Chilling at Manukan Island, Sabah Borneo

When we booked our Borneo adventure, my whole focus was on the chance to see orangutans and other exotic wildlife. I definitely was not thinking about idyllic islands, warm waters and white sand.

As it turned out, dropping into a tropical oasis was the perfect introduction to Sabah and a very good way to shake off some jetlag staleness.

Grab your towel and hold onto your hat, we are off to Manukan Island.

Bang on time our bus collected us from our Kota Kinabalu hotel for the short trip to the jetty and waiting ferries. Kota Kinabalu has the feel of a big country town with a wave of slightly crazy commuter traffic during peak hour.

It was only a short 15-minute drive to the Serah jetty and we excitedly tumbled off the bus to be fitted with our life jackets, snorkels and goggles. I for one was excited, but also a bit groggy from an ordinary overnight flight and the time difference. A boat ride was just the thing to blow the cobwebs out.

It was a joy to be out on the water, skimming across the waves. The views of both the blue-green water and the many small islands really set the scene, and were the perfect distraction from any jetlag hangovers. We kicked straight into holiday mode. At this stage of the tour, our fellow travellers were still unknown and slightly stand-offish, but that didn’t stop our boat drivers turning the trip across to the island into a race. We bounced across the choppy waves and the inevitable sea spray soon rinsed away any frostiness.

The jetty at Manukan Island

Manukan Island is part of Sabah National Parks. There is an entry fee to visit the island (around AUD$10 per person for international visitors) and, like the boat ride and snorkels etc, this was included in our tour package.

Manukan Island is a very popular destination for both Malaysian and International tourists. It seemed that like many other travellers, it was included as part of our Borneo holiday package and I had little-to-no expectation of what it would be like. In fact, I had few expectations of what the whole tour would be like as normally we are fiercely independent travellers, setting our own agenda, sights and schedule.

What a revelation it turned out to be. It appears that when you are on a fully-inclusive tour, you get to turn your brain off and simply sit back to enjoy the ride.  No worries, no organising, no plotting and planning. Who knew??

But, back to Paradise…

Pulling up at Manukan Island’s jetty, it was a picture postcard of your typical tropical island dream. A single jetty stretched out into the aquamarine water and hundreds of brightly coloured fish swam around the pier to greet us. The snorkelling here was going to be great!

After a quick briefing and the inevitable spiel from a super salesman doing his best to entice us with parasailing, banana-boat rides and underwater walks, we all went our separate ways depending on our water sport interests. For me it was snorkel on, goggles on and straight into the water to say hello to all those glorious fish.

Except, there were no fish. No coral. No nothing! It turns out we were ‘fenced’ into a confined area and that was the only place we were allowed to swim and snorkel. But what about all the brightly coloured fish at the jetty? Can’t we snorkel there? Nope, the closest we were allowed to the jetty was about five metres away and only a handful of curious, or bored fish, deigned to swim out from their protected zone to say hello.

What I did see a lot of was plastic pollution floating serenely in the water – picture plastic bags billowing along like jellyfish. So, I made it my mission to swim about and collect as many of the plastic bags, chip packets and lolly wrappers as I could find. It was disappointing to see such a beautiful area treated like a garbage bin and people just didn’t seem to care. Even as I picked up rubbish, I saw other people dropping it on the sand.

The island was heaving with visitors and, although we were traveling in ‘shoulder season’, apparently our visit coincided with national school holidays. It was great to see so many people out and about enjoying themselves, but not to watch them throw their rubbish on the ground and simply walk away. How sad for the environment? It was good food for thought about cultural differences and community priorities.

Despite my concerns, the water was gloriously warm and it felt good to be out in the sunshine. Eventually our bedraggled and water-wrinkled group reconvened at the island’s restaurant for what would be the first of many, many delicious buffets. Yes, I should have done a lot more swimming.

Our Borneo tour had started with a splash!

Do you have a favourite snorkelling spot?

Water views at Manukan Island, Sabah
Looking over to the neighbouring island

The Basics

What: It is possible to stay on the island in what looks like very comfortable villa-type units. They start from AUD$270 per night. Some deals include ferry transfer from the mainland.

