Sipadan, Malaysia: Worlds best white sand islands $16 Day + Best Diving


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Sipadan, Malaysia is one of the travel cheap to paradise destinations where you can live for $16 per day while you check out one of the top 5 diving sites in the world.

I had been visiting the Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre and I took the bus to Semporna for $12.00.  It was a 5 hour bus ride.  Semporna is on the mainland where you must go to get to Sipadan, Malaysia.  In case you want to fly to see Sipadan, the nearest airport is in Tawau.  The taxi to and from Tawau to Semporna is about 1 hour and costs about $25.00.  Book it in advance through your hotel/hostel or the taxi driver will charge you $50.00.  Still a bargain for a one hour taxi ride.  

Semporna is the jumping off point on the mainland to get to the Island of Sipadan, Malaysia.  Semporna is a fishing village with not much to offer but water taxis and diving shops that will take you to some of the most beautiful islands in the world for diving and snorkeling.  Even if you are not a diver, the beaches of Sipadan and nearby islands are so beautiful and the underwater life is so diverse and amazing, you will never forget your trip here.  Your photos will provide a life of memories.  There are no beaches in Semporna, so you have to get on a boat to do most anything interesting.

The below monthly living expenses are based on living in Semporna for a month or two near the water and dive shops, but if you only get a few weeks off per year, you may want to consider a package that includes air, a week at one of the high end resorts, and diving.  It will cost much more per day than I stated below, but if you are trying to cram fun into a week or two before going back to the grind for another year, that might be worth it to you.  

But if you are moving along at your own pace, such as a digital nomad, a retiree, a backpacker, or a Vagabond Buddha with a few months or years to explore, then here are some options for those that want to get to know this part of the world a little better.  

There are several backpacker hostels.  I didn’t stay at one, but from what other divers said, you can stay at the Scuba Junkie Backpackers for about 12/night or 6/night if you are diving.  I stayed at the Holiday Dive Inn for about $25/night for a double bed, and AC, but they also have dormitories for about $6/night. lists a 1 bedrrom private apartment with AC and Kitchen for about $36/night.  If these places are all booked up, check out Wikitravel for Semporna for other options. 

A food cart will run you about $2 per meal with various options around the city.  A neighborhood family owned restaurant will cost about $4-8 per meal.  There are dozens to choose from and I have been in Malaysia for months and haven’t gotten sick once.  Here are a few restaurants worth mentioning:  Ocean Treasure, Scuba Junkie.  There are no real high end restaurants by western standards in Semporna proper.  

A taxi is about $2 in the city but most everything is within walking distance so why bother?  A bus is about 50 cents, and there is no subway.  The below High, Medium, and Low estimates do not include any diving, excursions or alcohol since that will vary so much per person.  

A day diving will cost you around $70 for 3 dives of one tank per dive with all equipment provided.  There are multiple dive sites and they are all very high quality with Sipadan being the jewel in the crown for this area of the world.  Expect to pay another 30-50% more to dive Sipadan as compared to the other islands.  You can find all day snorkeling packages for under $18.00.  There are also photography tours and floating village tours where you will see how people live over the water.    

For a best diving price and experience, depending on whether you are a high, medium, or low budget traveler, send an email to 2-3 dive shops for bids on a diving package.  They will include the room, diving and equipment, and a lunch.  Just tell them the number of days and ask for their bid.  Also, let them know whether you will take a dorm or want a private room with AC.  While in Semporna, I went diving 3 days, with three dives each day–one day on Mabul Island, one day on Sipadan Island, and one day on Mantabuan Island.  

I don’t have an underwater dive camera, but to give you an idea of how amazing the Sipadan Islands are … on just one of my three dives, I saw 8 turtles, 6 sharks, and I was surrounded by a school of hundreds of fish circling me, and I saw hundreds of species of different tropical fish and hundreds of species of colorful corral.  If you google Sipadan, Malaysia, underwater/scuba photos, you will be amazed at what you will see there.  

The below multiplier table is used to estimate the costs of living in Sipadan, Malaysia for Low, Medium, and High budget travelers.  As you can see, a Low budget traveler can exist for about $16 per day in Sipadan, Malaysia.  For an explanation of how to use this table see the bottom of this Travel Cheap link.   Now go have some fun!

Love, Vagabond Buddha

Monthly Multiplier
Expense Cost Each Low Medium High
Airbnb (1 Bedroom Apt) $36.00 0 14 30
Moderate Hotel $25.00 0 12 0
Backpacker Hostel $6.00 30 4 0
High End Restaurant $20.00 1 4 8
Neighborhood Restaurant $6.00 30 44 48
Food Cart $2.00 30 12 4
Subway/Train/Metro $0.00 20 26 8
Bus $0.50 20 10 0
Taxi $3.00 6 10 20
Total Per Month $468.00 $1,231.00 $1,596.00
Total Per Day $15.60 $41.03 $53.20

Copyrights 2016, Vagabond Buddha

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