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Uncle Chang's Sipadan Mabul Dive Lodge
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Reviewed December 27, 2011

Having just stayed on Mabul Island, Borneo and experiencing numerous dives in Sipadan I decided to write this review for others who are considering doing the same...

We booked 8 days at the famous Uncle Changs backpackers resort on Mabul Island inorder to do some diving in one of the best dive sites in the world, Sipadan. Upon arrival I was quite disappointed at the initial look of the resort. As it is very hard to find out any information about the lodging itself, I was expecting a lot more than the rickety looking bare beaten old bungalows they provide for 100 MR (approximately $30) per night. They did however allow us to upgrade to a much nicer chalet for free for our first 5 nights as it was unoccupied for that duration, which was also a home for several huge cockroaches and a few fairly large rats. The free meals which are included in the price are basically the same everyday (rice, a meek selection of vegetables, dry chicken, and some cremated fish; not ideal for vegetarians) although saying this for just a few days it is adequate, for 8 days it is not. One of the biggest factors for me staying at Uncle Changs was the daily cut of power between 8am to 4.30pm, this makes having a lie in or ill day extremely unpleasant with no fan/a.c. the rooms turn into saunas and outside is the same so there is no escaping the heat between these hours.The Island of Mabul is extremely quiet but very rural, walking through the shanty village seeing the locals is an interesting and cultural experience, however there are no beautiful beaches as you would expect from an island in the middle of the sea and the shear amount of stinking rubbish lying around in heaps is shocking. On Mabul there is literally nothing to do, other than diving, but relax and socialize with fellow visitors at the resort as well as the great team of staff working as dive instructors and dive masters who make you feel instantly welcome and at home with their charming and friendly personalities. Saturday night is party night, Uncle Chang comes to the island bringing with him a live band and unlimited free alcohol for all.

So, the diving, wonderful as it is it is definately over-rated. The coral is lovely, although I've seen better whilst diving in the Red Sea and Thailand. The real attraction are the turtles, which there plenty of; medium sized and very large, the white tip reef and grey sharks which are also everywhere, the enormous parrot fish, and the impressive schools of barracuda. The dive masters, whom without which you would not spot half of the micro marine life unless you were very experienced, are perfectly professional whilst still keeping things fun and humorous. They know the sites like the back of their hands and take you to the best spots at the right times to give you the best experience possible. The equipment, which has been mentioned as being shoddy at best, is actually a good mixture of both. The positive is that you can choose for yourself the better equipment, and the older stuff is still 99% safe to use (you just won't be making any fashion statement whilst wearing it!)

Overall my experience has left me with many happy memories, several new friends, but also a sense of relief to be back in civilization. My advice would be to keep your stay to a maximum of 5 days and keep occupied during the days with diving or snorkeling- which is also a great way to see the beautiful marine life. It is essential to book the accommodation and diving in advance to avoid disappointment and get a cheaper price. You will need a separate permit for each day in Sipadan as it is owned by the government and guarded by military, so also bear this in mind for the total price.

Room Tip: Stay in the chalets for more privacy as the rooms are very noisy and surrounded by staff and guests throughout the day and some of the night.
  • Stayed: December 2011, traveled as a couple
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5  Thank Faustinezw
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed November 13, 2011

if you are budgeting your diving trip, this is highly recommend.

we are total in 10people, 6 certified divers and 4 take open water course. i am happy with the diving equipments because all are new, especially the regulator ^^

the people there also friendly and helpful. about the room conditions, they are fair for everyone, if u pay more, more comfortable u get. my friends pay only rm60 per night, so the condition like in a camp feel.

overall, this is a good lodge for divers, where u just need a shelter at night, and they do provide you. in addition, the sea view and sunset are nice, make you feel worth to pay on it.

  • Stayed: November 2011, traveled with friends
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1  Thank EsmeLoo
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed November 7, 2011

A bit confused on arrival. Uncle Chang's in Semporna is just a small dive shop. The nearby over-ocean hotel seems not affiliated and is not recommended (no wifi, no phones, no nearby convenience store; try the Marina Hotel instead, though it's not quite great). Although I had reservations, the majority of Uncle Chang's operation is offshore, on the island of Mabul. No worries. My fault.

