While I was in Phuket, I spoke with a dive shop that was right next to my Airbnb, and they said one of the top dive spots is on Sipadan Island in Malaysia. I was already planning to head to Penang so decided to check out ticket prices to get there. Malaysia is two parts. The mainland borders Thailand and the Island of Borneo is just Southeast to it. The tickets were cheap ($60 on AirAsia) and the diving even cheaper ($25/dive) so I decided to head out there and check it out.
Sipadan Island borders both Indonesia and Philippines. It's rated as one of the top places to dive and only allows 120 dive permits a day. There are 12 dive spots around the island and the wall just off the beach is 600 meters deep. The island is so small that there are no resorts on the island. There is heavy military personnel there for everyone's safety. It was a bit of a shock seeing them at first, as I wasn't expecting it, but after hearing stories of all the recent kidnappings, I felt safe and better with them there. The dive sites we went to were Barracuda Point, Turtle Cave/Drop-off, Mid-Reef and Coral Garden. All were great sites and so glad we were able to fit in four dives that day.
The dive shop on Phuket did not lie. All the sites are full of schools of Jack Fish, Black Tip Reef Sharks, Turtles, and I even saw a Day Octopus! There were so many schools of bumphead parrot fish that were huge! I swam through a vortex of jack fish like Superman, and it was amazing to see them swimming in a circle around me. Sipadan is right up there as one of my best dives right along side of Sail Rock at Koh Tao.
PLACES TO STAY
There are many dive shops that go out to Sipadan. I would suggest staying at a dive shop on Malbu as it's only a 90-minute boat ride from the resort. I dove with Scuba Junkie, and while the Divemasters and instructors are top notch, they have the least amount of permits to give out a day (7). There are other resorts on the island who have double the permits. With booking a six-day dive package, I was only allowed to dive Sipadan 1 day. I didn't find out until later that I could have been put on a waiting list to try to score another day. I would check TripAdvisor for other options and do your research before you go.
DIVING ON MABUL
While I was there, I completed my Advanced Open Water Diver course. If you're looking for top-notch training, I can recommend Scuba Junkie for that, and if you can request Faustine or Mike, you will get the best dive education. The dive sites around Mabul are hit and miss. Sipadan is rated as one of the best places to dive, so I assumed the rest of the diving here would be just as great. I was saddened by the state of the sites around the resort. They do reef clean-ups, but there’s just so much that comes back from Semporna and the sea gypsies that it’s hard to keep up with it. There are some sites that are better than others. All the sites I went to on Kapali were pretty good. Stingray City and Little Okinawa were my favorite, but because the reefs are run down, there’s not enough big fish stuff to show you, so they point out the small stuff. If you’re a Nudibranch freak then you’re going to love diving here, you’ll see a lot. But if you’re looking for the big stuff, you’ll get a few turtles and a couple fish here and there, but not the big schools that you’ll see in Sipadan.
During my stay, I dove a total of 6 days and 18 dives and became one step closer to becoming a Divemaster. I loved all my Divemasters, and I learned so much from my dive instructor. The only flaw with this trip was only being able to dive one day at Sipadan. Had I been able to dive all my days there, it would have been pretty epic.