I stayed at Seaventures from April 19 to 24, 2012. My biggest fear going to Sipadan was going all the way there to dive but not being able to get a Sipadan dive pass.
Although I was afraid of staying in the confined spaces of a rig off shore for six days, I chose Seaventures after doing much research. Now, I believe that I made the right choice. Out of the 4 full days of diving that I had during my stay, I was offered to dive Sipadan all 4 days, although I opted to dive in Mabul and Kapalai on the last day. As a result, I had an amazing and unforgettable dive vacation!
Chances of getting a Sipadan Pass
To understand the advantages of staying at Seaventures, you need to understand the Sipadan pass situation. A few years ago, the Malaysian government banned resort operations and staying overnight on Sipadan to preserve the island’s marine life and environment. As a result, divers now have to find accommodations in near-by islands and towns, such as Mabul Island, Kapalai Island (each about 20 mins. away), and Semporna village (about 60 mins. away). 120 divers are allowed on Sipadan each day. Passes are held by resorts, accommodation providers and dive operators in the area (I am not sure about dive operators, but I was told that there is a government (?) office in Semporna where the list of pass holders and the number of passes that they hold are posted).
Seaventures has 11 passes, and when fully booked, the rig can hold 42 people. Since guests cannot dive Sipadan on the day of arrival or departure, everyone can go at least once every 3 days. THIS IS THE REASON WHY SEAVENTURES CAN GUARANTEE 1 DAY OF DIVING IN SIPADAN ISLAND FOR EVERY 3 NIGHT 4 DAY STAY. My experience has been that other high-end resorts in Mabul and Kapalai WILL NOT GUARANTEE diving in Sipadan. This is the main reason why decided to stay at Seaventures. For perspective, I went to the dive shop of a neighboring resort. They had 8(?) boats scheduled for the next day, but all but 1 was destined to Mabul, Kapalai or SHR (Seaventures House Reef). I assumed that the unlabeled boat was for Sipadan and there was also a long, separate "waiting list." I was told that that this resort had 11 passes and I judge that they can accommodate about 80 to 100 guests, hence the difficulty to get on the Sipadan boat.
Now, the reason why I was able to dive at Sipadan 3 days in a row is because occupancy during the days that I stayed at Seaventures was low (about 8~ 16 people per day). If occupancy is low (a factor that you cannot control), your chances of going to Sipadan is higher. I happened to be lucky. I was told that occupancy is not always so low. However, it seems that even in the high season, guests can be guaranteed 1 day of diving at Sipadan for every 3 night stay. DON'T ASSUME THAT THIS 1 DAY OF DIVING AT SIPADAN IS GUARANTEED. CONFIRM IT WHEN MAKING A RESERVATION!
Once you arrive, let the scheduling staff at the rig know your wishes. I told them that I would take any Sipadan pass that became available. I just did not expect to dive there everyday, so I didn’t tell them that I wanted to dive Kapalai and Mabul for 1 day. I almost had to pay the 40 ringgit for the daily pass that I forfeited. Note that cost of Sipadan passes is separate, unless otherwise specified.
Planning your itinerary
ANOTHER ASPECT THAT REQUIRES ATTENTION IS PLANNING YOUR ITINERARY. I incurred unnecessary costs and wasted time because I made transportation plans without knowing logistics and operation schemes. Getting to the rig (Sipadan) is complicated. The closest airport is in Tawau. From Tawau, you need to travel about 1.5 hours by car to reach a seaside village called Semporna. From Semporna, you need to take a 45 minute boat ride to reach the rig. Supposedly, the last boat leaves Semporna at 4 PM. Because I arrived in Semporna at 4:30, I was not able to get to the rig on the day of my arrival. Had I known, I would have tried to take an earlier flight and gotten at the rig on the same day to do my orientation dive + 1 dive in Mabul, which is the norm on the day of arrival at Seaventures.
