Day 3 in Borneo: Sapi Island

By Alexis

Panorama picture of the dock leading out from Sapi Island toward Gaya Island in Borneo, Malaysia

Sapi Island, Borneo – Malaysia (click the pic for full panorama effect!)

When we planned our trip to Malaysia, we hoped to spend our time there taking advantage of the awesome wildlife viewing opportunities…we could do an evening river cruise and catch glimpses of proboscis monkeys and fireflies…or we could make our way out to the national park for a small hike and bird spotting…

But on our second full day in Borneo, we were both feeling guilty about spending money since we had just unexpectedly lost $125 during our travel mishap in Kuala Lumpur.

So instead of paying for a guided tour or for transportation to somewhere else in Sabah, we decided on an activity close to Kota Kinabalu: an inexpensive day-trip out to Sapi Island.

Getting to Sapi Island from Kota Kinabalu

To get to Sapi, we walked down to the Kota Kinabalu Ferry Terminal (aka Jesselton Point – located here) where there are a bunch of vendors waiting to sell you island-hopping tickets. All the vendors leaned out their windows, yelling and waving at us to buy tickets from them, but we just ended up choosing the very first stall and it seemed to have a fair price.

A roundtrip ticket to Sapi cost 7.20 MYR (about $2 USD) per person. The company we bought tickets from had a boat leaving KK every hour, but you had to return at a specific time — for us that was 3 PM.

There is also a conservation fee once you arrive on Sapi, which is 10 MYR per person ($3 USD). There was one price for Malaysians, and another for non-Malaysians, which isn’t awesome, but this was advertised from the time we bought our tickets so at least we were prepared and not ambushed with unexpected fees upon arrival.

Exploring Sapi Island

After a quick 15 minute boat ride, we arrived to the Sapi Island dock, paid our conservation fee, and headed straight down to the main beach. It wasn’t too crowded, but we had heard that there were more secluded stretches of sand around the other side of the island.

The dock at Sapi Island, Borneo, Malaysia

On arrival at Sapi Island

White sand on Sapi Island, Malaysia

The main strip of beach, looking east towards Gaya Island

We headed past our fellow tourists and continued walking south, making our way across a maze of gray boulders that lined the tip of the island.

A 5 minute walk later, we turned a corner to see a gorgeous, little, unoccupied stretch of beach. It was perfect.

Sapi Island 2

Our private beach

The beach itself is about 15 feet deep, with a dense growth of trees and bushes at the back. I had always wanted to see a beach where the jungle comes right up to the ocean, and this was definitely that.

We ended up spending an hour or two there, the beach all to ourselves; I suntanned while David swam in the gorgeous green-hued water…

Alexis poses on a secluded and jungle-lined beach on the south side of Sapi island

Our secluded beach, viewed from the water.

At one point I was standing along the shore when I heard a rustling in the leaves behind me. I turned to look and out popped a giant lizard, probably 3 feet long. I silently screamed and frantically motioned for David to come back to shore and save me!

We watched it meander along the beach toward the gray rocks we had walked over earlier and then David goes, “You want to see an even bigger lizard?” And he points to the other end of the beach where there is a huge freakin’ 5 foot monitor lizard just hanging out on the sand!

He had seen it like 10 minutes before and didn’t tell me!!


So in the space of a minute, we saw two monitor lizards in the wild. And they were huge. And terrifying. And awesome.

Sapi Island 18

An exact quote from David Rose about this picture: “I was willing to get in the danger zone. Get up close and personal with the beast.”

We tried to lay down and tan again after they both wandered away, but we couldn’t fully relax, nervous that a monitor lizard would come charging out of the jungle at any moment. So even though our beach was lovely and secluded, we decided to head back to the touristy side since, ya know, there’s safety in numbers when monsters lurk in the shadows.

The main beach was really nice too because the water was super clear and you could see the fish swimming down by your legs. People were feeding them bread, so they were swarming around anyone who walked in the water.

That reminds me: There’s basically only one food option (for people) on Sapi and it’s a couple of expensive and less-than-appetizing BBQ buffets.  So we opted to skip lunch until we could get back to KK and find something a little more budget-friendly.


Sapi Island 17

After another couple of hours at the main beach, it was getting close to 3 PM, so we headed past the BBQ lunch places towards the bathrooms and showers where we rinsed off and changed.

Side note about David: He absolutely hates being salty. It drives him nuts, so naturally he was thrilled that there were fresh water showers on the island.

View of the water, a boat, and Gaya Island from the shore of Sapi Island, Malaysia

Pretty view of Gaya Island from Sapi

We got back to the docks at around 2:50PM to a kind of confusing situation. There were a lot of boats there and a lot of people, but nothing was labeled. All the boats looks the same, so we had no idea if one of them was ours or not.

We showed our tickets to a couple of people who worked at the docks (having a walkie talkies=official employee, right?) but they just kept saying “wait, wait.” 3 PM came and went and we still didn’t know what was going on other than “wait, wait.” We didn’t mind if our boat was late, but we didn’t know what was going on, and we couldn’t miss the boat because there wouldn’t be anymore pick-ups from our company after 3 PM.

Around 3:15 PM a boat pulled up and hollered at us to hop in. So it all worked out and we jumped in the boat and headed back to KK, sunkissed and happy.


4 thoughts on “Day 3 in Borneo: Sapi Island

  1. Pingback: Wrapping Up Borneo and Why It’s Southeast Asia’s Hidden Gem | Roses on the Road

  2. Pingback: The RotR Awards! | Roses on the Road

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