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20 Jul 2010

Pulau Sapi Island in Sabah

Pulau Sapi Island in Sabah, one of the five islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and is just a 15 minute boat ride from the city of Kota Kinabalu. This is one of the most beautiful islands around here and is smaller than Pulau Manukan but the crowd here is much less compared to the neighboring islands. If you are planning on visiting any of these islands while in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, I would easily recommend Pulau Sapi anytime. 

Pulau Sapi from a distance

Pulau Sapi is easily accessible from Kota Kinabalu via two places. One would be taking the hourly ferry from Jesselton Pier while the other way getting to Sapi Island is from Sutera Harbor. Both offer about the same time to the island while Jesselton may be a little cheaper. You can simply do a half day trip and be back in KK after lunch. This is the most popular island package tour operators are offering.

Crystal clear waters at Sapi Island

On arrival here, you will be amazed by the clarity and colour of the waters surrounding the island and once  you get on the jetty, you will be mesmerized at the natural beauty surrounding this place. Seriously, I could not stop clicking away with my Nikon D60.

As each of the islands around the TAR Park are maintained by Sabah Parks, you need to pay the island entrance fees of RM3 for Malaysians and RM10 for non-Malaysians at the counter which is a very minimal fee if you ask me. Just for the record, Sapi means Cow in the Malay language, reason for this is that the shape of the island is like the head of a cow which was given by the Bajau people in the old days. 

Fish food is sold in recycled mineral water bottles for you to feed when you go snorkeling. Some of the coral fishes are so bold, one need not get into the water while you can just throw the food from the beach and they will come in droves. Remember to practice responsible tourism and dispose of the bottle in a proper way.

General signs informing the visitors

While the entire island is about 25 acres in size, the general ares in situated just as you walk in. There are tables with umbrellas all around and this are booked by the respective tour companies. Usually when you book your package here, you will be directed to your area as lunch has been allocated with your island package.

The waters here are so clear, it's unbelievable that the main land is just fifteen minutes away. Many regulars tend to choose Pulau Sapi over Manukan due to the larger crowds there while first timers would most likely land in Manukan. So, with this you now know where to go if you want clearer waters and less crowds. But weekends are no guarantee as it is indeed a very popular place.

A recycling station on the beach

What I liked when I walk in was seeing the local recycle station using old oil drums with large wordings for the individual trash. To my surprise, almost everyone here used it correctly so please participate in recycling when you are here on Sapi Island. You will also be helping the new Tourism Malaysia campaign 1Malaysia Green and Clean.

Sea walking at Sapi Island

As for activities here, there is the Scuba-Doo mini submarine experience for you to try. Something only Sapi and Manukan has where you ride this little motorbike-style-submarine to do a sea walk.

Pristine beaches at Sapi Island

The general snorkeling at Sapi Island is one you have to try. The waters are really clear and there are lots of coral fishes ranging from little ones to large ones. A floating barrier protects the surrounding are where you are not to venture out from there. Personally, I got me some fish food and did my rounds of snorkeling here and the schools of fish were following me where ever I swam.

Student divers practicing in the shallow waters

For scuba diving at Sapi Island, there are dive shops that offer packages for dive lessons and actual dives. There are four dive spots at Pulau Sapi which is located on the North-Western part of the island. At the main beach near the jetty, dive training and lessons are conducted in a confined area. The waters here are clear, shallow and easy to manage for beginners. It is best that you ask your tour operator for the dive contacts to learn or dive here.

Apart from the general activities at Pulau Sapi, you can always pretend to be a super model as in the picture above. All you need is a towel, camera and guts the size of the island. Well, why not when the water and sand is beautiful.

Special attraction at Sapi Island

Inland, a unique attraction only available on Sapi Island awaits to be discovered by you. If you walk towards the left section as you enter the island, you may encounter really large lizards that look like the Komodo Dragons but they are not. These lizards are known as Biawaks or Monitor Lizards that grow up to about six feet in length. If you are lucky, your guide will inform you about this and show it to you.

On occasion, these monitor lizards may venture close to the tables because of the food. I would advise that you do not try to pat them to let your kids near them. Though they look harmless and slow, they can be a little dangerous in defending themselves. Usually the island staff would chase them back to the greens when they venture too far out.The main reason for them to appear is that the staff cook the barbecues by the edge of the forest attracting this reptiles.

A local staff toys with a monitor lizard

Again, take pictures but don't try to pose with them. Their saliva is filled with bacteria while their claws can rip a nasty gash on you. Best option is to keep a 5 feet distance from these prehistoric looking reptiles. Another thing to look out for are the local monkeys or macaques which make the island their home. These monkeys have a tendency to cart away belongings of guests here. so if you are sitting closer to the jungle, I would highly advise to keep an eye on your belongings.

Sapi Island is mostly shaded naturally so you need not worry much about the blistering direct sun unless you head out to the beach. Your lunch meals are taken under the shade usually buffet style. Remember when you book the packages from the operators, they will include the meals unless specified.

Lunch at Sapi Island

As I was with my guide Grace, we had a buffet seafood lunch package ready for us. Barbecued seafood which included prawns, fish and squid was the main while local fried rice and noodles with sausages was also served For dessert, cut sliced local fruits and for drinks, there was a container of cordial juice. Bottled water was also given to each of us. A decent meal if you ask me so do not expect five star service here.

