The map of Malaysia in relation to its neighbours, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and The Philippines. Sabah is at the northeastern tip of the Federation, sharing its borders with Brunei, Indonesia and The Philippines. (Image credit :

It is said that Semporna and its surrounding islands are a divers’ paradise : Sipadan and Mabul are just two of them . So many good locations, so I am told.

As for me, I am not in a position to verify, as I am not a diver nor do I have the necessary accreditation to go on these sort of dives. Unlike my wife and my son.

The Tawau Division of Sabah : Lahad Datu, Semporna and Tawau. Facing the Celebes Sea is Semporna with the many islands best known for diving. (Image courtesy of

Am I inclined to get a diving licence? Or rather, can I be persuaded to go for one? I have been told that its another world down there deep in the waters. The romantic in me says yes but the pragmatist in me says, seriously!?

Well, this time around, the pragmatist in me won the day.

I would have loved to say that I was in Semporna after months of planning : where to go, what to do and all that stuff. However, the truth of the matter is that I basically found my way to the divers’ paradise of Semporna due to work-related matters, as was my trip to Lahad Datu and after Semporna, to Tawau as well.

Not that I am complaining. Every place I have ever been to had lots to offer, if you have had the time to explore that is. I mean, really explore. And the financial resources to make it a reality, of course.

The part of town facing the sea and Bum-bum Island. As they say, its quite a happening place in Semporna. (Images by Shah Said 2019 ; @ all rights reserved)

For the uninitiated, travelling, as anyone can tell you, whether you backpack or go in style, costs. Just how much, depends on you.

After settling work matters in Lahad Datu, our group comprising of myself and two others (who happened to be Sabahans), left Lahad Datu and made our way to Semporna by road.

As it is wont in Sabah, we travelled in a 4×4. As I was tired from the previous day’s travel. I easily succumbed and drifted away to the hum of the engine, with the sights getting blurred as we went down the winding road. Before I knew it, I was asleep and when I got to, the sun was just about to set.

Open air dining by the sea in Semporna. (Images by Shah Said 2019; @ all rights reserved)

The nap helped. As I was now fresh and re-energized, I kept looking out at the sights that the eastern part of Sabah had to offer. I was able to catch glimpses of villages which dotted the road to Semporna, and its people.

I must admit that I was rather taken by surprise as the villages look no different to me then the villages in Peninsular Malaysia. Why, I don’t know. But I could relate to it and I guess thats what’s important. For me, at least.

As we were making our way closer and closer towards Semporna, I realised that I was rather enjoying myself, doing this road trip. Its a different proposition to flying in, that’s for sure. Flying in does not give you the opportunity to witness for yourself how the locals live. Unlike a road trip.

A boat docked nearby the restaurant where we had our dinner. (Images by Shah Said 2019 ; @ all rights reserved)

We arrived in Semporna around seven in the evening and by then, it was already dark. All in all, the road trip to Semporna took us about 2 hours or thereabout. Just as I had been informed.

First order of business was to check into the hotel that I had booked a couple of days earlier. I regularly use a booking app for my hotel bookings and thus far, no complaints on my part.

The hotel was still in its soft launch phase and hence, the price was more than affordable. The only drawback that it was not located in the centre of town and would therefore pose a slight problem SHOULD I get hungry late at night.

Having checked in, I proceeded to place whatever luggage I had in the hotel room and made sure the facilities were all in working order ; you know, what can flush, flushes, TV working fine, and that the shower, hot water and air con works. Satisfied, I made way down and together with my other two companions, went off for dinner.

Good morning Semporna!. The sun rises early in Semporna. (Images by Shah Said 2019 ; @ all rights reserved).

This being Malaysia, dinner can be had almost anywhere and anytime, be it indoors or outdoors, depending on the type of food that you would go for.

Naturally, we are not talking about fast food outlets here although they are available. We are talking about hot food, served with steam rising from the dishes as proof of it being freshly cooked.

As for myself, being the out-of-towner, I left the decision as to where to have dinner to my two Sabahan companions.

And since this is Semporna, the decision was simple. Semporna is located by the sea and knowing full well how it feels like to have dinner by the open sea, with the sea breeze and all, I readily agreed.

The restaurant faced the island of Bum-Bum and was located nearby the hotel where I would have loved to have stayed but decided against. Looking at the surroundings, I would definitely re-visit the idea of staying at that hotel.

Floating houses in the middle of the sea between Semporna and Bum-Bum Island. Don’t be surprised if there are fish breeding activities going on at these floating houses. (Images by Shah Said 2019 ; @ all rights reserved)

The sight of small boats and trawlers going about their activities with the lights from the homes of Pulau Bum-Bum (Bum-Bum Island) in the background does offer one a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of a hectic city life.

Dinner was a simple one. The common theme was that the dishes predominant features produce of the sea. In all honesty, its not much different to what you get elsewhere but what made it memorable was the open sea, cool night breeze with a tinge of saltiness in the air.

It seems to me that Semporna really draws a lot on tourism. A walk by the waterfront nearby the restaurant where we just had dinner revealed offices of the many operators offering lodging at the different resorts available on the islands, in addition to diving, which confirmed my earlier suspicions.

I was also informed by my two Sabahan companions that some of these resorts even made it a condition for you to have a diving licence to be able to stay at these resorts.

But fret not. I did say SOME. So there is still hope, especially for me.

This spot by the waterfront seems to be the most famous for taking a picture of your trip to Semporna. (Images by Shah Said 2019 ; @ all rights reserved).

All in all, my stay in Semporna was all but for one night and one day only. The next day was all about work and once that was done, it was onwards to Tawau. That meant another road trip and a different sort of adventure. A bit Bilbo-ish that sounded but its true.

All in all, a good stay and a fun stay. Would love to go back to Semporna and try staying in one of those resorts. That would really be an experience.