Full throttle ahead, the boat skims over the deep blue water to a distant island called Pulau Mabul, where warm tropical waters, and white sand beaches await. This is the Island group of the far eastern part of Malaysian Borneo, with the world famous Sipidan Island nearby.

Divers flock to Mabul Island to stay at the various guesthouses built out onto the sea from the sea gypsy village, in order to get to the dive sites at the nearby islands. It’s not just for divers however, as the waters are ideal for snorkelling, and the sea gypsy villages are charming in their own right.

Sea gypsy village

Sea gypsy village with guesthouses built onto the sea.

Many divers come here to dive on Sipidan Island, which is known for its big fishes. I personally can’t say to go to Sipidan as i did not make the trip there, due to not diving and the trip being way to expensive just to snorkel. However diving friends said they had some good dives.

Island near Mabul

Island near Pulau Mabul.

Pulau Mabul is not the place you go to laze around on the beach, as the beaches are dirty with the village around. Surprisingly just offshore from the sea gypsy village the snorkelling is ok, with many turtles to be spotted and relatively clear waters, depending on the weather.

Hanging out around the sea gypsy village is good fun, getting lost between all the houses and seeing daily life played out by the locals.

Sea gypsy village on Pulau Mabul

Sea gypsy boy on the stilted village at sunset.

Some of the best snorkelling to do is on various islands scattered around Pulau Mabul. You can take day trips to either dive or snorkel the nearby islands. Some being around an hour away. Here you can find the pristine islands you dream of.

White sand beaches. Crystal clear water. Live coral gardens. Paradise!

Island near sipidan


The waters are so clear you can see the corals from the boat easily.


Coral seen from boat.

Currents in the water can be strong around there, making it great to free dive down and flow with the water, gazing up from several metres down to the kaleidoscope of multi coloured fishes swimming above.

Paradise island

Another paradise island.

In the outer islands many more sea gypsy villages can be seen. Watching the people live out their way of life is fascinating to see.

Sea gypsy village

Sea gypsy village.

Making the trip out there is worth it if you are going to dive Sipidan. If you are looking for cheap paradise beaches to stay on, then this is not the place to come. The islands around are paradise, but many are only for day tripping, unless you have the money to burn for an expensive resort.

But seeing the sea gypsies going about their lives, and the day trips for diving, snorkelling and beaches is worth it enough for a visit. Looking for cheaper paradise beaches to actually stay on with pristine beaches, then look further south to Indonesia (future posts on that coming up).

Sea gypsy village at sunset

Sea gypsy village at sunset.




Jonny Duncan is a travel blogger and freelance photographer. He specialises in adventure and budget travel with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 to give advice for other travellers. He has lived in Japan, Amsterdam, Kiev, and more.

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