Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

19.8: Kota Kinabalu -> Lahad Datu -> Semporna
20.8: Semporna -> Bohey Dulang island -> Semporna
21.8: Semporna -> Mataking -> Semporna
22.8: Semporna -> Pom Pom island -> Kuala Lumpur
23.8: Kuala Lumpur
24.7: Kuala Lumpur
25.8: KL -> Dubai
26.8: Dubai -> Munich

Overview and overall impression
In 2012 I spent a bit over a week in Malaysia, travelling to Sabah and spending a few days in KL before flying back to Munich via Dubai. Arriving from Jakarta I travelled via Kota Kinabalu to Semporna to explore a bit the area. This has been my third trip to Semporna, after a first one in 2000 and a second trip in 2008.
Since my last visit in 2008 the touristic infrastructure in Semporna has further developed with the addition of a number of hotels and restaurants.
Accomodation on the islands off Semporna remains limited to very expensive resorts on a few islands with the exception of the budget huts of Uncle Chang on Mabul.
This makes these islands (and there are plenty of islands off Semporna) still not suitable for backpackers or people unwilling to pay high prices for accomodation. In other words these islands are still not an alternative to Perhentian, Langawi, Koh Samui etc. Part of the problem is that many of these islands are very small and have no own water sources. The bigger islands, Bodgaya and Bohey Dulang, have a dearth of good beaches and are in a marine park. So for the moment, the only option for travellers who can't afford to stay in the expensive island resorts, is to stay in Semporna and do daytrips by boat to the islands.
Still it's possible that the tourist infrastructure will continue growing over the next years, because the area has a lot of potential.

At the time of writing spending a holiday in Semporna was moderately expensive or very expensive, depending on the location of the hotel. Staying in Semporna means a hotel cost starting from 80-100 RM for a double room + a daily expense of 100-120 RM for the boat trip to the islands. Staying on the islands means spending RM 1000+/day for accomodation in one of the resorts. Other expenses are in line with prices in Malaysia.
Taxis in Kota Kinabalu are expensive for Malaysian standards.

There are not too many restaurants in Semporna, and I visited during the Hari Raya period when the city was full of visitors. However after the first night I discovered a few new restaurants I wasn't aware of.
KL is full of restaurants of every type and budget.

In Semporna I stayed in the same place I stayed in 2008, the Sipadan Inn, which is not bad. There are however a few new hotels in Semporna, which probably are worth trying out.

Money  / Exchange rate (August 2012)
1 Euro = 3.85 RM
1 Euro = 1.25 USD
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. 

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
This time I used a Celcom SIM card for the smartphone (voice calls and Internet access). Celcom have a 900MHz network better suited for remote areas than 1800MHz networks such as the DiGi one for instance. Prices are quite low, with Internet flat rates going at RM5/day.

Internet access
I used the WLAN network in the hotel and the smartphone to access the Internet.

Sunny and a blue sky in the islands, less good weather in the cities (Semporna, KL). Overall however quite dry and not too hot.

Health / Vaccinations
The usual set of tropical vaccinations. I didn't refresh any immunisations for this trip.

VISA / Entry requirements
A visa on arrival allowing a three months stay is available for tourists of most western and developed countries. It is no longer necessary to fill out an arrivals form.

Overall Malaysia is a very safe place.

Recommended things
  • The islands off Semporna are great.

Things to avoid
  • Nothing

Getting around
I did daytrips by boat to the islands off Semporna and otherwise relied on a combination of taxis, shared taxis and flights to get around.

Copyright 2012 Alfred Molon