Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sibu Island

(visited June 2011)

Not a bad first look at Pulau Sibu's Rimba Resort's location as our access boat approached the beach. Chalets are under the trees.

Visit Tioman and you will notice a bunch of other islands both east and south of Mersing, the mainland pier town. Pulau Sibu is one of the southern ones - it is much more easily accessed from Tanjung Leman which is 45 minutes closer to Johor Bahru than Mersing.

Pulau Sibu and surrounds. The island is only 10km from Tanjung Leman (modified Google Earth image).

Oblique shot of Sibu from the north. The main island, Sibu Besar, is about 6km/3km at its longest/widest. There is a surprising number of resorts - I have omitted two not functioning when I visited. The upmarket Sibu Island Resort is on the smaller Pulau Sibu Tengah to the south (top of image). Labels will be clearer if you click image to expand.

(from the north)

Rimba beach is on the north coast of Pulau Sibu. This is a pretty nice stretch of sand backed by casuarina trees behind which are the chalets, bar and dining areas etc of Rimba Resort, the only place on this beach.

Rimba from the opposite end - length a bit less than 300m. Chalets continue along a grassy section behind camera. Clear water off the beach, but fairly rocky at low tide, deepens slowly.

Sea Gypsy beach. This is the first beach on the east coast from the north - joined to Rimba by a not too difficult jungle track across a low saddle. Much longer than Rimba's at 600m and with sand extending a fair way into the water at low tide. I did notice a few sand fly bites after visiting this place - not a problem at Rimba although the resort website says it can be and suggests precautions - baby oil, coconut oil.
Apart from Sea Gypsy Village there are two other resorts on this beach - Sibu Island Cabanas which was in ruins when I visited and Kambou Bay which didn't seem to be operating (although it may on the busier weekends).
If you click to expand image you can see in background the headland which separates this beach from the smaller one of Sari Pacifica.

Sari Pacifica beach. I'm not sure why I didn't get a full beach shot here - but the Google image 2-down gives some idea of size etc. Sand and water very similar to Sea Gypsy's beach. The walk across the headland rocks between beaches is short and not difficult. One resort only on this 300m beach - the midrange Sari Pacifica.

This is better. I pinched this shot off Sari Pacifica's website - shows a bit more of the beach.

Twin Beaches eastern beach is directly south of Sari Pacifica but separated by a big section of headland rocks above which towers a decent sort of hill. Which is why I didn't try to reach it. I'm kicking myself now - having checked Pulau Sibu on Google Earth I now know that access is easy across a low saddle from the western bayside track - btw the sand along that side is pretty skinny and not all that attracive - but Twin Beaches sounds pretty impressive.
From Google's image and what I saw from my snorkelling trip boat the main beach seems very similar in size and appearance to Sea Gypsy's. One resort here - the Twin Beach Resort.
BTW this is an oblique angle shot from the north - the beach is actually longer than in image - at 700m actually a bit longer than Sea Gypsy.


When I was trying to find a resort in this area which was easy to book (my bank is not interested in sending Malaysian ringgit cash transfers) I gained the impression there were only 2 resorts on the island. Which shows how thorough my research was - there are in fact 8, although it looked like 6 were actually operating during my visit.

This is an interesting place. Its chalets are minimalist - no aircon, mostly no hot water, south sea island style with no closing windows/doors - but the resort itself has to be classed as lower midrange in price, food, service etc. And a pretty sweet place too.

South sea island style hut in the South China Sea. Spacious with enough room for an extra mattress, a small dressing room alongside the cold water bathroom. Big overhead fan only but construction materials, windows/door cut-outs (had canvas roller blinds) and frequent shading by trees thoughout the day didn't see interior get overhot. Comfy queen size bed and pillows, good mozzie net. Quiet. Most of the bungalows are clones but there are a honeymoon chalet which has hot water and a small lounge area, and a family chalet with twin sleeping areas/bathrooms and hot water. Because Rimba sell packages I'm not sure of what the cost per night of the chalets themselves are.

All the chalets have sea views - the first dozen or so beach views too. Ours here were a bit west of the beach in a pleasant garden area overlooking the seaside rocks. Most outlooks are tree-filtered but I noticed the honeymoon chalet right up the western end of the line had open views across the bay.

Everyone's looking for a bungalow virtually on the beach - you can do it at Rimba.

