Sabah, Malaysia, Island hopping

I went to Sabah for island hopping in 2009 December, but the memory still lingers in my mind as Sabah is a unique place and some extraordinary things happened during my trip . The locations and hotel I stayed might have been altered as I didn’t go back after 2009.

Sabah is part of Borneo island and it is close to Philippine. There has been cases of abduction and kidnap to the tourists in some islands of Sabah and there was a crisis of mass kidnapping in Sipadan in 2000, April by the Filipino militants called Abu Sayyaf .Sipadan is the only oceanic island of Malaysia and  a diving paradise . There is limitation of number of visiting people there to prevent the massive disturbance of nature and you cannot enter the island without a valid permit which you have to apply one month ahead of your trip.

It is also regarded as the area where there are a lot of illegal , stateless migrants stay. When we went there, the kidnaps were not happening, but lately, there was abduction of a Chinese millionaire and also an event of decapitation of the victim when the gang could not get the ransom they demanded. But according to my friend, you don’t need to worry about abduction unless you are filthily rich as kidnappers are only interested in wealthy foreigners and local business owners, not ordinary tourists like us.

However, it is an amazing place where you can find various tribes living in harmony. People are super friendly. Girls are pretty and very good in English and karaoke ( according to my experience ). It is the place where there were legends of head hunters. According to the history, Sabah had villages which were ruled by different tribes. When one tribe tried to dominate another tribe, there was always a war. Then they killed  the invaders,  decapitated the captured enemy and kept the head as a trophy. One of the locals told me ” may be it’s impossible to marry if you have never cut the head that time. How can the bride’s father can accept you if he thinks the proposed man has never been a warrior”   They regard the skull as their trophies to show off their bravery. These head hunters are mostly from Kadazan tribe. later, the culture resolved and they became civil to each other. ( most of them converted to Christianity  and some of them worship Islam ).They also have sea gypsies called Bajau who are nomadic and very good in swimming  ( similar to moken or salone  of Burmese people ) . I will write about Kadazan people in another blog.

To see the best part of Sabah, you have to fly to a town called Tawau. Tawau has domestic airport and you can fly there from either capital of Sabah ( Kota Kinabalu ) or capital of  main land Malaysia ( Kuala Lumpur ).Tawau is bordered by Sulu sea to the East and Celebes sea to the South. Our plan in 2009 was to see the island called Sipadan which is regarded as the only oceanic island of Malaysia. It has the most beautiful corals and the rich marine life.


Sabah mapSabah map 2

I went there in December and stayed at the floating hotel called Dragon Inn. Mind you,while there are lots of rain fall in Mainland Malaysia ( West Malaysia ) in December, in Borneo region, December is the nice time to visit as there is not much rain.  Dragon Inn was recommended by trip adviser as it has reasonable price and most divers book to stay there.

Here are some photos of Dragon Inn.

dragon inn 2.jpg

dragon inn semporna

If you ask me what is the most unique thing about staying there, I felt like I was sleeping in the boat as the waves tenderly splash the walls of the room. All the rooms are authentically made of bamboo and wood. I paid 25 us D per night ( more or less the same now after 6 years, amazing )



the restaurant of dragon inn overlooking the sea
lovely hotel staff, they are Filipinos and related to each other as aunty and nephew. He knows how to do tap dancing and we were entertained by him

There is the problem with going to Sipadan island because Sipadan island entrance is limited by permit and without permit, you can not go to Sipadan island. We were told by the tour agent that we need at least ten days to arrange permit. We could not wait for it as we have already booked the hotel to go to Sandakan that time.

I was so excited to go to the islands, but we did not want to join with a lot of people. So we arranged to hire the boat only for us . We also found out a lady in late 50 from Mexico. Her name was L…. Everybody knows I am well known for making friends with strangers . I offered her free transport from airport to her inn as she was alone and she was having knee pain. ( I regard helping tourists as a random act of kindness ) So when we said we went to go for island trip, she immediately wanted to join us as it would only cost 100 RM per each for whole day tour. We paid 300 RM to the boat man for one day trip to various island.


village of Bajau people
the first beach we went

The sea is crystal clear and seriously there was no rubbish floating. I was overjoyed and jumped into the sea together with my hand phone in my pocket. The guys near by tried to resuscitate my phone  but the sea water completely destroyed my phone. ( I consoled myself that who needs phone when you have nature! )

my sister completely enjoyed her juice

Here let me tell you funny thing about L… She is very strong and stoic and weighs around 120 kg. ( I am not telling this to ridicule her, and obviously I am in similar situation as well ). But I have to mention that because you need to know there is no way you can stop her if she wants to do something. While we sat and enjoyed our juice, she walked alone towards the private beach and she was stopped by the guard as the private area was allowed  only for  hotel guests. I don’t know what happened between the guards and  L…. Later, the guards ran towards us and shouted ” Please help, your friend is uncontrollable”. And we were like ” Errr….., she is not our friend, but we traveled together in the same boat. What’s wrong with her?” and one of the guards explained that when they tried to stop her, L… ferociously retorted that every beach should belong to the public and she could not accept that she cannot sit at the private beach. When the guards tried to block her way, she pushed them  ( you can imagine the weight of the guard is not more than 60 kg, they are small people ) and she swore that ” You are like orangutan, rude and primitive”. Nobody could stopped L… and finally they gave up on stopping her. So she could get a chance to sit at private beach while we couldn’t . When she came back, she told us back the whole story which we quietly listened. But one amusing thing what she said is ” You know, I called them primitive and they are like orangutan , but now I am feeling sorry because I like orangutans and orangutans are more intelligent and kinder than these people”. We were amused but afraid that her anger would shift on us  so that we didn’t comment anything

water village resort at Kapalai island, you can hardly see the land as the island was totally covered by water