Visited Mabul the day after I arrived and had three really great dives at Mabul and Kapalai. Lots of sea life. Was told at the end of the day that we'd be diving Sibuan the next day, and was looking forward to that. Returned to the mainland that night, but would stay at their facilities on Mabul the next day.

And returned to Mabul the next day. Whereupon I was told that I would be diving Mabul and Kapalai that day. I asked what happened to the diving at Sibuan, and was told that the boat for Sibuan had already left.

I ate breakfast then, and thought about this a bit. Finally, I asked one of the workers there, calmly, why I had been told we'd be diving at Sibuan if they knew that the boat would already be gone. I didn't expect anything to be done about it... Mostly, I just thought it was a poor business practice that should be called to their attention. The worker had no answer, and I went to my room shortly after.

As it turned out, Uncle Chang "himself" was seated nearby. Although I hadn't made the statement loudly at all, he had overheard. Moreover, he had taken an interest, it seems. There was a knock on the door to my room a bit later and when I answered, I was told that I should get ready because I was going to Sibuan. OK...

Uncle Chang rerouted a speed boat, just to take me to Sibuan. Seems no big deal? How much gasoline do you suppose two 200HP boat engines suck down in an hour? This was a very big deal indeed. And I had not expected it at all.

Were the rooms on Mabul island great? Not particularly. It's a dive operation, after all, and you should know what to expect if you're a diver! Was the food great? Sometimes! But not especially.

But that they would reroute a boat to take me to Sibuan, especially when I had not expected it, impressed me greatly. And so I wholeheartedly endorse visiting Uncle Chang's, unless you're one who wants "top notch food" or "top notch accomodations." But if you're a diver, into it for the diving, it's really hard to beat service such as this...

For what would I ding Uncle Chang's? Two things: they do not offer nitrox, and they do not accept credit cards. But nitrox isn't =really= required at Sipadan/Mabul/Kapalai, and the lack of credit card support can be worked around.

If you're NOT a diver, then maybe you should pass them by. But if you ARE a diver, I think the service would be pretty hard to beat.

By the way -- the diving at Sibuan was "just OK." Yes, I'm =extremely= grateful Uncle Chang's went out of their way to take me there. But it was the least of the dive sites visited. This may be important... Sipadan Divers has a website that, once you make it through all their Visa/Mastercard non-guaranteed pre-pay menus and such, turns out to take one to Sibuan quite a bit. They'll only dive Mabul/Kapalai if they have a group of divers who request it. Mabul/Kapalai are much better than Sibuan, IMO.

Uncle Chang's 5 star service in itself, deserves a 5 star rating. The rooms and restaurant be damned. After my experience there, it would be very difficult for me to recommend any other dive operation in the Sipadan/Semporna area...

  • Stayed: October 2011, traveled solo
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Thank KenRoach
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 21, 2011

I enjoyed the 15 days that spent there... I've enjoyed diving on the island with Uncle Chang Staff: Gail, Thomas, Santi and Mario ... are great. Diving with them is safe and fun. I had a great time during that time: underwater and chatting with them.

About Uncle Chang's staff .... Melanie takes care of everything, is everywhere and for everyone. She is also great! She is the sample of all the character of the staff.

They have the best boats on the island. If you make the trip to Sipadan you can see the boats of the other resorts ... are old and very worn.

They fixed all the inconvenience that the travelers posted in the reviews. Now they have a good equipment (brand new) and they have solved the issue of rats, as well. Although it must be noted that it is a problem endemic to the island.

  • Stayed: October 2011, traveled solo
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2  Thank josemtorras
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 20, 2011

We liked the island trip to mabul and the snorkling activities there. Everything, even included meals the whole day to a very good value if you compare. The only bad thing is that they dont really look after the equipment. Some broken fins and dirty snorkels. We saw a lot of coloured fish, big turtles and nice corals.

Room Tip: The basic rooms are cheap and ok to sleep in. Not luxurios but quite ok for the price. If you want a better room you should choose the new chalets.
  • Stayed: September 2011, traveled as a couple
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1  Thank JonastheBonas
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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