5 Gorgeous Islands In Sabah You Must Visit Before You Die
Malaysia is blessed with some of the most idyllic and beautiful islands in the world that are absolutely perfect for dreamy vacations.
Sabah in particular, is the home to many of these picturesque islands. Popularly referred to as the 'Maldives of Asia', the Tun Sakaran Marine Park is every nature lover's dream vacation spot.
Located about 40 minutes from Semporna, Tawau, the diverse marine park offers a wide range of activities including diving, snorkeling, hiking, and bird watching.
There are eight islands and two reefs in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park, namely, Bohey Dulang, Bodgaya, Maiga, Mantabuan, Sibuan, Sebangkat, Selakan, Tetagan, the Kapikan Reef and the Church Reef.
The park is also home to the mysterious Bajau Laut people that live in lovely little stilt houses that sit above colorful coral reefs and turquoise blue waters.
Whether it's kicking back and relaxing to the sound of nature while enjoying spectacular views or exploring the exotic marine life, the islands in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park will cater to pretty much all your getaway cravings.
What's really amazing is that these islands remain largely untouched due to the fact that there are no developments in terms of resorts and hotels in these islands.
Here are the five must-visit islands that are part of the Tun Sakaran Marine Park:
We picked these five islands in the marine park that offer a lot more than just water activities to truly immerse yourself in the uniqueness of this slice of heaven on earth:
Note: The photos featured in this story are mostly taken by professional photographers found from various platforms including Flickr and travel blogs.
1. Head to Selakan Island to experience the fascinating Bajau Laut culture
Selakan is most populated island out of the eight islands in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park and even houses a school that caters to all the students from the islands in the park.
Lined with strips of sandy beaches and mangrove trees along the island's northwest coast, Selakan Island has two jetties and certain parts of the island are only accessible during high tide.
The coolest thing about this island is the fact that it is the only island in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park that offers accommodation in the form of stilt houses in the water villages that the Bajau Laut community lives in.
For centuries, this ancient community of seafarers have lived on the sea for almost all their lives, with some having never set foot on land. The only time they go ashore would be during the day to either sell their catch of the day, collect fresh water or wood to make their boats or for funerals.
Completely immersed in the seafaring way of life, the Bajau Laut community have mastered the art of free diving, with some being able to dive for 20 meters deep while holding their breath for several minutes on end. Apart from fishing and diving, the Bajau Laut people are also great at building pile houses and boats (lepa).
Spend a night or two with the friendly, unique Bajau Laut community to truly experience the unique way of life of this ancient seafaring community.
2. Explore the terrains of the Bodgaya Island to see rich flora and fauna set amidst crystal clear, emerald-blue waters
Bodgaya, along with the Bohey Dulang and Tetagan island make up the semi-circular group of islands that form part of the rim of a volcanic crater. The island is about 8km long and 1.5km wide, making it the largest island out of the eights islands in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park.
If you're the kind of person who loves the idea of exploring nature and happen to be a sucker for water activities, then the Bodgaya Island would be your go-to place! With its pristine, greenish-blue coloured waters and unique flora and fauna, the island serves as a perfect one stop center to satisfy the nature junkie in you.
According to the Pulau Mabul tourism site, Bodgaya has three main peaks between 366 and 455 meters in height, peppered with trees and vegetation while the north end of the island has freshwater streams flowing along it. However, do note that there are no coral sand beaches in Bodgaya. What's really interesting is that the beaches on Bodgaya Island are formed from cobbles of volcanic rocks believed to be almost 2.58 million years old!
3. Hike up to the peak of the Bohey Dulang island for one of the most staggeringly beautiful views in the world
The mountainous Bohey Dulang island is formed from the remnants of an ancient volcano and is situated right beside the largest island in the park, Bodgaya.
The beauty of the island is further enhanced thanks to the crater surrounding the island that is now flooded with seawater and which has created a magnificent lagoon that is about 25m deep. The southern side of the lagoon is lined with a stretch of coral reef.
Not only does the island offer a rich collection of marine life, it is also home to the Giant Clams and Marine Invertebrate History which is a collaboration between Malaysia's Sabah Parks and the United Kingdom's Marine Conservation Society. It is located near Bohey Dulang's jetty and houses laboratories, exhibition halls, broodstock gardens and open sea cages.
