Expedition Malaysia

Malaysian Borneo

Green Turtle - Sipadan Borneo, Malaysia

First Thoughts

Malaysian Borneo is your ultimate reef and rainforest destination. The jungles of Borneo still hold a multitude of diversity from elephants to birds to the endemic proboscis monkey. While palm oil plantations are taking over the lowland forests, protected areas still allow room for the wildlife. Underwater the diversity is as rich as on terra firma. From macro to pelagic life…it has quickly risen to the absolute top of the list!

Why We Think Malaysia and Sipadan Rock or Don’t

Because between Mabul, Kapalai, Si Amil & Sipadan, there is world class macro diving and stunningly pristine reefs and big walls. You get to stay in your own overwater resort and watch sunsets from your deck. You step right off the deck for your night dives!

Things that Rock …

  • most accommodations in overwater village very cool
  • play basketball with locals
  • friendly people
  • Borneo is adventure capital
  • Sipadan is gem well protected
  • World class macro

Things that Don’t …

  • can be a bit of a schlep
  • sharks all gone

The Diving

The Diving Areas of Malaysia

Sipadan Island-
is the jewel of Malaysian diving with an incredibly healthy coral structure that rings the tiny islet. In 2004, the Malaysian government had all resorts removed from the island. Now, through a lottery system, 120 divers per day are allowed to dive the reefs. Nothing like getting PELTED with turtles! At low tide you can find piles of turtles at cleaning stations. So many that it’s impossible to get them all in your wide angle lens! A tornado of jack and barracuda await at Barracuda Point and if you can catch the right moment, you will be rewarded with HUNDREDS of bumphead parrotfish. An incredible dive spot!

Mabul Island- Forty minutes by boat from the crowded town of Semporna, Mabul Island hosts a number of hotels and two distinctive and beautiful over water dive resorts. Two separate villages that blend into one crowd the small island. Underwater it’s a treasure trove! While Mabul doesn’t boast the healthy corals of Sipadan, it’s critters can’t be beat! Everything from sea snakes to OrangUtan crabs (yes, these 2-3” crabs DO resemble their namesakes!) to mating mandarianfish can be found. We’re still looking for the flamboyant cuddle fish…..we know it’s here but it keeps alluding us! It is unparalleled! Mabul/Sipadan make for a perfect wide angle/macro combo!

Sea Venture- Ok, this place is just downright weird….and wonderful! Above water, it is an converted oil rig cum dive hotel and you can use the word dive in whichever form you’d like! Because of its height above the water, divers are carried up and down to the water level in an “underwater” elevator cage (yep, remember, I did say weird!). Below the surface it is a junkyard of well….stuff lying on a sand/muck/rubble bottom. They have created huge junkpiles and structures such as a playhouse with a suspension bridge and sunken boats. It’s almost erie! But this underwater playground is also a playground for eels, crocodilefish, frogfish, ornate ghost pipefish, juv. sweetlips and TONS of other critters. Ugly but fabulous! We keep going back and back and back to this dive site just a 42 second boat ride from Sipadan Water Village Resort.

Kapalai– Just eight minutes from Mabul is Kapalai island. At low tide you can almost see an island but mainly it’s an overwater bungalow dive resort. Off it’s shores is fantastic macro diving though the sand and a small bit of coral reef. While the macro is fantastic, we often see large turtles and cuddle fish. Just put on your “little eyes” and go for it! Biologists are still finding and cataloging new species in these islands!

Si-Amil- This island lies about an hour off of Mabul Island and is a hilly, forested island home to monkeys and a military base. Diving here is a treat as it is chock a block with leap scorpionfish, blue ribbon eels, ornate ghostpipefish, frog fish and more.

Our Favorite Things to Do “Out of the Water”

We believe in Surf and Turf checking out the best of underwater AND on land. It just so happens that most of the worlds best SCUBA diving destinations have other amazing things going for them in addition to kick ass diving. Don’t miss it.

