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.
- 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