Google “Pulau Bohey Dulang” and you’ll see why we absolutely wanted to go to Semporna.
Semporna itself is an ugly place. It’s that forgotten place in the outermost corner of the country, it’s dirty and full of rubbish and children beg in the streets – something we haven’t seen anywhere else in Malaysia.
How to get to Pulau Bohey Dulang?!
The town may be ugly but the islands off the coast of Semporna and the marine life must be worth a trip; why else would there be dozens of tour agencies offering diving trips? However, they don’t seem to care much for what’s over the water (the beautiful islands) and anyway, if you’re not a diver… what are you really doing here?
Finally, and with the help of Maduru Express Travel in KK, we found Rudolph who offers snorkeling trips to four islands, including Pulau Bohey Dulang. From there, standing on top of the island’s peak, you have that beautiful view we were longing to see and photograph. We started the next morning (after we had to call Rudolph and remind him that he had to pick us up because he forgot); two boats and everyone except for us and the crew, Chinese.
The first island we stopped at was strewn with litter, it was an ugly sight. After taking a walk on the island we hesitantly went into the water, not expecting much. And we were completely surprised by the amount and diversity of fish we saw, it was incredible!
The second stop was off shore. Here, most of the corals had been damaged because of bomb fishing. The corals have lost all color and most are just shards on the ground. There are a few live ones with beautiful radiant colors; the contrast to the dead ones is striking. But the variety of fish is stunning, I can’t begin to imagine what divers must be able to see.
After a generous lunch we put on our hiking shoes and were ready to climb the peak of Bohey Dulang. That was when our guide told us that the trail was closed. Incredulous, we told him we didn’t believe that and wanted to speak to the park rangers, a group of about seven men sitting around and playing cards.
We’re sorry, they said, the trail is closed. Why? We wanted to know. All we got as an answer was another Sorry, it’s closed. We told them that we had been waiting for five years to climb this mountain and that we had come all the way from Switzerland just for this (Bla bla, I know, but we had to try). Sorry, was the answer again. One of the Chinese guys tried a less sentimental approach and straight away offered the rangers 400 Ringgit (~100 USD). That didn’t help either, they didn’t accept the bribe and the trail stayed closed. I don’t think bribing is good but I was obviously very disappointed that we couldn’t go up because the weather was absolutely spectacular (not something than can be taken for granted in Borneo).
A life on the ocean
Pretty unhappy we left Bohey Dulang and headed to a settlement of the Sama-Bajau or Bajau Laut people, also referred to as sea gypsies, who live on and from the sea. Though many now live on land, others continue to live in stilt houses on the islands or even in the sea, quite far away from the shore. The settlements look beautiful. As soon as our boat approached, kids came paddling towards us in tiny wooden boats. We came to see them and their people, they came to profit from our curiosity.
The kids begged for sweets and money; the Chinese in our boat handed them cookies and sweets which the children grabbed and threw into the boats as fast a possible to have heir hands free again for more. I felt weird and uncomfortable. This was not what I expected when they told us we’d go to the village. One Chinese man took out his wallet to give the kids some cash and chaos broke loose. “Money! Money!”, the kids screamed, leaping into the boat, trying to grab the man’s wallet. Everybody was shouting; the kids for money, the guides at them to stop, the man and his wife and friends too. At last the kids backed away, one of them with a triumphant smile and a bill in his hand. I was stunned and shocked. Shocked because of the kid’s greediness (which is somehow understandable though) and shocked because of the tourist’s way of feeding them like animals at a zoo.
Good things, bad things
The snorkeling was amazing and the landscape is absolutely stunning so the trip was definitely worth it, even without the ascent to the top of Bohey Dulang. The last part however, could have been left out. It was interesting to see how the Bajau Laut live and they have a very interesting history and culture but I wish our visit there would have been different.
The next morning we had a flight from Tawau airport and there’s an airport bus from Semporna but we had no idea where to find it. Everybody we asked told us to wait in a different place. But that didn’t matter; the moment we stepped out of the hotel with our luggage, the bus found us and off we went to the airport.