We came here to dive in one of the world’s most famous dive sites: Sipadan.
No question Sipadan is a diver‘s dream come true!
For the resort we should have opted for another stay. No doubt that this resort is well known for its luxurious accommodation but that’s basically all it has to offer. Yes, the rooms are clean and the resort is well kept and tidy. On the other hand don’t expect your money‘s worth in return. Concerning the food I must say it was nothing special and we expected far more for 6800 RM p.p. (being the low season) for a 5 night stay. Although I believe the chefs did their best the food quality itself is mediocre. There was little variation and everything seemed pretty much counted.
The staff is doing their job but don’t seem to be actually enjoying it. Sometimes they wouldn’t even say hi. The most annoying part though was the fact that employees seemed to be on their smartphone constantly sitting next to a huge fan in the middle of the dining room next to the buffet and hardly moving from there. Funnily we saw them opening the buffet at lunch for them selves and I felt a little uncomfortable asking for their attendance since I didn’t want to disturb their meal. Another thing was that there is WiFi/Internet in the room (provided by a very slow 3G SIM) and we were told there was no signal due to a non functioning signal tower. So there was no Internet at all in the room. For 11 RM I purchased a 4G SIM in the village that didn’t seem to have any problem with the signal. And as mentioned before, employees‘ smartphones didn’t seem to have either. On asking if we could access the resorts WiFi we were declined. The staff seemed so busy on social media that I put back the plates and dishes myself, what didn’t seem to bother them at all. When you take a coke from the fridge you have to pay 8 RM and only at the 3rd day I was asked if I would like some ice with it (remember this is a 4 star resort). The staff in the spa though are refreshingly kind and can provide a really relaxing and nice treatment. Thank you for that.
We were very thankful (due to the low season) to have gotten the chance to dive at Sipadan 3 days in a row with very kind and experienced dive guides and very friendly staff on the boat. So after all I enjoyed the diving a lot but I know that next time I will stay somewhere else and not at the mabul water resort again.
Booked the land Chalet and was quite pleased. Perfect location, close to restaurant, dive shop, bar. Alcohol is very expensive on the island, bring your own or give it up for a week. The staff were all tops. Food was good. They cooked a BBQ several nights, it was the best food for the week. Bar on the water opens at 3pm....no staff actually show up until 3:30 or 4p. Dive staff were all great. AC in room will freeze you out....perfect for me!! Wifi and cell service is intermittent at best, disconnecting for a week was actually nice.
Just to be clear - this is not a review of Sipadan diving - which is great - but of the Mabul Water Bungalows accommodation.
First the good points:
- excellent dive operation combined with the SMART on island resort. Good dive leaders and efficient and helpful service. We did not appreciate though having to take a buggy to the other side of the island (especially getting back as we had to wait 15 minutes in a thunderstorm when we were very cold). But then there were only 4 divers in our resort out of 46 guests (the rest were bizarrely non-diving Chinese - weird for a dive resort)
- beautiful bougainvilleas everywhere
- good security - CCTV cameras everywhere
- effective transport from Tawau airport - under 2.5 hours each way
But this place could be so much better, and isn't cheap:
- food, although edible, was monotonous. Rice plus stir fry buffet - very sick now of pok choi which used to be one of my favourite vegetables. And yet the freshest seafood is available to the kitchen. And every night of our 5 night stay there was identical desert - a kind of bread and butter pudding and not great chocolate sponge. Also most nights there was only a choice of one red wine - of course the most expensive on the otherwise rather limited list. But then hardly any of the other guests drank alcohol at dinner - let alone wine
- the staff was out of control - eating the guests food in front of the guests and sleeping on the sofas in the lounge (supposedly a library but the books and magazines were ancient). The staff should have their own separate area not in view of the guests and told to go there when not working. Even in the restaurant the otherwise very friendly gaggle of waitresses had their own table in the middle of the room where they would chat noisily (and eat) all day
- the bar area could have been great but was ruined by the rude bar man (who should be let go of immediately) playing his own rather unpleasant music at very high volumes and play acting with his mates who looked like they were staff from the other resort. They (all young men) seemed to be continually trying to eye up and chat up the young Chinese women guests who consequently stayed away from the bar area. And why not serve fresh whole coconuts rather than expect guests to buy them from the fishermen (see below). Mabul is after all a coconut producing island!