Similarly, on the day of departure, I didn't realize that officially there is only 1 boat to Semporna departing at 1:30 PM. Since I had to catch a 3:15 PM flight out of Tawau, I unexpectedly had to pay Ringgit 375 (about US$125) for the boat ride and van transport to Tawau airport, which was an unpleasant surprise. I had given my arrival flight information when I made reservations and I was warned that I may have to take a taxi from Tawau to Semporna (95 ringgit or US$31), so I didn’t’ have a problem with that. But I was not warned about the return and did not have sufficient ringgit.
Note that transportation to and from the airport to Seaventures is normally included in the package if there are more than 2 people in the party. However, should you travel alone, Seaventures will charge you Ringgit 300 for the boat ride and Ringgit 75 for land transport unless there is another traveler. This doesn't seem to be fair to solo travelers, and one suggestion that I would like to make to Seaventures is to schedule regular boats and land transfers based on airlines' scheduled flight arrivals and departures, make the land/boat transfers schedule known on the website so guests can plan accordingly, and make transportation on scheduled boats/vans all inclusive, whether there is 1 person or 10 traveling.
Although Seaventures had sent me a “sample” itinerary at the time of reservation that included a message saying “No diving for guests flying on their check out day. Boat dives are non transferable and only permitted as scheduled by Seaventures management for each diver. Please organize your flights accordingly,” I feel that the warning was vague and pertinent information on scheduling is still severely lacking on Seaventures’ website. I hope management fixes this soon so other people don’t run into the same problem.
Saving accommodation expenses
Separately, it seems that accommodation charges per night are about the same whether you dive or not (A 4 night/5 day package was MYR 2800 vs. 5 night/6 days for MYR 3350). Since each night costs about US$225, it doesn't seem to make sense to spend a night on the rig if you plan to fly on the following day. Although it is a nuisance, especially if you have your own gear that needs to be dried, you may want to consider sacrificing one dive and doing 2 boat dives in Mabul and/or Kapalai on the day of departure and spending the night in Tawau or Semporna if you are budget conscious. One night in a reasonably clean hotel in Semporna (eg. Sipadan Inn) will cost max US$35 and the taxi to the airport (buses are cheaper) will be US$31. $61 minus one dive and meals sounds more reasonable than US$225 for a non-diving day on the rig. If you need to dry out your gear and don’t want to be bothered, you can ignore this point.
Saving credit card expenses
Finally, Seaventures' Kota Kinabalu office told me that a 20% deposit is required upon reservation. If you choose to charge this on a credit card, they charge an additional 3% on the deposit My US credit card charges another 3% for overseas charges This can add up. What I did was to tell Lynda in the KK office to hold on to my credit card details for a guarantee but not to make the charge as I would pay the full amount by cash upon arrival. This helped me avoid the unnecessary 6% finance charges.
Saving exchange rate charges
As a side note, there is no money exchange in Tawau airport and the best rate that I could find was at the May Bank in Semporna open on weekdays from 9 AM to 5 PM. FYI, note exchange rate differences for Singapore dollars on April 18, 2012. 1 SGD = 1.8 MYR at Tawau Airport money changer (a souvenir shop at the airport), 2.2 MYR at Seaventures, 2.23 MYR at Kuala Lumpur Airport bank exchanges, and 2.40 MYR at May Bank in Semporna. When the amount is big, it can make a difference! I heard that direct withdrawals from ATMs are also extremely competitive. However, I do not know.
Accommodations and Stay
Accommodations were basic, as other reviewers have said, and I will not repeat. However, assuming that diving at Sipadan is a top priority, I will say that one should go there with a willingness to sacrifice space, certain comforts, and luxury. The most important necessities, such as a clean and comfortable bed, hot showers in the room, efficient operations and good food were well met. Although a 2-1 hair and body gel as well as a towel were provided in the room, I would consider taking a small bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste and razor as I am a bit picky about what I use. Towels for after-diving and outdoors were provided.
