Sabah Borneo, Malaysia – January 2000

Selamat Datang ke Sabah! (Welcome to Sabah)


For those of you who are fascinated by history, Sabah has a colourful past of Head hunters and Sultans, Raja’s, Princes and Pirates.

Start here and I will try and find more.

Tattoos & Head hunters

Borneo Island

History of Malaysia 35,000BC – 1957

2000 Visit Sabah Updates

*Sabah has been chosen to host the Eco-Challenge 2000.

*Kota Kinabalu has officially been declared a city and will celebrate this occasion with much pomp and pageantry in February 2000.


I thought I would do Semporna (map) as there are a lot of people that come to Sabah and follow the bible called LP. Anyway I thought I should up-date the guide books with a bit of first hand information, as a lot of people seem to get to Sandakan, do the jungle camps and the orangutans and go to Turtle Island!!! (Semporna has more turtles)

They are missing one of the best spots in Sabah because the guidebook says “don’t go unless you can afford expensive hotels and resort diving”.

Five years ago this was the case, and the area had a reputation for being pirate infested and dangerous. So it has never been part of the tourist route, except for the hardcore divers that wanted to spend the money to go to Sipadan.


This has changed a lot in the last five years, with budget hotels, offering dorms and rooms at reasonable rates. The Seafest Inn does nice dorms with en-suite, Satellite TV etc for RM 20.00 PP (US$5.50 approx) even their top room is only RM68.00 (US$18.00).

The other hotels in town are Dragon Inn which is built on stilts over the water, they also offer a dorm, basic for RM 20.00 not air-con, and their rooms are RM 82.00 net, but ask for a discount and they are usually willing to make a deal of up to 30%. The Seafest Inn and the Dragon Inn are the only two hotels down on the water front.

Back in town you have the Old Semporna Hotel, now the Sin Hun Fah, and they will do real deals. I have heard of people getting a room, aircon w/TV, for RM20.00 but very basic and in the middle of the town.

Across the street is the Darmai Lodge. Again they do an aircon dorm basic for RM 20.00 and their rooms are RM 58.00 – 68.00. This lodge is right above the old market and the entrance is a bit hard to find, you have to go through the alley off the main street to the back.

Then a little further out of town is the Arung Hyatt Resort, but don’t be fooled – this is no resort. They do, however, offer a dorm and rooms and seem to be very negotiable as to the price they charge. It seems to depend on the person at the front desk – if you can find one.


Sipadan, of course, is the most famous Island off the coast of Semporna and rated as one of the world’s top 10 dive destinations, and for many years people have been coming through Semporna but never stopping. Jump on a boat and head to Sipadan, which of course is only possible if you are booked with one of the resorts.

This was the case a few years ago but there are operators now running from Semporna and sometimes you can pick up a deal with one of the resorts by walking in. The walk-in trade has suffered because of the new restrictions on Sipadan and the companies are not giving such good deals but sometimes you can still get lucky.

For the non-divers there are 49 islands scattered off the coast of Semporna, with some of the best coral and beaches you can find anywhere. The great thing is that many of the islands are uninhabited with only the local sea Bajau visiting on fishing trips or to camp overnight.

Two companies are operating from Semporna – Setarawarni Tourism, and North Borneo Dive & Sea Sports. The latter, North Borneo Dive & Sea, run day diving to Sipadan and Darval Bay.

The first, Setarawarni Tourism, will also do day trips but run a lodge on Mabul which is close to Sipadan, and offer budget diving from there. 3 Day/2 Night X- Semporna, includes accommodation, 3 dives a day, equipment and transfers RM 650.00 (meals not included). They also organize snorkeling/dive camping trips to the other reefs and islands, as well as some pretty fair deals with some of the Sipadan resorts.

