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“A paradise which soon turned into hell!”

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Mari Mari Mantanani Backpacker Lodge
Reviewed September 14, 2013

We decided to spend one night at the Mari Mari backpackers' lodge as part of our trip to Borneo, during the month of August. We had seen the pictures on internet and read lots of the reviews on this website, and we were really looking forward to it. Prices were reasonable, and the package of activities suggested by their central office seemed great. The central office in Kota Kinabalu suggested that it would be wise to book and pay for all activities in advance. As a result, we booked and paid for everything before the trip, together with the room for one night, and the transfer from and to Kota Kinabalu.

When we arrived there, we felt we were suddenly in Paradise. The island was so beautiful, the sea was crystal clear, and we were feeling very relaxed after more than two amazing weeks in Borneo. We waited for our key at the restaurant for a little while (between 20 and 30 min, hard to tell precisely). We had booked two snorkelling trips for the first day, one at 3pm and a night session at about 6pm, and we were really looking forward to it. A couple we had met somewhere else before knew about the timing of our booked activities and they came up to us claiming there might be an issue with the trips, as they had just been told the afternoon session was cancelled (they hadn't booked any activities before coming to the island). We asked the staff from the resort and they confirmed this, without offering any replacement. All trips after 2.30 were cancelled due to low tide. We were not happy, since their own office back in KK had asked us to book specifically these sessions and had already charged us for it. I think that tide level is something that can be predicted, at least roughly, and if it can't, this company should not charge tourists for things they are not sure they will be able to deliver!

Luckily, they accepted to take us on the 1.30 pm session, and we were able to at least do one session that day. What we saw under the sea was simply magical - beautiful coral reefs, tropical fish and an amazing cliff under water. But the session only lasted 45 min. The so-called guide was doing his own thing and did not seem to care about anybody else. We didn't mind since we are good swimmers but a Chinese family nearby had to call him repeatedly as they needed some help.

When we came back to the resort, we were told the second session would probably be cancelled as well (but only after we asked: if we hadn't asked, we would have found out on the spot, like a group of Italians who were staying in the bungalow nearby). At around 5pm, a member of staff confirmed it was cancelled, and then we saw that most of the staff were heading towards the sea with the little kayaks that are usually rented out to guests. There were no guests with them, they did not invite any guest to come with them (not even as a replacement for snorkelling trips cancelled at the last minute). They went snorkelling with the kayaks and seemed to have a lot of fun by themselves.

The accomodation (bungalow on the beach) was very basic, which we did not mind, but also not very clean. The bathroom was below average (I do not have very high standards when I travel on the cheap, but I was appalled this time), not clean and looked really old. The bungalow was made of wood and there were huge gaps in the floor, in between pieces of wood: hello mosquitoes! Bedsheets were almost non existent (and I'm not sure how often they wash them). The food was disgusting - there is no other word, and trust me when I say that I've tried some pretty bad food in the past (I used to be a boarder as a child, and school food is not the best). The chicken was all bones and fat (no or very little meat), the noodles were greasy, and they were constantly running out of drinks (and I don't only mean beer, which some people were able to get and others not). Another couple got given a tuna sandwich even though they had said they were vegetarians and wanted to have an egg sandwich.

On the next day, a rumour started spreading out that we might have some issues going back to mainland due to the wind. We had spent a pretty bad day and night there so were hoping the wheather would change for the best. We had paid for a discovering scuba diving session on that day, which was cancelled (those who were on a PADI course went, but we were not allowed to go). We did not protest too much as we thought it was all for our safety after all. Only after insisting for about 30 min and a call to their head office were we reimbursed for the cancelled activities. No apology was given. They asked us to stay by the restaurant and not move as we were supposed to go before lunch (the small boats they were using to carry tourists back and forth had just arrived). We were then told, after we asked, that we would have to wait until 2pm (and not to move). At 2.15, we were told we could perhaps go at 3 (and not to move). 3 became 4, and then people started panicking, as some even had flights to Europe on the next day. We asked them to find a solution, hire a bigger boat, or at least to tell us which member of staff was in charge. We finally found the guy who was supposed to be "in charge", but proved totally helpless. We finally had to stay there another night, with no guaranty we could go on the next day.