Where: Manukan Island is only tiny – approximately 1.5km long and 300m wide. It can be found 3km West of Kota Kinabalu.

When: This place is busy! Get there as early as possible to reserve your spot on the beach and potentially a picnic table and bench. You will need to defend your territory though as some people seem to think what’s yours is theirs. We visited in early March 2023.

Why: Sun, sand and swimming. Maybe head out to one of the quieter islands for more successful snorkelling.

How: As far as I know, you can only get to the island by ferry or private boat.

Who: Even if you are not a swimmer or snorkeller, it is a pleasant place to sit in the shade and enjoy the views.

Related Posts: Another enjoyable island experience, albeit on a much larger scale, can be found in Hawaii.

Related Blogs: This Malaysian blog gives a very comprehensive round up of the highlights of Manukan Island and they got to see a lot more fish!

Read About it: For an historical insight into life in Sabah and Sandakan pre-, during and post WWII, grab a copy of one of Agnes Newton Keith’s trilogy. Available from Fishpond.

#sabah #manukanisland #travelinspo #nationalparks #vitaminsea #beachlife #sunandsand #snorkelling #Borneo #watersports

25 thoughts on “Chilling at Manukan Island, Sabah Borneo

  1. Really a great tropical destination based on your photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would have been lovely if there were more fish and coral to look at, but it was the perfect way to relax into a holiday. Have a good day. Mel

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Have a great day as well!❤️

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks like a fabulous place to visit minus the garbage issue. It is a real problem in the east, where the ocean is treated like a garbage dump. Thanks for sharing Mel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it is a worldwide problem – our seas know no boundaries and we all need to do our bit if we can. Thanks for following the adventure. Mel

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Seems like a strange way to look after paradise

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. But maybe it is all a matter of priorities and we Westerners may have different ones at this point.


  4. Oh, it’s so sad that people pollute such a beautiful place. You have so many great photos here … it feels like I’m hanging out on the island with you right now (but alas, I’m still sitting on my chair and my feet aren’t water-wrinkled).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the lovely feedback. At least you won’t get sunburnt sitting on your chair! 🙂


  5. Beautiful sun, sand, and water photos! Thank-you for having such a kind heart and picking up trash ,even as others seemed not to notice your example.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I read somewhere that if we all picked up 5 pieces of rubbish a day, it would make a huge difference. Not sure I made much of impact, but it all starts somewhere. Have a good day. Mel

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sad to see the environment being treated like that. Education and environmental awareness should be instilled not just to locals but to everyone. But at least the water was warm and inviting.

    If you haven’t been, visit Palawan in the Philippines.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess it is all a matter of timing i.e. when the population is ready for the message and ready to do something about it. That’s not for me to judge. Thanks for the tip about Palawan. I have seen some blog posts about that place and it looks stunning! Mel

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I was surprised when you said snorkeling because we didn’t snorkel on Manukan and thought we missed out, but reading on we missed nothing. Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d like to think that there was better snorkeling out at the smaller and quieter islands, but maybe I am kidding myself. 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We went diving off Sipadan on the other side of Borneo and it was amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yep, that sounds like a MUCH better option. I couldn’t quite believe how warm the water was.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Well that’s exciting! What made you decide to do a tour this time (tours definitely have their pros and their cons)? That’s upsetting about the garbage and lack of concern for the environment, especially given the gorgeous and otherwise pristine surroundings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We sort of ‘had’ to do a tour ! 😊 We had a largish credit with a tour company (a hangover from our Covid-cancelled Everest Base Camp trip back in 2020) and we had to use it or lose it. Yep, a nice problem to have.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. You don’t need more problems. You already have some amazing adventures penned into the forward planner! ✈🌏✈

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Gorgeous blues in sky and water. It’s interesting when ‘paradise’ reveals its kinks. Good on you for doing your bit to restore it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for following this very tame adventure (by your standards) !😆

      Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s pitiful that humans won’t stop producing plastics. We’re a self-destructive species.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, and we are highly efficient at it too! More’s the pity.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close