Overwater Tiki Huts, Bizarre Creatures: My Borneo Malaysia Getaway

Borneo Malaysia sunset, Mabul

It’s not every day check-in happens inside an overwater tiki hut ‘office,’ overlooking green turquoise seas. Diving in Borneo Malaysia has been a dream of mine ever since I first heard about the region’s crown jewel, Sipadan Island.

Yet, this unexpected welcome to Sabah was more than icing on the cake: it was a firecracker that further aroused the butterflies already filling my tummy.

Post check-in, the Borneo Divers Resort staff whisked me away in a fun boat ride to what would be my home in Mabul Island for the next four days.

Malaysian Borneo resort, Borneo Divers deck

My Borneo Malaysia Getaway: Mabul, Kapalai, and Sipadan

I was so busy dreaming about Sipadan, I didn’t even realize the underwater gems that awaited at Mabul and Kapalai. A rich mix of coral, reef fish, and even macro life was like a belated birthday gift to me.

After falling in love with muck diving in Lembeh Strait, this was bound to be yet another unforgettable diving getaway.

The GOLDEN Triangle

Also known as the “Amazon of the Seas,” the Coral Triangle is home to 20% of the world’s reef species.

In other words, it is the global epicenter of marine biodiversity.

Within such triangle is a smaller one, known as The Golden Triangle. It comprises three islands: Mabul, Kapalai, and Sipadan.

Malaysian Borneo coral, Mabul Island

Borneo Divers Resort AND Mabul Island

Arrival to my resort alone was memorable enough. Huge corals outcropped the crystal clear waters, while thousands of glassfish surrounded the long jetty.

Before I splashed into the water though, I explored the grounds and captured a gorgeous sunset.

Loungers sprinkled throughout an expansive deck. Wooden bungalows with French doors and windows. Dreamy beds and hardwood floors. Towering ceilings in the dining hall.

Borneo Divers Resort pool area

It felt as if I was in Bora Bora or some other expensive resort in the South Pacific. But no: this was a moderately-priced hotel in Malaysian Borneo, amid the Coral Triangle.

Then, a night dive at Paradise 2: Borneo Diver Mabul Resort’s house reef.


Dozens of clown fish, flounders, flathead crocodile fishes, batfish, needle fish, moray eels–you name it! All teeming thanks to a beautiful mix of natural and artificial reefs.

Mabul island sunset, Sabah, Borneo

After four days of underwater adventures, I discovered what’s so special about Mabul Island: it is full of both colorful wall dives and macro diving.

While mostly tiny creatures thrive here, you are as likely to spot both a tiny and giant cuttlefish, incredibly-huge school of yellowtail trevally, sea turtles, and a fat Pikachu nudibranch–all in the same afternoon.

Borneo diving, Mabul Island

giant cuttlefish spotted by Borneo Divers Mabul Island Resort team


Kapalai is not an actual island, but a sandbar where another resort on stilts sprawls graciously amid 28 dive sites.

Shallow seas surrounded by luxurious overwater bungalows: again, you’ll be questioning whether you’re somewhere in the South Pacific!

Ugly, yet fascinating critters such as blue rings octopuses, ghost pipefish, and even leaf scorpion fish inhabit here.

Spider crabs, Titan triggerfish, juvenile frogfish–even MATING Mandarin fish as well!

Kapalai diving in Borneo


Then, the moment of truth: with permit secured, I was allowed to finally visit a diver’s wet dream.


It only took me one immersion to finally meet the legendary barracuda tornado.

A shoal of thousands of them, spiraling around me.

It is, quite likely, the most amazing thing I’ll ever see in the seas.

Borneo Sabah diving, barracuda shoal

barracuda shoal by Borneo Divers Mabul Island Resort

(except of course, a meeting with a Great White or school of whale sharks :D)

Sipadan Island took my breath away before I even went under, though. It is a virgin, protected island–caressed by the purest aqua waters.

Venture a few meters away from the dedicated surface interval hut and you will be hunted down by local authorities!

It was really, really hard not to…

Sipadan Island Beach Borneo

As a Borneo Divers Mabul Island Resort guest, though, I got to dive in Sipadan four times in one day with my permit. Squee!

So no time to get lost around the island 😉

Back to the diving: just barracudas, barracudas everywhere. Add to that dozens of turtles, several schools of white tip sharks, giant bumphead parrotfish, dog tooth tunas, and even nudibranches laying eggs!

bump head parrotfish, Sabah diving

school of bumphead parrotfish another species by Borneo Divers

While visibility wasn’t the best during my visit due to a passing storm (10-15 meters max.), Sipadan’s marine life still was what divers’ dreams are made of.

Ahh, Borneo Malaysia. Your beaches, your marine life, your food, your people. I will never forget you!

Have you been to Borneo? What was your experience like?

Terima kasih banyak to the team at Borneo Divers for such an unforgettable getaway, free of charge. I was not paid for positive reviews, however. Malaysian Borneo is as magical as these photos and video depict <3

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About Maria Alexandra

Maria Laborde, aka latinAbroad, is an open-minded, highly-energetic woman with the spirit of a child. A world citizen, Puerto Rican at heart, carrier of an American passport. A passionate translator and writer, sprinkling Latin spice around the world!

5 thoughts on “Overwater Tiki Huts, Bizarre Creatures: My Borneo Malaysia Getaway

  1. Wow. I was so close to book the diving trip with Borneo Divers while visiting Sabah in December. Unfortunately, I couldn’t dive in Sipadan this trip. On the bright side, I will have to visit Borneo again. Great video.

  2. Wow looks awesome! I really want to go to Boreno for the wildlife, but the ocean side looks lovely too! Can you go snorkelling instead of diving and still see cool stuff? What time of year is good/bad?

    • yes you can! There are some reefs and drop-offs that are beautiful and exciting for snorkelers as well: some of them really good drifts ! it highly depends on weather conditions and time of the year though, so I recommend contacting either Borneo Divers Mabul Resort or Seaventures Dive Rig to inquire about the best trips to join as snorkelers during the time of your visit 😉

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