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“Tropical paradise with fantastic diving”

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Lankayan Island Dive Resort
Ranked #1 of 32 Hotels in Sandakan
Certificate of Excellence
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Level 4 Contributor
38 reviews
22 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 51 helpful votes
“Tropical paradise with fantastic diving”
Reviewed August 28, 2010

I booked Lankayan as we wanted somewhere that offered diving for two of us and a good non-diving resort for the other two. But then every time I mentioned we were going diving in Borneo I was asked if it was Sipadan – and then told how good the diving was there. By the time we got to Lankayan, I was starting to get worried we’d got second best.
From the moment we set foot on Lankayan Island, I knew we had no worries. The island is absolutely fantastic. Very small – walk around it in 15 minutes – with around 25 chalets, staff accommodation, a small army outpost (but they’re very friendly soldiers!), and the marine conservation team.
We were in villa 22, which is (I think) the only family chalet. Two storeys, with a double bed upstairs and en-suite, and twin beds and en-suite downstairs. Balconies for both and a hammock outside on the ground floor. The only complaint about the rooms would be that the chairs on the balconies need some decent cushions – you can’t really spread out in them and relax.
The central restaurant area is good. A good choice of buffet for all meals. We were there eight nights and you start to see the same dishes but to be honest, they were so good we didn’t think it was a problem. You can get beer and wine as extra (RM 100 to 150 for the wine; beer was I think RM10 a can).
There is a TV room (good for the World Cup final) and a shop with various merchandise. There is Wifi in this main lodge as well as a couple of PCs that you can get online with – but you have to pay. It’s much cheaper to use the wifi and your own computer. No phone signal but you can buy cards for the satellite phone which were reasonable.
The staff everywhere are great – really friendly and nothing seems too much trouble.
On to the diving. I’m not massively experienced (around 50 dives before I came, in five or six places) but this dive centre is the best I’ve seen. It’s designed really well, kit seems good (we’d read that it was limited so I took everything – but then it seemed like the hire stuff looked fine) and the staff are very good. You do nothing but climb on and off the boat – very easy.
Every dive site is within a maximum of 10 minutes boat ride away. All the guide books (and the guides) say it is mainly macro diving and it is (great nudibranchs etc) but we also saw five species of shark and quite a few turtles (including the biggest hawksbill turtle I’ve ever seen). South Rock was the best site for us for sharks and turtles. During the week we did 18 dives and I can honestly say we enjoyed each one.
We tried the sunset dive, to look for the Mandarin Fish mating but no luck. But it was fun anyway.
Back to the island. We saw two turtle releases – and my sons and I got to release a bowl of baby turtles, which was absolutely magical. We didn’t see a turtle laying eggs but you can’t have everything.
Other highlights: My boys (11 and 9) loved jumping and diving off the helipad. My wife loved the snorkelling – loads to see. And I particularly liked the banana fritters every afternoon with my cup of tea!!
I’d really recommend Lankayan to anyone. If you’re diving it is great – fantastic facilities and some great dives. And it seems like a lot of non-divers visit which I can understand as it’s a great resort in itself.

  • Stayed July 2010, traveled with family
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1 Thank eggiesabroad
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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London
Level 4 Contributor
23 reviews
18 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 28 helpful votes
Reviewed August 22, 2010

There really are not enough superlatives to describe Lankayan Island, this may not be to everyone’s taste but if you seek a crystal clear turquoise (almost fluorescent) warm sea, a deep blue sky, white powder sand, wonderful sincere staff seemingly happy to offer outstanding service, great food, fine accommodation, miles from the madness of the world, with nothing more to do than swim, snorkel, chill and watch baby turtles hatch (do not miss that) …then Lankayan is for you. My wife and I are not “proper” divers, we love to snorkel and this is a great place to do just that, lots of lovely things to see, within a few feet of the beach and your accommodation, and however long you stayed in the water, you never got that starting to “cool off” feeling. From the moment that you arrive at the Island (following a 90 minutes speedboat ride – great fun) , the warm greeting from the staff, you realize that you have found somewhere very special. They say that it takes around 15 minutes to walk around the Island, took us a lot longer as we had to constantly stop just to take in the beauty of Lankayan. You’ve never seen a sunset until you have seen a Lankayan sunset, you’ve never seen a starry sky until you lay out on the beach at night and gaze up at the sky above. We went for two nights, next time we’ll go for four. Food was just fine, great breakfasts, good lunch and dinner buffets. The centrally located restaurant where you eat your meals is spotlessly clean (bare feet only !!!). Watch out for the fruit bats at night, they make things interesting when you are swinging in your hammock!! The rooms have limited aircon but we slept with the windows open as they have insect screens and the beds have around them mozzi nets so we had a great cooling breeze throughout the night with no issues from insect bites. Everybody we spoke to only had great things to say. I have one fear.......at the moment there is no mobile phone signal, but within the next few weeks that is to change.......it would be such a huge pity if the tranquility were spoilt by ringtones or the click of people writing emails on their Blackberry's, i need to keep in contact...but there is a time and a place, this is certainly not the place.....so please...devices on silent.!!!
We cannot wait to return. Lankayan - a place of complete bliss and delight and peace.