Expect to see display tanks with rare giant clamps species like the T.Gigas and T.Derasa, abalones and even phytoplankton which serves as the giant clams' food. These giant clams are known as 'kidneys of the oceans' as they help to the preserve and filter the water by absorbing harmful organics that may harm marine life.
Bohey Dulang is particularly popular for its stunning views from the peak of the island. To get there, you'll need to hike up a 600-meter nature trail, which is said to take about 40 minutes. The path up to the peak can be a little rough, especially after rain as the path can be slippery and muddy. Avoid wearing flip flops! According to the My Sabah blog, you can expect to see rare scrub vegetation and plant species that are unique to Bohey Dulang such as the palm-like Cycas rumphii, cactus-like succulent Euphorbia lacei and trichoglottis geminata, a rare orchid grows on volcanic rocks.
A trio of central islands that are part of the Sulu volcanic chain which erupted 2.5 million years ago make up the greenish blue breathtaking view atop the peak of the island we see today! Insider tip: The My Sabah blog mentioned that you'll need to walk about 20 meters to your right once you reach the peak to get the panoramic view of the islands. Some describe the view as a beautiful pot of emerald and sapphire.
4. Go to Sibuan Island for one of the best muck diving spots in Malaysia
Sibuan Island is said to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park with sandy beaches and glorious coconut trees lining the sand cay.
Thanks to its eclectic marine life, Sibuan is one of the best muck diving spots in Sabah. Expect to see the rare mandarinfish, pygmy seahorses, crocodile fish, lion fish, scorpion fish and the frog fish.
Despite the fact that it is the smallest island in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Sibuan is still highly popular thanks to its marine population, including its perfect combination of shallow plateaus and steep slopes which serves as a regular stopover for open water divers.
5. Have a picture-perfect picnic while basking on the sun drenched beaches of the Maiga Island
The island is recognised by the distinctive way in which coconut trees line its beaches and shelters the place from monsoon winds all year round.
Also known as the 'Maiga Islet', this little spot of heaven is a popular picnic spot for most tourists due to its picturesque setting. You may just feel like you're part of a beautiful tropical island postcard!
Another perk of heading to this island lies on the fact that you can buy an abundance of purple seaweed from the Bajau Laut community, which usually costs about RM20 per kilo.
Snorkel, dive or just take a break and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Maiga Island while you sip on fresh coconut water!
Except for minimalistic, authentic stilt house accommodation on Selakan, none of these gorgeous islands actually house hotels or resorts for you to stay at.
So, visitors usually stay at the nearby Semporna town or islands close to the Tun Sakaran Marine Park.
Semporna town offers quite a number of affordable hotels and inns for you to stay at when visiting these islands. While there are no ultra-luxurious 5-star hotels in Semporna, the mid-range hotels in town would be great if you're looking to mingle with the locals and observe the way they live.
However, there is the Lato Lato Homestay which offers the best view in Semporna town. Located about 30 minutes off the Semporna town, the Lato Lato is basically a collection of quaint water chalets built on stilts accessible by boat from the town. For about RM160 per night for two people, you can enjoy uninterrupted views of greenish-blue waters, snorkel anytime you want and wake up to glorious sunrises.
With that said, if you want the best of both worlds, the Pom Pom Resort on the Pom Pom Island offers comfort, luxury and stunning views! You can get to the resort by a boat ride that would take about 45 minutes from the Semporna jetty, to be greeted by beautiful villas that come with its own private balconies that offer beach or garden views. The 4-star resort also has water villas that come equipped with magnificent sea views from its bathrooms.
You can also choose to stay in neighbouring islands like the Mataking or Mabul. Check out more accommodation options here.
How to get to these breathtaking beaches?
Getting to the islands in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park is fairly easy. First, you'll need to take a flight to Tawau and both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia has daily flights that head there. If you're flying with AirAsia, you can take a flight from pretty much any part of Malaysia to get to Tawau, except from Labuan, Alor Setar, Bintulu, Kuching, and Langkawi as there are no direct flights to Tawau from these places.
Once you get to the Tawau airport, you can either get a taxi which will cost about RM100 or a minivan that will take you to the Semporna town. The drive would take about 1.5 hours. Upon reaching Semporna, you'll need to get a speedboat that will take you to the island of your choice. The boat ride will take about 30 to 40 minutes.