Sapi Island is truly one of Sabah's little gem as I have never seen clarity and beauty in one island which is so close to the city. One of the fun things to do at Pulau Sapi is to wait for the tide to go down so you can actually walk across to Pulau Gaya and back through the connecting sandbar. Do not attempt this alone and best to do it with someone.

Map of Sapi Island

For those who like camping, you are allowed to do so here but only with the permission of the Park Warden. please inquire about this with your tour agent or company before hand. I have seen some groups camp out here with bonfires. Toilets are provided while a local restaurant/cafe is available.

I have to mention this - Though many types of other motorised activities are offered at  Pulau Sapi and the surrounding islands, I would strongly recommend you do not participate in them as motorised sports are non-environmentally friendly and dangerous. But the choice is entirely up to you.

If you are the adventurous type with a little more to spend, book an entire boat that takes you to all the islands here. The experience would be well worth while. I did it once and it was amazing. 

What to bring to Pulau Sapi;
Poncho, sun block, umbrella, snacks, mosquito repellent

Where to get boat tickets to Pulau Sapi;
Jesselton Pier or Sutera Harbor. Both are in Kota Kinabalu city

Travel agents for Pulau Sapi;
At the places above or from any travel agent in town

Boat tickets to Sapi Island and the other islands at TAR Park

Island *Fare per pax/boat
Adult (return) Children (return)
Manukan Island RM23 RM18
Mamutik Island RM23 RM18
Sapi Island RM23 RM18
Sulug Island RM25 RM18
Two island hops RM33 RM28
Three island hops RM43 RM38
Four island hops RM53 RM48
Boat charter for one island RM204
Boat charter for Malahom Bay RM204
Boat charter for Police beach RM204

Read about my other island experiences around Malaysia;
Malaysia Islands
Pulau Manukan Island Sabah Borneo

More information on Pulau Sapi Island;

Sapi Island on Wikipedia
Sabah Tourism 

For those who are short on time while visiting Kota Kinabalu, I would recommend you try taking a day trip to the islands just outside of Kota Kinabalu, namely Pulau Sapi Island in Sabah. 
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MsXeRoZ Nicole said... 20 July 2010 at 18:35

When i went there last June, i was speechless and stunned. I didnt know that there's such a beautiful place in Malaysia itself =)

Laura said... 20 July 2010 at 19:27

Those waters are so clean and calm... Unbelievable! So there still are pieces of Heaven on Earth :)

thomas said... 20 July 2010 at 19:58

The monitor lizards are behaving like their big brother komodo dragon from the Indonesian komodo island.

adriansabah said... 20 July 2010 at 21:30

Sabah has many beautiful islands, and a visit is not complete unless you have been to one of them. Sapi island is a good choice, clear waters and less buildings.

Lilian said... 20 July 2010 at 22:49

Pulau Sapi is a wonder. The fish are really not scared of us.....

DRAF CENTRE said... 20 July 2010 at 23:12

link exchange...

CUMI & CIKI said... 21 July 2010 at 10:37

really cool post. i love the pristine white.. also the monitor lizards.. tho i doubt i would have the guts to go near one! LOL

David Jr said... 21 July 2010 at 10:45

Nicole, Laura, Lilian & Adrian, I'm always surprised when I go back there. Last June was my 6th trip here and I'm still fascinated.

Thomas, that's what a lot of people think they are due to the size of them.... scary.

Ciki, thanks :) Makes you just want jump in over and over. Strange that the kids I saw there keep wanting to 'play' with the monitor lizards lol.


Anonymous said... 21 July 2010 at 16:03

hi david, in your opinion for a first timer to KK with my 3 year old child, would u recommend to go to Sapi or Manukan island for snorkelling?

David Jr said... 21 July 2010 at 20:12

Anon, it should be pretty decent as the infrastructure is quite good. Just getting off and on the boat at the jetty. If you can manage that, everything else is fine. Just to note that I have seen couples with babies there too.


Cath J said... 22 July 2010 at 00:12

I brought my boy to all the island too.. my boy is 3 plus..coming 4..
it is safe.. but depends on weather..

Travel Agent India said... 26 July 2010 at 17:25

tour and travel agent for india, we arrange tour packages for people who want to travel and experience the indian diversity

Hxnis said... 26 December 2010 at 16:33

i will go to Sabah on next Feb.
I planning to go to Manukan island but after i read this entry, I guess I have to do island hops.

This island is beautiful. except for the fact that there are monkey and biawak on the island.:)

David Jr said... 26 December 2010 at 18:50

Cath, most important is to always keep an eye on your kids. Applies where ever you travel. Yes, Sapi Island is indeed a safe place.

Hxnis, it's great that you are planning to Island Hop around Manukan and that would be a good suggestion. About the monkeys and biawaks, they are located in the inner part of Pulau Sapi so just stay on the beach side.


Nate @ House of Annie said... 26 October 2011 at 13:45

Sapi was beautiful and the waters were warm, but not as clear as I wished. We did the seawalk thing - not that exciting, but cool. It cost a pretty penny, though. We had a great time there at the beach but got really badly sunburnt. Must remember to apply lots of sunblock or wear sun-protecting swimwear.

Item Reviewed: Pulau Sapi Island in Sabah Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: David Jr
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