  • Stayed August 2010, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
Thank Andy8600
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Basel, Switzerland
Level 6 Contributor
127 reviews
68 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 128 helpful votes
Reviewed July 27, 2010

We absolutely adored and loved this place. Would go back tomorrow if possible. We loved it. Everything about it! A word to the wise however as the title says if you don't like the water or to snorkel or dive or kayak THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO DO except chill out and watch the cute baby turtles and the big mummy turtles lay eggs. There isn't a spa, or a restaurant (buffet everyday) or anything at all to do on the island. No swimming pool or anything else...That's my idea of heaven but it may not be yours.

As Arnie says i will be back...

  • Stayed July 2010, traveled with family
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Helpful?
Thank rackiec
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Melbourne, Australia
Level 6 Contributor
213 reviews
146 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 173 helpful votes
Reviewed July 16, 2010

My partner and I stayed at Lankayan for 4 nights, booked with Dive DownBelow along with Sepilok and Kapalai. For us, Lankayan was our favorite. From the moment you arrive, you feel special and at home. The staff are very helpful and friendly with nothing too much trouble. The meals area is spacious with lots of tables inside and out. All meals were served buffet style with delicious food. As I’m vegetarian, they made some special curries for me to have in addition to the veggies in the buffet. Drinks weren’t too expensive either.
Our chalet was something out of a dream – hammock hanging from two trees right out the front, with sun loungers and big balcony to admire the crystal clear water and beach. The bathroom was huge with the shower over the bath. Not sure why but there was no screen or curtain so water does tend to splash out all over the floor but that was no problem. Bed was hard but OK with mosquito curtains. They also supplied mozzie coils – which are much needed. For those that need it, there is also an air conditioner, but we found it cool enough by leaving the windows open and letting the sea breeze through.
We snorkeled straight off the beach in front of our chalet and there’s plenty of colourful fish, but the coral is just rubble. You can swim and snorkel around the whole island if you want (we sort of did and bumped into a couple of black tip reef sharks near the end of the island…) There was some small jelly fish in the water which I think depended on the tide as we didn’t seem to have them every time we swam. They sting for a minute but are harmless. We also saw turtles hatching and being released – such a wonderful sight. In the water, we also swam with turtles as well as a herd of giant bumphead parrot fish. Not to mention those black tip sharks…
At night after dinner, we would head of to the dive centre to watch the fish off the jetty hunting. The large trevally and sharks all tend to hunt when it’s dark and we really enjoyed it. Turtles also swam right under the jetty. With the sea breeze and a beer, it was perfect way to end the day.
I never believed in heaven until I went to Lankayan. We’ll be going back one day for sure!

  • Stayed July 2010, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
1 Thank KGB_4
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Adelaide
Level 2 Contributor
5 reviews
5 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
Reviewed June 25, 2010

Was in total awe from the moment I stepped off the boat. Granted I am not quite used to this kind of luxury, but I thought it was completely magical! The cabins are beautiful, we had one with a separate bedroom (4 poster bed), plus 2 single beds in the common area, great bathroom too. A fridge is also in the room, so feel free to bring the beverage of your choice (we bought a slab of beer with no issues from the staff). Breath taking beach in front of the cabin, equipped with sunloungers and hammock. Loved the snorkelling. The staff were super friendly (and great singers!), lots of fun and very informative, esp about the turtle rehabilitation programs on the island. Food just got better by each meal, everytime something innovative and different. Wish I stayed longer. 3 nights not enough. Would love to go back.

  • Stayed July 2009, traveled with friends
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Helpful?
1 Thank kbm79
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
London
Level 5 Contributor
38 reviews
33 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 144 helpful votes
Reviewed June 17, 2010

Ah, Lankayan. We stayed here for five nights and wow, what a fabulous experience. After a bracing, scenic 80-minute speedboat ride, you arrive at a lush and lovely green speck in the middle of the Sulu Sea. You can literally walk around the island in twenty minutes—and that includes posing for a picture with the heavily-armed military police. Anyway, after docking at the sturdy, well-designed pier, you’re hustled off to the restaurant for a glass of watered-down Ribena (?), the signing of liability forms and a surprisingly martial “island rules” lecture by a humorless Napoleonic divemaster. This was greatly amusing.