  • Go up the River without a Paddle! The Kinabatangan River just outside of Sandakan supports an incredible world of animals including, but definitely not limited to…pygmy elephants, at least 7 species of monkey, snakes including a python (by the way don’t get too close or you’ll freak out your guide…oops), bird galore including eight species of hornbill, orangutans and the endemic proboscis monkey, quite a sight to check out! Stay over a few nights at one of the lodges.
  • Climb Mt. Kinabalu- located in a world heritage site just outside of Kota Kinabalu (or KK as the cool people say) , Mt. Kinabalu is the highest peak in southeast Asia between PNG and the Himalayas. At 4100 meters (that’s over 13,000 feet) it’s a great hike. Put it on the list!
  • Visit Sepilok Orangutan sanctuary– While it may sound touristy, the sanctuary is working actually really cool and diligently working to restore the Bornean orangutan population. They feed at 10:00 in the morning which means they bring out some food and just hang out in case the animals come to eat. But after everyone leaves the feeding hang around and often they come right up to you. The sanctuary is located in Sandakan, Sabah.
  • Bird Watch in an Oxbow Lake. During its meandering, several oxbow lakes were created from the Kinabatangan River. Take your binoculars and go out early in the morning for bird watching. The hornbills are other worldly!
  • Swim with the crocodiles in the rivers – HA, Totally Joking!!!! They’ll eat you for a quick snack!
  • Hike through the jungle and try to avoid the leeches. This is actually fun. The leeches here are small and they hang out under leaves. When you go by them, they sense your body heat and reach out to catch a ride and a meal! See how agile you truly are…..only one bit me!
  • Visit Tabin and Danum Valleys for MORE wildlife encounters!
  • Petronas Towers- On your way home if you fly through KL (Kuala Lumpur) be sure to stop at Petronas Towers. It’s definitely THE Malaysian landmark!
  • Play basketball with the locals!– The local b-ball team is always looking for a game from 5:00-600pm on Mabul Island. Game ends promptly with the call to prayer at 6:00. Be prepared to get beat by guys in flip flops!!

Malaysia and Sipadan Seasonality

The climate is influenced by the Northeast and South-West Monsoons, which blows alternately during the year. The North-East Monsoon blows from November till April, bringing rain, to Sabah and Sarawak. The South-West Monsoon season is a drier period for the whole country. (Humidity: 85 % 95%). Generally the best time to travel is between April and November, but diving is year-round. January and February generally are windy and therefore choppy seas are common.

Sharkman and Mantagirl give Belize Fins Up

Check out Independent Travel Packages for Malaysia and Sipadan or join us on a Guided Diving Adventure

Destination Guide Sipadan/Mabul, Ma-laysian Borneo Extras!

Why Malaysia? Is this the right destination for you? This is what we know and love about Sipadan/Mabul:

  1. Incredible macro life around Mabul, the rare and the wonderful!!
  2. Diving from beginner to expert
  3. Macro and Wide Angle
  4. Some of the best divemasters in the world
  5. Fabulous corals and pelagics on Sipadan
  6. Island has been protected since the 1930’s
  7. FAMOUS Sipadan Turtles, so many turtles they land on your head!
  8. Amazing land opportunities for wildlife
  9. Local villages to visit and opportunities to meet the people

Here are some things you won’t find in the Sipadan/Mabul area:

  1. High rise resorts
  2. Beach life
  3. Wreck diving
  4. Night life or restaurants

The Diving

Why This Place Kicks Butt

Off the eastern coast of Borneo is one of our new favorite places to dive. First, the people in Malaysia are warm and friendly. The women were very easy to get to know (woman to woman) and very in tune with other women. From a tourist point of view, service staff are extremely helpful and kind.

The diving has pretty much everything you would want. In the Mabul area the macro is outstanding. The divemasters are tuned in to finding critters and are very interested themselves. They lack much of the attitude that can be found in bored dive professionals in resorts elsewhere. There are still things I am looking for that exist in the area so that alone keeps us going back, though there are a million reasons to return. Flamboyant cuttlefish and mimic octopus are among the hopefuls!

Sipadan has some of the healthiest corals I have seen anywhere in the world. Protection has done the island a world of good. Yes, there are limits to the numbers of divers on a given day and we’re all for that. It keeps the dive sites from getting over crowded and over dived. Sipadan is famous for the turtles that Jacques Cousteau raved about. At low tide the turtles come into the shallow waters for cleaning and there can be 8 or 10 or more in one spot. They will literally land on your head if you are not careful. Add to that a resident tornado of barracuda at Barracuda Point (yes, this is a dive site that ACTUALLY has the fish of its namesake!) and a large local school of bumphead parrotfish (in the hundreds) and you can be happy here for a lifetime!

