Photo: Eat and eat some more.

Mantanani Island

I have met many a traveller at the airport who has just stepped off a twin-otter flight from the interior, their bags heavy with damp clothes that have been unable to dry under the canopy of the forest and their legs pock marked with leech bites; the residue of the rainforest lingers darkly on their faces as they collapse into their taxis and head straight for the nearest shower. I call this jungle fatigue. Thankfully, Borneo has more to offer than just jungle; in fact, some of the finest beaches I’ve seen are in Borneo and none more fine than those on Malaysia‘s Mantanani Island.

A Mantanani sunset.

Rivalling beaches that can be found in Indonesia, Mantanani is located about an hour and a half from Kota Kinabalu by road and then a 45-minute boat ride.

Accommodation options are quite limited, but there is a backpackers’ option, Mari Mari, and they can organise your transport there too — transfer to and from the island costs 270 ringgit per person, picking up at 08:00 from Wismah Sabah in Kota Kinabalu. A variety of rooms are on offer, from dorms with shared bathroom go for 50 ringgit through to singles with private bathroom for 200 ringgit.

A homestay option is currently being finished in one of the kampungs; this would be the right choice if you’re a community-minded traveller and is expected to be ready by mid-November 2012. If you do pitch up to stay with a family, do please remember to dress modestly and be aware that no alcohol or pork should be brought into their houses in line with their Islamic faith. It should cost 60-70 ringgit per person inclusive of meals.

A kampung house on Mantanani.

Normal tropical island activities are on offer here, including snorkelling and diving by most of the tour companies who operate on Mantanani. However, there is nothing stopping you from just enjoying your surroundings and doing nothing all day, napping from hammock to hammock and watching the waves lap up the pristine white sand.

There is an opportunity for volunteering through Blue Life, an NGO working closely with the local community to set up a homestay programme. Food is offered at Mari Mari and will be provided at the homestay, but other than this food options are scarce bar the odd corner shop in the kampung which sells anything from fishing wire to cream crackers.

Oh look! A tree!

The great thing about Mantanani is that it’s not a resort island, but an actual place where people live (lucky them!). Amid the aquamarine waters you’ll find well used, weather-worn fishing boats bobbing up and down to the beat of the South China Sea, while cows use the cover of the jetty as shelter from the heat.

If what you want is a highly developed tourist hotspot, Mantanani is not for you. If you are looking for somewhere that oozes kampung charm and authenticity, however, then do come here!

With authenticity also comes reality; rubbish is a problem on the island and it may well be that your fellow sunbathers are actually plastic bottles and sweet wrappers. A few projects by NGOs and others are trying to tackle this problem but for now this remains the biggest problem on Mantanani.

Check rates & availability at Mari Mari.

Mari Mari
Mantanani Island
T: (013) 883 4921

Mantanani Island Homestay
Mantanani Island

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Last updated on 26th February, 2015.

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