“There are three activities on Lankayan: snorkeling, kayaking and walking on the beach—and walking on the beach is forbidden after seven!”

After being so berated for crimes not yet committed we were led to a detached beachside chalet which exceeded expectations. Airy, tastefully decorated, powerful ceiling fan, air-conditioning, excellent bath with two— count them— shower nozzles, good water pressure, equipment drying area, mini fridge capable of making ice (!), in-room safe, plenty of storage, mirrors, tables, chairs, wefty towels, kettle for tea and coffee—the works. Outside was even better with a shady porch fronting a floury, white-sand beach, sun-loungers, cozy nap-able hammock, foot-rinse bucket and a clothesline. Some of the other chalets were even closer to the water than ours but we preferred the privacy of being slightly tucked amongst the trees. On a side note, two computers are available for rent by the hour and free wi-fi is available around the lobby. The small store sells basics like t-shirts, aloe vera, sunscreen, books and ice-cream. Laundry service is available by request but not listed.

The food is served buffet-style (which we were getting a bit tired of by this stage of the trip) but it was overall very tasty and nourishing even for my wife the increasingly put-upon vegetarian. Breakfast was a choice of wonderful fruit, toast, pre-made croissants and pastry, fried noodles, beef bacon or sausages (no pork) potent coffee, watery ribena or tang in place of juice (insert frowny-face emoticon here), make-your-own waffles and an eggs-to-order station. Lunch and dinners offered a range of different vegetables (please, God, no more choi), inventive salads, fresh fruit, rice or noodles and at least three different types of meat dishes. The chicken was generally excellent as was the prawn, calamari and beef offerings though strangely the fish was often overcooked and/or dry. To clear the air on beverages: each chalet has a small fridge which you can stock yourself by purchasing drinks at the restaurant. Those on offer during our stay included Coke, Sprite, carbonated rainbow horrors, bizzaro mango and papaya juice-drinks (now with jellied chunks!) Guinness, Tiger, Carlsberg, Heineken, several different red wines and a selection of any white you like as long as it’s Chardonnay. Be forewarned, the staff will not sell you booze if you’re about to dive (and I’m not sure they will allow you to take it to your room either). Happily, both my wife and I are *merely* snorkelers, plus we smuggled in a bottle of duty-free vodka which we combined into cocktails with the aforementioned soft drinks to mixed success. Luckily, Napoleon the Dive Commander never found us out—though he did kick us off the pier one night for walking after seven (to protect the nesting turtles, he advised us, before continuing up the beach with his friend).

Can’t speak for the diving but the snorkeling was uniquely wonderful. Half the reefs have been depressingly dynamite-fished to rubble but the other half are absolutely teeming. Heck, just under the pier we found nudibranchs, lionfish, juvenile batfish, giant trevally, huge barracuda, immense schools of snapper and monos and a leopard moray to name a few. Further out, fish that are rare or absent in other Indo-Pacific locations are oddly abundant in these waters while the usual suspects are absent. The visibility ranged from excellent to terrible while we were here but conditions notwithstanding it seemed like every half hour or so something amazing would pop up out of the blue. It’s not a great place for beginners, however, as you really have to kick a ways off-shore to get to the good stuff. However, once we’d made the effort we saw literally dozens of green and hawksbill turtles, grey, white-tip and black-tip reef sharks, schools of humphead parrotfish (one of them simply enormous), Napoleon wrasse, various rays and schools of batfish—all of these up close. Though the water is very warm here beware the jellyfish— and the parts of jellyfish—drifting around as sometimes it can feel like you’re getting a mild electric shock every few seconds on your exposed flesh. A rash guard (or t-shirt) is a must here and my wife even resorted to snorkeling in tights to avoid repeated stings and sunburn.

Unfortunately the dive center is not very helpful to (or interested in) snorkelers and will only take you out to two locations by boat, neither of which is any better than places you can swim to from shore. We took one brief and incompetently-guided trip with them and no more. FYI, while we were there they didn’t even have fins available to rent to snorkelers so, you know, bring your own equipment for best results. We also rented a kayak for a couple of hours, tied the paddles and boat together and snorkeled the far edges of the reef but this was, again, no more rewarding than our usual two/three hour kick from shore.

