Tag - Sabah

Selingan Turtle Island – The Complete Experience Guide

Baby turtle hatchling in the sand at Selingan Turtle Island in the Sulu Sea of Borneo. Photo by

A Small Island in the Sulu Sea of Malaysian Borneo

One of three small islands in the Turtle Islands Park, Selingan “Turtle” Island invites travelers to witness a magical wildlife experience. Green turtles and hawksbill turtles come ashore to lay eggs after the sun has set and darkness covers the little island.

Selingan Turtle Island (Pulau Selingan) aerial view

Aerial view of Selingan Island. Photo by Grete Howard.

  8 hectares (approx. 200 x 400 m)
Location: Sulu Sea, 40 km north of Sandakan
Population: Only rangers and lodge staff
Accommodation: 1 lodge with 24 basic, but comfy guest rooms
Main attraction: Green and Hawksbill turtles (laying eggs and hatching)
Likelihood of witnessing turtles: >99% 

Waiting for the Gong

We are all done with our dinner meal, a buffet with options for all tastes and lots of fruits to end it on. We have heard the instructions: Do not interfere with any turtles approaching from sea, be quiet as you experience the scene, stay with the group, follow the directions from the ranger etc. No one is talking, not even the talkative old British couple with whom we had shared stories. 40 people waiting in quiet anticipation. Our small island was swallowed by darkness a few hours ago, and it could happen anytime. Most people were hoping for an early sighting in order to catch as much sleep as possible, before the early morning rise.


Initial panic as everyone got up from their chairs and looked around as if they had forgotten the instructions. The rangers took charge, and we all followed their flashlights down towards the beach. A ranger had spotted the first green turtle appearing from the sea to dig a large hole in the sand, position herself, and then lay her eggs. We stood in a half circle around the big turtle as the rangers directed their torches at the newly dug turtle nest. One by one the eggs fell into the pit. Now and then a ranger would carefully remove the eggs and put them in a bucket.

Turtles laying eggs are in a trance, their actions totally controlled by their natural instincts. We were informed that once the egg laying started, they would not mind the people around them or anything else for that matter. We followed a ranger back to the hatchery, as other rangers continued to collect eggs from turtles.

A hole had been prepared at the hatchery. The eggs were lowered into the sand and carefully covered up. In two months, hopefully, small baby turtles would start to stir the sand trying to dig themselves out in search of the sea. We didn’t have to wait two months. The baby turtles from a previous nesting had hatched and they were now ready to start their turtle life. Once again we went down to the beach where cute baby turtles were released and directed to sea by the helping rangers. The Sulu Sea had once again been enriched with a batch of baby turtles in an effort to defy the odds of survival and to ensure that the dwindling sea turtle population will once again be strong and stable.

Early Morning Surprise

As soon as light broke, we got up. It is not uncommon to spot the last turtles laying their eggs in the early morning hours. We walked around the little island. There were plenty of turtle tracks, and it seemed like all the turtles had already returned to sea. That’s when we saw Molly, a large water monitor lizard. We kept a safe distance to the lizard, but Molly was clearly more interested in what lay beneath the sand.

We were somehow saddened to see Molly end the chances of survival with each egg she swallowed. Just the night before we witnessed the protection of turtle life, and right before us now a big lizard was feasting on unborn baby turtles. We passively watched as nature brutally worked through its routine as it has done for millions of years. After all, we agreed, we had come to assist wildlife not interfere with it.

Selingan Island: General Information

Selingan Island Resort

Selingan Turtle Island MapThe only people actually staying on Selingan Island are turtle rescue volunteers, researchers, rangers, and lodge staff. There are 24 guest rooms on the island. They are split into four buildings each with 6 rooms.  We were expecting very basic accommodation, but found the rooms to be spacious and comfortable. If you need a tv and a fridge, you are in the wrong place anyway. The rooms recently got aircondition, but to save the scarce energy on the small island, we suggest you only use the ceiling fan. If you need to cool down, a swim in the sea or a quick shower will do wonders.

The rooms are with twin-beds and as such they are designed for two people traveling together. If your travel party consists of more than two people, you need an extra room. The resort does have extra mattresses for children, so check beforehand if you are allowed to sleep in one room if that’s your preference.

