A day is nowhere near enough time to experience all that Semporna has to offer. But if you play it smart, there’s still a lot that you can fit in!
by Emily Mary Chin, Carrybeans
I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to Semporna over a weekend between work. It was a bit of a rush, and there is still so much I have yet to see. But though I only had one day to play with, there was still enough to fill my day and tire myself out.
My journey began in the early morning hours before sunrise as I boarded a flight from KK to Tawau. From there, it was only an hour’s drive to the small coastal town of Semporna. And once you’re there, adventure is all ready and waiting!
There are a vast multitude of islands that you can choose to visit on your trip to Semporna. For the purpose of mine, I chose to hop between two of Tun Sakaran Marine Park‘s finest: Sibuan Island and Mantabuan Island. The original plan also included the island of Bohey Dulang where I had originally planned to hike its famous 353m nature trail. But it was not meant to be as rainy weather and safety precautions forced Sabah Parks to close the trail for the day.
Sibuan is a beautiful but undeveloped island, completely devoid of any resorts or public facilities besides a couple of dingy bathroom cubicles. Lucky for me, though, I didn’t mind very much. All the more reason to focus on and appreciate the natural amenities the island has to offer. You can also take enough photos to fill your social media feed for the next couple months.
Mantabuan is one of the smallest islands off Semporna, with an area size of only about 0.1km². It came together as a result of surrounding coral reef erosions. Similar to Sibuan, there is not much to do on the island itself besides take epic, Instagram-worthy shots. But it’s what surrounds the two islands that’s truly compelling.
The Bajau Laut community—commonly referred to as ‘sea gypsies’—are one of the few nomadic seaborne communities in the world. They live their whole lives almost entirely in water, only ever retreating to land for safety or resources. They live off their boats and float between the coral reefs that surround Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines.
When weather forces them to settle, they live instead on floating houses they build themselves. They never stay in one place for too long, however. Just as quickly as those houses go up, they come back down at equal speed.
But as peaceful and idyllic as the Bajau Laut lifestyle seems to be, it is also extremely fragile. Due to the uniqueness of their chosen circumstances, they do not have any country to call their own. Without citizenship or documentation, they are unable to gain access to healthcare or formal education.
Without education or technological growth, they rely completely on their four limbs and physicality to survive. And without healthcare, any accident or injury could be a potential threat to their survival.
Like I said, there’s a lot more going on off the islands than on.
But sea gypsies are not the only wonders that surround these few islands! Off the coast of them is a widespread garden of coral reefs that has more life and colour to them than anything above sea level. The Coral Triangle is home to 600 different species of coral and more than triple the number of species of fish.
In between islands, I was able to make pit-stops at a couple of nearby diving spots. But since I am without a diving license, I indulged in some snorkeling instead. It is an all-consuming, surreal experience being able to look straight down to the bottom of the ocean. And it becomes an ever more surreal experience, to witness the complete life and ecosystem that exists within it.
Bukit Tengkorak—otherwise known as ‘Skull Hill’—is 10km south of Semporna town. It is home to an archaeological site and volcanic rim that is said to have been the largest pottery manufacturing site in Southeast Asia during the Neolithic period.
The hill goes all the way to 600ft above sea level but is a relatively relaxed 20- to 30-minute hike up to its peak. However, with all there is to see, you may never make it there! There are so many hidden gems to discover along the way that you may find yourself detouring through your entire hike.
I was tired, burnt and ultimately satisfied on my flight back home to KK. Initially, I had been worried that I wouldn’t get to accomplish much in a day and it would end with me not doing anything at all. But I was obviously sorely mistaken. There is so much adventure to be had in Semporna, even in just a day.
So if you’re ever on the lookout for a quick and fun getaway, Semporna may be just the place for you!
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