- even on your own balcony you could hear the loud music - and throughout the day are pestered by fishermen trying to sell you lobsters and crabs (which the kitchen will cook specially for you). While I have some sympathy for the guests' desire to alleviate the monotony of the food, this practice should stop immediately
- the shower in the room was pathetic - a through heating system that never produced warm enough water. Lots of hot water is a must for a dive resort
- they know exactly where you are all day (as a diver) and yet the house keepers are clearly not informed as on two occasions they were cleaning our room when we came back from diving desperate for at least a lukewarm shower
There is a generic problem as well for all hotels in south east Asia below 4 stars - what to do with Chinese tourists? Throughout our stay 90% of the hotel was occupied by mainland China Chinese who were predominately rude, loud and have unpleasant eating habits. So guests from the rest of the world often have a problem with them - but they do fill the beds. I am not at all sure what the solution to this is for the hoteliers. Personally I would prefer to move my hotel upmarket and so not have to rely so much on this market.
A last word on Sipadan - the permits cost RM 520 a day per person - that is about GBP 100 - and yet the part of the island where you get to stay between dives was a mess - both as regards rubbish and not being kept tidy from driftwood etc. And 2 out of 4 of the womens' toilets were unusable due to not being cleaned of number 2s.....Sabah Parks should take a fraction of the huge income they get daily (120 times 520) to employ one person to maintain the place.
So would we stay there again - yes, but not for more than 5 nights which is the minimum to guarantee one day on Sipadan. It is after all the best place to stay to dive Sipadan - but I truly hope the owner and management will get a grip on the above - these are management failings which will not cost much to address.
I reiterate the comments made by previous reviewer massively. This place is a paradise to look at and aesthetically you think how amazing it is and have such high hopes for your stay and then you realize so many basic and obvious customer service qualities/amenities are just missed. The management team could market this in such a better way that would attract way more divers and visitors.
This might be down to the fact that 90% of the visitors are Chinese, who are largely just come for the views as they tend not to dive. One day it was literally just me and my husband who were diving and around 50 Chinese guest snorkeling so they had to transfer us to the other resort. With this comes a multitude of photo shoots. everywhere you look there are Asian tourist (who are staying or visiting) just going round to take photos for hours and it becomes very intrusive and annoying and just changes the atmosphere of the place. This seems to be the main reason these tourists stay and are not really interested in the marine life.
As a by product of their main clientele there is not much of a night light. They have several nicely located bars that have so much potential (one has sunset views) but their is no atmosphere, a poorly stocked bar, no music, no other people, and it basically just feels like the staff are just sitting around as they are often not there, wear no kind of uniform that shows they even work there and just sit on their phones the whole time. In addition to this the buffet food was terrible. We were on honeymoon and had been completely spoiled with some amazing locations full of amazing food. This paradise stay to finish our trip was meant to be the creme de la creme but unfortunately that was not the case. Now i have been travelling Asia for over a year now and, as a gluten free vegetarian, I have always been able to manage. Especially at buffets where i just eat what i can or the chef kindly makes amendment. Now i would expect this not to be the case at a budget location but not a resort that markets it self as luxery. It is the food that is the main factors of this luxery status failing. When i ask if they had vegetarian options on my arrival i was made to feel like it was my fault for 'not putting it on the booking'. This w=may be correct and my fault but basic customer service technique do not make the customer feel at fault as soon as they have arrived. All of the buffet options were meat, and even my husband, as a meat eaten, was servery unimpressed. Every day i was given rice and veg or noodles and veg and i had to ask for it each day and hear myself just being refereed to as 'the vegetarian' each time i entered the room. Now, some of these dishes were very nice. But when you are spending over 6000USD on 5 days you expect a little more. And, as i said, for the rest of my holiday this was what i got for the same standard of trip.
That being said, the staff were always incredibly polite and friendly and they work very long hours. On our last night they had a new chef and the food was very tasty and had much more variety. Just a shame about the other 4 nights.
The diving was very good and was the reason we visited the area. The house reef is low advisability but there can be a lot to see. Kapalai has the better house reef where you can see a lot of macro. Sipidan was very good and full of mega forna and you saw an abundance of marine life each dive. Definitely worth a visit however it is very expensive. If you have ever been to Komodo National Park i would liken the experience to that, but Komodo did not ask you to pay extra. So with this, we got enticed to pay for 5 nights here because that was the only way we could guarantee diving in Sipidan and we thought with it being high season we might struggle. That was not the case. We ended up having doing 2 days dive (which we felt very privilege and lucky to do), despite not asking for it, and were offered a third but we refused. It seems to be very easy to get a permit (maybe because of there being so many Chinese people who didn't want to dive). Anyway, to apply for a permit costs approx $200pp each day. Because we were offered it they gave it to us for approx $80pp each day. There was 2 of us so that added up quickly which was why we refused the last day and instead opted for some macro diving. We were made to feel very stupid about this decision as multiple people kept saying to us 'people normally would love to have as many dives as possible in sipidan'. Yes, that might be the case but, going back to my previous point, it was not head and shoulders above Komodo so we felt why spend more money for what we have already seen. That being said, we did see some incredible things and the diving is definitely worth it. Massive schools of baracuda and jack fish, plentiful sharks and turtles it's definitely worth the trip, just don't buy into having to stay 5 nights. Although we do not regret the length we stayed solely for the diving experiences and what we saw.
