Summary: Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park located near the coast of Kota Kinabalu may be one of the most paradisiacal place on earth. Unfortunately, it is endangered by mass tourism and poor monitoring. Check out what you can expect to see if you are planning a visit to Manukan Island, Sapi Island, or Mamutik Island.
$1=RM (MYR) 3.21
Unlike the city of Kuching in Sarawak, there is not much to do in Kota Kinabalu, and we were a little bit disappointed when we explored the city. We came to Sabah after seeing a very beautiful picture of the sea, clear water, and bungalows on stilts just upon the clear water. Heaven on earth, we thought. Sea and sea activities are actually the only things that bring people to KK. The landscape is indeed gorgeous, but this beautiful place is unfortunately turning into an open garbage dump.
The marine park includes the five islands of Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik, and Sulug. We didn’t visit all the islands, as we found Mamutik to be a decent snorkeling spot. We also stopped on Sapi the first time as well.
The islands are all very close to KK, which makes the trip very quick (not exceeding 20 minutes from the jetty).
The trip is very affordable and doable by yourself. You don’t need an organised tour to visit the islands. The jetty costs from RM30 to RM45 depending on the number of islands you’re planning to visit. Then the snorkeling equipment costs RM10 for mask and snorkel and RM15 for the fins. At the end you pay RM10 for the entrance to the national park.
On each island you will find toilets, showers, changing rooms and a decent and very affordable restaurant that offers nice local and western food as well as drinks and snacks.
I don’t know how long this is going to last, but we were able to see a large variety of different marine creatures under the water. We’ve been told twice that the best snorkeling is in Sapi, but after checking it out ourselves we liked Mamutik more and found it better for snorkeling. This doesn’t mean that Mamutik is in fact better—we just preferred the place. You’ll have to judge for yourselves. A good piece of advice if you have time is to check all the islands during a first trip and then come back to the one you liked the most.
We saw monitor lizards on both Sapi and Mamutik, although they are more obvious on Sapi because they are roaming around the restaurant looking for food.
Unfortunately, the first thing you will see on your way to the islands is the huge amount of plastic garbage in the water. We didn’t take photos of it because it is spread in the sea and requires a special angle to photograph, but it was really painful to see all this garbage in such an amazing and beautiful place. Even while snorkeling you will often see plastic bags, bottles, maggi noodles, and plastic packaging among the fishes.
The close distance from Kota Kinabalu makes the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park a very touristy place, which is surely good for the economy of the city and the country, but not so good for the coral, which is all dead. Visitors to the islands are not told that they shouldn’t step on the corals, and most of them don’t know what a coral is. There is just a sign on the beach that no one reads or cares about. It is the responsibility of the park’s management to educate their visitors, yet they do nothing about it.
I wrote an email to the ministry of the environment in Kuala Lumpur about these issues, and they answered that “they would forward my email to the department in charge”. I felt this was not enough, so I wrote a letter and took it myself to the ministry of environment in KK, who sent me to the park’s management. The manager, Mr. Fazrullah, whom I was supposed to meet, was suddenly on leave (though they told me at the ministry that he was expecting me), so I had to leave my letter with his assistant, telling her that I would appreciate an answer (which I’m still waiting). I wish I could have done more.