- Eastern Sabah Region-

[AUGUST 2010]


Traveling to the Sabah region of Malaysia for diving is a great experience because there are so many diverse dive locations in reach of just a short boat ride. Just off the north east coast of Borneo, you can easily dive Mabul, Kapalai, and the famed Sipadan Island.

Each island has it's own personality when it comes to diving; from macro life to big animals, reefs and muck dives, you will find a little bit of everything in this area. It's a diving sampler platter so to speak.

It's a little strange to think of a hotel as a geographical destination, but that's kind of what Seaventures dive rig is. The rig overlooks Mabul which is directly next to the dive rig, but since the dive rig isn't exactly on any island... it's just out there in the water... so it's kind of like it's own island. So for our trip we visited the Seaventures dive rig and from there we visited the islands of Mabul, Kapalai and Sipadan. The dive rig also has it's own 'house reef' which just means you dive underneath the rig.



Mabul is just a stones throw away from the Seaventures dive rig and it is the most common excursion that leaves daily from the rig. Mabul has a combination of sandy bottom muck style diving combined with some reefs and walls around the perimeter of the island.

There are a few resident sea turtles that live on the reef at Mabul, one of which is huge, and I'm pretty sure we saw this same turtle on two different days at Mabul. The reefs consist of hard and soft corals, and you can find all sorts of macro life as well as larger sized fish. On one dive we came across a family of 4 Crocodile fish which were resting on the sandy bottom. On certain dives we experienced strong currents and generally the visibility was low which made it difficult to stop and enjoy the little critters. Perhaps these less than perfect conditions are normal for August because I was told that things clear up in the beginning to mid months of the year.

Mabul is also where the Mandarin fish dives take place in the evenings. If you have the patients to wait for these colorful little fish to come out and mate, then you may be rewarded with some great photos. Otherwise the Mandarin fish can drive you crazy and you just want to move on to another attraction. I swear there must be a Mandarin fish curse placed on me because both times I have visited them, something has gone wrong with my photo equipment. Damn those Mandarin fish!




When we first pulled up to Kapalai for a dive, it was hard to tell that this was an actual island. There are bungalows built on stilts above the water, but from where we were looking, it seemed pretty small. Of our 5 days of diving with Seaventures, we only visited Kapalai once. The dive here is a lot different than Mabul, as the main attraction seems to be this underwater village that resembles an old ship wreck as you navigate through the silhouettes of the structures.

We did encounter a Bumphead parrotfish here, as well as a huge spotted grouper which lay still underneath on of the towering structures. Also on this dive was some good macro life such as nudibranches, Blennies, and other small fish.

The visibility here was also very limited, which had a lot to do with the fact that the sand from the bottom gets stirred up with the current running through. But in general the dive was relatively shallow, and the currents were not so strong that they greatly impacted the dive. If I had a few more days to dive in Malaysia, I would have liked to return to Kapalai and focus more on the Macro life and see what might be crawling around.




Sipadan is the main attraction for many divers traveling to the Eastern Sabah region. Sipadan has been made famous because of Jacques Cousteau and because of the abundance of large masses of fish that live in the waters around Sipadan. Common main attractions include the huge schools of barracudas, masses of turtles, and schools of bumphead parrotfish. Did I mention turtles? Lots of turtles.

Barracuda Point: On this dive you will encounter large schools of Barracuda. The schools vary in size from day to day. Pictured on the left is a Sea turtle swimming along with a school of barracuda in the background at Barracuda Point.

Much of the diving in Sipadan is open water / semi open water, but there are some dives that take place in more shallow areas with some reef scenery. Turtles are especially easy to spot during low tide.





They have a well run dive operation at Seaventures. If you are interested in learning to dive, or getting a new certification, Seaventures seems like a great place to go. They have lots of great dive instructors, and the boats and equipment are very good quality.

The dive boats go out a 3 times daily, and cover the various dive locations in the area. Mabul and Kapalai are the main locations you will visit on a regular basis. Most people who visit this Sabah region want to dive Sipadan Island, which is visited less frequently because of the special permits that are needed each day. Make sure you put in any requests for Sipadan as early as possible.