Walking from the guest rooms towards the common visitor area, you pass the fenced hatchery, where collected eggs are kept safe from predators. The main building on Turtle Island is the lodge with common seating areas, information, and the restaurant. On an information screen in front of the entrance, you can see the latest details from the turtle hatchery: How many turtles laid eggs the previous nights and at what time, how many eggs were transferred to the protected hatchery, how many baby turtles hatched, and the accumulated number of turtle nests during the year.

More Than Turtles

Selingan Island is not only about turtles. The island itself is beautiful. It’s small enough to walk around in half an hour, but still big enough to find small secluded spots along the way. There is a designated area for snorkeling, and snorkel equipment for cheap rent. I don’t like boundaries when swimming in the sea, but I guess it helps keep the other parts of the island wild and the lifeguards can easily survey the swimmers. The sand is white and very smooth, the water is clear, and you can view other small islands in the horizon. The sunset was stunning.

Near the guest chalets there is a dirt football (soccer) field. You can join the rangers for a game, if you can bear the heat. There is also a volleyball net at the main building, which no one seemed to be using. If you want to learn more about turtle life there is an information centre above the cafeteria area.

Here are a few more images of our turtle island experience. Are you tempted to go?

Practical information

The trip is suitable for all ages. We were joined by families with young children as well as elderly couples. If you appreciate wildlife, soft white sand, and cute baby turtles, this experience is for you. A walk down to the beach is all the fitness you need to endure. The facilities are fairly simple, the guest rooms and the cafeteria could be more charming, but it’s more than sufficient to keep yourself comfortable. Go for the wildlife island experience, not the luxury. The guides are friendly and knowledgeable, sprinkled with a relaxed island mentality.
You can only book the turtle experience at Selingan Island through a travel agency. We can recommend Borneo Eco Tours which also has a number of other eco-friendly travel experiences on offer and competent guides. So if you were considering hiring a local fisherman to take you to the island, don’t. There is only one accommodation option on the small island, and the turtle experience is popular. This means that you should book well in advance and be prepared to re-arrange your Borneo itinerary around it. The price is pretty much fixed, but do check a few selling agents to make sure you pay the right price.

Each and every night Selingan Island is visited by egg-laying turtles. You can witness the turtles on any day of the year. 

The Selingan Island experience is part of a fixed 2 days / 1 night package with fullboard. Here is a rough itinerary:

Day 1:

  • Morning transfer from Sandakan Airport or hotel to the pier. A pleasant speedboat trip will take you directly to Selingan Island in less than an hour.
  • Check-in and information by your guide. The rest of the day is free at your own leisure. You can snorkel, take a walk around the island, and visit the turtle hatchery.
  • There is dinner in the evening, and then everyone awaits the signal from the rangers when they spot the first egg-laying turtle on the beach. Green turtles are most common, but the island does get hawksbill turtles as well. You witness the turtle laying eggs, the collection and transplanting of eggs to the hatchery. Small baby turtles are waiting to be released under the cover of the dark night. Once again you walk down to the beach and help direct the cute turtles into the sea to a safe start of their dangerous life journey. Note that guests are encouraged not to pick up the small turtles.
  • Overnight in one of the twin-bedded guest rooms.

Day 2:

  • Get up early for a chance to see late-comer turtles lay their eggs in the morning light. After breakfast, return by boat to Sandakan.
  • The turtle experience on Selingan Island ends here, but most packages include a visit onwards to Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre.
You need very few things for this trip. Food, water, towels, bedsheets, and shampoo are provided. If you can deposit your big luggage at your hotel in Sandakan or with your travel agent, we recommend you to do that. A small backpack should be sufficient. Essentials to bring are:

  • Swimming wear
  • Light and comfy clothes
  • Flip-flops (no need for shoes)
  • Money (for beverages, snorkel rental, and camera fee)
  • Camera
  • Sun lotion, toiletries, personal medicine

The Selingan Island Turtle Experience

A visit to Selingan Island should definitely be on your Sabah itinerary. Day guests are not accepted, so there is a maximum to how many tourists will be on the island at any given time. This allows you to have a bit of the island by yourself. We were positively surprised by the standard of the rooms, although this was not and should not be a priority. In the end the trip more than lived up to our expectations – we were not expecting the charm and beauty of the little island.

A few improvements to the experience could be…


Guests are repeatedly told that smoking on the island is strictly prohibited due to environmental reasons. At the same, some rangers and guides casually smoke on the island in front of everyone. That’s Borneo!


The stretches of beach around the island were not properly cleaned of marine debris, empty plastic bottles etc. It would not take long for one volunteer to walk around the island with a bag to pick up the garbage.

