A Room with a View: How to Honeymoon in Borneo

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Following our heavenly days on Mataking Island, the last stop on the Malaysian leg of our trip through Asia was to Mabul Water Bungalows (a part of SMART, a bigger resort that also boasts accommodation on “mainland” Mabul), a place that seemed the most fitting for a honeymoon in Borneo of all the ones we visited.

Borneo, mabul, sipadan, diving, Malaysia, semporna, water bungalow, honeymoon, travel, photography

We knew from the get-go that we wanted some sort of over-the-water bungalow experience during our honeymoon in Borneo—hence, the initial plan to head to Fiji—and the only real place you can stay in such a setting is in the Semporna area in the Celebes Sea.

Honeymoon in Borneo—these overwater bungalows in Malaysia will blow your mind. | CamelsAndChocolate.com
Honeymoon in Borneo—these overwater bungalows in Malaysia will blow your mind. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

SVV and I went back and forth, back and forth, on where we’d spend those final days, as there were all of two options from which to choose: There was Mabul, but there was also Sipidan Kapalai, just a five-minute speedboat ride away. We read every last Trip Advisor review before deciding that Mabul was the one for us. Sipidan Kapalai was literally located in the middle of the sea, with no land attached to it, while Mabul had a dock that was roughly a quarter of a mile long that attached to an island of the same name. Something about having access to actual land sounded a bit more appealing (though the only time we moseyed over that way was to pick up our rental equipment at the dive shop).

Borneo, mabul, sipadan, diving, Malaysia, semporna, water bungalow, honeymoon, travel, photography

Each bungalow was allotted two bicycles, so you could ride them to and from the island on the decks if you pleased. If you weren’t into physical activity, there was a golf cart shuttle. Or your own two feet.

 Borneo, mabul, sipadan, diving, Malaysia, semporna, water bungalow, honeymoon, travel, photography

Early each morning—want to know how early? the bags under my eyes below should be an indicator that we were waking up before dawn—we would board the dive boat and head over to the uninhabited Sipidan isle to do three-tank dives, then return around 3pm in the afternoon.

Borneo, mabul, sipadan, diving, Malaysia, semporna, water bungalow, honeymoon, travel, photography

When we’d get back to our humble abode, it would be low tide and the whole area around our “house” turned into a soggy beach.

Borneo, mabul, sipadan, diving, Malaysia, semporna, water bungalow, honeymoon, travel, photography

I loved this transformation each day, from a water-submerged resort…

Borneo, mabul, sipadan, diving, Malaysia, semporna, water bungalow, honeymoon, travel, photography

…to this. It took everything I had in me to not go running around the sandy patches like a maniac.

Borneo, mabul, sipadan, diving, Malaysia, semporna, water bungalow, honeymoon, travel, photography

Like elsewhere in Borneo, the food wasn’t great, but it was probably the best we had on Borneo, aside from the international cuisine at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria. Borneo is a lot of things; a foodie destination it is not. Both the dive resorts we stayed at were buffet-style, so you could eat as much—or, in our case, as little—as you pleased. The rooms themselves were quite basic, but comfortable, and overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Mabul. All of the common spaces were open air, which created a very pleasant breeze throughout, and we really dug the Asian-style architecture.

Borneo, mabul, sipadan, diving, Malaysia, semporna, water bungalow, honeymoon, travel, photography

Despite the fact that we were staying on a resort in the middle of the ocean, all the walkways were awash in lush foliage.

Honeymoon in Borneo—these overwater bungalows in Malaysia will blow your mind. | CamelsAndChocolate.com
Honeymoon in Borneo—these overwater bungalows in Malaysia will blow your mind. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

You could borrow kayaks and paddle around the premises. SVV is still bummed we never got around to this—how is it that we had so many days of doing nothing at all and still never found time to tackle half the activities we planned to do?—as he really wanted to kayak out to the oil rig that serves as a hostel just 500 feet or so from the bungalows.

Honeymoon in Borneo—these overwater bungalows in Malaysia will blow your mind. | CamelsAndChocolate.com
Honeymoon in Borneo—these overwater bungalows in Malaysia will blow your mind. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Instead, when we weren’t diving, we strapped on our snorkel gear and swam in the shallow waters surrounding the bungalows. There were steps from the dock that led directly into the water should you want to go for a swim or snorkel. We saw spotted rays and starfish aplenty, but never spied what we sought out in the muck: the elusive cuttlefish. Rather, while focusing hard on seeing one among the grass, we saw a lethal sea snake instead. Eek! Those things aren’t to be taken lightly; I’ve had friends that nearly died from their bites.

Borneo, mabul, sipadan, diving, Malaysia, semporna, water bungalow, honeymoon, travel, photography

Mabul was a serene place—there weren’t a whole lot of people around. It was quiet. The surroundings were remarkable. The sunsets were killer. We couldn’t have found a better way to end the tropical segment of our honeymoon.

Borneo, mabul, sipadan, diving, Malaysia, semporna, water bungalow, honeymoon, travel, photography


Where to Stay: You can opt for a water bungalow, which is a little pricier but the perfect way to spend a honeymoon in Borneo, or stay on the island of Mabul, both entities of SMART resort.