Dive Areas

Diving in this area consists of areas of macro (Mabul, Sea Venture, Kapalai, Si Amil) as well as the pelagic life of Sipadan. It is noteworthy to see that pelagics are found in the protected areas only. Fishing of pelagics is legal here and though destructive practices are illegal, unfortunately it is still not uncommon.

Sipadan Island- is the jewel of Malaysian diving with an incredibly healthy coral struc-ture that rings the tiny islet. In 2004, the Malaysian government had all resorts removed from the island. Now, through a lottery system, 120 divers per day are allowed to dive the reefs and permits are given on a daily lottery basis. Nothing like getting PELTED with turtles! At low tide you can find piles of turtles at cleaning stations. So many that it’s impossible to get them all in your wide angle lens! A tornado of jack and barracuda await at Barracuda Point and if you can catch the right moment, you will be rewarded with HUNDREDS of bumphead parrotfish. An incredible dive spot!

Mabul Island- Forty minutes by boat from the crowded town of Semporna, Mabul Island hosts a few pension style hotels and two distinctive and beautiful over water dive re-sorts. Two separate villages that blend into one crowd the small island. Underwater it’s a treasure trove! While Mabul doesn’t boast the healthy corals of Sipadan, it’s critters can’t be beat! Everything from sea snakes to OrangUtan crabs (yes, these 2-3” crabs DO resemble their namesakes!) to mating mandarianfish can be found. We’re still looking for the flamboyant cuddle fish we know it’s here but it keeps alluding us! It is unparalleled! Mabul/Sipadan make for a perfect wide angle/macro combo!

Sea Venture- Ok, this place is just downright weird and wonderful! Above water, it is an converted oil rig cum dive hotel and you can use the word dive in whichever form you’d like! Because of its height above the water, divers are carried up and down to the water level in an “underwater” elevator cage (yep, remember, I did say weird!). Below the surface it is a junkyard of well stuff lying on a sand/muck/rubble bottom. They have created huge junkpiles and structures such as a playhouse with a suspension bridge and sunken boats. It’s almost erie! But this underwater playground is also a playground for eels, crocodilefish, frogfish, ornate ghost pipefish, juv. sweetlips and TONS of other critters. Ugly but fabulous! We keep going back and back and back to this dive site just a 42 second boat ride from Sipadan Water Village Resort.

Kapalai- Just eight minutes from Mabul is Kapalai island. At low tide you can almost see an island but mainly it’s an overwater bungalow dive resort. Off it’s shores is fan-tastic macro diving within the sand and a small bit of coral reef. While the macro is fan-tastic, we often see large turtles and cuddle fish. Just put on your “little eyes” and go for it! Biologists are still finding and cataloging new species!

Si-Amil- This island lies about an hour off of Mabul Island and is a hilly, forested island home to monkeys and a military base. Diving here is a treat as it is chock a block with leap scorpionfish, blue ribbon eels, ornate ghostpipefish, frog fish and more.

What’s The Adventure? Here are just a few of the things you can do outside of diving on Borneo.

*Go up the River without a Paddle! The Kinabatangan River just outside of Sanda-kan supports an incredible world of animals including, but definitely not limited to pygmy elephants, at least 7 species of monkey, snakes including a python (by the way don’t get too close or you’ll freak out your guide oops), birds galore including eight species of hornbill, orangutans and the endemic proboscis monkey, quite a sight to check out! Stay over a few nights at one of the lodges.

*Climb Mt. Kinabalu- located in a UNESCO world heritage site just outside of Kota Kinabalu (or KK as the cool people say) , Mt. Kinabalu is the highest peak in south-east Asia between PNG and the Himalayas. At 4100 meters (that’s over 13,000 feet) it’s a great hike. Put it on the list!

*Visit Sepilok Orangutan sanctuary- While it may sound touristy, the sanctuary is actually really cool and diligently working to restore the Bornean orangutan popula-tion. They feed at 10:00 in the morning which means they bring out some food and just hang out in case the animals come to eat. But after everyone leaves the feeding hang around and often they come right up to you. The sanctuary is located in San-dakan, Sabah.