More on the Selingan Turtle Island Experience

We were not the first ones to enjoy this wonderful turtle experience. Take a look at these resources where you can find further descriptions and images from Borneo’s Turtle Island.

Turtle Island Borneo: The official website of the island, providing valuable information about the package, itinerary, and images.

Borneo Eco Tours: The local travel agent we booked with. Borneo Eco Tours cover all of Borneo, they have a strong social and environmental profile, and their guides and drivers are excellent.

As Her World Turns: Erica tells us about her Selingan Island trip in two posts. In Arriving at Turtle Island, Borneo she gives a magnificent account of the first day experience through ample photo documentation. She eats, she snorkels, she explores, and shows what you can expect from Selingan Island. Her adventure continues in The Turtle Island Experience, where – you guessed it – we are walked through an evening of turtle hatching, egg transplantation, and baby turtle release with great photos from the activities.

The Adventures of M&M: A photo story about the turtle island experience in Borneo by Michael and Martina. Great photos and a very impressive early morning video of an egg-laying green turtle. See it right here:

If you want to learn more about Borneo and the rest of Malaysia, take a look at our Malaysia Destination Guide.

Malaysia or Thailand?

Malaysia or Thailand? Malaysian beach with a boat with the Malaysia's flag and a Thai beach with longtail boats and Thailand's flag

Where to Spend Your Beach Holiday – Malaysia or Thailand?

For those of us who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to go on beach holidays, the first question we ask ourselves is often which country should we go to. As promised when we presented our new Malaysia travel guide, we want to help you compare two of the big tropical beach holiday destinations, Malaysia and Thailand, to make your holiday choice easier.

Why Malaysia or Thailand?

If you wonder, why we have chosen to compare these two great beach destinations, here is why. First of all, travel agencies and travel professionals often receive this as the initial question from their customers: “Should we choose Malaysia or Thailand for our holiday?”. Secondly, these countries are very often competing for the same visitors, since they both bring some of the same great beach holiday opportunities, and being neighbouring countries, travel seasons and travel distance is similar.

The Malaysia and Thailand Showdown

Malaysia or Thailand - a comparison between Malaysia's and Thailand's beaches, hotels, prices, food, diving, and wildlife.

Before we go through each of the scores and compare Malaysia and Thailand on the chosen parameters, we want to remind readers that the evaluations represent a general evaluation of the two countries. Here we have considered Malaysia to be both Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, although the characteristics of these two areas are rather different.

You may seek a family-friendly beach or a surfing beach-bum paradise. Ultimately, which beach destination is best for your holiday, depends just as much on your personal travel preferences as the destination itself.

Beaches: Malaysia vs. Thailand

Both Malaysia and Thailand have fantastic beaches, ranging from popular tourist magnets to secluded beaches on “untamed” islands. With a great variety and number of beaches within easy geographical reach, Thailand has a small edge here.

Malaysia Beach Score     

The number of islands and beaches of Peninsular Malaysia is relatively low in comparison to Thailand, and given strong seasonal limitations on the east coast, the options can be rather limited. However, if we add Malaysian Borneo to the mix, we suddenly have a hundreds of stunning islands in different development stages and in more or less accessible areas.

Thailand Beach Score     

Southern Thailand has an abundance of islands and beaches fitted with fine sand, dramatic rock formations, swaying palm trees, clear water, and everything you could ever wish for in terms of services and conveniences. Additionally, the beaches of Thailand cover all activities and adventures you can think of and it doesn’t take much to go from one type of beach or island to another one.

Aerial view of palm-fringed beach in Thailand with boats at the shoreline, clear blue water, and small tropical islands in the background.

It’s hard to beat the islands and beaches of Thailand.

Photo credit: Tourism Authority of Thailand

Hotels: Malaysia vs. Thailand

It is not uncommon that tourists stumble upon a hotel that enchant them to such a degree that the host country is of little importance. Whether this is the case or not, one thing is certain: The hotel has a significant role in tourists’ beach choice. To receive a high hotel evaluation, the diversity, price, and value for money is taken into account. Without question, Thailand is a world leader in this category.

We used to write small warnings in our Malaysia travel catalogues that customers should not expect a 3-star Malaysian hotel to measure up to a 3-star Thai hotel. This is more due to Thailand’s superiority on this parameter than Malaysia being under international standard.

