Sunday, February 05, 2017

Bring your baby abroad: Diving at Sipadan Island last minute without breaking the bank

Acquiring Open Water PADI certification in Vietnam was one of the coolest things we did in SE Asia. Scuba diving invited us into a completely different world, a world we loved so much! Since our first dive we knew that from then on it was and is “our thing” that we will pursue to our best ability.

After Vietnam we went to the Philippines where we dived at the Palawan islands among shipwrecks and after that we headed to Borneo. Imagine our surprise when reading about the best dive sites in the world we found out the top of most lists was in Borneo- around Sipadan Island!

What a lucky coincidence we thought already having flights to Borneo. After reading about people’s experiences and looking at the jaw-dropping pictures we realized that we just HAVE to go there!

Once this goal was set there was some research needed.

Here are few crucial facts we found online:

  • Since 2005 Sabah National Park instituted a permit system therefore the amount of people is limited to 120 per day.
  • It is recommended you book the permit ahead of time.
  • If you are doing everything “right” and trying to book ahead it is very pricy since you are offered package tours.

Needless to say, the permit system as well as very high priced package tours discouraged us.

The prices I am talking about are roughly 550 dollars per person being the cheapest option. It is 4d/3n package with only 4 dives at the Sipadan Island and 9 dives at the other islands. So for us it would cost 1,100 dollars for 4 days, plus we would have had to organize a babysitter for all these days.

Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be us if we didn’t try to find a better option. Keeping our heads high we decided to conduct a “field research” and see what is actually going on in person.

We flew to Kota Kinabalu, did a 2-day trip to Brunei and took a night bus straight to Semporna, the closest city from where you can organize your dives to Sipadan. Once in Semporna we started visiting different agencies (and there are very very many) to collect information.

Here is what we found out:

  • You do need permit and there are only 120 people allowed to dive per day. No jokes, no bribes.
  • It is possible to organize 1 day dive (3 dives) at the Sipadan island (so without a package tour)
  • The price for 1-day dive is around 800 Malaysian ringgit ($180) per person. It includes equipment, lunch and transportation.
  • Big companies whose website we encountered on Internet offer only packages
  • 1 day dives are run by local small tour operators

We arrived on Monday and the next 2 available permits were for Saturday. We booked them immediately and left Semporna to explore Kinabatangan River and the Orangutan Sanctuary.

If you are short on time, I recommend giving your phone number/hotel number to as many offices as possible in case a permit opens up so that they can contact you. It happens quite often that people cancel their trip and usually up to 3 permits opens up every day. But that’s testing your luck ?