One Thai reviewer commented that there was petty theft in the room. I put all my money and valuable in safe deposit at the front desk (including my iPad, since wifi didn’t work). I had no need for money or my iPad until departure.
1. Befriend staff and guests, especially if you are a solo traveler. It can make a big difference in the quality of your stay. Staff become more accommodating and guests keep each other company. The rig can become a lonely place if all alone. Of course, it may be a problem if you don't speak English, although I am told that lately there are many Chinese guests.
2. From the little that I saw of other (high-end) resorts, I felt that Seaventures was more conducive to socializing over meals and drinks and therefore a better place to stay for solo travellers. Also, it was relatively easy to find a buddy for diving under the rig, and the in-house band that plays every Friday (?) was fun and lively.
3. If you like muck diving, consider spending a day or so exploring the reefs of Mabul and Kapai, which are famous for macro photography and quite different from Sipadan. You can also dive the house reef under the rig anytime including at night until 8 PM as long as there is no strong current. The house reef can be great!
4. Diving operations appeared to be a bit rushed, which some people may not like. I got used to it and got prepared in advance.
5. You may end up diving at the same site more than once. Out of the 11 dives that I did at Sipadan, 4 were at Barracuda Point but each of the 4 dives was different.
6. Normally if you dive Sipadan, you will leave at 6 AM and do 3 dives in the morning. If you think that chances of getting another pass during your stay are slim, rally up your group for additional 2 boat rides in the afternoon (your pass is good all day - no night dives in Sipadan). The cost will depend on the number of people. 1 person is MYR 750, but for a group of 10, the cost is only MYR 180 per person. My group did it, and even though we continued going to Sipadan during the following days, we didn't regret it as we were able to have unique experiences such as seeing and getting close to a resting leopard shark.
7. There is a constant noise of compressors and electric generators(?). It didn't trouble me too much as my room was relatively away from the sources of noise. I thought that the best rooms were 411 (my room) or 315 (the room below). Although I didn't see the rooms, I felt that rooms 411, 315, 409, 313, 407, 311 (in order) would be the best and most tranquil. VIP 1 (much larger room that accommodates 3~4) also seemed to be tranquil and nice. I was told that the VIP room would cost and additional MYR 100 per person per day. I am uploading a photo of the floor plan. Note that room 411 is on the fourth floor. Good access to the sun deck, but perhaps a tiring climb up if you have difficulty climbing stairs.
9. There is a boat to Mabul Island everyday at 5 PM if you want to see the Island. It returns at 6:30 PM. Not enough time or sun to go tanning. I didn’t enjoy seeing and smelling the poverty among the native population living on the island. The lack of hygiene and the contrast with the luxurious resorts was very unsettling. I got bitten by mosquitos or sand flies. If you decide to go, you might enjoy a beer at the bar of Mabul Water Village (very nice), but make sure you take some money (MYR 10 for 1 beer) and insect repellent.
8. During my stay, 4 people jumped off the platform (which is 8m high) into the ocean, which can look and sound cool. Unless you are an experienced diver and a good swimmer, I don't recommend it as 2 of us got hurt and the current can pull you away from the rig if you don't have fins, which can be dangerous if no one is there to fish you out of the water.
If you find this review to be helpful, please vote. Otherwise, I will not bother to write this kind of an extensive review ever again, lol. Regardless of where you decide to stay, enjoy Sipadan. It was an amazing and unforgettable diving experience!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Seaventures Dive Rig is a scuba diving platform located within Mabul Island, some 30 minutes boat ride to Sipadan Malaysia. Sipadan Island is known as the world's scuba diving mecca. This rustic dive resort package includes diving around Mabul island, Kapalai and Sipadan Island. All rooms are fully air conditioned, Wi-FI is available at free of charge and food are served buffet-style. The unlimited diving on the Rig's house-reef is popular as it is home to some diverse underwater life. Seaventures Dive Rig is a PADI 5-Star Dive Centre offering Scuba Diving courses for beginners to professional. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Seaventures Dive Hotel Pulau Sipadan