Borneo Diving, Malaysia – The Ultimate Guide

Borneo Diving, Malaysia – The Ultimate Guide

Ranked among the best dive sites in the world, Borneo is simply a diver’s haven. Borneo diving is an underwater adventure that will make you regret all the dive sites you missed if you didn’t stay long enough.

WWB Writer and diving enthusiast, Athirah, and diving enthusiast created an ultimate guide of the best borneo diving spots just for you!

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Best diving in Borneo
Borneo Diving, Sabah, Malaysia

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Borneo is not a country, but an island split between 3 countries: Indonesia, Malaysia and the small sultanate of Brunei. But when it comes to DIVING in Borneo, one usually refers to Sabah. Off the coast of Sabah lie among the must-dive locations in the world such as Layang Layang, Lankayan, Mabul, Kapalai, Pom Pom, Mataking and Sipadan.

Why dive in Borneo? 

Because Borneo diving offers an unbelievable underwater experience.

Spectacular macro diving

Macro diving is profound in Mabul. You’ll be engrossed in searching for the tiny critters, poking your head around the nooks and crannies of the pinnacle to take photos of nudibranchs, crinoid shrimp, clingfish… maybe a couple of banded pipefish or a mantis shrimp.

If it’s your lucky day, you might see the rare orang-utan crab dancing around.

Mabul diving, Malaysia
Orang-utan crab, Borneo, Malaysia

Photo from twofishdivers

If you look, really, closely; I mean really closely, you could even notice the smallest of small – skeleton shrimp. This tiny creature is only the size of a single hair!

Be prepared to extend your dive from 45 minutes to an hour (provided you have enough air!) as these macro critters sweep you off your feet, literally.

‘Untouched piece of art’

…the exact words of the legendary ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau, referring to Sipadan Island. Emerald crystalline waters, pristine corals, exotic critters – it’s every diver’s dream to dive in Sipadan. 

Among the beautiful creatures you’ll see are massive greenback turtles (mind you, there are too many!), manta rays gliding through the strong currents, schools of jacks and barracuda, hammerhead sharks and multicoloured reef fish.

Borneo Diving, Malaysia
Borneo Diving, Sabah, Malaysia

Photo by Johnny Chen on Unsplash

Just like what you see on TV, only this is real.

Beautiful island settings 

Floating dive resorts, white sandy beaches, coconut trees… These are undeniably beautiful island settings that will complement your Borneo scuba diving. You’ll also meet the Bajau Laut ethnic community whose life depends entirely on the sea. 

Borneo Diving, Malaysia
Borneo scuba diving, Malaysia

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If you choose any of the lodges that cut through local Bajau village, you’ll have a glimpse into their traditional lifestyle. The pathways are built from wooden walk bridges that will throw you straight into the sea if you fall. But if the Bajau kids can breeze through the bridge on their bicycle like a boss, so can you!

How to get there?

From Kuala Lumpur (KL), fly to Tawau or Kota Kinabalu (KK) International Airport. Before flying, make sure you’ve arranged a booking with the resort of your choice because they offer return transfers between the resorts and Tawau/KK airport. 

Trust me, this will make life easier to avoid getting overcharged or the hassle of searching for a good diving package at the eleventh hour. 

Once in Tawau or KK, look for your resort’s bus or minivan that will transfer you to Semporna jetty. Unless you don’t have a booking, you can take an airport taxi for USD35 (150MYR). Else, you can book a minivan for around USD10 (40MYR). 

Here, you have two options:

  • Stay in Semporna and do day trips to the dive spots
  • Stay on Mabul

Sipadan Island diving does not include accommodation, so my advice is to stay on Mabul/Kapalai. The journey to Sipadan Island is 25 minutes from Mabul.

Best time to dive?

Borneo scuba diving is possible all year round, but the best time runs from April to December. The water temperature ranges from 25 to 30°C. Heavy rainfall usually takes place between January to March.

Although the rainfall might temper with the visibility, it also means relaxing on the verandah of your resort while sipping hot coffee and enjoying the infinity sea view.

Between April until early June, the visibility and weather are excellent, but this means it’s the high season, so, book your diving package in advance.

Best diving spots in Borneo

Phew… It’s quite hard to identify the best but here are some top sites of Borneo diving:

Barracuda Point, Sipadan

One of the best dive sites in the world, hands down. The big guys such as sharks, giant barracudas, school of grouper and jacks as well as bumphead parrotfish run the show at this site. Turtles are abundant and you will get underwater photos of them at every angle possible.

The currents can be quite strong, but don’t let that put you off!

South Point, Sipadan

A great site for wall diving. If you dive early in the morning, you might bump into manta rays and hammerhead sharks. The wall drops at a vertical angle into the depths. If you dive during the right Sipadan diving season, you might see the extremely rare blue-ringed octopus.

Whitetip reef sharks are quite common here. You can easily see a bunch of them at the bottom, taking a nap or two.

