Let me begin with the positive feedback:
Sipaden Water Village (SWV) is a well run, clean, picturesque dive resort. The food is good, the staff are polite and friendly, and the dive operation is well organized. The dive guides are definitely qualified at what they do and have no problem finding even the most obscure macro-life. On our first day of diving we had the opportunity to do three dives at Sipaden Island. The dives were great, especially our first dive at Barracude Point. This dive was phenomenal!! (To give a reference point of our diving experience, we have dove Fiji, the Galapagos, Palau, Papua New Guinea, all around Indonesia, Yap, Belize, California and Florida waters, etc.) We started the dive dropping down to approximately 35 feet where we were surrounded by a school of jacks being pursued by giant trevally, blue fin trevally, and white-tip reef sharks. This mob of fish life was only the beginning of this dive! We soon saw many hawksbill and green turtles, many more white-tip reef sharks, and all of the usually Indo-Pacific suspects, and all in great numbers. About half way through the dive my wife grabbed my attention and pointed out a "dark cloud" in the distance coming towards us. We soon saw a massive school of the resident bumphead parrot fish coming our way. The school must have had no less than 100 bumphead parrot fish, perhaps even more. It was an incredible site and experience being in the middle of this school of 3-foot-plus parrot fish veering off to our right and left as they moved across the reef. We rank this dive as probably one of our all time best diving experiences. Fortunately for us this incredible dive was documented by Andi of ScubaZoo, the SWV videographer who is highly talented along with being a very nice and knowledgeable individual. The other dives of the day at Sipaden were good, including the dive at South Point (Barracuda Point and South Point seem to have all the action!).
OK, now for the not-so-positive feedback:
There are 12+ dive operations functioning around the island of Mabul. The Malaysian government only allows 120 divers per day to dive Sipaden Island, so if you do the math, that means only 10 divers from each dive operation can dive at Sipaden each day. SWV being a beautiful resort was completely booked, thus in seven days of diving, we only made it to Sipaden Island two times for a total of 6 dives. This in itself is not completely the issue because we understand that in order to preserve the fantastic diving we witnessed at Sipaden, there needs to be some restrictions otherwise it will no longer be as fantastic. We were not aware of this, though, prior to coming to SWV (almost all the local resorts have Sipaden in there names even though they are not based on Sipaden and also have limitations to how many divers can dive at Sipaden per day). BUT, the remaining dive sites around Mabul are a VERY FAR STRETCH from Siapaden diving. There are limited dive sites within a reasonable boat ride to Mabul and SWV, and these dives sites are mediocre at best. I will admit that I saw my first flamboyant cuttlefish, but this being said, the reefs are obviously worn down by being over dived and over fished. The visibility on many of these other dive sites was some of the worst I have ever experienced, making WA photography quite difficult. It was very common to pass by multiple other dive groups on these sites and to re-dive many of these sites because the sites worth diving are limited. You will see the usual Indo-Pacific macro life but this being said, the viz was awful, the overall coral sea-scape equally as unimpressive. On a positive note, of the two SWV house reefs, Paradise 2 is definitely a very good dive for macro. We ended up diving Paradise 2 at least eight times, choosing to pass on many of the local boat dives. Even thought the viz was poor on Paradise 2, the hard and soft corals are in good shape and we saw everything from giant green turtles, to cuttlefish, to a school of jacks, and even a blue-ring octopus!
Would I return to Sipaden?
No. (unless via liveaboard and there were only about 10 divers on the liveaboard.) To travel half-way around the world to Sipaden Island and to mostly dive at poor-viz, mediocre dive sites is definitely not something I will repeat. BUT, if you want a very nice resort, only want to dive a couple of days, or are on vacation with your family, SWV is definitely the place to visit. I would not recommend it to well traveled and seasoned divers, or those divers who have thoroughly been around the Indo-Pacific.
Edited by AMW, 02 January 2009 - 09:26 PM.