Monday, February 07, 2011

Mantanani Island Paradise

Chalets at Mantanani Besar Island

Guest briefing on arrival at the restaurant

Pulau Lunggisan, one of islands in the Mantanani chain,
is unapproachable due to strong currents

Fishing boats anchored at Mantanani village

Thatched roofs and tall coconut trees keep the chalets cool inside

By Wanderlust

Many of us dream of taking the perfect vacation on a luxurious island paradise but the cost for such a trip can be very intimidating. Flashy brochures flaunt pictures of white sandy beaches, golden-hued sunsets, crystal clear seas and swaying coconut tress to entice you. But what if you can get all this at a fraction of the cost? Creature comforts such as air conditioning, hot showers and gourmet meals take a back seat at this island paradise because the best part of it all can be enjoyed regardless of package price.


Mari Mari Backpackers Lodge is located at Mantanani Besar Island which is part of a cluster of three islands north of Kota Belud. The journey there starts with a bus ride for about 1 hour 40 minutes to Kuala Abai and from there, another 45 minutes by boat to Mantanani. Mt Kinabalu, like a sentinel that you can see from almost any point along the west coast, loomed above Kuala Abai and created the perfect backdrop as we made our way to Mantanani.

The boat ride was pleasant if not slightly choppy as we crossed the open sea towards our destination. Be prepared to be bowled over at you approach the island. As the sea gets shallower, the water takes on an incredible turquoise hue and is absolutely crystal clear. The contrast with the almost blinding white sand on the beach was just so stunning. Driftwood of all shapes and sizes line the beach with stands on casuarinas and coconut trees at its back.

As you step off the boat and onto the island, you instantly feel relaxed and all but ready to jump into the nearest hammock with a cool glass on pina colada in your hand while Bob Marley gets the reggae beat going on in the background. Well, it didn’t quite happen this way but it was not that far from the truth either.

The accommodation is a cluster of wooden stilted chalets with thatched roof and a seating area underneath where you can laze in a hammock or curl up in a chair with your favourite book. You get uninterrupted views of the gorgeous sea and mountain range in the background as the ocean breeze keeps it cool and comfortable. As for your pina colada option, please bring necessary ingredients with you.


You can opt to stay at a twin-share chalet with attached or common bathroom. There’s also dorm style accommodation (4 persons) for families or small groups. The lodge gets its electricity supply from a nearby village which comes on between 6pm and 6am but the chalets are adequately cooled thanks to their thatched roofs and shady coconut trees nearby. The restaurant with its beach sand floor and Bob Marley who comes on after 6pm in the background, serves simple fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner with free flow of coffee and tea. Board games and a small library of books (mostly in German) and magazines can be found here for your recreational pleasures.

But what visitors come here for is either to dive or simply unwind in the beautiful surroundings with a smattering of light activities to break up the lazy days soaking up the sun on the beach. Dive and snorkeling trips are organized daily to nearby Mantanani Kechil Island where coral gardens bloom and multi-coloured tropical fish dart about. You can hire a sea kayak and paddle out to view island and its surroundings from a distance.

Photography enthusiasts will love how Mother Nature unfolds the many colours, nuances, and moods of the island’s breathtaking scenery throughout the day. Activities are charged separately so you can decide what activities to do and how often you’d like to take part. This makes it really affordable for those who just want to spend time doing nothing more strenuous than turning over for an even tan or showing up for meals at the restaurant.

There is a fishing village some 15 minutes walk from the lodge where its inhabitants come from the Ubian tribe. The people are friendly and children constantly greet you with a “hello” or “what’s your name?”. The best place to get to know a village and its people is to head for a coffee shop or sundry shop. You can buy some snacks or have a coffee and strike up a conversation with the locals. An elderly lady spoke of the three generations of her family who have lived on Mantanani and how they had to rent the land they lived on by calculating the value of coconut trees growing on the land. There is no agriculture on the island and the coconut trees simply act as land demarcation markers. Many more generations have lived on the island but the lifestyle till today has changed little. The villagers still depend on the sea for their living as evidenced by the covered fishing boats that go far out to harvest the riches of the sea.

Mantanani has the idyllic setting of a typical tropical island paradise. The natural landscape is stunning, the ambience quiet and relaxing and with just enough cultural attributes to complement the already rich natural tapestry of the island. Mantanani feels like a lifetime time away but is hardly the isolated island it once was. It is accessible under three hours from the city, all the basic amenities are available and its main attraction is nature itself. There is no large infrastructure to obscure the picture postcard views and if you are keeping a tight hold of your wallet, this is the best place to live the island life at a very affordable price.

Source: New Sabah Times 'In' Sites

NOTE: Photo Copyright to New Sabah Times

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