Semporna, Malaysia

Photo: Seaventures Dive Rig
Photo: Seaventures Dive Rig

Wanted: A unique scuba diving spot. Requirements: Abundant marine life, sunken wrecks, and steep walls to name a few. Included: Gear, meals, and perfect sunsets to start. Where: Somewhere with azure water and beautiful views. When: You’re already packed and ready to go.

After a lot of searching, you finally found the perfect location in Southeast Asia. The Seaventures Dive Rig sits off Sabah, Malaysia’s easternmost state, in the Celebes Sea. That’s right, a rig. This is by no means a normal hotel that offers scuba diving packages. It’s a dive platform that’s focuses on its underwater surroundings. The rig was originally built in Panama and used by the oil and gas industry. After being decommissioned in 1985, it sat in a Singapore shipyard until a brilliant plan was hatched to turn it into an eco hotel. At first, the focus was fishermen, though it quickly switched to divers. The rig has been stationed off the coast of Semporna ever since.

You arrive—by boat, of course—to find a huge metal structure surrounded by water. Everything on board is simple but immaculate. Your double room is basic, but as long as you have fresh towels and air conditioning, it doesn’t matter. Meals are served buffet style. Mahjong, snooker, and table tennis are available in the game room. The deck has wooden tables, hammocks, and a 360-degree view of the sea. While the house reef lies just below the rig.

Now you’re anxious to get underwater to see the reef. Get outfitted with a tank, weights, and a weight belt. Listen to the safety instructions—diving is available day and night, but a buddy is always necessary. Then lower yourself into the bath-like water. A sunken wreck, cages, and an artificial bungalow with rusty bridges are visible right away. Brightly colored sea fans blow in the current. Two giant groupers swim around large pillars. As you venture farther away from the rig, the ocean floor becomes sandy and littered with florescent-colored nudibranchs. Giant moray eels feed on small fish. While fish you’ve never seen before—frogfish, crocodilefish, and ghost pipefish—are everywhere you turn.

After a couple of dives around the house reef, you’re ready to explore farther. Ride a boat to Mabul Island to search for elusive pygmy seahorses and blue-ringed octopuses. Visit Kapalai, an artificial reef, to find red, pink, and yellow leaf scorpionfish lying among the huge metal frames of more sunken boats. Then follow crazy green humphead parrotfish out to Sipadan Island, one of the top diving sites in the world, to swim among green sea turtles, grey reef sharks, and shoals of barracuda. Mission accomplished.

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