Of mermaids and dugongs.


“… I hope you guys are ready, cause it’s going to be a roller coaster ride!” she said with a huge grin on her face, before taking her seat at the back of the boat. Needless to say, with news of sinking boats and my good friend anxiety – this did absolutely nothing to quiet my hyperactive imagination as I scanned the boat one last time, counting heads to make sure we didn’t have too many passengers.

The day had started off decently enough, the sun was out in full force, we had clear skies and a relatively relaxed 2 hour drive to one of the many Jetty’s at Kota Belud. Our destination – Mantanani Island or Mermaid Island, which is situated approximately 40 minutes to an hour by boat off the north-west coast of Sabah in Kota Belud. It’s three seperate isalnds, that is Mantanani Besar, Mantanani Kecil and Lungisan – with Besar meaning Big therefore being the largest. Getting there is easy enough, but you really have to go with one of the tour companies cause the island is abit further out unlike Manukan etc.

Our ride.

The initial part of the journey was fine, as we were making our way through a river with mangrove forests on either side. Why this wasn’t an issue was simply because of the fact, that it’s still used by villagers with smaller fishing boats and sampans, so we had to maintain the peace or inavertedly cause one too many sampans to topple over.

Tell me this isn’t the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen?

It was when we hit the open sea that the “fun” really began. And all I could think of at the time was – ‘Oh God! I’ve got to go through all this again on my way back!’ However, as we got closer and closer to Mantanani Besar, my growing anxiety faded away and the trip back became something I would just have to deal with later.

According to our boatman, years ago you could actually spot Dugongs (sea cow- kind of looks like a manatee but different tails) out by these islands. This coupled with long quiet nights at sea, a wild imagination, with or without the help of intoxicants brought about the myth of Mermaids and hence it’s name after.


The island is quite possibly one of the prettiest islands I’ve ever visited, and if you are visiting Kota Kinabalu, seriously consider going to Mantanani instead, as the snorkelling is so much better than Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. I wish I had opted to go diving at the 3 ship wrecks instead. It’s by far the best snorkelling experience I’ve had, despite the many stings from the army of jellyfish I ended up with. If you’re lucky you might even see some turtles, which I missed despite being in an area where they were spotted.

Some of the available accommodation
Local fisherman’s boat

After snorkelling we had lunch (which was pretty standard and offered by all tour operators) and went for a walk along the beach with a quick dip before heading home. I reckon, the next time I visit, I will at least stay a night cause that would mean more beach time and squeezing in a couple of dives, though a day trip is well worth the effort and the boat ride.

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