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Mabul Water Bungalows
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Reviewed 13 May 2014

This trip was the first major diving trip I'd done in over 10 years, and the first time I'd visited a dedicated diving resort with my wife who is a non-diver.
The total experience was fabulous.
We booked here because this was one of the few hotels we could find who would accept electronic online payment. Others wanted bank transfers and the like, which I deem to be too risky.
We were met at the airport, despite a flight delay, and transferred to Semporna Jetty by minibus where the transfer launch was still waiting, having been advised that the KL flight was late. That was our first opportunity to make some friends who I subsequently enjoyed several dives with.
On arrival we were offered lunch in the dive resort (physically separate from the Water Bungalows) and completed diving paperwork. I asked for an orientation dive which Jackie immediately arranged.
We were than taken across the island to the Bungalows which were perfect images of calm and relaxation. One of the features of this development is that almost all the bungalows have sea views. Other developments we saw included enclosed "courtyards" with views into neighbouring apartments. We had a direct view of Sipadan Island, just visible on the horizon from our balcony. In case you hadn't guessed, all the rooms are built on stilts above the sea, so you can spend hours spotting the fish drifting by under your room! Facilities included air conditioning, TV and DVD as well as tea and coffee, a nicely stocked fridge, and the usual toiletries in the shower room.
There then followed three days of first class diving at Sipadan Island as well as the house reef and a neighbouring island. As my wife was not diving, and not desperately keen on snorkelling either, I was very pleased at how flexible the divemasters were. They arranged for my wife to travel on supply boats as well as the regular dive boats so she could come and go to dive sites as she pleased. She also made use of the spa and pronounced the service "very good".
If there was anything that didn't quite hit the mark it was the food, which was Malaysian buffet. However, given the fact that this is principally a diving resort, I felt the menu was just about right. The kitchen not only had to provide food for divers coming and going at various times and always watching the clock, they also provided food to be taken to Sipadan Island for those diving there. Once you register at Sipadan you must stay on and around the island or your permit lapses, so you need to take your lunch with you, or have it brought to you. There are no facilities on Sipadan island itself.
Back at the Water Bungalows there's free diving on the house reef, a souvenir shop, a bar and lots of nooks and crannies to hide away and enjoy a book or just soak up the peace. Alternatively you can walk round the island, or across the island, to the sister resort. There you'll find a larger shop as well as a small pool by the beach. the Water Bungalows also provide you with a bicycle so you can zip back and forth to your heart's content.
Overall I highly recommend the Water Bungalows. Just don't get confused with the Dive Resort on the other side of the island!

Room Tip: Try to avoid rooms on the causeway from the shore as they will suffer from passing traffic.
  • Stayed: March 2014, travelled as a couple
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3  Thank cameronag
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 2 May 2014

We (two divers) stayed here recently for 6 nights in April 2014. We booked (and paid in December 2013) through a diving agent "Dive The World" as it seems difficult to contact hotels in Sipidan directly. Despite having made full payment way in advance, a few days before our arrival at Tawau, I still have not heard back from our agent that the resort has confirmed the land/jetty pick up arrangement. I emailed our agent again, and she said the hotel has not responded to her email. This gave me a bad feeling before even starting the trip....but read on to see why you should avoid this hotel:

1. My name was NOT on the boat staff's list at the Semporna jetty. She doubted whether we had actually made a booking or a room is booked for us at all! This was only sorted after more than 15 minutes and multiple calls to the resort's booking desk, etc.

2. On arrival, presumably out of laziness on the part of the resort, we were grouped with the land resort (i.e. the cheaper one run by the same group company rather than Mabul Water Bungalows) guests for the briefing although clearly the land resort and MBW are separately located. The manager of MBW (Eva) did not come over to the welcome area to fetch us or give a briefing specific for the MBW area. We were pretty much left to our own accord to figure things out unless we asked specific questions of the resort staff.

3. Staff is not friendly, presumably following the lead of their manager, Eva. We saw that they only smiled at foreigners and had a very poor attitude towards Chinese tourists like us! You can see, I speak fluent English, but was also treated poorly. Their discriminatory treatment against Chinese was blatant. We asked for a quiet sea view room, but were given one that is near the construction part of the hotel with no sea view. Apparently there are only 3 rooms in the resort that is without sea-view and we were given one! There were Westerners who did not make such request in advance but were given a sea view!

4. The Sipadan permit purchase system at MBW was a mess and a big scam! After going to Sipadan for 1 day (we are guaranteed for 1 day at Sipadan for our 6-night stay) for RM40 per person, we didn't want to go another time because Sipadan was a huge disappointment. I didn't see anything that I haven't already seen in Maldives and Philippines. But to my surprise, the hotel has already put our names down for Sipidan again the next day without first asking us to confirm whether we want to go again. We were FORCED to pay RM390 per person to go again even though we don't want to go and were REQUIRED to make such payment immediately (i.e. cannot wait until check-out). On the first day we go to Sipadan, one couple (from UK) didn't want to go to Sipadan again (they have already went once) but their names were on the board, I saw them voicing their unwillingness to go again to Eva, and she accepted it and the couple didn't need to pay RM390 pp. But we were not allowed to pull out. Other guests went to Sipadan more than once even though they stayed shorter than us - they only paid the normal RM40, not RM390. When we went to Sipadan on the two days, it was clear that the island was very empty, less than half of its daily capacity (120 divers) was being utilized. This is probably because of the recent kidnapping of Chinese tourists in the vicinity. There is no reason why we should be forced to pay extra when other guests weren't required to.

5. I had no sleep in the room we stayed in - there were bed bugs keeping me awake all night. When I complained to Eva, the manager, she automatically tried to shift the blame to me by alleging that I have opened my windows to let sand flies in or I was bitten by jelly fish. Neither of which was true of course. She was thoroughly unpleasant to deal with.