Malaysia Hotel Score     

You can find exclusive eco-retreats on small tropical islands and you can find uncharming concrete hotels with uninspiring designs. The portfolio of beach accommodation is improving, but the value for money is not on par with Thailand. Furthermore, it is harder to find budget and mid-range charm among Malaysian hotels. For a real good hotel experience, you have to move into the four and five star range.

Thailand Hotel Score     

The competition among hotels in Thailand is fierce. This coupled with a good sense of quirky design and high service standards make Thailand score maximum on hotel quality and value. A 3-star hotel in Thailand can often be compared to a 4-star hotel in Europe or America. You can easily find accommodation for all budgets, and even in the cheapest beach bungalows you can find charming architecture and design wit.

Stilted hillside bungalows overlooking the Gulf of Thailand at the rugged Koh Tao Island.

Not the worst place to spend your holiday in Thailand.

Prices: Malaysia vs. Thailand

No doubt relative prices continue to rise, as both Malaysia and Thailand continue a path of economic growth and investments both in and outside the tourism sector. Prices fluctuate a lot between city and rural areas and between touristy and non-touristy destinations. Overall, however, Thailand still offers superb value for money.

While cheaper than European countries and North America, Malaysia is generally more expensive than the other Southeast Asian countries.

An excellent resource in finding user generated price information in destinations worldwide is NUMBEO.

Malaysia Prices Score     

Traveling through Malaysia, you will find that food is quite cheap, while accommodation is more expensive and less value than other Southeast Asian countries outside of Singapore. Malaysian Borneo’s unique position in terms of experiences and natural wonders have pushed prices upwards. The good news is that it is still possible to experience Malaysia on a backpacker budget, but you will have to sacrifice some convenience and luxury along the way.

Thailand Prices Score     

With the rise of the Thai middle-class, expatriates, and tourists from near and far, both financial and tourist hubs of Thailand are now much more expensive than just five years ago. This means that Bangkok, Hua Hin, Koh Samui, and Phuket can come off as expensive.

But don’t despair. Instead of going to Starbucks and Domino’s, go to a local pad thai restaurant. Instead of sleeping at Hyatt, sleep at one of the many charming boutique guesthouses. Go a little off-beat to avoid the price traps. Thailand has great prices for those who look for them, and the most beautiful thing is that being a beach bum here is one of the cheapest lifestyles you can dream of. Food is cheap, transportation is cheap, accommodation is cheap, and adventures are often free. For documentation, see our previous notes on daily beach holiday costs in Thailand.

Local Thai restaurant with signs in Thai and fresh food on display.

Eat local, stay local! Thailand offers tremendous value.

Food: Malaysia vs. Thailand

How good is Malaysian food? How does it compare to Thai food? This is obviously a very subjective topic, but at least we are not alone in thinking that both countries serve some of the world’s best food. Thailand and Malaysia are both in the top 10 food destinations in the world in this CNN poll.

Malaysia Food Score     

What makes Malaysian food great? The variety of choice and fresh ingredients! Since Malaysia consists of major cultural and ethnic groups, you can find excellent Chinese, Indian, Western, and of course Malay/Indonesian dishes in abundance. For vegetarians eating is easy because of the Indian vegetarian cuisine and the fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally.

Thailand Food Score     

The popularity of Thai food is now covering the world with Thai takeaways and restaurants from Buenos Aires to Sydney. But the best Thai food is found in Thailand. Food is an integral part of Thai social life, and when a common greeting in Thailand is “Have you eaten yet?”, food has to be a top priority. What is fantastic about the Thai cuisine is the harmonious blend of spices, sweet, sour, and salty. But if you don’t like chili, lemongrass, and galanga, you will mostly be limited to the “foreignized” and international dishes.

For vegetarians, Thailand has a lot of vegan and vegetarian restaurants that particularly sprung up in response to the tastes of visiting backpackers. In standard restaurants, however, ordering a vegetarian dish often means that fish sauce, oyster sauce, and shrimp paste will be used in otherwise meatless dishes.

Wooden signs on a tropical island in Thailand saying fruit shake, vegetable food, seafood, and Thai food.

You won’t leave thirsty or hungry!

Diving: Malaysia vs. Thailand

Both Malaysia and Thailand are wonderful places to learn and practice diving. Almost every popular beach has at least one dive operator, and the quality, equipment, and safety is good.

