I took my PADI diving certificate almost 3 years ago in Mabul Island. The island is located in Celebes Sea of Sabah, Malaysia, and  mainly famous due to it’s location, near the Sipadan Island known as the best diving site in the world. There are no resort, hotels or B&B in Sipadan. Hence most divers coming to Sipadan stay in Mabul. Or alternatively Kapalai Island or Semporna. Hotels and resort in Kapalai are expensive, while Semporna location is a bit on the far side from Sipadan. Hence, Mabul is the ideal location. You can reach Mabul Island, Sipadan Island and Kapalai Island via Semporna.

How We Get to Mabul Island

Our journey started with a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau. From Tawau, we got to Semporna by van for one hour. Then we took an approximately 45 minutes boat ride to Mabul. Van transfer and boat transfer are both included in our package.

Where We Stayed in Mabul Island

We stayed in Scuba Jeff Mabul Guesthouse. The place is suitable if you are going on a shoestring. Bear in mind that facilities are very basic, no frills but enough. Despite that, the food was delicious. There was large grilled tuna eaten with chilli soy sauce almost every day and night, but I didn’t get bored, in fact I missed it now. They were delish and fresh from the sea.

I could sleep well at this guesthouse (I slept late), there are private shower and toilet for selected rooms otherwise sharing, friendly  host, many other friendly guest and divers, the host even brought us around the island and provides recommendation- where to go, what to do, where to snorkel, where to shop and etc.

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The guesthouse on the side facing the sea (Year 2009). Simple, budget guesthouse
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The guesthouse on the side facing the land (Year 2009)

These photos are from 3 years ago. I learnt that there has been a lot of changes and upgrades. As the house is ‘over the water’, you can see turtles right from the deck, usually in the morning and night.

By night, the guesthouse gets really happening as there are not only in-house guest hang out at this deck, but from multiple other guesthouse, on every single night. Singing, playing guitar, dancing, chat and drink. I guess they like it here and I can sense why. I recommend you to bring earplug if you want to sleep early, because it can get really noise until late.

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Turtle seen from the deck
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Group photo on the deck with our host on final day
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A photo with other guest and our host
Scuba Jeff Mabul
Another photo at the deck with other guest

The Open Water Diving Course We Took

The package we took covered everything– 5 days 4 nights stay, boat transfer, airport transfer, meals for the entire stay, diving equipment and PADI dive course, for just RM 1200 (exclude flight ticket) which was a great bargain (package was on promotion). We started our diving course on second day. On arrival day, we only went snorkeling and walked around the island visiting villages and other resorts. Took the theory paper when we returned to Semporna, at the dive operator office. With that, we completed our course. I received my PADI Ceritification Card about a month or two after that.

The Open Water course covers:

  • Briefing and video session – Subjects you will learn are the physics of diving, sign language for underwater, some calculation, and many more. We practiced the sign language whenever we could. ?
  • Demonstration how to get your diving gear ready, then you have to practice until you can do everything on your own smoothly
  • Confined water dive – As an introductory, and done in-front of the guesthouse where you will learn and practice how to breathe via the .
  • Open-water – If I recall, we did 4-5 dives at the open sea if I am not mistaken, I can’t exactly remember. We learnt and practiced how to get our buoyancy right, how to ascend and descend, how to navigate underwater.
  • Exam – exam is objective question

How Was The Dive?

  • Confined water – It was okay. Have to relax, breathe in and out properly, follow the instructor’s instruction and steps. Remember to always, always breathe through mouth.
  • Open water session –  It was enjoyable! There was a time I turned quite panic when water got into my mask and water kept getting into it even after I followed the steps to remove the water and even after tightening the mask (there’s a method on how to remove water in your mask while you are in water. Cool right). After I change my mask it was okay! So its important to choose mask that fits your face. Or probably I didn’t do the water removal method  properly. Another time when I panic was when I got a broken compass (there was no other working compass left at that time) and when I had to wear an XL size BCD- Buoyancy Control Device during one of the sessions (no smaller size BCD at that time),  so the tank was like moving side to side when I was in the water, took me some time to adjust my balance. Then everything was okay ?.
  • Some personal tips
    • Stay calm
    • Always stick together with your dive buddy. Don’t let him/ her our of your sight.
    • Wear proper and working dive gear, that suit your size and fits you properly
    • Keep quiet and listen carefully when your dive master give instruction, otherwise you might miss important tips
    • When you are in the water, check your diving console/ SPG from time to time
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Confined water session in-front of the guesthouse before we dive in the open sea

Do I need to bring my own equipment?

Usually places and resorts conducting diving course either have their own equipment or they partner with a diving operator.  These equipment are expensive to me. In my opinion, if you are planning to do more dive in the future you can consider getting them. My suggestion is to wait until your next dive trip, not on this first time. Then, if you already planning another diving trip, and go diving at least four dives a year regularly, on every consecutive years which means you are a serious and active diver then it totally make sense and worth to have your own equipments like BCD, diving regulator, underwater camera casing and etc.

For mask, snorkel and fin, I think it is okay to get one, for comfort using your own if you go to beaches or island often. They are not too expensive and can be used for snorkeling. Remember to get proper bags to carry these items on flight and boat if you bring your own. As for dive suit, it can be a good investment if you can find one that fit you best, at a discount. It’s useful not only for diving but also for snorkeling when the water temperature is cold (e.q probably snorkeling in Australia region that are facing the Pacific or Indian Ocean) or when you go snorkeling at night. You may try finding diving equipment or attire on discount during Malaysia’s yearly diving expo (MIDE).

Where To Stay If You Want To Splurge?

If you want to splurge, these are the places to stay in Mabul Island:

  1. Mabul Water Bungalow – According to the staff at our guesthouse, this is the nicest luxury option among all lux resort
  2. Borneo Divers Mabul Resort – there is a souvenir shop, massage parlour and bar facing the sea that allow visitors besides their own guest
  3. Seaventure Dive Rig – this is formerly an offshore oil platform from other location brought to Mabul
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Had a walk at Mabul Water Bungalow

On the last day, we went snorkeling at a site near one of the water resort. It was the highlight of this trip. A school of fish, a large group in fact, made a huge swirl right in-front of me, just like in Nat Geo documentary. I was speechless. But I don’t have an underwater camera. Mabul is not just awesome for diving but for snorkeling too!

Checkout my other post about Mabul Island here.


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