Sipadan Drop Off

The famous Drop Off is where knee-high water suddenly becomes a 600-meter deep hole. Not to scare you but this Sipadan diving site calls for a good buoyancy control if you don’t want to disappear forever into the depths. 

This site lets you swim with giant tornados of barracudas. The many cracks along the walls are full of tiny critters. There are also tons of turtles, schools of jackfish and quite many reef sharks.

Seaventure House Reef, Mabul

This cool site of Mabul diving is an old oil rig platform converted into a hotel and dive centre. The metallic structure underwater has nudibranchs everywhere, frogfish, crocodile fish, stonefish, different species of eels and many more small critters.

Mabul diving, Malaysia
Best diving in Borneo, Malaysia

Photo by author

The corals are beautiful and it’s also a great site for night dive. Some would say it’s the best diving in Borneo after Sipadan.

If you meet the resident goliath grouper who’s almost as big as a round dining table, don’t forget to snap a photo!

Lobster Wall, Mabul

Calling muck divers around the world!

This site is the best muck dive site around Mabul. Other than the excellent visibility, the walls’ cracks are hideouts to numerous species of lobsters. There are many stonefish, triggerfish, ghost pipefish, clownfish and seahorses along the wall. If you dive down to 40 meters, there’s a cave crammed with sea life.

I’d say Lobster Wall is more suitable for advanced divers. If you dive at night, you can see lobsters emerge from their hideouts.

D’Wall, Layang Layang

If you are a big fan of sharks, Layang Layang diving is for you. This site is frequented by advanced divers because of the deep waters. The coral walls plunge to 2000 metres – well, don’t imagine the end. 

If you dive here at the right time of the year, you’ll see schools of hammerhead sharks – the view is unbelievable! Grey reef sharks and many reef fish also call this site home. Swim deeper to 40 metres to feast your eyes on beautiful coral fans in shades of red, blue, and purple.

You might need a few dives to cover this site because it’s vast so there’s so much to see!

Borneo Diving Packages

Sipadan diving package
Sipadan diving package

The packages include meals and ground transfer from Tawau airport to Semporna and boat transfer from Semporna to the resort but exclude Sipadan diving permit for USD33 (140MYR).

Sipadan diving package can also be arranged with any of these recommended operators:

Where to stay

You can’t stay in Sipadan but you can book the value for money Borneo diving package in Mabul/Kapalai.

I stayed at Spheredivers Scuba & Leisure where the lodge is built within the Bajau Village. On rainy days, I’d wake up early in the morning to sit on the deck and forget about all life problems or jump over the verandah for a quick swim.

Borneo diving package
Sipadan island diving, Borneo resorts

Photo by author

Here are some other resorts with amazing ambience and hospitality:

Useful tips for diving in Borneo

  • Bring enough cash as there are no ATMs at any of the islands 
  • Most resorts have WiFi, but it’s best to check with the resort you’re booking
  • If you want to dive in Sipadan, book your permit at least 3 months in advance
  • The current in Sipadan can be quite strong so make sure you master buoyancy
  • Go off-season when it’s less busy because it means less competition for Sipadan permits… visibility might be poorer, but you’ll still get good dives
  • Don’t make a habit out of giving money to the Bajau kids because one will become too many
  • Go night diving
  • Due to safety reasons, bring your own dive computer to dive in Sipadan otherwise, you won’t be allowed to

Things to watch out for

When it comes to safety, it seems like kidnapping tops the list. Now honestly, I felt safe all the time. Same goes to other divers. But let me clear the air a little bit.

While there were several incidents that happened but they mostly occurred on the mainland or far out at sea and did not involve tourists at all. Unless you’re sailing near the Philippines sea border, then you are more likely to join other divers who continue to dive happy.

Things to bring

Scuba diving gears are provided by the dive centres. But it’d be a good idea to:

  • Bring a full suit and a diving cap if you get cold easily because the water is quite cold
  • Bring your own snacks/chocolates/bottled water because there’s no convenience store nearby unless you’re staying near the Bajau village
  • Use natural or reef-safe sunscreen because some contain an ingredient that’s destroying coral reefs
  • Bring an underwater camera

Best places to grab food after

Meals are included in your package and that covers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food they prepare is usually great and they cater to vegetarians too. Don’t worry, they put plenty of dishes out and you’ll get the chance to mix and match however you like.

Borneo Diving, Malaysia
Borneo Island, Sabah, Malaysia

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To non-divers, don’t feel left out! You are more than welcome to join the dive boats and enjoy snorkelling in the designated areas from as low as USD6 (25MYR). Or you can explore the Bajau village… negotiate fresh sea goods from the ‘mobile wet market’ and let your resort chef cook for you.

So, there you have it… a trip to Sabah wouldn’t be complete without scuba diving. As long as you arrange bookings early and do a lot of research, you don’t have to worry about anything.

Just eat, sleep, dive, repeat.

Borneo Diving, Malaysia – The Ultimate Guide

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