Finally, on the next morning, we were able to leave at 7am. The sea was a bit rough and it was early, but we did not mind one bit. We just wanted to go, as soon as we could. We missed our flight to Sandakan, as a result, and no apology was given by staff members. Fortunately, we were able to book a ticket for the next flight, but had to pay extra for the luggage (Air Asia does not allow you to book luggage allowance two hours before the flight). That was very expensive, but at least our plans were not too messed up, and we did not have to buy a ticket for a flight back to Europe, like some other guests. We felt relieved because we had been able to leave that place, and wished we hadn't made the mistake of going there.

Do not go there, there are lots of much better places around in Borneo.

  • Stayed: August 2013, traveled as a couple
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8  Thank arthemise21
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed September 10, 2013

We had a very pleasant stay at the mari mari backpackers resort. Our first impression was that everything was runned by teenagers. In reality the employees of the backpackers lodge were adults who had everything under control. Their appearance was a bit younger I guess because life on a paradise island makes causes this eternal youth :-)

Rooms and toilets were clean and food was ok. Staff works hard to ensure a pleasant stay !Some moments their is no fresh water and due to generator - malfunction no electricty. This can be no real issue : You are on a remote island, 40km for the coast, so you can't expect any luxury. If you are looking for luxury, just go somewhere else.

The diving sites were very nice. We saw some nice fish and even a large marbled stingray (almost 2m diameter). We expected the worst because we read stories about dynamite fishing but the coral was in good condition. Probably there are some bad divespots too but we didn't go there. Our diving instructor, Daniel, was really great and very committed to his task.

The biggest problem on the island - according to me - is the rubbish. The beach, a beautyful white sand - palm beach is absolutely full of debris, mostly plastic bottles but also nappies, cans, razor blades, ... . This is really a shame. The people of the lodge keep the lodges beach clean but the rest of the island is rubbishwise a disaster. It takes away all the romance of the island. Long enjoyable walks on the beach are impossible unless you don't care about the debris.
The people of the fishing village throw everything into the sea and a lot of rubbish waches up from the mainland. The locals just don't care. This isn't a mantanani problem, it's a global issue. All of SE Asia is littered and polluted. People don't seem to realise what the consequences are.

  • Stayed: August 2013, traveled as a couple
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13  Thank Simon N
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 27, 2013

We had an amazing time here, can't recommend it enough. The restaurant/shop/reception area was in a beautiful setting right on the beach, and all the staff were really helpful and friendly.
The sulaps looked amazing, but we opted for the cheaper dorms. We had no regrets about this as we spent our entire time outdoors anyway, plus the dorms are only about 1 minute's walk away.
We explored the inshore areas on our own, and went out on the organised trips to other snorkelling and dive sites. All the sites were staggeringly beautiful, with nice boat rides out and back and good standard of service and support for all levels of diver/snorkeller.
The shop didn't sell much, but we only needed to buy beer and soft drinks. The food was good, but in a canteen kind of way. Don't expect a fancy restaurant. There's limited choice for vegetarians but apart from Indian places it's the same all over Malaysia.
There was a small minority of people on our stay who found things to moan about, but as far as I'm concerned they were in the wrong place. If you're intending to lie on a beach with your hair and make-up done and have a waiter bring you cocktails then this place is not for you. The facilities and setting are really beautiful, but as it says in the name this is a backpacker's lodge not a five star resort.
For us this was the perfect choice, a fraction of the cost of somewhere like Semporna, but with clear water, fantastic diving/snorkelling, nice people and good facilities.

  • Stayed: August 2013, traveled as a couple
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16  Thank Obiwanmoloney
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 25, 2013

The resort is great and staff very friendly and helpful. They have a small, limited shop on the island but this is quite pricey. A can of beer is 10ringget (when not sold out). The beach on the other side of the island is absolutely gorgeous!!! You need to walk past the village and close your eye's to the trash for about 15 mins to get there though. The snorkelling (didn't dive) was really great but not mind-blowing. As a relaxed island get-away, it's perfect!

  • Stayed: August 2013, traveled with friends
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15  Thank LaurenR86
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 24, 2013

We have stayed in many huts around Asia and booked Mari Mari for 2 nights towards the end of our trip, it is very expensive but we thought that we would splash out because we wanted something special. This would be fantastic at a budget price but the standard of service, food and beach doesn't justify the price. In summary staff are very friendly but service is lacking, one morning there wasn't any water when I reported it the manager simply said sorry no water expecting me to accept it and leave it. When he realised I wasn't going to accept it he decided to turn the pump on to fill up the tower. Food was sub standard, this is unacceptable when its the only place to eat. When we were there they were only offering limited breakfast options. Boat transfers are very uncomfortable and both times staff took the 'dry seats' on the boat. Transfer home was also late, I don't like moaning about accommodation and have stayed in far far worse places however I am somewhat annoyed that I paid so much money for something so mediocre.

