.

There is one bar on the property which is fine as it’s a small property and more than one is definitely not needed. It’s open from around noon until the last person leaves. There are about 10 bar stools and then some comfy chairs and couches along with a TV for movies (no regular TV service) or you can plug in your video and show the underwater footage you shot that day. There is an internet station also in the bar but the service is so slow as it’s usually unusable. Free wifi if you are lucky enough to get a signal.

The bar serves all types of mixed drinks as well as beer and wine. Wine is only available by the bottle and is limited to only two or three kinds. I just plan into my finances a bottle a day for the two of us to share and chalk up $30. It is such a homey atmosphere that none of these little issues cause anyone any real concern.

Spa

If you are looking for a spa type resort, this is not the place for you. There is one masseuse on duty and for $30 (yes, this price seems to be a theme!) she will come to your room. She is a 70 year old woman from the local village who doesn’t have a lot of strength nor does she have a table or probably any formal training. She lays you down on the lounge chair on your deck and does her best. She would make a wonderful subject for a National Geographic photo shoot and she is as kind as can be.

Accommodations

SWV has four levels of “chalets”. The junior suites are the smallest at 552 sq. ft. They share a deck and are definitely older looking and feeling. Unless specifically requested I do not book these accommodations. Sometimes they are specifically requested since they are within about 10 steps of the dive shop and divers who have lots of gear to carry back and forth or want to be ready to jump on the boat at a moment’s notice prefer these.

The next level up is the standard bungalow which is considerably larger at 714 sq. ft. There are a couple of these which are semi-detached but I prefer the completely separate units of which there are 29, the majority of the resort. These have a large bedroom area, separate large bathroom with shower (no tub) and a fantastic deck! The folding doors on two sides of the bungalow fold out to give a real open air feel to the place. However, if you do open everything up you lose a little bit of privacy.

The Deluxe chalets are bigger yet at 1068 sq ft and these two units have bathtubs and larger everything.

Finally the Grand Deluxe (4) are the most opulent with their own private hot tub, not a jacuzzi tub but a true hot tub.

The higher the level of accommodation, the longer your walk. The Junior Suites are very close to the dive shop, main building with reception and the bar and the separate palapa with the restaurant. On the far side of the main building the walkway goes in a long “L” shape with the Grand Deluxe Chalets at the end with the most privacy and the longest walk if you forget something on the way to the dive boat.

Snakes

I must mention the snakes. It is certainly something that makes SWV unique. There is a very healthy population of sea snakes in the area and at times they slither up into the resort. It is always a good idea to check for snakes. They are found most often in and around the junior suites and around rooms 109-113. They especially come up during times of high tide. I never did find one in my room but I found three one night in the
bathroom at the bar and one under the couch near the TV. We took brooms and basically swept them out and back into the water. What’s a vacation without a little sea snake action!!

PS: Oh yes, they also like the dive gear and camera storage rooms!

Overall

Sipadan Water Village is so unique that you can’t help but fall in love with it. The super sweet staff, the divemaster team and the local village color make it unforgettable. It is not five star luxury given the buffet style meals and lack of spa services. But it has an amazing charm that will sweep you off your feet. And the prices are reasonable as well.

Browse the SWV website for pricing and more at www.swvresort.com or contact us for an all inclusive, guided adventure with Sharkman and Mantagirl.

Our Favorite Dive Operator -Sipadan Water Village Dive Operation

SWV has a very nice dive operation. When you arrive you do a check out dive which is normal operating procedures. You can simply jump in off the dock. Once that’s done your name is put on the big board listed under a particular boat and DM which will change every day. There are a few different dive areas and you will have the opportunity to visit them all during your trip.

Facility

They have a great set up at SWV for diving. When you walk into the dive area the first thing you notice is that it’s HUGE. There are six or eight picnic style tables where you can sit and wait, drink a cup of coffee or have a slice of warm cake from the warmer right there at the shop. A large white board displays all of the daily diving activity who is in which boat, departure time and destination as well as night diving activities. There is plenty of room for everyone to hang out, work on camera gear or brag about their dive exploits!

There is a large gear room for hanging your BCD and regulator (this is the one the snakes like!) and a separate room with lockers for you to lock up your mask, fins, weight belt and hang your wetsuit. The funniest thing is that you store your key (with the locker number on it) on the wall outside the gear room. I’ve never had problems with gear going missing.

There are also bathrooms (though rarely TP) at the dive area as well as plenty of outdoor showers and rinse tanks. The staff rig all your gear in the morning and carry the tanks to and from the boats.

There are four separate camera gear rooms which are available to rent for $5/day if you don’t want to schlep your camera back and forth to your room. Remember it’s a long walk from the Deluxe rooms!

Boats

The boats work pretty well for the area though in rough seas you’ll want to sit as far back as possible in the boat to keep your kidneys in working order. But except for Si Amil Island, the longest ride is only about 20 minutes.

The boats hold about eight divers each which makes the groups small and each boat has a DM and a driver. Boats are equipped with the necessary emergency equipment and some boats are definitely faster than others. Since we return to the dock after every dive (except Sipadan and Si Amil) there is no need to have lots of storage space for dry bags etc… All gear is stowed under the bench style seats (with cushions) and pre-rigged tanks are in the bow.

The Diving Operation

I would not necessarily give the DMs at SWV the highest marks for dive briefings BUT I would give them a 10+ on critter finding. They are simply amazing and I say that as an instructor with 7500 dives. They can find anything..well almost…I’m still looking for a mimic octopus! They all carry metal pointers to point out camouflaged critters along the way. And with the exception of one DM (who was no longer there during my most recent trip) they are all happiest when they are in the water. This means that they don’t have DM attitude, they want to be in the water finding you critters. These are DMs who spend their time looking through the ID books and continue to find more and more rare inhabitants of the sea. These are the DMs I would hire if I were to open my own dive resort!

*A note about diving Sipadan*

Most people come expressly to dive at Sipadan which is a UNESCO world heritage protected side. Because of it’s protected status, the government limits the number of divers daily to the island and split that between the local dive operators. While they never “guarantee” you will dive there, they typically get you out there 3 days per week. But the other dive sites have totally cool stuff so I’m never disappointed.

Safety and Environment

Unfortunately most of the people in the areas around Borneo do not have enough respect for the ocean to keep from using it as a trash receptacle. Especially when leaving mainland Borneo for the 40 minute ride to Mabul the trash in the water is unbelievable. With that said, the staff at SWV are committed to the environment and also spend a week each year teaching marine conservation to the local villages on the island. I feel that the DMs were very conscientious about their marine practices.

I feel that SWV also does a great job making sure their program is safe and the operation runs smoothly.

Overall

What can I say? I will return to SWV at every chance I have to dive these waters and be in the company of the Malaysian and Filipino people and these great critter finding divemasters. They make me feel at home and have a wonderful sense of hospitality. I keep in touch by email and FB with staff from the resort and look forward to my next trip…and perhaps THIS time a mimic octopus!

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