The gateway to Sipadan Island is the seaside town of Semporna, a town you don’t want to linger very long since the beauty of the islands await! But if you get stuck in Semporna for a night or two, it’s not all that bad. There are some good eats and cheaper accommodation than on Mabul.
Here’s what we did while we were stuck in Semporna:
We looked around at accommodation down near the water and around all the dive shops but all were much more than we were willing to pay. We got out of that area and found Hotel Damai that was within our price range (RM50/night) that had air-conditioning and en-suite bathroom. Wasn’t anything fancy but it did the trick and if you’re on a budget I’d recommend staying here – the owners are nice as well and it’s only a short walk to the jetty.
There’s a market on the road leading down to the jetty that has loads of vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables. There’s also a Giant supermarket down here to stock up on snacks and whatnot. We only ate at Bismillah Restaurant and had some tasty and cheap roti canai and murtabak here, they have a menu in English as well.
Getting to & away: Semporna is a major tourist destination and you can grab a bus from pretty much anywhere in the Malaysian Borneo to Semporna. The closest airport to Semporna is Tawau airport, about an hour away. To get out of Semporna, you can deal with the taxi drivers or minibus pirates that approach you one you step off the boat at the jetty. To get to the Tawau airport, there are minibuses behind the KFC that leave whenever the bus is full. The drivers will assume you want to go to the airport and try to charge you RM20, but tell them you just want to be dropped off before the airport turnoff if you want to save some money. If you’re bag isn’t too heavy you can walk to the airport (only 2km) or hitchhike (what we did). Food options are pricy and limited at the airport so if you can, eat before you arrive!