Just 25 km from Semporna is an 18 hole golf course set in a palm oil plantation, owned and operated by the plantation. There is a beautiful clubhouse set in the local style with a jungle walk and waterfall behind. There are cabins for overnight stays, but I heard they are closed at present for renovation. There is a local pro to help with any problems, and best of all there is never any congestion. I have played there and we were the only people on the course except for the ground staff. The price for a round of golf was reasonable as well. Setarawarni Tourism will put together a package for a day’s golf with lunch, caddie, transfers for RM 85.00.

There is also a deer park a few km’s out of Semporna which is owned by the state governor TYT and has a beautiful park area with goldfish ponds and native birds. Worth a look.

The town of Semporna does not have much nightlife! Like one Karaoke, which can be a bit of an amusement if you really get bored. The Seafest Inn serves cold beer and good food, and there are a variety of sea food, Chinese, Indian, and local restaurants to choose from. There is plenty of opportunity to make your own fun especially when camping on a deserted island.

The local population is made up of a great mix of local Bajau, Chinese, Philippino, Indonesian and few other mixes speaking a variety of dialects and languages. These are some of the friendliest people as they don’t often get to meet to many foreigners.

You may be wondering why I have given Setarawarni Tourism such a good rap. Well, I must confess that I have an interest in the company.

This aside Semporna is worth a visit, it’s not a gaudy tourist trap and I hope it never becomes one. It’s a place where many of the people still live as they have done for centuries, with some modernization of course. The old ways are dying out but you can still see very traditional weddings and local dancing, performed not by paid performers but by the village people just having fun.

In April there is the Lepa-Lepa regatta which displays the local Sea Bajau’s traditional boats and costumes. The making these ornamental boats is also a dying art.

So if you’re coming to Sabah maybe consider dropping over here to Semporna and say hi !!!

Happy travels

In the meantime, you can visit Peter’s website at Seafest Inn and Setarawarni Tourism S/B Semporna.


As most travellers start their journey to Sabah from Kuala Lumpur, you should check with your travel agent on how to get to Kota Kinabalu, the Capital of Sabah.There are direct flights from Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei, Manila, Brunei, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Kuching.

Sabah Tourism provides a lot of information on things to do places to stay,local cultures and activities.


Depending which guidebook you happen to be using there are many places to stay. For the budget traveller there are the backpacker lodges between Rm15 – Rm30. For the more affluent travelers there are some good deals to be had at Hotels and resorts!

Communication and Transport

The communication system is provided mainly by TELKOM Malaysia and although it is very efficient their public phones usually don’t work especially in the rural and remote areas.

Internet cafes are mushrooming, and are cheap. In some of the remote areas they can be a little hard to find but if you ask around, seek and ye shall find.

Buses and taxi’s are abundant. In KK, the Capital, taxi’s have meters and buses are marked, but in the more remote areas it is best to negotiate the price.


In KK, there is plenty of nightlife and restaurants to please all. Ranging from English style pubs, night clubs and disco’s as well as Karaoke. Also a great variety of cuisine starting with the local coffee shops and food stalls, with Malay, Indian, Chinese, and great seafood.

Helpful Links


Visit Malaysia

Wild Borneo

Lonely Planet

Green Travel

The Author

I am an Australian and I have lived in Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia and have travelled in these regions extensively for the last 15 years on company expense accounts and as budget backpacker.

I now reside in the small coastal town of Semporna on the East Coast of Sabah with my wife and two sons.

We have an interest in a small diving & Island tours business and a backpacker lodge providing budget diving, Island camping, village tours to Sipadan, Mabul and the Islands of Darval bay.

I have links with many tour operators in Sabah for jungle trekking and wildlife expeditions, etc. I can also help if you need information on entry requirements to Indonesia and the Philippines from Sabah.

I have a diploma in freelance journalism, have run cattle stations in Australia, been a commercial diver, oil field trash, worked for corporate America, managed tourist resorts in Asia, fishing projects in Nicaragua, deckhand, yacht deliveries and been down and out in Cebu.

I hope this may qualify me to add some points of interest about this wonderful part of the world that is just now starting to be discovered.

I hope to be able to bring you interesting items of news, events and culture from all over Sabah.

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