There are general use cubbies and baskets to store your gear after each dive. There are also a few rinse tanks available to use for your gear. There are no private lockers or secure rooms to store gear. I would recommend storing any expensive gear, such as dive computers etc in your cabin for safe keeping.


The rooms on the dive rig are modest at best, but they have everything a diver needs to stay comfortable. Each room has a private bathroom with running hot & cold water, toilet, and shower. Don't expect anything too fancy. But considering the perfect location of the rig, and also considering the options at other local resorts in the immediate area, the Seaventures Dive rig is an excellent deal. The rental equipment and safety gear is very good.


The food was pretty good in my opinion. Every day for breakfast lunch and dinner, the cooks prepare a buffet spread on the deck of the dive-rig consisting of Indonesian / international style cuisine that has something for everyone. The meals are included in the price when you stay with Seaventures. Unlimited coffee, tea, and water are self serve and are available 24/7. Beer is also available for a charge. A few times a week they do a full BBQ dinner right on the deck of the dive rig, and sometimes the house band "The Sea Gypsies" come out and play.


Dive trips to Sipadan lave around 6:00 AM from the dive rig, and go all day long. You do 3 dives, and have lunch on Sipadan Island in between dives. If you want to dive Sipadan, you should try to arrange your dives with Seaventures way ahead of time. They only have a limited number of Sipadan passes that they can acquire each day. We were told that we would probably get 2 trips to Sipadan since we were diving for 5 days, and in the end we actually got 3 days in Sipadan. Seaventures will do whatever they can to accommodate your requests, but they do not have control over the number of Sipadan passes that can be acquired each day.


Just like any other great dive spot, it can be challenging to travel there. Getting to the Sabah region is no exception. During our travels, we found that Air Asia was one of the most reasonable ways to get there. But beware because Air Asia tends to change their flight destinations with little notice, and there may not be any reasonable alternatives if this happens.

Kuala Lumpur (KUL / KLIA) airport is a great hub to make your connections for this journey. From KUL you can make connections to Tawau (TWU) airport in Malaysia. Be aware that there is a whole different airport of Air Asia when you arrive in Kuala Lumpur main terminal. Most major airlines arrive in Kuala Lumpur (KUL/ KLIA), but if you want to make a connection on an Air Asia flight, you must go to the KLIA- LCCT airport which is located about 30 minutes away from the main airport. It's easy to get this confused if you've never traveled this route before. Just make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get from the KUL main terminal to the LCCT terminal. There are shuttles and hotels to accommodate travelers who are in transit between KUL and LCCT.

When we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, we spent the night at which is right next to the LCCT airport. The rooms were very small (it was hard to fit all of our bags in the room with us... no joke) but it was a good place to spend the night before departing on an early flight the next day. Prices were very cheap and the rooms were clean.

Tawau airport (TWU) is the closest and probably the easiest connection to get to Sabah and Sipadan whe leaving from Kuala Lumpur LCCT. It is possible to arrive in Tawau and get to the Seaventures dive rig in one day, but you must take the earliest flights possible because Seaventures makes their last departure from Tawau at around 12 noon.

The other alternative is to spend the night in Tawau and depart the next day. We did not stay in Tawau over night, so I can't report too much on how that would go, but based on what little we did see, I'm glad we did not choose to stay overnight. The hotels looked a little run down and I got the feeling thee was probably not too much security to count on. If you do decide to stay overnight, I would just recommend that you research your hotel with due diligence and make sure you keep your expensive dive equipment secure at all times.

Seaventure will pick you up by boat and bring you to the dive-rig. Tip: bring some plastic bags with you to cover your equipment. The water was really choppy on the way to the dive-rig, and everything got soaked. Luckily our dive cameras and such were in a waterproof suitcase, but our laptops and other electronics were in our regular luggage. Bottom line... if it can get we, it will get wet! Be better prepared than we were.