In terms of the place as a diving centre, we did not feel they added much to our experience. What made our trip great was the location and not the company. There were times when our dive master surfaced before everyone else so we were left down having not even been told we were surfacing. Secondly, there knowledge of hand signals includes of shark and turtle so I found myself unanswered when asking what they were trying to show me. We had to pay to hire all the equipment on top of the large sum of money we spent to stay here. This was very annoying and very expensive and something I have not seen anywhere else we have dived. My husband and I spent about $50pp per day on hire.
Do not buy the honeymoon package it is not worth it. But do have a sensual couples massage. This is by far the best massage we have had (and that is out of a lot). The whole experience was amazing, romantic and special. Thank you to the very talented ladies who did it.
Airport transfer was very good, efficient and easy. Thank you for this it really helped.
To conclude, kapalai and sipidan are a dive location that should be experienced by any keen diver. Mabul Water Bungalows offers beautiful views and if money is no objects then i guess that can suffice. If you take an pleasure from food when you travel i would not recommend staying here. In fact, i would not recommend staying here unless you have too much disposable income and find the price worth nice views and a the odd but of house reef snorkeling. Go somewhere else and have the same dive experiences. I hope this helps if you are planning your trip in this area.
My wife and I went here specifically for diving in April 2018.
This area of Borneo is on the FCO No Go area. Consequently, our normal travel instead invalid whilst here. We took out specialist insurance. The sea around us was frequently monitored with war ships, or backed out ribs with armed forces on board. Every evening armed guards came onto the premises. It's clear the local giveryand the resort were taking safety seriously. It was a concern but one we could see was being managed.
The reason why we came. Inside knowledge...This resort has one of the highest number of permits for diving in Sipadan. CRUCIALLY, because the resort is stunning, the majority of its guests are not divers. We could have gone to Sipadan 3 times in a 5 night stay!
Sipadan is sublime. There's plenty to read on that already. House and nearby reefs pale in comparison. But, if you like turtles of giant grouper, those can be spotted in some nearby reefs. The nearby reefs you travel there and back immediately, so no need to eat on the boat. Sipadan, all divers/visitors eat in a dedicated hut. Food is ok and brought from the resort. Journey time about 40mins.
The amenities are simple and good. A dedicated room for you dive stuff and two average but adequate dive boats. The staff vary. There are two dive masters. One more experienced who was teaching PADI courses, he was excellent. The other far less experienced was not the person you wanted leading a dive full of currents. Unfortunately he was. He did not give adequate pre-dive instructions. He was a bit too young and a bit too inexperienced. Luckily our group of divers was very experienced and therefore all taking care of each other.
Because of the FCO No Go listing we were among approx 4-6 westerners present, the 50+ other guests were Chinese.
Many young Chinese people appear to travel here for a couple of days to take wedding photos, some bringing professional photographers! The place is stunning the views are stunning. So it's understandable. However, Western guests might be unacustomed to their way.
Staff and Upkeep
The staff are nice, but the level of service is closer to a 3 star than a luxury resort. This cost morenoer night than Huvafen Fushi in the Maldives, a multiple award winning resort!
Whoever designed this resort built it to challenge a Maldives resort. But the upkeep and staff are not the same quality.
Rooms and Bathrooms
The rooms are nice and clean. Air. Con was great. The bed was nice. But bins were bizarrely never emptied.
The bathroom was tired, the sink leaked the shower was simply not what you'd exoyfir somewhere this expensive, with a hot water tank in the shower and an electric shower box.
The food was good. Not extraordinary good. There was also ample amounts of it. There was rarely a queue. It's a decent buffet.
Drinks and Bar
Again, this could be absolutely stunning. But one bar area, which has hot tubs, could be paradise on earth. Honestly, it's that nice. Instead, the bar isn't stocked and that part of it, whilst maintained, is empty.
The main bar was clearly just meant to be for the divers, and does an ok job. The barman is a very nice guy.
BUT Chinese guests dominate the resort and did not appear to drink. As a result the bars are completely under utilised and that atmosphere is lost.
This hotel could be so much better. For the price item is simply too expensive for what you get. But, it's unique location and the fact it is the best quality hotel with Sipadan permits, and it's water bungalows with amazing photography opportunities means it can charge that amount.
We had a nice trip there, no major complaints. The diving is great. Also, if you get a ocean facing room, you should see turtles all night from your balcoy!! But expecting a luxury break and to be pampered, this isn't the place.