  • Stayed: August 2013
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2  Thank BMP81
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 14, 2013

We (family with two children aged 9 and 11) went to Mari Mari on a three day, two nights package. The island is beautiful and the water is crystal clear. The accommodation was one of the stilted sulaps, plenty of room for the four of us (we were given the opportunity to stay in the dorm next door but wanted the sulap). They are basic but clean and comfortable. The seating area on the ground floor is great, with a few chairs (you can get as many as you want), a table and a hamoc. We loved it! The food from the restaurant was also good and the service was nice and relaxed.

The boat ride to the island is just great fun! They provide life jackets and we felt perfectly safe.

We loved our visit and left completely relaxed and chilled out. We have seen other people complaining about the facilities and the lack of towels etc but the information you are given when booking spells that out very clearly and the clue is in the title "backpackers lodge"! We had the best of time and would recommend Mari Mari to anyone who is looking for peace and a good time at a rustic place!

  • Stayed: June 2013, traveled with family
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16  Thank SmilyBergen
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 22, 2013

First time going to KK and we decided to try out Mari Mari after reading the great reviews and we were not disappointed. The company is professional enough for a backpackers vibe and the dive instructors/crew were relaxed and friendly. They picked up in a convenient location in KK and drove us via van to a pier to board the 45 minute speed boat ride to Mantanani Island. I've read some negative reviews about the speed boat ride, but I personally found it extremely enjoyable and fun. Our driver went quite fast and we got quite wet and we enjoyed every minute of the wind in our hair and the magnificent views. The seats on the boat are not fancy or padded, so hold on tight and enjoy the ride!

Once we got to the island, we were mesmerized by the views. This place is remote, undeveloped and beautiful because of it. The water was crystal CLEAR, so much so that it seemed shallower than it was because you could see the bottom of the ocean. That said, there isn't much besides sand to see in the waters near the island, so don't bother snorkeling. But the ocean is pretty much a giant awesome swimming pool so if you are someone looking to sunbathe, swim, have a coconut and read a book, this is the PERFECT place for you.

It is in no way luxurious, but that's Mari Mari's charm--the chilled out local feel that brings you back to basics and reminds you of the simpler things in life. There is no electricity on the island during the day, so you must occupy yourself with other activities. We decided to swim and build a raft, but there are plenty of day-activities for you to choose from at an additional cost like diving and snorkeling.

We spent two nights in Mari Mari and got the best accommodation--a private "sulap" and it was perfect for a decent night's rest with a fan and a basic bed. The bathroom was private enough and the shower was connected to the toilet (that means the shower is not in a separate location from the toilet).

What sets Mari Mari apart is not the manicured lawns, giant swimming pools, decadent food, or high-thread count linens but rather a return to basics rustic retreat that reminds you that the best things in life, like time family and friends, don't have to cost a lot.

  • Stayed: April 2013, traveled with friends
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20  Thank iluvbunbi
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Mari Mari Mantanani Backpacker Lodge

Address: Kampong Mantanani, Pulau Mantanani Besar, Malaysia
Location: Malaysia > Sabah > Kota Belud District > Pulau Mantanani Besar
Hotel Style:
Ranked #3 of 3 Specialty Lodging in Pulau Mantanani Besar
Price Range: $59 - $159 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Number of rooms: 12
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Backpackers Lodge on Pulau Mantanani Besar Island in Sabah Borneo. We provide twin shared rooms with attached bathroom, twin shared rooms with common bathroom, and dormitory rooms. Hot water shower is available during island's regular electricity supply time (6.00pm to 6.00am).Our dive center - Mari Mari Dive Center is a PADI authorized dive resort. PADI scuba diving certifications are also available.Best for scuba diving, snorkeling or just lay back and relax the white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Mari Mari Mantanani Backpacker Hotel Pulau Mantanani Besar
Mari Mari Mantanani Backpacker Lodge Pulau Mantanani Besar, Sabah

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