First off, let me say that from reading the other reviews that this seems to be a very polarizing place. You either love it or hate it. It sure is different! It is the people that make this place what it is.
Through some poor planning on our part (which is half the fun of travel), my wife and I ended up basically marooned on Mabul Island. So we turned up at Uncle Chang's, looking for a place to stay, after having found the east side of the island too expensive, and frankly pretentious. The lovely young lady who works there was very kind to us, and set us up with a room out over the water. WOW! It becomes easy to overlook the rather basic bathroom when you have the Celebes sea on your doorstep! Ocean view on 3 sides, and the sunset through our front door! These rooms lack AC, but the sea breeze allows it to be very comfortable.
I do recommend reserving one of these rooms rather than the yellow longhouse containing the dorm rooms. They seem a bit better. Alternately, Uncle Chang has just finished some new bungalows which look great! Overall, I loved sleeping out over the water amongst the Bajau village. I began to feel the pulse of the island and it's people. The sounds of local music, children laughing, and the smell of roasting fish left a strong impression with me. If you wish to be wrapped in a cocoon of western luxury and sneer at the locals that's your prerogative I suppose. And you can find that elsewhere on Mabul, but not here.
Uncle Chang also seems to have the best piece of real estate on Mabul. Let me tell you hanging out in the common area after a day of diving Sipadan, eating delicious fresh seafood and drinking a Tiger as the sun goes down right in front of you and turtles swim right up to the deck is just heaven for me.
That right there was the highlight of my entire trip to Asia.
The food is, as I mentioned great. Primarily seafood, but chicken wings are another favorite. Bajau fishermen in canoes come up through the day and sell their catch to Uncle Chang, which in turn becomes our lunch. Yellowtail sashimi on our last day was delicious! That day we were out late on a night dive and when we came back the band was already started. It looked like the food was all gone, but Uncle Chang had reserved a plate for us, and it was just the icing on the cake.
On to the man himself. He is a wonderful, kind and charitable man. He might not come off that way at first. I think perhaps some of the other reviewers may have crossed him somehow. It's basically a question of Malaysian culture. Show the man a little respect, and within a day or two, you will be family.
He is rightly proud of his charity efforts, and I got to know some of the people he has helped over the years, and they say they are still floored by his capacity for generosity.
He was also very kind to us. I really believe his guests are not just dollar signs and we feel we became genuine friends of his.
This may be why the Malaysian authorities seem very willing to grant him Sipadan diving permits in addition to the regular ones he has. The western run resorts seem to have an excellent system for stringing would be divers along promising everything, delivering wait lists. I spoke to someone who had been on standby for weeks at another one of the resorts.
Uncle Chang is on the phone every morning, trying to get more permits arranged. In fact, both my wife and I dove Sipadan the day after we checked in, with no prior arrangement. I then did my Advanced OW course 1 on 1 with a fantastic instructor, and dove Sipadan again.
I won't review the dive sites themselves here, but I will say that Uncle Chang's dive staff are excellent, knowledgable and highly skilled. They seem to consist of people who came for a few days but then never left. I almost became one of them! The boat crew were numerous, punctual and knowledgable as well.
Yes, the dive equipment was heavily worn. But I had no problem with it, and nor did anyone else on any of my dives. I did observe the staff properly cleaning and maintaining the equipment after use so that's a good sign. It is of course your own responsibility to examine your equipment thoroughly on receipt. Just because it looks new/old doesn't mean it works! I always bring my own computer which i ask to be attached to the first stage reg.
I'd better wrap this up so let me just conclude by saying that i really miss the place, and all my new friends there. We will see you there soon I hope!
- Also Known As:
- Uncle Chang`s Sipadan Mabul Dive Hotel Pulau Mabul