There's a decent selection of budget accommodation in Semporna town. That said, unless you arrive too late to catch the boat to Mabul, there isn't any good reason to stay here.
After a few days of island living, a night at the Sipidan Inn feels like luxury. The 32 rooms have all the creature comforts including air-con, hot power shower in an enclosed stall and even a hair dryer. For your technology fix, there's free WiFi (or a guest computer in the lobby) and an LCD TV with English movie channels. The beds are comfy with clean white sheets and fresh towels changed... Read our full review of Sipidan Inn.
Scuba Junkie is a backpacker magnet, and not just because the bright blue building is unmissable. The draw is the bargain accommodation, quality dive centre and Semporna's liveliest bar (you won't be going to bed early). The dorms are decent, with air-con and new mattresses, but lack lockers to keep your stuff safe while out diving. The private rooms are good value and we suggest splurging for... Read our full review of Scuba Junkie Dive Lodge .
This budget hotel is slightly cheerier on the inside than the outside and offers dorms too. Rooms are spacious and clean, though minimally furnished, and all guests enjoy creature comforts like air-con, a hot shower and WiFi. The private rooms have TV and some on the second floor have balconies with a sea view. The dorm is solid value but there's a surcharge if you're the only person in it. The... Read our full review of Holiday Dive Inn.
The notion of a stilt hotel “floating” above the water sounds charming, but the reality of Dragon Inn is quite different. The rooms may be unique, but the windowless design makes them feel gloomy and the natural building materials do nothing to block out the sound of motorboats or even your neighbour. Worse yet, the water gently lapping below your room is filled with trash (plus the run-off... Read our full review of Dragon Inn.
While Mabul is no paradise, staying on the island means shorter boat rides to dive sites and the ability to snorkel off the beach. All places operate on a full board basis, providing three meals per day and all the filtered water, coffee and tea you can drink.
The latest addition to the Scuba Junkie empire is this 24-room beach resort on Mabul Island. There's something to suit all budgets, from fan-cooled dorms to spacious chalets, and we'd happily stay in any of them. The dorms are clean and comfortable with lots of bathrooms and the chalets have wooden interiors and luxurious king-size beds. Rates include three meals per day (no seafood – fish are... Read our full review of Mabul Beach Resort (by Scuba Junkie).
If your ideal holiday is eat, sleep, dive then this is the place for you. Seaventures occupies a renovated oil rig in the middle of the sea, so diving is literally all there is to do. The cabin rooms are compact with two single or one queen bed and ensuite bathroom, but there's a large sundeck, games room and movie lounge for relaxing between dives. The dive staff are phenomenal and offer fun... Read our full review of Seaventures.
They've kept the homestay in the name, but Billabong now has a full range of accommodation, from basic fan rooms in their wooden longhouse to swish air-con chalets on stilts above the water. It's staffed by a friendly Malay family who cook the meals (which are better than average) plus a mix of Malay and Western dive masters. Their diving rates are some of the lowest around, like 400 ringgit for... Read our full review of Billabong Scuba Homestay.
If you can stretch your budget to 765 ringgit per day including three dives, Borneo Divers should be on your shortlist. Guests stay in wooden chalets surrounded by gardens and enjoy creature comforts like soft beds, air-con and hot showers. Mealtime is a treat with a variety of Malaysian curries and fresh seafood included. Facilities include a computer corner with free WiFi, TV lounge and... Read our full review of Borneo Divers Resort.
Like most Mabul homestays, Spheredivers is set in a wooden longhouse on stilts above the water. The seven rooms are modestly furnished with thin beds and fans that run overnight when the electricity is available. The bathrooms are shared with freshwater showers and kept squeaky-clean. Unlike most businesses on Mabul, Spheredivers gives back to the community and funds a school for local children.... Read our full review of Spheredivers Lodge.
Arung Hayat is one of the smaller operations on Mabul with 15 rooms in a stilt longhouse overlooking the Celebes Sea. While the rooms are nothing to write home about with a few beds, a fan and a rudimentary shower/toilet, the friendly family who run Arung Hayat are what make it special. They cook delicious Malay food and love to chat with guests between dives. Unlike other budget dive shops,... Read our full review of Arung Hayat.
Seahorse Sipadan strikes the right balance between cheap and comfortable. Set in a stilt longhouse above the water, the rooms are brightly painted and have a mix of single and bunk beds with proper mattresses and crisp white sheets. The bathrooms get a thumbs-up for cleanliness with freshwater shower and flushing toilet. The staff are very welcoming and the included meals are better than average.... Read our full review of Seahorse Sipadan Scuba.
If you're fussy about where you sleep, keep looking. The rooms at Scuba Jeff's are very basic with communal bathrooms you would not want to walk into barefoot, but it's the cheap prices and party atmosphere that make this a favourite with backpackers. During the day the open-air dining hall is the same as any other dive resort with buffet-style meals (and the occasional seafood barbecue) and... Read our full review of Scuba Jeff.
The old adage you get what you pay for certainly applies at Uncle Chang's. We stayed in the four-bed fan dorm and found it stuffy during the day and infested with bed bugs at night (check the mattress and the batik fabric on the walls). On the other hand, our dive buddy who stayed in a brand new wooden chalet overlooking the water had a wonderful experience. Diving prices are reasonable at 640... Read our full review of Uncle Chang's Backpackers Lodge.