6. The room's air-con did not work. Even when we set it for 18 deg C, the room temp remained at 30deg C which makes it way too hot to sleep in. This also defeats the purpose of booking at MBW (as opposed to booking at other resort e.g. Kapalai). We had to get a room change after two nights without sleep, but we were then changed to another one of the 3 rooms without a sea view.

7. There were lots of mosquitoes around, probably due to the many plants (though look nice) around the area.

8. Diving staff - one of the dive masters, Sam (a Chinese guy), is clearly not qualified to be a DM. He left us stranded down at 5 meters depth surrounded by jellyfish (on the last day of our trip) when he quickly escaped and then jumped back to the boat without waiting for us in the water or coming back to us. The boat then drifted away with the current. It took quite a while before we ascended to safety on our own. It was a terrifying experience! I have never had a DM who would get back on the boat before the rest of the group does.


9. The room was NOT properly cleaned. The hotel staff (3 people) spent 2 minutes cleaning the entire room. You can imagine how clean that is. We know they only throw out the rubbish without changing the rubbish bag. They also don't change our bed sheet every day (and not even every other day) because we saw the same stain on the bed sheets at the same place.

10. Except the first day we went diving (and the day we went to Sipadan), we were not given fresh beach towels every day for use after each dive. Even on those two days that we were given fresh beach towels, the rationing was one towel per person per day, despite the fact that there are scheduled 3 dives a day. I don’t understand why it seems so hard for the staff to replenish the towels…

11. Given the yearly kidnapping safety issues (there was one incident last year, and one this year), it doesn't feel safe or worth it to go to Sipadan anyway, the diving isn't as great as advertised at any rate.

12. My crystal stud earrings (which looked like diamond) were missing after the second day in my room. We were very sure that I left them on the desk, but they were missing after we returned from our dives and the room was "cleaned" by the staff. Don't leave anything unattended in your room!

13. We were required to settle the bill and check out 1-2 hours before scheduled departure. How inefficient is that? We were reminded to check out at 1 hr prior, and then again 45 min prior with people knocking at our door. Come on, if the staff takes 2 minutes to clean a room and we won't be allowed on the jetty unless we have already paid, I don't see why we need to check out so early. In fact, after we checked out, we were left waiting in the waiting area for other guests to arrive before the jetty can depart. We waited there for more than an hour, without air-con, sweating, while we could have just waited in our room for most of that time.

Aside from all the negatives mentioned above, there are a couple of positives:

1. the food is better than expected - OK variety and mostly fresh, except on our days to Sipadan as the island is surrounded with flies and we were too busy warding off the flies than eating our food! Sipadan is just not a pleasant place to stay!

2. our dive master Deniah - she was passionate about diving, identified lots of macro stuff for guests and good at what she does. She was the highlight of our trip! Too bad we didn't get to dive with her on that many dives during our trip.

P.S. One more tip - Don't fly air asia, and definitely not into LCCT: we waited for 1.5 hours in a room that is not air conditioned or ventilated to get through customs, toilets are filthy and the whole experience just ruined malaysia for us altogether!

In short, the biggest piece of advice, stay away from this place if you don't want to feel discriminated against, be treated poorly, feel unsafe and be blamed for everything that goes wrong with your room! We won't return until management is changed and the staff becomes friendly.

Room Tip: Ask for a sea-view room and insist on having one!
  • Stayed: April 2014, travelled with friends
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25  Thank Amy L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 18 April 2014

The setting, suroundings, everything is beautiful in the resort. Very attentive diving staff (also when you are just snorkeling at the waters around the hotel). This is why we were very surprised about the welcoming of the manager and cleaness of the rooms. There were only a few guests in the hotel, but not a single time, the manager asked us if we we were all right. She was very busy ignoring her guests at any time. The first night we broke a glass at the terrace, till we had left the pièces of glass were still on the terrace. Never they took away dirty plates/glasses an we got less and less replacement for dirty towels. Our shower was leaking water directly into the see. When we mentioned this to the manager, she hardly reacted.....this in a beatiful diving area close to a national marine park.
Also we were very surprised to hear that the bar was closed 2 out of 3 nights we stayed in the hotel (no idea why) and no one was able to give the wifi password during the hours the manager was not working. Lastly: AC was very old and not giving any cool air.

  • Stayed: April 2014, travelled with family
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Thank Anneke V
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 8 February 2014

We spent a wonderful week at Mabul Water Bungalows for Christmas time. Everything was excellent as usual: Service was very helpful and devoted, athmosphere was very relaxing, food was delicious and the dives with our favorite divemaster (King) were fabulous.

  • Stayed: December 2013, travelled with family
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1  Thank Victoria J
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 January 2014

You have to see this place to believe it, and luckily there are literally hundreds of photos that show what words cannot.

we stayed at borneo villa 2, which is a step up the regular bungalow.

the bungalow is simply mind blowing! we had two airconditioners and two televisions - one for the living room and another for the bedroom. we had a water feature on the external wall near the bathroom that turns on whenever we are in the vicinity. we had a private jacuzzi, glass floors that show a view of the ocean, and a view to die for. we had complimentary use of two bicycles that we used to go to the island.

the staff were warm and friendly, and eva, the general manager, is super competent and solved our seemingly impossible problems with ease and grace. this is a full service hotel - everything is organised for you!

the food is ok, and could be better with a bit of thought and effort, but otherwise an amazing experience and prime gateway to one of the world's greatest dive spots!

highly recommended!

Room Tip: get a villa if you can afford it.
  • Stayed: January 2014, travelled as a couple
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3  Thank iskoolboy
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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