Sipadan Island - Being there, Part 1

by B. N. Sullivan

Sipadan IslandIn the previous two posts, we told the story of our first trip to Sipadan Island, also known as Pulau Sipadan, a remote oceanic island off the coast of Borneo. It was a long and complicated journey, and we arrived on the little island in a dazed and disheveled state.

Because of its physical remoteness, one had to exert considerable effort just to get there: Pulau Sipadan is not on the way to or from anywhere else. As someone we know described it, "Sipadan is not exactly at the end of the Earth, but you can see it from there."

The island is a nature preserve, and a nesting ground for sea turtles. At the time we first went there (1993), the island had three resorts (I use the term loosely) catering primarily to divers and sport fishermen. Then, in 2004, the Malaysian government ordered the operators of tourist facilities on Pulau Sipadan to vacate the island. As a result, it is no longer possible to stay on Pulau Sipadan, although several companies still run boat trips to the island so that divers can still visit Sipadan's underwater wonders.

Chalet at Pulau Sipadan ResortPulau Sipadan is remote by its physical location, and it also is figuratively remote from the mainstream of human civilization by several orders of magnitude. Although we concluded that it definitely was a worthwhile thing to do, staying there entailed quite a few improvisations.

Those improvisations began with the accommodations on Pulau Sipadan. The operators of the visitor facilities on the island called them 'resorts' but they really were more like semi-permanent camps. Guests were lodged in 'chalets' that actually were little huts on stilts, with thatched roofs. The one in the second photo on this page was where we slept during our ten days on Pulau Sipadan.

The huts each had two beds -- mattresses on metal frames. The beds did have linens, and each hut had one wooden shelf, but there were no other furnishings. The huts were wired for electricity, sort of. Each had one electric light in the form of a bare light bulb suspended from the center of the roof on a wire. That was it. There was no running water in the huts, so there were no bathrooms -- not even a sink or a tap. (More on this a bit later.)

Borneo Divers facility at Pulau SipadanPulau Sipadan is quite distant from mainland Borneo, and there are no underwater cables between the two. When we stayed there, the island had no regular telephone or electric service. Each facility on the island generated its own electricity, and a radio telephone -- also run on a portable generator -- was the primary means of communication with the rest of the world.

Electricity from the generators ran everything on the island during the day. Fuel for the generators had to be imported by sea, so it was expensive. Shortly after sunset, the generators were switched off as a conservation measure. As a result, life on the island matched the rising and setting of the sun. We rose with the first rays of light, and, since there was no light source after sunset, save for our flashlights, everyone retired early.

Next - more details about daily life for visitors to Pulau Sipadan, including the most 'interesting' bathing facilities we have ever encountered.


  1. What, no microwave?
    I enjoy camping, so I can imagine spending a few days in a place as primitive as this. But the fact that I couldn't just walk (or swim or paddle) back to civilization would sure get me feeling claustrophobic.

  2. We were so busy diving -- five dives a day -- that all we had time to do was dive, eat, and sleep. The diving environment at Sipadan is so spectacular, we didn't want to leave, and the relative privations were more than tolerable.


  3. What a beautiful place to go and leave the civilized world, thanks for sharing Bobbie !!

  4. Very nice island. I love the turtle and some fish in the island. Want to come to the island again and again.


We welcome your comments and invite your questions. Dialogue is a good thing!

Bobbie & Jerry