We Survived Diving With Sharks in Sipadan

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Diving With Sharks in Sipadan

Rated #1 on CNN’s “World’s Best Diving Sites”, Sipadan left us both saying, “This has been one of the best days of our lives!”

Back in 2005, the Malaysian government changed the rules as to how many people can dive the infamous Sipadan each day in an effort to reduce the human impact on the marine ecosystem.  Now only 120 people are allowed here each day so don’t do as we did and book last minute and hope for the best!  Instead book well ahead so that you get the dates you would like.  Like I said, we lucked out and were able to grab a day at Sipadan through Uncle Chang’s dive shop after booking our Advanced Open Water Diving Course.

Travel Tip: Check out Uncle Chang’s HERE if you are thinking about getting your Open Water or Advanced Open Water Licenses.  Pricing in Oct 13′ was $320 CAD each for an AOW License.

After checking in at Uncle Chang’s in Semporna we set off on the hour long boat ride to the island of Mabul where the dive shops for Sipadan are all located.  It was beautiful ride out to Mabul but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t a bit nervous as this experience was going to be our biggest splurge on the entire trip yet and we didn’t quite know what to expect with Uncle Chang’s (we’d heard mixed reviews). Uncle Chang’s was the cheapest option we came across, so we decided to take a shot. We were pleasantly surprised.

Uncle Chang's Sipadan

We would highly recommend this dive shop and its accommodations. We stayed in the dorms and only had other dorm mates for two of our five nights (four beds to a room, with a private bathroom). Meals were included in the cost of accommodation (70 Ringgit) and we found the food to be very decent.  The food is made even better as you get to enjoy it with a million dollar view.


Better still, if you’re itching for something fresh from the ocean, small fishing boats came up to the docks each day selling the latest catch. We made some great friends from Kuala Lumpur and they were able to barter with the fisherman for a few of our dinners.  For about $20 CAD we had more than enough fresh crab for four people, plus all preparation and cooking by Uncle Chang’s kitchen.

Fresh Crab Borneo

Over the first two days we worked on our Advanced Open Water Diving Licenses with an awesome instructor from Germany named Ker. Very professional and patient, everything you’d want in an instructor. Seriously there were times during the course where we probably deserved to get sent back to the minors, she is the epitome of patience.  We dove the islands of Mabul and Kapalai which were both beautiful and exhilarating as we swam side-by-side with sea turtles and explored a shipwreck, a dream of Alyse’s for a long time.


Photo Credit: National Geographic (because the camera we rented was shit!)

After earning our advanced diving stripes, we set our sights on the grand daddy of them all, Sipadan!  We sort of expected that the diving around Sipadan would be amazing, but the island itself took our breath away.  Sipadan is without a doubt, the most beautiful island we have ever stepped foot on.  Beginning with the painfully beautiful clear turquoise waters teeming with exotic fish, to the picture perfect white sand beaches to the dozens and dozens of hawksbill turtles swimming around our feet in the shallows. Walking around the island was a truly magical, almost spiritual experience.

Turtles Sipadan

Now let’s get to the diving, shall we?  Sipadan is world renowned for a reason.  This tiny island has somewhere around three thousand species of fish, hundreds of coral species as well as many different types of shark such as Grey, White Tip, Black Tip, Nurse and Hammerhead.  Add to that impressive collection hundreds of gentle sea turtles who choose Sipadan as their preferred mating spot.  It is a true nature lovers paradise.


Photo Credit: SK Chiuh via http://www.sportifdive.co.uk

Our first dive was around “Turtle Point” where we dove right into a massive school of jackfish.  The image of floating completely still in the middle of hundreds of tornadoing jackfish (like the picture above) will forever be imprinted in our memories.  One of the best moments of our lives, no question. So glad we were able to capture it with picture perfect resolution 😉 … (see below…we are so done with rental cameras)


The second dive took us to “Mid Reef” where we rode the gentle current towards “White Tip Point”.  We have never been diving with sharks before (actually that’s not technically true we swam with nurse sharks in a netted off area in the Dominican Republic but we don’t really count that) so when we spotted our first White Tip our hearts skipped a few beats!  Then we spotted our second, and then third and before we knew it we’d seen half a dozen white tip and black tip sharks all swimming within 30 metres of us.  What a thrill!

Reef shark Sipadan

The most famous dive spot at Sipadan is “Barracuda Point” which draws in thousands of barracudas, sea turtles, fish of all kinds and of course, sharks.  Our dive master left this one to the end as it is consistently rated the most impressive spot in Sipadan, if not the world.  It didn’t disappoint.  The current was strong, pulling us along the wall at a quick but comfortable speed. It is at this time that I wish we had purchased an underwater camera before this dive as our rental camera didn’t work worth a damn, but the memories remain.  Along with more fish than I can recall, we saw the biggest shark we’ve seen to date.  A monstrous Grey Reef Shark swam past us, close enough that we could make out all the fish underneath him picking up his scraps. Sort of looked like this…


Alright, so the picture below is a little more accurate.


Photo Credit: National Geographic

Some days stand out in your life as really magical, and that was truly the case for us during our time diving in Sipadan.  Alyse and I agreed as soon as we got back to Uncle Chang’s to grab a beer and take in the sunset, that our day diving Sipadan was one of the best of our lives.  Walking amongst sea turtles, diving with sharks and swarms of barracudas, jackfish, and countless others made every penny we spent for Sipadan worth it.  We would go back in a heartbeat, and in our humble opinions the diving here is perhaps Borneo’s greatest asset.


Ross & Alyse




Lover of travel, photography, nature, movies, and nachos. If you love Star Wars and Lord of the Rings we'll probably become best friends.

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