How to Get There: Once you’re already in Borneo, you can fly to Tawau from most other cities on the island, such as Kota Kinabalu, Bandar Seri Begawan and Sandakan. We flew Malaysia Airlines for about $60 each way; you can also reach Tawau on Malaysia Air from the peninsula (e.g. Kuala Lumpur). Air Asia is the other low-cost carrier that serves Tawau Airport. From there, all the resorts have speedboats that ferry you to your final destination.

What it Costs: Most of the resorts in the Semporna area are all inclusive, with generous buffet spreads for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Alcoholic drinks are extra (and pricey at that, around $11 a pop). All the resorts also have two types of accommodation options: the diver’s package and the non-diver’s packages. For four days, three nights at Mataking, it’s $1,245 per person for divers and $775 for non. That includes all meals, airport transfers and ferries. Dive rental equipment (about $60 a day if you get the whole set-up) and a permit for Sipadan ($13 per entry) are extra. Of course, for every additional night you stay, the per-day cost goes down a bit. We also left about $20 a day in tips for the staff, which was dispersed among all of them. The prices are a little bit cheaper if you opt for accommodation on the island instead of a bungalow, but you have to contact the resort directly for rates.

If you want to stay in the oil rig hostel instead, it will run you $516 for a three-day, two-night diving package. (So much for backpacker prices.)

COMMENTS
  • November 1, 2010
    k

    That oil rig hostel looks awesome!

    (Your digs weren’t too shabby either…)

    • August 10, 2012

      I stayed at the oil rig hostel for 4 days in 2010, it was fantastic! Obviously more low-key than theses bungalows. The focus was 100% on the diving.

      The best part of our stay on the rig was the unlimited diving, you take a lift directly into the water and scuba beneath the hostel. We racked up 5 shallow dives one day. I highly recommend the experience.

  • November 1, 2010

    What a beautiful place to honeymoon!!! I think I would have requested a bit of a later start to the day though and maybe breaky in bed??? 😉

    AWESOME PICS!!!!!

  • November 1, 2010

    I’d love to stay on an over-water bungalow. The ones in Tahiti or the Maldives look amazing as well.

  • November 1, 2010

    Gorgeous! (And that black and white checked bikini you were sporting? Adorbs!)

  • November 1, 2010

    These photos are so gorgeous. You never see photos like that at low tide, that’s so cool.

  • November 1, 2010

    the place looks beautiful but i wouldnt go there if it means waking up at 3 am, but everything else is perfect

  • November 2, 2010
    Bethany

    Wow, this place looks absolutely incredible!

  • November 2, 2010
    SVV

    Can we go back and “rough” it? I REALLY want to stay on that oil rig.

  • November 2, 2010

    Oh man. I really wish Nathan liked diving. It’s so sad to do it by yourself. But it messes up his ears so I can usually only get him on one dive and that’s it.

    GORGEOUS!

  • November 2, 2010

    Whew, that’s gorgeous.

  • November 2, 2010

    Oh my goodness those photos are wonderful–I can’t stop looking at them. The colors are incredibly vibrant, and you’ve framed each shot beautifully.

  • November 2, 2010

    Gorgeous photos! That looks like the perfect place to go to just get away from the world. I have always wanted to stay in an over-water bungalow like that, though one thing that has always puzzled me is how they do the plumbing! Did it have running water?

  • November 2, 2010

    I have always wanted to stay in a bungalow over the water but now I am even moreso intrigued by the dive hostel! I need to get my certification ASAP.

  • November 2, 2010

    Wow- Stunning

  • November 2, 2010

    To live your life lady. Wow. Just wow. So gorgeous!

  • November 3, 2010

    Lovely.

    On an unrelated note, I always get very excited when I recognize a title and feel obliged to yell out the answer to the imaginary question in my head. E. M. Forster would have been so proud of me!?!

  • November 3, 2010

    Gorgeous. For over-water bungalows, $1245/$775 per person for 4D/3N is not bad at all. For other over-waters, that’s only 1 night. Or not even. Maybe half a night?

  • November 5, 2010

    Wow, it looks heavenly! What a perfect honeymoon. Pity the food wasn’t that great but I bet you got to see loads of cool things while diving. No more triggers hopefully!

  • November 6, 2010

    These photos are amazing, it’s making me extremely jealous! Perfect honeymoon!

  • November 6, 2010

    I totally found Borneo and Costa Rica to be alike in that way — amazing, fresh ingredients, and yet… Amazing photos, girl. Not really much else to say!

  • November 8, 2010

    Love the photos and glad I get to see where y’all stayed. Beautiful shots, of course!

  • March 20, 2011

    Amazing photos!!

  • April 30, 2011

    In the past saw many presentations of sites like this.
    Looks like heaven. Needless to say, amazing place, amazing pictures. Are you sure it is in our world? 🙂
    Thanks for sharing.

    The father of my children….

  • August 15, 2011
    r3member

    that’s a dope! but fyi, borneo is in Indonesia not in Malaysia.

    • August 15, 2011
      Kristin

      Actually, about 70 percent of it is Indonesia, around 25 percent is Malaysia and a tiny sliver is Brunei. We traveled around the Malaysian part and spent a couple days in Brunei, but never ventured over the Indo border.

  • January 8, 2013
    Nico

    Looks like an amazingly beautiful resort, with quite a view.

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