Kapalai ~ Semporna : Sabah Borneo
Kapalai is only some 18min speedboat ride away from sipadan and sits on a wide sandbar in the middle of the ocean. It seems a little odd at first that there is such a thing but having taken a 40min boatride from semporna to mabul, and having passed many water villages in the middle of the ocean. This is exactly the concept. The local fishermen's water villages are similar.located on sandbanks.
Most stay here due to its proximity to Sipadan , but Kapalai has some good muck diving under it. This place is great for novices. It has gentle currents and shallow, warm waters. Depths are generally from 5m to 20m. Being far away from land, you can be quite sure there won't be mosquitoes at night to keep you awake. The water village is connected by wooden stilts and diving off it is hardly work.
Rainy season is between mid December and mid February so bear in mind if you're thinking of getting away during Christmas. The nice thing about going during these months is that the crowds are manageable. Sometimes it may just be you and the divemaster on a dive - no rush, no hassles. We went in early March and although the vis wasn't too good and currents were pretty unpredictable plus the rains would catch up on us from nowhere, it was great for muck diving if micro is what you want. Good diving months are from months April till November. Best diving months is in July and August.
This is just off the jetty. As divers descend down a coral slope, bear in mind to keep to your left. This place is little gem despite the fact that many of the coral reef areas around Kapalai had been previously damaged by dynamite fishing, mandarin valley has been spared the brunt of the assault. The tiny creatures seem to be well camouflaged at first and novice divers would find it difficult to spot anything. After a few dives to orientate divers, it becomes a little easier to spot the stonefish, frogfish, nudibranchs, ghost pipefish, crayfish n its lair, a great variety of gobyfish, dartfish, lots of juveniles and as the evening sets, the mandarin fish comes out to play. Probably the most sought after fish for photography purposes, the mandarin fish is beautiful. Its striations and vibrant colours make a good portfolio for enthusiasts.
Getting To Kapalai
Borneo ~ Sabah ~ Tawau ~ Semporna ~ Kapalai
The resort provides pick up and drop off service from Tawau Airport or Tawau Town.
This is generally the route to take when thinking of travelling to Sipadan, Mabul or Kapalai. Catch a flight to Sabah, normally point of entry is Kota Kinabalu or Tawau. For those arriving at Kota Kinabalu airport, you are possibly flying in from Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong or any other country of origin apart from Malaysia. For those flying from Kuala Lumpur, then you will have a choice of either to fly direct to Tawau or to fly via Kota Kinabalu and catch a connecting flight.
Before doing all this, best for you to do a little homework on which resort you wish to stay at whilst visiting Sipadan, Mabul or Kapalai. Then resort operators will make arrangements to meet you at the Tawau airport and who will then whisk you off to Semporna by private van which takes about 1hr or so. The roads connecting Tawau and Semporna are good. Not much can be said for the scenery though. Miles and miles, as far as the eye can see of ...palm oil plantations.
It's always best to book your trip in advance as the busy diving months can mean full occupancy at the resorts. The last thing you'd want to be is disappointed.
Always book the earliest flights out to Tawau as some of the resorts have scheduled boat transfer times and if they have to transfer divers at an unscheduled hour, it'll cost.
There are several routes to take:
1. From Kuala Lumpur
Air Asia flies direct to Tawau daily ; www.airasia.com
Malaysia Airlines flies to Kota Kinabalu with connecting flights to Tawau daily ; www.malaysia-airlines.com , Mas Wings
2. From Kota Kinabalu
Malaysia Airlines flies from KK to Tawau daily ; www.malaysia-airlines.com , Mas Wings airline webpage
3. From Singapore
Malaysia Airlines flies to Kota Kinabalu on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday ; www.malaysia-airlines.com
SilkAir flies to Kota Kinabalu on Monday and Friday ; www.silkair.com
Air Asia flight from KL to Tawau, no delay this time...lucky us!
Flights coming in from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu normally arrive late evening. It will be advisable to spend a night in KK (accommodation is much better than in Tawau..) and then take the connecting flight to Tawau early the next morning. Flight time from KK to Tawau is about 40minutes.
Those of you waiting in between flights, and have 3 to 4 hours to spare, just catch a bus from Tawau airport to town for a walkabout. Cost is minimal , about RM9 and takes about 20min. Tell the driver you want to be dropped off near the market place.
Tawau Airport Bus Schedule to Tawau town : 7.15am, 9.15am, 10.50am, 12.15pm, 2.30pm, 3.50pm 6.50pm
Tawau town to Tawau Airport Bus Schedule:5.30am, 8.00am, 8.30am, 10.30am, 1.00pm, 2.30pm, 5.00pm
If you're unsure, take a taxi to town for about RM35 per way. But on the way back from town, you can bargain with the taxi driver for a cheaper rate taking you back to the airport. You can pick up a taxi from the 'bemo station'.
For those not wanting to take the private van or arriving at Tawau from another part of Sabah, it's possible to take a public van like a bemo, from Tawau to Semporna. This 'station' is situated close to the markeplace. But be prepared to wait.
Those not wishing to fly on return to Tawau from Semporna, there are buses leaving for the larger towns in Sabah from the outstation bus terminal eg to Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan.
The speedboat ride from Semporna to Mabul is about 45min depending on the weather and to Sipadan is about 1+hr
If you wish to take a taxi from Tawau airport to Semporna, cost is approx. RM160
Minivans are available at the airport based on SIC (seat-in-coach) sharing basis and will cost approx. RM40 - RM45 per person to Semporna. However,expect to wait till the seats are filled before they depart. If you have plenty of time, this may be the best option for you