Photo: Time to dive.

Eat and meet

No one comes to Semporna for the food, but the eating options are better than you'd expect.

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Around the dive shops you'll find many Malaysian restaurants where you can get a meal for less than five ringgit. Our pick is Restoran Bismillah which serves the usual fried noodles, roti and chicken curry, but also makes spectacular fresh fruit juice and has free WiFi. A couple of doors down is Safina restaurant which is known for its Malaysian-style seafood like fried fish and spicy sambal squid and, for dinner only, offers a taste of India with tandoori chicken and naan bread (from eight ringgit).

On the second level of the same block is Mabul Cafe, which serves everything from steak with black pepper sauce to grilled salmon (13-20 ringgit). The set meals are the best value at 7.90 ringgit for stir-fried chicken, fish, prawn or squid with veggies, rice, soup and sliced fruit for dessert. The setting is very mellow and there's usually something worth watching on their big-screen TV.

To taste the bounty of the Celebes Sea, try Chinese-style Ocean Treasure Restaurant. The seafood is so fresh it's still swimming in tanks and the second floor location provides a view that's all sea and none of the Semporna squalor. Veggie dishes like stir-fried eggplant or spicy tofu cost 8-15 ringgit, while seafood dishes like Singapore-style chilli crab and crispy fried prawns depend on market price.

After a hard day's diving sometimes you just need pizza and beer, and the place to satisfying that craving is Scuba Junkie. The restaurant here makes the best Western food in Semporna including pasta, sandwiches, roast lamb and their famous pizza with homemade crust (mains 12-25 ringgit). It's also the best place in town to meet other travellers over a beer or four and has a pool table. Semporna's other watering hole is Arthur Bar with cold beer, a full selection of spirits and mouthwatering grilled seafood. Beer starts from eight ringgit and mixed drinks or cocktails from 12.

If you're staying on Mabul Island there's no decision about where to eat – the dive resorts operate on a full board basis. You'll get three buffet-style meals per day and all the Sabah tea, instant coffee and filtered water you can drink. Expect a mix of simple Malay and Western dishes, like noodles, chicken curry, fish, stir-fried veggies and toast and hard-boiled eggs at breakfast. You'll leave with more fond memories of the diving than of the food. In the morning fishermen hang around the dive lodges selling the catch of the day. A couple of small crabs or fresh fish cost a bargain 10 ringgit and the kitchen staff will cook them up for dinner for a few ringgit more. Cans of soda and beer are available for an additional charge. If your resort doesn't sell alcohol for religious reasons, Mabul Beach Resort has a fully-stocked bar.

Restoran Bismillah: Seafront New Town (beside Giant Supermarket), 06:30-00:00
Safina Malaysian Restaurant: Seafront New Town, 08:00-23:00
Mabul Cafe: Seafront New Town (above Bismillah), 12:00-22:00
Ocean Treasure Seafood Restaurant: Seafront New Town, 11:30-22:30
Scuba Junkie Bar &Restaurant: Seafront New Town, 16:00-late
Arthur Bar: Seafront New Town (beside Sipadan Inn), 17:00-late

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Semporna and Sipadan Island? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Malaysia.

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