Arguably the best place in the world to dive, Sipadan blew our minds even more than expected. Plus, we spent four days living on an oil rig-cum-dive hotel. What more could you ask for?
See and Do
You know you had a good day when you look at the Reef Life book for hours at dinner. That's how every one of our four days at Seaventures was, and that was before Dina even started diving. Once she got in on the marine action, the Reef Life book was never far from our table.
Rob and I were lucky enough to get two full days at Sipadan, which meant six dives. We saw whitetip and grey reef sharks; schools of humphead parrotfish, jackfish, and barracudas, more green turtles than I could count (including a few mating pairs); a crazy amount of jellyfish being eaten by turtles (yay for me!); and so many beautiful fish that I simply don't think I'll ever go to an aquarium again.
The dives around Mabul and Kapalai are considered "muck dives," which means you look mostly for small marine life hidden in crevices. Not only did we see a flamboyant cuttlefish that changes colors every few seconds, but we also saw tons of moray eels, garden eels, mandarinfish, stonefish, scorpionfish, gobys, shrimp and crabs.
One of the coolest things about Seaventures is that you get unlimited house reef dives, accessed by the elevator that takes you down to the dive boats. The house reef is full of sunk boats and household objects, but the coolest thing you'll see there (with a dive master) is the pygmy seahorse. As big as a fingernail and incredibly difficult to spot!
There are tons of dive resorts in both Semporna and Mabul, so picking one isn't easy. Budget is definitely a concern, as is whether or not you're guaranteed to dive Sipadan. Each resort gets a limited number of permits per day and they're often booked months in advance. We were lucky enough to visit when Seaventures had a quiet day, which gave us one additional day at Sipadan in addition to our guaranteed day.
There's no way to do this trip cheaply, though if you had book ahead you can stay at a cheaper place and still be guaranteed a permit. Scuba Junkie is highly recommended, and Uncle Chang's is a cheap, though dilapidated, option.
Here are my thoughts on the whole thing: make sure you're guaranteed a permit. Going to Semporna and NOT diving Sipadan is a waste of time. The other sites are really interesting, but worth it only in conjunction with Sipidan.
Diving Sipadan is expensive, but well worth it. Staying at Seaventures blew our budget out of the water, but we're so glad we did it. Living on the dive rig was unreal, with views and rig/dive crew to match. The food was great; everything happened right on time; and the place ran like clockwork. Even though we stayed in dorms to save money, our room was cleaned daily and the shared bathrooms/showers were top notch. It really is a well-oiled machine (pun intended).
Eat and Drink
The food on the rig was delicious, and included in your package price. We brought snacks, which we never ate.
Getting to Semporna from pretty much anywhere is as simple as taking a bus. From KK, it'll cost you 75MYR.
From Sepilok, we caught a bus to Lahad Datu (25MYR) and then a minivan to Semporna (20MYR). Ask your guesthouse staff for the bus timetable and make a reservation if you want to catch the direct bus to Semporna.
Whatever resort you dive with will organize your transport out to Mabul, the island closest to Sipidan.
Interested in seeing one of the best dive sights in the world without paying for a plane ticket? Check out our Sipadan photo tour.
Sipadan is hard to do on a budget, but if you've done it, tell us how in the comments.