The Travelling Teacher: Diving in Mabul, definitely a holiday NOT a working holiday!
What’s it all about?
Last week I was in the rainforest looking at some amazing animals, and this week I can definitely say I witnessed more amazing animals but this time, I’m underwater! This week’s vlog is about the amazing island of Mabul and the beauty that surrounds it. Read on to find out about my diving experiences as well as my struggles to teach!
Sandakan to Semporna
Travelling from Sandakan to Semporna meant another early alarm call. Waking up at 4am is never easy (well, for me anyway!). I always tend to pack the night before so I have a calm and stress-free morning before travelling. However, everyone’s different, and my boyfriend much prefers the ‘last-minute’ packing style as opposed to the night-before pack! Do you have a ‘packing style?’.
We arrived at the bus journey in plenty of time thanks to our taxi, which we booked through the Grab app. Luckily, at the bus depot, which was actually just a housing area with lots of buses rammed in, there were food stalls where we were able to collect some snacks ready for the journey.
For somewhere so warm, the bus journey was remarkably cold. I ended up wrapping myself up in my jacket to keep warm and help me to try and catch some shut-eye. We were lucky that there were only around 7 of us on a whole coach so we could sprawl out and stretch across the seats to get comfy.
After a little snooze, I did manage to prepare some work on my laptop but I soon found that I felt sick. I really struggled with working whilst on a coach or bus and found I had to limit myself to 15-minute slots of work. If I started to go past this and continued working, I began to feel sick and the journey became very unenjoyable.
For the parts of the journey where I was able to take in the scenery, I witnessed lots of trees and dense masses of greenery. I also saw some cool looking birds. I witnessed a bluebird, a fiery minivet and some other birds that I’m not sure quite what they were, but that looked just as awesome!
On our arrival in Semporna I noticed that it didn’t feel as built up as Sandakan did. There also seemed to more of a noticeable economic gap. You’d see some really expensive cars and then, in the next blink of an eye, a person walking around in rags. After 6 hours of riding in a coach, I was just happy to get my feet back on the ground.
Our hotel was very basic, there weren’t even locks on our ground floor windows. But, in terms of hotels to choose from, our options were quite limited. Though we had picked this hotel as it said that we had WIFI in the rooms, on arrival it turned out that there was only WIFI in the lobby, which wasn’t great! Luckily, I hadn’t booked in any lessons so I didn’t have to worry but it did mean that whilst there, I had no internet and even the mobile sim I had purchased had only a weak signal in our room. I was disappointed because it meant I knew I wouldn’t be able to work whilst here. If it wasn’t bad enough that we didn’t have WIFI, we also didn’t have any toilet roll. However, having experienced a lack of toilet paper whilst in India, I’d got into the habit of taking toilet roll from each place we went – which came in very handy here!
The main reason for us stopping in Semporna was to lead onto our trip to Mabul Island. I had read reviews saying the WIFI in Mabul was limited so I knew that I potentially had a very quiet few days ahead of me in terms of work.
Semporna to Mabul
As I mentioned, the main reason for us booking accommodation in Semporna was to give us the opportunity to rest before heading to Mabul island. After a 6-hour coach ride, the rest was definitely needed as I don’t think I would have been able to deal with a boat ride afterwards. Plus, the boats out to Mabul run at particular times in the day. So, with limited time options we really had no choice but to take rest at Semporna.
The boat from Semporna to Mabul was small and very cosy. We had taken all our belongings, including our giant rucksacks. However, with hindsight, we should have booked an extra few days in Semporna so we could have left anything that wasn’t of value and that we wouldn’t need whilst in Mabul.
Heading to Mabul? Pack light! Just pack what you need and leave the other things behind in storage/ in a room.
Though the dock area in Semporna was not the most beautiful of sights, the scenery from Semporna to Mabul was dreamy. There were lots of little islands covered with green hills. I also felt some comfort that the Police stopped us enroute to check our documentation (particularly as I’d heard of some terrifying stories about pirates around here!). Not only were there lots of little islands, but also many houses on stilts.
