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Borneo - Tawau & Semporna

semi-overcast 30 °C

Our stopover in Tawau was fine, it’s a very small town and there isn’t anything really to attract tourists (aside from the airport hub). Seafood is one of their specialities though so we joined the locals at a seafood market for dinner and were able to try mantis for the first time. They showed us a live mantis when we were ordering, and it looked like something from the movie Alien. It was tasty but I’m not sure I'll try it again as there wasn’t much meat to be had. The prawns were great though and we would have loved to have ordered crab, lobster etc. but it was too expensive. They have a giant prawn as their town statue/symbol which we thought was amusing. We also had the unexpected pleasure of experiencing the best doughnut. Ever. And we don’t normally eat doughnuts. White chocolate apple crumble doughnut with digestive biscuits? I was practically crying eating it.

Moving on to Semporna, being honest with you it's a run down town that suffers from a severe case of waste pollution (and badly needs a lick of paint). The locals dump their food on the street near the market square and I’m not sure how long it’s left there before collection. Put it this way, I haven’t smelt anything like it since Phnom Pehn in Cambodia and that’s saying something (see Cambodia blog entries). Semporna is however home to a dozen islands with a very rich density of coral life. The most famous island is Sipadan and it is generally regarded as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. We booked a 3 night/2 day package and stayed at the Holiday Dive Inn. It was basic and there was no window in the room, but it was quiet and cool and we slept like logs, finally. I signed up for six dives in total. Our first day was spent at Sibuan. Alberto had two dives, his first ever and he loved it. We also got lucky with the weather. For the first time in weeks we had sun for the whole day. Check out the pictures below it was pretty spectacular and a welcomed contrast from the grey of Kuala Lumpur. If you’re in work right now you might want to look away...

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Yes, well I did warn you...

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Our second day was spent at Sipadan. In order to protect the marine life, there are only 120 dive permits issued daily. In high season you may have to book months in advance to visit. Unfortunately one of the reasons we were able to go at such short notice was because a couple of tourists were kidnapped by the Philippines over the past year. It’s a long and awful story but suffice to say we did our research, weighed up the risks, felt safe enough due to military presence and reassurance from others who had visited and everything went according to plan. Mom if you’re reading, don’t be worrying we’re fine!

They really were the best dives I've done to date, and I’ve had dives on the Great Barrier Reef, Koh Tao and Fiji. Imagine being right in the middle of the Disney film Finding Nemo with hundreds of multi-coloured fish, beautiful coral, dozens of turtles, manta rays, etc. all surrounding you. I saw a few small sharks as well (not harmful). Alberto wasn’t able to dive at Sipadan as you require the Padi Openwater cert but he was able to snorkel and saw plenty. If you’re interested in diving I think Sipadan is a must at some stage. Make sure you research everything regarding the terrorism/kidnapping in advance and weigh up the risks. Who knows what may happen in the coming weeks or months. I didn’t pay to take photographs underwater but I’ve taken a few from online to give you an idea of what we saw.

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Pretty cool eh? And that it’s from me today. We took a bus this morning five hours north to Sandakan. We’re staying at a forest lodge for four nights and then we’ll travel south-west to Kota Kinabalu, our final stop in Malaysia.

Posted by mattld 18:27 Archived in Malaysia

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Comments

Can't believe you're not doing Mulu - it was my Borneo highlight!! You gonna climb KK??

by Suze

We have to be in Bali by the 18th to meet a friend so time was not on our side. Another time though. Not climbing KK, a few people we met said visibility was poor and it's an awful 10+ hours, mostly uphill. Happy to take a trek around it. Did you guys do it?

by mattld

No we didn't do the climb either...sounded pretty tough and we weren't very fit back then :)

by Suze

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