Mabul, the underwater paradise

It was 4 pm in Semporna. We arrived from a one-day tour to Bohey Dulang and the islands between Borneo and Philippines. We were tired and had salt in every pore of the skin. We walked the few metres between the Dragon Inn Hotel and the jetty were we expected to take the last boat to the paradise: Mabul archipelago.

Mabul Water Bungalows

After one hour sailing through a brave Sea of Celebes we arrived to the Mabul Water Bungalows where we had booked two nights in an overwater villa. The resort is built completely above the water in a Balinese style. It is beautifuly decorated with ethnic details, flowers and warm ligthts all along the wooden platforms that connect all areas within the resort.

Our villa in Mabul Water Bungalows

We got off the boat just next to the main hall where we could find the reception, the dinning hall and the shop. The hotel director welcomed us and explained how everything works in Mabul Water Bungalows. Sunset already started while we walked through the wooden corridors and platforms, discovering the bar, the massage villa, the viewpoints… and finally, our villa! Once inside Laura was surprised by the romantic details that the staff prepared for us. They knew it was our honeymoon but Laura didn’t know they knew.

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It had a glass floor from where we could spot different kind of fishes, rays and starfishes. It also had a big terrace with beautiful views of the Sea of Celebes and Mabul Island. One of the best of moments of our honeymoon was when we relaxed while reading a book on a deck chair and the sunset started.

Views from our villa

After enjoying the sunset and having a shower we walked towards the dinning hall where a special table and service was prepared for us. This was another surprise for Laura. We ate different delicious dishes, typical from Malaysia and Philippines, with a candle and the sound of the waves. Some lightnings in the horizon and the warm temperature wraped up the soiree.


We ended the day having a cocktail while watching the fishes come to the light of the overwater bar. The next day was expected to be amazing because we planned to dive in different spots in the Mabul Archipelago. Altough the most impressive site is Sipadan Reserve, we didn’t plan to go there. However, if you are more than an amateur diver it is worth it to pay the expensive fee. It is considered one of the best places for diving in the world. Turtles, sharks, any kind of fishes, coral…

Mabul islander selling coconuts with his canoe

The day after we went by boat to the sandbank of Kapalai. It is a suprising site because in the middle of the turquoise waters, with nothing around in many kilometers, you find a sandbank few centimetres high. Enough height to build another resort, the Sipadan Kapalai resort which is managed also by Mabul Water Bungalows. Once there it was time to do some snorkel and enjoy the colourful marine life.

Laura snorkeling

After Kapalai sandbank we went back to Mabul and did some snorkel in the other side of the island. Mabul is a small green spot, full of coconut palm trees, in the middle of the vast blue ocean. Also in Mabul you can find other accomodation options, like the Sipadan-Mabul Resort, which also belongs to Mabul Water Bungalows, but in this case with no overwater villas. Also the Sipadan Water Village and other cheaper options for backpackers can be found in the small village on the west side of the island.

Mabul island seen from our overwater villa

And when doing snorkel in Mabul something magic happened. It is one of those experiences that may happen only once in a lifetime. We are not professional divers, so we are not used to some kind of wild encounters under the water. This is why, when I faced an endangered Green turtle I realised I was really fortunate to be in the right place at the right moment.


It started swimming, like a slow motion flight, in circles around me. It was looking at me and I was looking at it in an infinite dance that I prayed it never finished. I savored every second and recorded it in my memory and, fortunately, also in the GoPro memory, so you can also enjoy part of that feeling in the above video.

Our villa and the Mabul Water Bungalows at the back

It was time to head towards our villa, have a shower and enjoy lunch while thinking about our plan in the afternoon. I already had the best possible experience while snorkeling in Mabul archipelago, so we decided to go walking and discover Mabul itself. The island is so small that we crossed by feet from East to West in less than 2 minutes. We decided to have a bath in the private beach of Sipadan-Mabul Resort and then wanted to know the real life of islanders.

Mabul island

When we left the resort gate behind us a new world opened in front of our eyes. There was some rubbish burning in the margin of the path, a bad mantained graveyard, people looking to us with a surprise face and houses made of wood that seemed they would fall at any time. Everything dirty. A small island, two worlds.

Mabul village

After 6pm it is forbidden to cross the hotel gate… and we may understand why. We enjoyed our stay in Mabul and we highly recommend to go there if you ever travel to Borneo. However, we would also like that our money paid to the hotel reach the people living in the island in a more sustainable way. We are not tourists, we are travelers and try to act responsibly and spend the money the best possible way to make a positive impact on the local communities.

Walking in Mabul

This is not always under our control, unfortunately. And we would not be happy leaving Mabul having seen only half of it, the part which is well maintained, specially designed for wealthy people from Asia, Europe and America and not knowing about the other half. The world is not perfect, neither the small island of Mabul. It is the paradise and a mirror of the world itself.

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