Malaysia Diving Score     

In Peninsular Malaysia the east coast is your best bet for diving. Perhentian Islands, Redang Island, and Tioman Island all have good and very accessible diving. Diving here is seasonally limited from roughly March to September.

The Sabah region of Borneo is the real reason why Malaysia must be considered a top dive destination in the world. The bio-diversity, visibility, and beauty is of supreme quality with dive destinations such as Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Lankayan, Layang Layang, and Sibuan leading the way.

Thailand Diving Score     

Hands up if you took your PADI Open Water Diver certificate in Thailand. Keep them up, if you took it on Koh Tao! Koh Tao is a world hub for budding scuba divers. The small island in The Gulf of Thailand offers year-round courses with dive sites right off the beaches or a small boat ride away. The water is generally clear and currents are beginner friendly. Corals and marine life around Koh Tao has deteriorated a bit although a number of organizations and awareness programmes are fighting to rejuvenate the seas.

For the best dive sites in Thailand, you have to travel to The Andaman Sea. Here you will find stunning diving between small tropical islands. It is not uncommon to find leopard sharks and manta rays. Among the best diving sites are Similan Islands, Richelieu Rock, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, and the Surin Islands. November to April has the best visibility and sea conditions.

A nemo fish among green sea plants seen while diving in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s Sabah region offers formidable diving.

Photo credit: Tourism Malaysia

Wildlife: Malaysia vs. Thailand

Despite an increasing number of areas being designated as national parks in Malaysia and Thailand, the primary and secondary forests are diminishing. Farming, plantations, logging, and “development” is threatening natural treasures and wildlife in both countries. That said, Malaysia has some of the world’s oldest rainforests and extraordinary wildlife to match it. Thailand does not have the grand old rainforests, but there is still plenty of wildlife to experience under and above water.

Malaysia Wildlife Score     

Orangutans (literally men of the jungle), proboscis monkeys, tarsiers, pygmy elephants, hornbills, turtles and much more roam the natural habitats of Malaysia, particularly Borneo. Malaysia has around 500 endemic species and it’s hard to find destinations that can match the natural richness of the country. Unfortunately, there is great pressure on the natural habitats of Malaysian wildlife. Although a magical experience, it is frightening to see how the palm oil plantations are slicing through ever thinner rainforest areas.

Thailand Wildlife Score     

Thailand has impressive marine life and no less than 127 national parks with a diverse range of flora and fauna. You do not find the grand old rainforests and hallmark wild species as in Malaysian Borneo, but there is plenty of wildlife to enjoy in Thailand.

Male Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus) from Borneo.

Only in Borneo – Malaysia’s wildlife is marvelous!

Photo credit: Tourism Malaysia

More comparisons between Malaysia and Thailand?

Malaysia or Thailand? We hope you found this head to head comparison between Thailand and Malaysia useful. There is no one winner in such a battle. It all depends on what you are after. One thing is certain though: Both Malaysia and Thailand are magnificent travel countries, so we can only suggest you visit both!

If you are interested in seeing more comparisons between these two countries, we suggest you take a look at the following links.

New Malaysia Infographic and Destination Page

Malaysian couple sitting on a wooden pier looking at the clear turquoise sea and fantastic horizon.

All You Need to Know About Traveling to Malaysia

We are slowly but surely adding details and information to our Malaysia and Borneo travel and destination page. To start with, have a look at our infographic which will give you a quick overview of the travel universe in Malaysia and Borneo.

Malaysia Infographic

Infographic of Malaysia's Islands and beaches including tourism information, price index, best beaches, travel seasons, and Unique Selling Points for Malaysia and Borneo.

Go to the destination page to see explanations for this Borneo and Malaysia infographic. We will continue to add information to the page about travel seasons, the different beach destinations of Malaysia and Borneo, and some unique selling points. Malaysia offers a truly diverse mix of cultures, beaches, grand old rainforests, indigenous peoples, rich histories, and bustling cities.

Comparison between Malaysia and Thailand

Comparison of Malaysia vs. Thailand with images of a Malaysian boat and a Thai boat both with flags.Also coming up will be a comparison between Thailand and Malaysia as travel countries and beach holiday destinations. Since these neighbouring countries are often measured against each other, we figured we would compare the countries on different travel parameters to help you decide, whether your next holiday should be about island hopping in southern Thailand, drinking tea in Peninsular Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, or chasing proboscis monkeys in Sabah, Borneo.

Cover photo credits: Tourism Malaysia