The ride from Tawau was only a few hours long. The whole way, the roadside scenery featured oil palms after oil palms. Quite a sad realization, but the whole of Borneo has proven to be similar thus far. People are making millions with the plantations, regardless of the loss of animal natural habitat and the environmental consequences of fertilizer abuse and monoculture.
As the bus pulled into Semporna, I again felt like this was a different world. This sea side town, famous for being the port to Sipadan that holds one of the best dive spots in the world, was filthy, with begging children and old ladies all around.
We held our packs close and started walking towards Scuba Junkie, who have a dive company, lodge and restaurant, and had been recommended as one of the better operators in town. We had not bothered checking where it actually was though, so we followed local’s directions, until we spotted a white person and started following him: Indeed he took us where we needed to go.
We signed up for a dive trip for the following day, and crossed the street to get settled at the hostel. We took two spots in a 10 bed dorm room, only 3 beds apart from ours in use. The room had AC, so it was really nice to lay down for a while and cool down. Once the sun came down, we set out to explore the town and find some food.
Soon we discovered that although the pub next door looked cosy and had some wonderful sounding western food on the menu, it was well beyond our price range. We instead opted for a place that looked very popular among the locals, and had some fried noodles, soup and roti.
Roti means bread, but the way they make it in restaurants is very thin and with your chosen filling. Similar to an Indian naan bread, yet thinner. It mostly comes with daal to dip it in. The food was great and we happily strolled back to our bunk beds and called it a day.
The alarm on my phone went off at 7am the next morning, disturbing sweet, cold dreams. The whole dorm room was also getting up and ready for going out into the ocean, most of them packing all their stuff as they would spend that night at Mabul, the island we had chosen to dive around.
We walked back to the same place we had eaten at the night before, to enjoy Roti Telur for breakfast. We then reported to the Scuba Junkie HQ, grabbed our gear and hopped into the boat. The sun was getting stronger but it was not unbearable, specially with the gentle sea breeze.
From the water, Semporna looked like a very picturesque sea side town, with all the colourful houses built over the water, and the fishing boats buzzing in and out. We passed a few green islands on the way out, big and small. The lucky ones still had some of the original rain forest, while others had succumbed to the palm oil reign.
When Mabul came in sight, we realized this was what paradise must look like. White sand beaches crowned with forest, and fancy accommodation built right on top of the water, mostly out of wood. We were guided to Scuba Junkie’s lodge there, where tea and coffee where waiting.
Again, the eating/pub area was beautifully constructed out of dark wood, and stood proud and tall among the matching cabins for the guests. We soon understood why so many people stay here and why it was so expensive to begin with. We promised to ourselves, that next time we come this way, it would be on a proper holiday and we would make it further to Sipadan and stay in this heavenly place.
I also thought of my friend Shalsee, how she would absolutely love this place, and lay like a lizard in the sun the whole day, moving only to play some volleyball and go in the water to cool down (the sun was ridiculously hot!)
Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Semporna – Mabul.