I had booked Scuba Jeff's for three nights via email, and I received very short email responses from Jeff himself. I was told that once we arrived in Semporna, we were to give Jeff a call for a transfer to the island. I called the two numbers he had emailed me most recently but nobody answered. So I tried the number he had given me a few days earlier and finally got Jeff on the phone. He sent someone over to pick us up right away.
The boat trip went by quickly, and as we pulled up to the house the staff helped to carry in our bags. But that's all they did. We were sort of shown to a room, but we were never told where the bathrooms were, what time meals would be at, or how to get anywhere on the island. I'm not a very needy traveler, but a little introduction to the place is always appreciated. Instead the staff sat around and smoked at the table in the middle of the building. Most of them seemed to be 16 or younger. We asked where Jeff was and didn't get much of an answer as nobody there spoke English very well (we guessed).
My partner and I decided to set out to see the island, but first we had to make our way across a very rickety elevated wood plankwalk. Once on land, we were following two Scuba Jeff staff members who started passing paper ringgits out to kids like they were big hot shots. We veered off in another direction. After scoping out a few other places on the island, we decided that we didn't want to move to another place because we didn't really want to stay on the island at all.
Back at the house, we asked again where Jeff was and finally understood that Jeff was back in Semporna. At that point, I was slightly upset that he hadn't mentioned in his emails that he wouldn't be around. We arranged to leave the next day. When asked what time we wanted to go, we said 11am. We were told it was no problem.
That night we were served dinner. Nothing special but not bad. Because we felt totally unwelcome and in the way of the staff, we didn't feel comfortable hanging out in the common areas after dinner.
The rooms themselves are fine. Just wooden walls and a window that opens out to a view of the water village the house is in. The beds were thin mattresses but semi-comfortable. And there was a fan in the room that helped to keep the bugs away.
If you're lucky, you'll be serenaded by the young girl with a beautiful voice. Although she mostly only practiced Miley Cyrus's song "The Climb", it was much better than listening to one of the guys screech out some local songs while playing guitar. It was almost unbearable at one point, and I can tune out a lot of noise.
The next morning we were served breakfast, and soon after a boat arrived with Scuba Jeff on board. He sort of introduced himself but seemed more interested in the single girl who was also staying at the place. I overheard him telling her they were going to have a big party that night. Good thing we decided to leave. We were not interested in that type of thing, but he never bothered to ask us if we'd mind.
Turns out 11am wasn't going to work out as a departure time, but Jeff offered to take us out on a snorkeling trip for free while we waited for the tide to come back in. I figured at this point that he knew we were upset so it was nice of him to offer a freebie. The first site we went to was just on the other side of the reef nearby the house, and it was beautiful. Two divers had come out on the boat from Semporna so we stayed in the water the whole time they were down. Afterwards, we were taken back to the house where we had lunch. Jeff told us that we wouldn't be leaving until 3pm or so and that we could do another snorkel at a "very beautiful site" if we wanted to go along with the divers. The boat dropped us off near one of the resorts just down the shore from Scuba Jeff's. Visibility was horrible and there was a lot of garbage floating in the water. We decided to get out almost right away.
We were finally able to head back to Semporna, and we were taking the fast boat. Unfortunately the driver loved to wave at his friends that would pass by on other boats and would jerk the steering wheel sending us straight at the other boats. It was nerve-racking to say the least.
Before we left Mabul, Jeff mentioned that he was fixing up the place and adding nicer rooms. He suggested we come back in a year or so. We didn't want to leave because the rooms were simple. It was the staffing we had issues with. If you want to work in the hospitality business, you might want to teach your staff to be hospitable. With a smile for good measure. I think Scuba Jeff's could be a really great place to hang out in the future once he gets a few things figured out.
This next issue is nothing that I would consider in an evaluation of Scuba Jeff's, but visitors should be warned. There is a lot of trash lying around the island and floating in the water. Once while snorkeling I said, "Is that a jellyfish? No, it's just a plastic bag." It would be really nice if more of an effort was made to keep the island and waters surrounding it clean. I know this is a change that needs to be made from the top down, but I just think it is worth putting out there as a suggestion.
I do have to say that the best part of this experience was the view from our room. We were able to watch the local folks fish and swim in the water. And the buildings of the water village were silhouetted by the setting sun later in the evening. It was an incredible view!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Simple, budget accommodation on Mabul island in stilted longhouse right over the sea. Look out of your room to the infinite sea views or across to the local fishing village bustling with local life. Room rate includes all meals, tea, coffee, water. Friendly staff will treat you like family and make you feel at home. Snorkel right off our jetty or join our dive trips to the famous sites of Mabul and Sipadan. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Scuba Jeff Guest House Hotel Pulau Mabul