GUEST ARTICLE: It was a beautiful day in March when we flew into Tawau Airport in Borneo. Our destination was an island called Pom Pom which is located off the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia. It is one of the few unique islands found on the South China Sea. When I think of Borneo the first thing to come to mind is lush jungle but unfortunately the majority of what we saw along the way were endless fields of Oil Palms. I understand the pros and cons on this subject but it’s still sad to think of all the acres of rich jungle habitat and its inhabitants that were lost.
Once we arrived in Semporna we went to the local harbour and hopped on a private boat that was waiting to take us to the island. Along the way we saw a number of homes on stilts situated amongst the tranquil Celebes Sea. About 45 minutes later we arrived at the very charming Pom Pom Island.
We stayed at the Pom Pom Island Resort. The resort had organised a driver and van to pick us up at the airport upon arrival. After loading up our luggage we drove for an hour across the Sabah countryside to a town called Semporna.
We had never seen anything so beautiful. The atmosphere felt like magic. Besides our wonderful warm welcome from the resort staff we were also met with serene crystal clear waters, a soft white sand beach and picturesque thatched-roof huts. After docking alongside a long jetty we walked to the main island. The water around us was so vivid and you could see tropical fish and sleeping turtles below.
The main greeting and dining hut was beautifully done. After checking in and having a nice refreshing drink we were taken to our home for the next 3 days – Beach Villa Hut #2. We loved the solitude of this place and the resort was really lovely and relaxing. They had all of the comforts of home even WiFi which we thought was pretty good for being way out in the middle of nowhere.
The resort was all-inclusive and meals were served in buffet style. Every day we had fresh local fruits, homemade breads and the catch of the day – yum. They also had a pretty good selection of vinos and brewskies and the price was reasonable too.
On our first day we just hung out in front of our hut enjoying the beautiful warm water. We went for a little snorkel around the jetty and saw schools of brightly coloured fish, starfish and a few giant sleeping Sea Turtles. We also saw a few Lionfish, which are such incredible looking creatures (although deadly). There wasn’t a thriving coral population there but we hear they are in the process of building it back up.
The weather was perfect and had that distinct warm tropical feel. We awoke to clear blue skies every morning but as afternoon approached big fluffy clouds swept across the sky. This made for some incredible looking sunsets. We usually watched these sitting in the tranquil warm water in front of our hut with vinos in hand – magic I tell ya.
The next day we went on our long awaited snorkelling trip to Sipadan. We had booked in several months beforehand for a permit that everyone must have in order to Snorkel or Dive there. Since 2008 they allow only 120 permits day, so it’s really important that you book way ahead of time to secure your spot.
We had a boat pick us up that had a few other guests from the neighbouring resorts on board. They turned out to be a crew from a top diving magazine in Korea. It took us almost an hour to get to Sipadan. The view of the surrounding little islands and more little makeshift homes on stilts made for some great sightseeing.
Before we knew it we were suiting up and parting ways from our new diving friends (we were snorkelling). We had our own Snorkel Guide accompany us during our adventure. Luckily all of the spots we went to were great for both of us Snorkelers and Divers.
Nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to experience. A plethora of marine life surrounded us. We couldn’t believe the vibrant colours around us and the clarity of the water was awesome. Pure exhilaration coursed through our veins as we came upon a school of Giant Bumphead Parrotfish.
We were completely blown away when we saw a massive silver wall of Barracuda. Our guide took us fairly close to them. They looked pretty fierce up close with their big steely eyes and massive jagged teeth. They all easily ranged from 4-6ft in length. After swimming with them for quite some time we really got up close and personal and would take turns diving down and then up through entire school.
Now that was an experience we’ll never forget. Unfortunately we didn’t have our underwater camera then
Afterwards we all piled back on the boat and went to the island for some lunch. Our diving friends were envious of our adventures since they had missed the Bumpheads and Barracuda. That’s actually one of the reasons why we personally prefer to snorkel, it gives us the freedom to roam and hang as long as we want. Often we see more than the divers.
While we were having lunch we noticed an area nearby that was wired off and had a group of military soldiers sitting about. We had forgotten that this was the island where in 2000 a group of Abu Sayyaf guerrillas from the Philippines kidnapped the occupants at a dive resort that used to be on Sipadan. Now days the resort is gone and they have constant military protection.
After lunch we headed back out for some more snorkelling. Again our visual senses were bombarded with the magnificent marine life there. The coral was so colourful and abundant and we saw more sea turtles and giant schools of fish. This snorkelling experience was by far one of the best we’ve ever been on. It is the best place to go if you want to swim with big fish. We definitely got our money’s worth there and after hours of snorkelling we headed back home – all of us exhausted but wearing permagrins.
On our final day we decided to take an introductory diving course given by the resorts diving instructor – the lovely Sally. She was great and took us out to the jetty and before we knew it we were experiencing our first dive. The breathing was a cinch and we felt right at home in the water. Looks like we might have to take up diving too.
We had the most incredible time during our stay. The whole journey was absolutely amazing and so worth the effort. We loved our stay at Pom Pom and found all of the staff really accommodating. This trip is definitely a do over for us, without a doubt.
This travel diary has been written by Rob Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!