I felt so lucky to be staying in one of these houses on stilts with the sea just outside my front door! However, there were some restrictions. We had limited electricity and water supplies. This meant that we only had water and power at particular times in the day and had to plan accordingly.
Working in Mabul
We found it was cheaper to book our accommodation and scuba diving separately and we went with the company that had the best reviews! Going here is definitely NOT a cheap journey.
As we only had power at particular hours of the day, it meant we had to be very meticulous with charging our technology. With the limited power supply and WIFI being almost non-existent, there was no way I was going to be able to work – so this made this stay MUCH more expensive. Some accommodation here does have WIFI but you will pay more for this and with power being limited I would not recommend working here. It’s too unreliable to be able to work.
One night, we had a storm and the clouds in the sky made the most beautiful backdrop. It looked so beautiful, it was like a work of art! There was the almightiest cloud and out of it kept shooting golden bolts of lightning. With storms being likely, this too can affect the limited WIFI that is available, so my advice would be to factor this stay into your travels and take it as a ‘holiday’. If you’re working as a contracted teacher for IQBar, that would mean applying for leave. This would mean that you have to inform the team at least 2 weeks before of your trip, so plan ahead!
Staying on Mabul Island
I absolutely loved that each time you looked down into the sea, you’d see something different. I counted so many chocolate chip starfish! Each night the locals would come by in their boats, scooping out the water that had seeped inside and many would be selling fresh fish, crabs, lobsters and other delights that you could buy and, for a small fee, give to the kitchen staff to cook for you. You have to have your wits about you though and make sure you’re not paying through the roof for some of the food!
One of my highlights here was the fact that we had a clown fish living in a sea anemone right outside our door! He would rub himself all over the sea anemone and was very territorial of it! I could not have been more in my element! You can’t put a price on that kind of luck!
With Mabul being a remote island, your choice of dining options was very limited and in the price of your stay, it is more than likely that you would have breakfast, lunch and dinner included in the price. However, these meals are at set times and this is where the locals bringing treats from the sea is definitely worthwhile! Also, if you manage to get a WIFI connection and think that you might be able to teach, it’s very likely that the set dinner times would be during your teaching hours. As dinner here is around 6, which is when you would want to be working!
Diving on Mabul Island
Now this is the fun staff. Work, WIFI and power aside, this is what Mabul is all about! Surrounded by idyllic water villages and close to the famous Sipadan Islands, this place makes for a superb dive! For any other dive nerds out there, you’ll know that Sipadan is one of ‘the’ places to dive however, we weren’t lucky enough to be able to dive here as they have a waiting list of over a month! However, if you’re working as a permanent scheduled teacher for IQBar and you’re already having to give 2 week’s notice for your stay in Mabul, you may as well ensure you give a months’ notice, that way you’re also more likely to be able to dive in Sipadan – there’s a heads up. If any of you do dive in Sipadan, or already have, please share your experiences with me, I’d love to hear all about it!
Diving here was INCREDIBLE. I saw so many different types of fish and again, was lucky enough to see a sea turtle. I was so excited about this but my excitement rose through the roof when I saw some spotted rays. These were so cool! The spots were bright blue! Then, not to mention the octopus we found hiding under a rock! It looked so fearsome!
What’s it like to work here?
As I’ve mentioned throughout this blog, it’s really not an ideal work place location. There are lots of potential factors that could limit your chances of working here, if you’re able to get what little WIFI there is, it may drop out. There’s also the power to take into consideration, as this is only on at certain hours of the day. Then, don’t forget about working around the dinner time. I would definitely recommend taking any time here as a ‘holiday’ and avoid the stress of trying to access the internet! One of the most beautiful things about Mabul is how remote it is, so make the most of it!
What’s up next?
After spending a small fortune in Mabul, in my next blog my feet will most definitely be back on solid ground and where I can get a good internet connection so I can claw some money back in! Look out for next week’s blog where I’ll talking about my journey to Kuching!
In the meantime, if you have any experiences you’d like to share or if you’d like to know more, you can contact me at - firstname.lastname@example.org .