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Regatta Lepa in Semporna Sabah

Semporna Regatta Lepa

The Regatta Lepa Lepa in Semporna, Sabah is one of the very unique festivals held on a yearly basis on the east coast of Sabah Borneo.

For many years I have been wanting to visit this festival and finally, with the help of Sabah Tourism, my wish came true this year in 2012.

The following is my experience attending this traditional ethnic festival of the Bajau people of Sabah.

What is the Regatta Lepa?

The Regatta Lepa has also been celebrated every year since 1994 to commemorate the local Bajau tradition of building these splendid hand-crafted wooden boats known as the Lepa.

During the festival, the quiet town of Semporna comes to life as the colorful sails take to the sea to compete for the prize of the most beautiful Lepa.

Judging is also based on the decoration, local ethnic music, and dances performed on board, sambulayang (sails) and tapis-tapis (small flags).

Regatta Lepa photoPerahu Lepa
Lepa boats decorated beautifully (click to enlarge)

The Regatta Lepa Lepa is held around late April and totally transforms the town of Semporna to one huge carnival.

The main streets by the jetties are off traffic and littered with stalls selling all kinds of merchandise, food, drink, and souvenirs.

If you are heading to any of the islands around the Tun Sakaran Marine Park, you will most likely get caught in the myriad of colors here.

As the main event is held on the second day, it would be recommended that you attend this event to see the unique 'Lepas' or traditional Bajau boats parade along the sea before coming into the main judging area.

The highlight of this event is the main 'Lepas' that carry a full traditional musical troupe which highlights the Bajau dancer in the front that does the 'Mengiluk' dance.

Each participating village will send its best-decorated boat to be featured in this parade. The 'Lepa' actually translates as a single mast boat which was originally used as the main mode of transportation back in the day.

These traditional 'Lepa' boats are made from 'ubar suluk' or red seraya wood and are intricately carved by master craftsmen which are fading as the years go by.

Village women in full traditional costume dance on the Lepa boats

As the main attraction is on board the boats, I had to rent a smaller boat to witness this up close.

This was the only way I could get photos and see what they did along the journey to the main lagoon where they parade before the finals

Moving alongside the Lepa boats in the sea, I noticed many different styles, costumes, and colors of the flags. The colors of the flags indicate the village the boat is from too.

In the main event area on the ground, there are numerous tents in the hundreds littered all over the main town and jetty area.

You will find all kinds of stalls there selling all sorts of things. Food, clothes, and accessories are the most common stalls while nearer towards the main event area, you will see traditional boat carvings, governmental bodies showcasing their products and even souvenir shops.

As this is the largest event held in Semporna, you can be assured that the entire population was out here to celebrate and enjoy the festival.

People from as far as other towns in Sabah also made their way here for the Regatta. Note that if you plan to come next year, please book your hotel in advance as it will most definitely be full.

Photos of Regatta Lepa

Regatta Lepa Photos
Lepa boats sail towards the show area at the lagoon

Local fiber boat race at the main event area

Lepa Lepa Boat
Wooden carvings of traditional Lepa boats on sale

A small traditional Lepa boat being prepared for the show

Regetta Lepa Bajau Girl
A beautiful Bajau girl poses and smiles
Happy local spectators on boats

Regatta Lepa Maharaja
The last known 'Maharaja' of wood carving is seen on one of the Lepa boats.
Free Tours of Semporna
Free Semporna Tours conducted during the festival
Activities at Regatta Lepa

During the event, there are also numerous other activities available for visitors and also the locals. It also depends on the year of the event, and who is conducting the fringe events.

During my visit here, there was a free tour service offered at Semporna town with some of Sabah's best tour guides giving these free guided tours during the Regatta Lepa.

They had a booth just outside one of the main resorts where visitors simply had to register for the free tours around Semporna. 

Bajau Women Regatta Lepa
Some of the beautiful Bajau women that took part in the Lep Queen contest
Throughout the entire three days, there are activities being held from day till night. Concerts, fireworks, a beauty contest, karaoke, rowing competitions, and many other activities can be found in Semporna

Finally, on the second day, all the main Lepas make their way towards the showcase area in the afternoon where each of the boats is judged.

The main traditional boats will circle around the lagoon area and the final process is when the boats parked in front of the stage area. After that, the winner is announced from a panel of judges.

Where is the Regatta Lepa Held? 

The Regatta Lepa is held at the main Semporna Public Jetty area and behind the Seafest Hotel. There is a small lagoon area where the Regatta participants end.

When you are walking towards the Seafest Hotel, you will see the lagoon area on the right side. The oat parade usually starts at sea and it parades in front of the main public jetty before ending at the lagoon.

How to go to the Regatta Lepa?

Generally, you need to fly into Tawau with Malaysia Airlines or AirAsia, and then travel overland by taxi for about 90 minutes to Semporna.

There are flights connecting Tawau from Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur and some other cities around Malaysia.

Currently, this is the only way to get into Semporna as there are no direct flights to this town. The other way is by driving from Kota Kinabalu, but that can take you around nine hours one way.

Other Information

If you plan to come here, I recommend you book your hotel room well ahead in advance because the hotels are all fully booked months before the event.

There are numerous kinds of accommodations available, and the best one being the Seafest Hotel where the venue is at.

There are numerous backpackers lodges and smaller hotels in the vicinity of the jetty area and rooms are around RM80 and above.

Semporna town serves as the main gateway to the popular islands like Mabul Island, Mantabuan Island, Bohey Dulang Island, Kapalai Island, and even Pom Pom Island.

The world-famous Sipadan Island is also in this area, but most visitors will be staying at Mabul Island or in Semporna.


If you require the contact person or more information, check out the Sabah Tourism website or you can also call them from the contact number on their site.

For those who are planning on visiting Sabah and want to experience this amazing festival, I would recommend you time your trip around the end of April.

This is so that you can have the opportunity to experience the Regatta Lepa in Semporna Sabah and also explore the eastern part of North Borneo. 


bateau paris said...

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rismah said...

Hye....Boleh saya mintak email Encik untuk maklumat lanjut berkenaan pesta ini...sebagai rujukan kajian saya...harap balas...thanks