*Bird Watch in an Oxbow Lake. During its meandering, several oxbow lakes were created from the Kinabatangan River. Take your binoculars and go out early in the morning for bird watching. The hornbills are other worldly!

*Swim with the crocodiles in the rivers HA, Totally Joking!!!! They’ll eat you for a quick snack!

*Hike through the jungle and try to avoid the leeches. This is actually fun. The leeches here are small and they hang out under leaves. When you go by them, they sense your body heat and reach out to catch a ride and a meal! See how agile you truly are..only one bit me!

*Visit Tabin and Danum Valleys for MORE wildlife encounters!

*Petronas Towers- On your way home if you fly through KL (Kuala Lumpur) be sure to stop at Petronas Towers. It’s definitely THE Malaysian landmark!

*Play basketball with the locals!- The local b-ball team is always looking for a game from 5:00-600pm on Mabul Island. Game ends promptly with the call to prayer at 6:00. Be prepared to get beat by guys in flip flops!!

Land Based or Live aboard?

Currently there is only one option for live aboard, the Celebes Explorer. While it offers options for night diving beyond the shore, it is not a high end experience. With Sipadan only 20 minutes from Mabul, Kapalai 8 minutes and Sea Venture 42 seconds away, there is plenty of world class diving with great shore accommodation offerings.

Water Temperature and Seasonality

The climate is influenced by the Northeast and South-West Monsoons, which blows alternately during the year. The North-East Monsoon blows from November till April, bringing rain, to Sabah and Sarawak. The South-West Monsoon season is a drier period for the whole country. (Humidity: 85 % 95%). Generally the best time to travel is between April and November, but diving can be done year-round. January and February generally are windy and therefore choppy seas are common and best avoided.

Making Travel Easy & Fun

PASSPORT AND HEALTH REQUIREMENTS

Passport

A valid passport is required to enter and exit the Malaysia. Please make sure that your passport is valid for three months from the date of exit out of the country and that you have enough space for entry/exit stamps. If you do not hold a valid passport, apply as soon as possible as it may take some time to receive. Always keep a copy of the face page of your passport located in a separate place than your passport.

Departure Tax

Departure tax is generally included in the price of your airline ticket. Check with your carrier to be sure.

Health

The following information is current as of 2009. The CDC is not requiring any vaccines at this time while traveling in Malaysia. Inoculation will not be required unless a traveler is entering from a designated infected area. A good source for information is the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. Call their 24 hour toll-free information at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636). The CDC also is on line at http:/www.cdc.gov. Remote areas of Malaysia may have Malaria, the use of mosquito repellant is always recommended when the insect is present.

Food

As when traveling anywhere in foreign countries, take general common sense precautions with food. Bottled water is recommended.

General Travel Information

PRACTICAL INFORMATION ON MALAYSIAN BORNEO

Electricity/Water

In Malaysia voltage is 240Volt 
Grounded plug adapters WA-7
Ungrounded plug adapters #5.
These are the recommended wall outlet plug adapters for MALAYSIA.

Tipping

Tipping is not a common practice in Malaysia. However, with that said, resorts that cater to Americans are learning to welcome them. We recommend tipping your dive guides and bartenders.

Telephone

To make a phone call you can use a “scratch card”, available in in supermarkets and most souvenir shops. They’re very easy to use and the instructions are on the card. the (free) number on the card and type in the code and then the number you want to call. You can also phone from many resorts at the front desk. Inquire at your individual hotel.

Fax

Fax service is available at most hotels for a fee.

Time Zones

Malaysia is GMT+8.

Currency

As of September, 2009 the exchange rate
1 US Dollar = 3.2 Malaysian Ringgit

Here’s a great web site to check http://www.x-rates.com/calculator.html
The Malaysian currency is the ringgit, informally known as the dollar (the "$" symbol can be seen on older notes) and abbreviated RM or MYR, is divided into 100 sen. There are coins of 5, 10, 20, and 50 sen as well as bills of RM1, 2 (rare), 5, 10, 50 and 100. 5 sen coins are mainly given as change in large establishments and supermarkets, peddlers and street vendors might be reluctant to accept them.