Kapalai island, view from the restaurant
buffet lunch at Kapalai restaurant, it charges 60 RM per person in 2009, very expensive, but tasty food
hole inside the restaurant where you can view the sea creatures, excellent idea



fishy fishy fish

After we had lunch, we went to the another island called Mantabuan island.


sea weeds near Mantabuan island


The most memorable event of the trip started when L … demanded to do snorkeling at the deep area of sea. And we did not realize that our boat man is just a fisher man and he has no idea which area is suitable for snorkelling. He also didn’t consider whether the area was safe enough to jump in. As a result, he asked us to jump in the water in the middle of the sea.  We were totally naive and trusted him. So L…. gleefully jumped in and she was followed by my sister. The problem was L… realized the current was strong and it was impossible to snorkel plus we couldn’t see any fish when the sea was very deep. L .. started to panic while my sister was quite stable. Then luckily, I was not inside the water and we decided I should stay in boat in view of 1) I can’t swim 2) I need to do something if both of them had problems in water. We were not really scared until L… started to scream at the boat man. The worst thing was she couldn’t climb back inside the boat . My sister was quite considerate and decided to stay in the water although she could climb back inside the boat easily. She thought L.. would be more panic if she was alone in the sea. Then we were sort of helpless and really didn’t know what to do. We asked L … to grip the string which was attached to the boat and followed our boat until the harbor and she refused . Then after  a few minutes, she started to have transient nervous breakdown and shouted ” ok, wait, the rescuers are coming , I can see them” while w couldn’t see any trace of human beings in the middle of the sea.  Finally she agreed to hold the end of boat and the boat man would sail the boat slowly. My sister had to follow together with L .. and we finally arrived at the nearest area where the light house was attached to the small jetty which was deserted. We had to pull L.. inside the boat while my sister had to push her up from the water.  She continuously screamed at the boat man and banged the boat until some wood came out from the boat . We were at first alarmed, but later we developed anger as L.. was not definitely making the situation better although everybody was trying to help her. In the end, my sister got pissed off and told her not to scold the boat man anymore.

We were solemn and still in shock when we left the harbor. We couldn’t talk to each other as L.. was still in bad mood. Later, her nerves became better and she talked to us nicely. Obviously, her anger never directed towards us although she got pissed off very easily with other people.Finally we arrived the most beautiful island of all time, called Sibuan island. It was a very small island and surrounded by lots of beautiful corals.

Sibuan island, our highlight of the boat trip


It is a beautiful island but not many tourists visit there and as soon as we arrived, a group of bajau children ran towards the boat and asked us whether we want coconuts. Most of them were half naked and their skin was dark due to continuous sun burn and exposure to sea water.

When they said one coconut cost two RM ( 0.5 US D), our boat man was angry and shushed them . Our boat man said the price is ridiculous and they should only ask us normal price which is one RM per each coconut. I told the boat man that it is ok for us to pay 2 RM because we have to pay 4 RM for one coconut at the city. Why can’t they ask the tiny benefit for the coconut which they have to get by climbing the trees? Bajau children are not that friendly, but even under the frowning eye brows, they look adorable. They usually help parents by fishing and planting ubi ( sweet potato) and corns which are their main diet.

isn’t he adorable? asking us to buy his coconuts.

After we drank coconut water, we were about to snorkel. But I was very curious to go inside the deep water ( even after the event of near death experience ) although I didn’t know how to. I was dead sure the corals would be exotic. Then I found the brother of the above bajau child who was around 18 year old. Like other bajau, he looked very small . I asked him ” Adik, ( younger brother ), can you hold my hand and swim towards the beautiful coral?”. He looked at me and hesitantly said ” yeah… but you know I have to charge you and it would be pricey”. I was afraid he would ask me like 50 Rm, but he told me he could do the job with 10 Rm if I was willing to pay him. I excitedly said ” yes, why not?” and he walked towards his house ( a hut ) and came back with googles in his hand.  He told me to wear the googles. I asked him ” can you save me if I get drown?” and he said ” i don’t know”. ( very encouraging )

Anyway, I was already set my mind to give it a go. Then he led me in the water and we swam towards the coral. Well, I was simply floating and he was…. my God, I don’t know how to explain it. He was walking in the sea, I had never seen that kind of thing in my life before. The way he moved inside the sea with grace and smoothness completely blew my mind. He kept on pointing towards  various sea creatures and my eyes were darting here and there. I saw green, purple, pink , red color corals I had never seen before. And the fish, swarms of fish brushed various parts of my body. It was like a dream . I was so happy. Whenever I thought of that event, I want to weep with joys because I am grateful. The nature is amazing.

We were very happy at the Sibuan island and came back home with joys and peace. Later, we found out L…. wanted to stay in our hotel so that she could follow all our future trips. We hid in our room as we were so afraid she would join our trip again. We couldn’t take anymore drama although we were fond of her. Then when we went to the restaurant to have our dinner, our friends, the Filipino boy informed us that L.. came to the restaurant, but spotted  a big rat which  came out from the kitchen and it gave her a nervous break down. She got angry, scolded all the workers at the restaurant including the chef for lack of hygiene and also threatened them to sue. Finally, she refused to eat her lunch although it was already prepared by the chef. The chef apologized her and let her go out without any charges. The story gave us a crack and a bit of relief because L .. didn’t come back to find us again.( most probably fed up with rat infested restaurant )

Whenever we talk about Sabah, we can’t help talking about L…. who is sort of entertaining despite she has anger issue and mood swings. We fondly talk about her till now. May be we will meet her again in some part of the world.


Thanks for reading.








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