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How I Spent 4 Days in Semporna, Sabah

 Living in the west coast of Sabah, I’ve always been longing to visit the well-known beautiful islands with pristine clear water with many shades of blue, on the east side.  Seeing the diverse marine life in the ocean including lucky sightings of sea turtles and cute starfishes scattered on the seabed was not an everyday occurrence to me.

It’s not common to experience such exceptionally clear seawater and fine powdered sandy beaches around Kota Kinabalu area. The closest you can get is Mantanani Islands, 2 hours away from KK. You may visit Mantanani if Semporna is too far away.

 Read more in my previous post: Mana ini? Mantanani bah! A short stay in Sutera @ Mantanani

Where is Semporna?

In case you’re not familiar with Sabah geography, I’ve got you covered. 

A lot of people thought that Semporna is an island or has a beautiful beach, but it’s not. Semporna is located at the south-eastern coast of Sabah. Semporna is the mainland and a gateway to the surrounding beautiful islands, where you have your perfect beach or diving vacation!


So, how to get to Semporna?

To get to the beautiful islands, you must first get to Semporna mainland. The nearest airport to Semporna is Tawau Airport. From Tawau, there will be a 45 min-1hour drive to Semporna town. Usually your hotel/resort is able to arrange airport transfers upon request, or they may be included in your tour package. When I arrived at Tawau airport, I saw many tour vans lining up outside the airport, picking up tourists.

From Semporna mainland, there will be speedboat transfer to the islands. The boats usually depart at 8am-9am once daily and the journey takes 30-45mins depending on which islands. 

Where to stay in Semporna?

There are 3 options you can choose from- stay on mainland Semporna, stay on water chalets, or stay on island resorts.

Option 1: Stay on mainland Semporna

This is the cheapest, no-frills option. There are a lot of budget and decent accommodation choices such as homestays or hotels, conveniently located nearby to the Semporna jetty. Staying in mainland Semporna allows you to explore the nearby attractions around Semporna town such as Bukit Tengkorak or Bukit Parapat. Since Semporna is a fishing town, you will be spoilt for seafood choices because there are so many seafood restaurants to try!

Picturesque view from Bukit Parapat
Option 2: Stay on water chalets

Water chalets or water villas or water bungalows are basically floating resorts on water, giving that Maldives-like vibe. There are many water chalets to choose from, based on price range and location. Based on my observation, lower budget water chalets are usually located nearer to mainland, such as WB Shun Shun, or Egang-egang. Water chalets located farther away or dive resorts are usually at a higher price range such as Sipadan Kapalai or Mabul Water Bungalow. Onboard meals are usually inclusive. Water chalets are now being sold out faster than before ever since borders opened last April. So, book early or you may try to enquire or get a quote from the resorts because most of them do not publicly disclose the availability and price.

Option 3: Stay on island resorts

If you do not prefer staying on floating water chalets, there are also resorts on the islands around Semporna which gives you that dreamy beach vacation vibes. You may consider Pom-Pom Island Resort, or The Reef Dive Resort at Mataking Island for a quiet holiday experience as resorts have restricted beach access for their in-house guests only.

Island Hopping Tours- Which Islands to go?

Accommodation choices depends on your personal preference of your ideal beach vacation and also the kind of tropical beach experience you’d like to have, whether it’s laidback or filled with adventures.

Because either way, island hopping tours are optional and can be incorporated in your trip. Most resorts offer assistance and flexibility in arranging water activities of your choice such as island hopping with snorkelling or kayaking, during your stay with them. But there are also other travel packages that already come with the tours.

If you’re a scuba-diving enthusiast, there is so much more you can experience in Semporna. Perhaps staying in a dive resort with excellent divers’ package may be the right place for you.

There are many tour operators offering island hopping tours around Semporna. The usual island hopping tour packages are:

  • Tun Sakaran Marine Park Tour: Bohey Dulang, Mantabuan Island, Sibuan Island.
  • Mabul Island & Kapalai Island
  • Mataking, Timba-Timba, Pom Pom Island

Tour usually starts around 8am in the morning and ends around 3pm in the afternoon. Packed lunch is provided as well!

How Long to Stay in Semporna?

Ideally, 5 days is enough to visit all the islands above which are accessible to tourists. Because it takes almost one full day to travel (flights, airport transfers). And boats only depart in the morning once daily.

Personally, I spent 4 days in Semporna and it was already tiring. Two full days of island hopping was a little exhausting for me.


My 4 Day Itinerary

We stayed in a homestay on Semporna mainland, so we get to experience both island and Semporna mainland activities

Day 1: Touchdown at Tawau Airport-Check in homestay-Soto Seafood for lunch-Bukit Parapat-U Welcome Seafood for dinner

We had the opportunity to explore Semporna mainland attractions on the first day. For starters, I had the most amazing bowl of seafood soto filled with generous amount of seafood. Ngl, the prawn balls are made up of real prawns. This bowl of seafood goodness is definitely a must-try in Semporna. 

Check out Wang Wang Soto House

After chilling at Starbucks Semporna with a nice sea view and a touristy spot for pictures, we went to Bukit Parapat. After an easy 15-minute hike, I can see the gorgeous sea view with my favourite shade of blue.


We had our dinner at U Welcome Seafood. Like many seafood restaurants located along the coastline, it offers fresh live seafood at a reasonable price. 

Day 2: Breakfast at Cham Chuan Kee- Bohey Dulang-Mantabuan Island-Sibuan Island- Ikan Bakar Semporna for dinner

We had a traditional kopitiam breakfast at Cham Chuan Kee which serves kaya butter toast and teh tarik before heading out to the jetty. 

Our tour began with an early morning hike at Bohey Dulang. We were lucky that the weather was perfect on that day although it was raining on the day before. Bohey Dulang may close the hiking trail if weather is unfavourable.

It took 45 minutes to reach the peak of Bohey Dulang and the view was absolutely stunning and rewarding. From the high viewpoint, you can admire the beautiful shades of blue sea and crystal clear water with the coral reefs beneath.  

Pulau Mantabuan was our next stop. We had our lunch on the boat as the boat was unable to dock due to the tide levels. Mantabuan is a good spot for snorkelling, but I only took a dip in Sibuan Island. Pulau Sibuan has an amazing sandy beach with tall coconut trees giving out tropical vibes.

We went to Ikan Bakar Semporna for a Malay cooking style seafood for dinner this time. It was definitely a different dining experience than the other well-known typical seafood restaurants in Semporna.


 I also got to try Latok (sea grapes) paired with chili and lime sauce, which pretty much tastes like pellets of briny sea water bursting in my mouth.

Day 3: Timba-Timba – Mataking – Pom Pom- Fat Mom Seafood for dinner

Our first island stop was at Timba-Timba. It has a long stretch of beautiful sandy beach surrounded by pristine water. It was really dreamy to stroll on the beach while taking stunning photos. 

After that, we continued with snorkelling in the quest of sea turtles sighting. Spotting two turtles really made my day!

Like yesterday, we had our lunch on the boat again due to the tide levels causing the boat unable to dock at Mataking Island at that time, followed by snorkelling.

We spent most of the time taking photos at the jetty of Pom Pom Island and its surrounding waters because there was a private resort on the island restricted to their guests.

We decided to have our dinner at Fat Mom Seafood Restaurant on our last night in Semporna.  

Day 4: Check out -prepare for departure

Prepare for departure and back to reality.


It was a different experience visiting this other side of Sabah. The water is definitely a lot clearer and bluer on this side! I certainly had a great time in Semporna and most likely will be back here again to visit the other islands that I did not get to go on this trip, as well as experiencing staying in water chalets.




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