Ringgits are freely convertible and the exchange rate is US$1 = RM3.6 (April 2009). Foreign currencies are not generally accepted. The major exception is Singapore dollars, which are accepted by KTMB and toll roads, but at a highly unfavorable 1:1 exchange rate (an anomaly dating back to when the ringgit was interchangeable with the Singapore dollar, prior to the 1970s).

Climate

The climate in Malaysia is tropical. The north-east monsoon (October to February) deluges Borneo and the east coast in rain and often causes flooding, while the west coast (particularly Langkawi and Penang) escape unscathed. The milder south-west monsoon (April to October) reverses the pattern. The southern parts of peninsular Malaysia, including perennially soggy Kuala Lumpur, are exposed to both but even during the rainy season, the showers tend to be intense but brief.
The terrain consists of coastal plains rising to hills and mountains.

Country in Profile

History

Malaysia was formed in the year 1957 and became independent from British Colonialization. The Union Jack was lowered and the first Malaysian flag was raised in the Merdeka (independence) square on midnight 31st August, 1957. Six years later, Malaysia was formed in 1963 through a merging of Malaya and Singapore, including the East Malaysian states of Sabah (known then as North Borneo) and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo. The first several years of the country’s history were marred by Indonesian efforts to control Malaysia, Philippines’ claims to Sabah, and Singapore’s expulsion in 1965.

Today’s Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, nominally headed by the Paramount Ruler (Yang di-Pertuan Agong), who is elected for a five-year term from among the nine sultans of the Malay states. The current king, from Terengganu, was sworn in on 13 Dec 2006. In practice, however, power is held by the Prime Minister, who is the leader of elected government. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party and its National Alliance (Barisan Nasional) coalition have ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since its independence, and while periodic elections are contested by feisty opposition parties, the balance has so far always been shifted in the government’s favor by press control and use of restrictive security legislation dating from the colonial era.

Population

The population of Malaysia as of 2010 is estimated at 29 million.

Language and People

Malaysia is a multicultural society. While Malays make up a 50.4% majority, there are also 23.7% Chinese (especially visible in the cities), 7.1% Indian and a miscellaneous grouping of 7.8% "others", such as the Portugese clan in Melaka and 11% of indigenous peoples (Aborigines) [CIA Factbook on Malaysia]. There is hence also a profusion of faiths and religions, with Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and even shamanism on the map.
Most notably in Malaysia, unlike in other countries, the Chinese community is not assimilated and has managed to maintain a distinct cultural identity from the rest of the population. Many traditional Chinese customs, including some no longer practiced in China itself due to the cultural revolution, are widely practiced by the Malaysian Chinese

Bahasa Malayu is the official language in Malaysia.In the more popular tourist areas and pretty much all dive resorts, the locals speak English, but even in the more remote places there’s usually someone who knows at least a bit of English.

Religion

Muslim 60.4%, Buddhist 19.2%, Christian 9.1%, Hindu 6.3%, Confucianism, Taoism, other traditional Chinese religions 2.6%, other or unknown 1.5%, none 0.8% (2000 census)

Respect

As in any predominantly Muslim country, you should dress respectfully, particularly in rural areas (wearing trousers not shorts and covering your shoulders is recommended but not essential). In more metropolitan areas such as Kuala Lumpur, as well as towns and cities such as Penang and Ipoh with a larger non Muslim population, attitudes are more liberal.
As a tourist, it is best not to criticize the Government and especially the Malay royal families.

When entering a home or a place of worship, always take off your shoes. Also, never eat with your left hand, or give a gift with your left hand; and never point with your forefinger (you may use a closed fist with the thumb instead), point the bottoms of your feet at a person or touch a person’s head. Malaysians greet each other by shaking hands and then placing one hand over your heart as a sign that you have embraced them into your heart.

Public showing of affection in larger cities is tolerated but might invite unnecessary attention from the public. In more rural areas it is frowned upon and is to be avoided.
Same-sex relationships is a taboo subject in Malaysia. Gay and lesbian travelers should avoid any outward signs of affection, including holding hands in public. Likewise, due to strong influence of Islam, homosexuality is technically illegal.