Where We Slept is our hotel roundup from our time on the road. We hope it helps budget travelers see how far their dollar can go--even though sometimes, it's not far enough!
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 decided to splurge a bit and stay at the only resort truly in the water: the awesome Seaventures dive rig.
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).
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 to Sipadan. 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.
For us, paying the price for Seaventures was worth it not only for the Sipadan permits, but for the amazing experiences we had while living on the rig.
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.