On the whale shark tip, I repeatedly, politely and humorously asked the dive staff whether they could take us out to look for them but it was only until I talked to the extremely knowledgeable and friendly turtle conservation manager that I was able to find out that we had just as much chance of encountering these harmless, migratory behemoths near Lankayan than at other more remote locations. That, and if they WERE encountered by a dive boat, word would go out by radio and we’d all be offered a chance to swim with them. Whale sharks historically turn up here in May but last year they arrived in March, the year before in June and this year not at all. Good luck and go figure.

During our five nights we were also fortunate enough to witness the hatching and release of four different turtle nests (there are currently a hundred and nine nests on watch which hatch out all the time, though not on any predictable schedule). Despite the fact these adorable hatchlings have a less than one percent chance of reaching sexual maturity, it’s still quite heart-warming to watch them go and if it strikes your fancy you can even chuck on your gear and swim them out to sea. For us, the hatchings occurred at sunset, late at night, in the early morning and after breakfast and while efforts were made to ensure that everyone who hung a “turtle release” tag outside their door got to witness each event, after a few minutes confined to buckets the little guys get tired and the conservation staff release them whether you’ve got your act together or not. Camerawise, you can really damage the turtle’s eyes and navigation abilities by using your flash but some (door)knobhead always does it by mistake which is a shame. My wife and I placed bets as to who it would be and each time she came up trumps—what can I say, she’s a people person. Still, the conservation staff here do much needed work not only for the endangered turtles but also by monitoring (and policing) the surrounding waters for illegal fishing.

The only real downsides at Lankayan was the food getting a bit repetitive—no more choi!— and, most importantly, the fact they never changed our sheets in five nights. I realize the importance of saving water on an island but toward the end I would wake up itching all over, both from the mossies and the mildewed bedding. That and I would have liked some fresh juice and at least the opportunity to take a boat to snorkel somewhere else.

All in all we had an excellent time here with many magical wildlife encounters. Aside from a few brusque members of the dive team, the staff were exceedingly helpful and friendly especially at the front desk. Special mention must also go to Vanessa who not only organized my internet booking with efficiency (and answered my many ridiculous questions) but also gave me her mobile number in case we encountered any trouble. A wonderful, unique experience and one we would not hesitate to repeat should we find ourselves in this part of the world again.

  • Stayed June 2010, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
5 Thank octopusmessiah
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
UK
Level 3 Contributor
11 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 7 helpful votes
Reviewed June 11, 2010

Spent 5 nights here as part of a 3 week trip round Sabah. Wonderful place to relax after a couple of hectic weeks in the rainforest.Don't think we had one of the best chalets, but it hit the spot. Amazing to open the back door and step out onto the beach! Plenty of space and good size room and bathroom. Surprised there was no facilty to hang clothes up - but we managed to hang then over the 'screen' in front of the patio door!
We don't dive, so the days were spent relaxing and playing in the water. The tide was variable when we were there and the water would be 'in' for the morning and then after lunch would go out a very long way - recommend that you invest in some rubber type beach shoes to protect your feet from the coral etc.
The food was OK, typical buffet food and not always as hot as you may like. Bar only really offers beer, wine and soft drinks. There is a fridge in the room and if you like anyhting else, it's probably worth taking drink with you! There are still no cushions on the sun loungers. although some progress seems to be happening.Two sunbeds in front of one lodge appeared to have cushions and they said that they are looking to have them everywhere in the next couple of months.
Overall this was a good break, but with a little more effort it could be so much better and possibly rival the Maldives!

  • Stayed May 2010, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
1 Thank Fluffybadger
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Lankayan Island Dive Resort

Property: Lankayan Island Dive Resort
Address: Lankayan Island, Sandakan, Malaysia
Location: Malaysia > Sabah > Sandakan Division > Sandakan
Amenities:
Beach Restaurant
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 32 Hotels in Sandakan
Hotel Class:3.5 star — Lankayan Island Dive Resort 3.5*
Number of rooms: 23
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
A jewel like tiny island in the Sulu Sea, an hour and a half boat rides north of Sandakan; Lankayan has been declared part of an immense Marine Protected Area to adopt the eco-tourism concept. Unpopulated and covered by thick tropical island vegetation on its topside, this peaceful, untouched little bit of paradise is ringed by an endless pure of white sandy beach, offering simply elegant and exquisite accommodation. ... more   less 
Also Known As:
Lankayan Island Dive Hotel Sandakan
Lankayan Island Dive Sandakan
Lankayan Island Dive Resort Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

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