The bar area at Rimba had a nice outdoor deck with beach/bay views - nice place for a drink. Dinners and lunches tend to be served here on days when the resort has not too many guests. Pretty nice place for a candle-lit dinner. Small pool okay for kids (caveat - no wading section; maybe not suitable for non-swimmers) but mainly for learner-divers I think. Rimba has a dive school.

Bar interior continues the south sea island theme. Full range of booze - bit exxy with beers at rm14 + 15% etc. Good service/music. Lounging mats look out door cut-out for ----

----bay views, cool sunsets.

I didn't get a shot of the dining room but it was similar to the bar in style/materials/construction with window cut-outs for nice views adjacent most tables. All breakfasts (simple buffet style) are served here plus lunch and dinners when it is crowded or storms threaten.
Crowded times are usually at weekends when dinner and lunch tend to also be buffet (BBQ Saturday nights) - at other times the meals are set-menu 3 course lunches and 4 course dinners. I thought these were very good - taste, presentation and service at restaurant standard rather than the cafeteria style many resorts tend to have. Style is western - 100% of the guests during out stay were western tourists or expats.
Rimba seems to take extra steps to allow expats maximum time on the island. They were very flexible with their boat times (the only problem can be access to/from the beach at those extra low tides which are associated with full moon/no moon) and seemed to allow weekending guests to stay in their rooms past lunch on Sundays - this can be a bit of a hassle if you are incoming Sunday morning as we were, but fortunately quite a few weekenders had already left and they slotted us into another chalet almost immediately. Hey, we stayed in our room at no extra charge past lunch on the day we left - although it was mid-week and the place was lightly booked.

Overall I thought Rimba a pretty good place in a nice location. Extra praise must be given to the staff, largely Brits when I visited - cheerful and efficient. Carly, chief organiser, was very good.

This is a bigger resort and seems to have a wider range of chalets including more family sized ones - plus a number of elcheapo A-frames aimed at the backpacker and diver market.

Sea Gypsy has maybe a half dozen A-frames. Look closely and you can see the bathrooms in back. rm50 on the website which asks Malay nationals not to book these well ahead - backpackers and divers get preference.

This place is a step up from the other resorts - calls itself a boutique resort and seems to be truly in the mid-range. The resort is spread right across its 300m bay with beachfront chalets plus a number of attractive hillside bungalows.

SP had a couple of tame deer hanging around. Chalets in the background are a few steps up from Rimba/Sea Gypsy - as is price of course.

I'm really kicking myself for not getting across here to check it out. The place looks real nice on its website - similar standard to Rimba/Sea Gypsy but with a fair few aircon options.

The Google Earth view is interesting. I have the place-marker at what looks to be dining/reception - notice the chalets to the left extending to the edge of pic.
Are they tents behind the beach at right? Might be clearer when image is clicked to expand.

This is a slightly oblique shot - I have it tilted to favour the near beach - but trust me, any beach on the far side near the pier is pretty skinny.

These places are located on a small bay on the island's west coast - the only resorts on this coast. They seem to be aimed largely at the domestic market which could make them an interesting location for westerners. Coconut Village seems to target keen fishermen.

Google Earth shows interesting location - resorts are backed by high steep hills and face a similar view across bay below camera. That small stretch of sand at right aint exactly Whitehaven Beach or even Bondi. Reef drop off near end of pier far right suggests an easy-access snorkelling opportunity.

Cabanas is adjacent to Sea Gypsy and was completely in ruins June 2011. I was told the lease holder walked away and the locals raided the joint for firewood. Hur hur hur - looks like the competition decided to reduce same.


This is the third place on Sea Gypsy's beach, near the southern headland. Even though two local guys were hanging around I gained the impression it was not open for business. Grounds were scrappy and the beach in front had a lot of flotsam and jetsam. However I passed by on a Monday - maybe the place concentrates on the weekend crowd.

Because it is on the smaller separate Sibu Tengah I won't go into detail except to say the website shows an international standard resort in a nice location. Being the only place on Tengah gives it exclusivity - whereas the similar standard Sari Pacifica has access to 2 other resorts and budget food etc within 15 minutes

I don't pretend to have exhaustive knowledge of Sibu snorkelling. I snorkelled the fringing reef off Rimba resort and went on their snorkelling boat trip to Pulau Lima, a small islet about 10km south-east.

Preparing for the snorkelling trip from Rimba. 5 of us snorkellers went with 3 divers and an instructor - we were dropped at the islet while the divers did their thing at 2 nearby reefs. At rm45 for one snorkelling location this trip is not as good value as say Perhentians rm40 for 6 (better) locations.

Pulau Lima has a pretty nice beach where we spent around half an hour waiting to be picked up after checking the reef. Water clear, sand white - a bit of broken coral and some flotsam, nice views back to Sibu and the mainland. Some thick jungle in back of beach but getting shade from branches overhanging the sand was spoiled by mozzies.
I was a bit disappointed with their quality of coral and fish both off the beach and on the reef drop-off some 70m from the shore. The best stuff was actually slightly behind camera adjacent to the rocks, 30m out. Overall standard was inferior to that on Redang, Perhentians, Tioman and Kapas on the same trip.

Snorkelling off Rimba's beach was similar. The first 40m sees lots of dead and broken coral although there is no shortage of fish. I decided to go right out to the drop-off which unfortunately is a good 150-200m off the sand - check the yacht pic two shots from the end - you can see the reef edge buoy just a bit this side. If you haven't got fins this is a good work-out. I thought some sections of coral out there was as good as Pulau Lima, but once again nothing to write home to mum about. But you have to remember I'm a bit of a jaded snorkeller - having seen the world's best often, other places fail to excite.

Sibu websites mention trekking routes - in the plural. I did one, from Rimba to Sea Gypsy. This takes 15-20 minutes through pretty good jungle, no sustained slopes, lots of roots etc underfoot but you would get away with light-weight sandals.

Rimba to Sea Gypsy track - a pretty pleasant way to access a nicely contrasting beach either end.

The other possibility I can think of for a jungle walk is Coconut/Junansa to Sea Gypsy. Google Earth shows a track leaving the clearing behind the small beach near the former and heading east into the jungle - there is a saddle in that direction between the high hills, the other side of which is Sea Gypsy.

This entails getting to Tanjung Leman where the various resorts have ferries or speedboats to take you the relatively shot distance to the island - 20 minutes. There is a public ferry which would go to the village which is a fair distance from most of the resorts. The crossing can be very smooth or quite rough, be prepared to get wet just in case.

The accommodation websites have details of both how to get to Tanjung Leman and when their boats pick up.
Many resorts run shuttles from both Johor Bahru and Singapore - Rimba's charge in June 2011 was rm80/140 - that was for a couple not per person.
It is possible to do much of the journey by bus - Sea Gypsy's website is very good about this option.
Taxis cost was around rm140 from the TJ end - probably a bit cheaper from JB.

Because the island is popular with Singapore expats/residents and local holiday -makers/weekenders who drive, the little harbour at Tanjung Leman has an excellent and quite spacious carpark - rm8 per day. Once clear of the causeway at JB drivers are looking at about 90-100 minutes.

From Mersing the 45km would probably cost around rm50-60 in a taxi. There is a local bus which wanders off in the direction of Tanjung Leman from Mersing bus station, but I don't know what its final destination sign is and I believe it is infrequent.

The pier at Tanjung Leman harbour. This is a Wednesday shot - when we arrived on a Sunday around mid-day I was surprised at how busy the port was. Hundreds of vehicles in the car park, dozens of people on or near the pier. It seems Pulau Sibu Besar, Sibu Tengah and neighbouring Pulau Tinggi pack them in on a weekend. In back of the pier is a pavillion with small shops and restaurants - no alcohol. There is an adjacent KFC.
rm5 is charged for use of the pier - less than $us2.

will find a heap of websites on Sibu - one of the more comprehensive is

I try to end the page with an artistic shot - this one from Rimba. But it is poor value compared to the one from their website below.

If you are travelling the east coast of peninsula Malaysia you may also be interested in nearby Tioman plus the Perhentians, Pulau Redang and Pulau Kapas which is the best island I have visited in years.
Perhaps you are interested in LANGKAWI too - although one side of the peninsula is usually in wet season when the other is in dry. However Langkawi's wet seasons are usually more benign - it is more an all year resort.


If you have any questions, please ask them in THE FORUM rather than below. I don't get a chance to check all threads daily, but unless I'm travelling I'll try to monitor THE FORUM regularly.
If you visit Sibu and want to keep us up to date with a few words and pix in aTRIP REPORT, check the advertisement-free READERS' TRIP REPORTS section to see how. Your report will be mentioned on and linked from this page.

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