Tiger island national park
Everybody who has visited Kota Kinabalu, or is planning to, has heard of it. A Tiga island day trip is the perfect travel plan that fills a full day. With a hand full of uninhabited small islands and an active volcano, it became famous in the States around 2000 when the tv series “Survivor: Borneo”. To date it is mentioned to be the most popular and successful season of that show. Could Tiga island’s beauty have something to do with it?
The island is located 2-2.5 hours by boat from Jesselton pier in Kota Kinabalu. Most people visiting the island book it with a tour operator. This is also what I did, a good friend of mine booked a ticket through a Taiwanese tour organizer. Don’t worry, there are several English operators as well.
Keep in mind that the tour to Tiga islands national park, or Pulau Tiga, as the official name is, takes up a full day (12 hours) and can be quite exhausting. Make sure to have a good breakfast before you go.
How to get to Tiga island
Well, since it is an island there is only one way to get there, by boat. Now you can decide if you want to go all the way from Kota Kinabalu or from the nearby city of Kuala Penyu. At this time in KK (Kota Kinabalu) we don’t have a car and I love the ocean. So the decision is made easier. Taking the long boat ride will be fun and allows us to see more than just Tiga island.
The boat itself, on the picture below, is bigger than the regular small speed boats. Driving in the open ocean can be scary, so we are glad that this boat somehow seems more sturdy and suitable for the open sea. If you easily get seasick, I do not recommend this option. The waves can be high and the boat is shaking a lot. Luckily it has a roof so you won’t get too wet when the daily rain starts. Spoiler: it will be raining on the way back.
On our ride we have around 15-20 people from all over the globe. The majority are people from Malaysia. As for any trip, make sure you prepare yourself and bring:
- Enough water
- Some snacks for the long boat ride
- Extra shirt and underwear
- Light jacket (it will get cold on the way back!)
- Sun protection such as a long-sleeved shirt can come in handy, especially when snorkeling
- Empty bottle to take some mud home
Most tours that do a Tiga island day trip have a few stop-overs on the way. So does ours. Snake island, sand island, and 2 diving spots are on the menu. The first stop is a very small island called snake island. The name itself already tells you the secret of this island.
First stop: Fear the snakes
This small uninhabited island is famous for its large amount of snakes. Not just any snakes but the Sea Krait. Its venom is 10 times more powerful than that of a rattlesnake, how scary. The rocks surrounding the island appear to be the perfect spot for those snakes to rest. Watch your step as the snakes appear to be everywhere. The main path seems to be safe but as soon as you see wet rocky terrain, it is likely to find a Sea Krait there. In the 30 min on this island we see plenty of snakes. During dives I have often met Sea Kraits, but until then I haven’t seen one on land. The stopover at this island is fun and 30 minutes is probably the perfect time to explore the tiny island.
Second stop: Deserted island or sand bank?
Around 20 minutes after stopping at snake island, we can see the next destination. An island that is even smaller than snake island and solely consists out of sand. There is some vegetation on it though. I can tell you, there is no shade on this island. It is most comfortable to put your shoes (hopefully you took slippers or sandals) next to the boat and explore the island barefoot. It’s all sand. Walking around the island will take you around 10 minutes max. A bunch of driftwood lays on the island’s shore. Some of the bigger pieces are a great accessory to take pictures. Sitting on driftwood, with only sand and blue ocean in the background, perfect. After a short stay of 20 minutes, we continue the tour, it is time. Despite taking pictures there is not too much to do here.
Third stop: Snorkeling near Tiga island
Snorkeling. Until then this is the highlight of that day trip. We firstly have a quick stop at Tiga island, to get some snorkeling equipment. Scuba mask and a snorkel it is. It’s before lunchtime so the sky is clear and sunny. Wear your long-sleeved shirt as you won’t be allowed to put on any sunscreen, to not hurt the marine life.
There are life vests on the boat which you can take if needed. Having to deal with strong currents I can just recommend to take some. We take 2 life vests and use them as a small buoy. One person is doing a dive while the other one holds on the life vests and takes a rest. We love to dive deep, all the way to the ground. In between dives we rest on the life vest buoy and gather energy.
All in all the marine life over there is plenty. Almost no plastic pollution over here and a healthy and strong blue color of the water. Visibility is pretty good as well. Surprisingly most of the corals are still alive, this makes me happy. It is the total opposite of what I saw on Manukan island.
There is only one drawback at this dive spot, large numbers of small jellyfish roaming the ocean’s warm upper layer. Once you get into a swarm of them, it feels uncomfortable when they sting you. As I said earlier, wear some long sleeves that are tight on your body and you are good to go.
Tiga island & lunch
After the quite exhausting snorkeling and diving session, we return to Tiga island. Knowing that we will stay here for a couple of hours makes us feel relaxed. We start to explore the area near our camp. It is beautiful over there, loads of trees provide enough shade to take a good rest.
At the same time, the tour operator starts firing the grill and prepares some food. All of us are hungry from the snorkeling. Since starting of the tour we didn’t eat anything substantial. In the early morning, most of us didn’t have breakfast either.
Take care of your belongings as there are wild monkeys. They are curious and love to take away your stuff.
Enjoying the good view while sitting under a tree could almost make me fall asleep. The temperature is on point, not too hot and not too cold. A mild sea breeze brings a refreshing cool feeling. There are a few larger trees around the island, especially near the beach. Don’t get too close to them. I will let you know why later on.
Tiga island day trip lunch and a surprise
The lunch buffet consists of grilled shrimps, fish, chicken wings and sausages as protein sources. Pan-fried salad and a lot of rice accompanied the meats. The food is fine, might not be everyone’s favorite but when you are hungry you will be happy about it. Those nutrients are exactly what we need after such an exhausting first half of the day.
Remember when I said you should not get too close to the big trees? Once you start eating you will know why. There are plenty of large water monitor lizards on the island. The tasty smell of food will lure them out of their hide. It is a surprise for me to see them on my Tiga island day trip, but a welcoming surprise.
Are they dangerous? Yes, when they bite you it can get really bad. Given the location of this island and no hospital in close range, you should avoid getting too close to them.
Will they bite you? Probably not. They are used to humans and are aware of how easy and safe it is for them to get some food leftovers. After all, those lizards are kinda cute. They get some chicken leftovers from us and are more than happy. Luckily none of the food is seasoned heavily. But even if it is, from my time in Bangkok I know that monitor lizards eat close to everything and help to balance the ecosystem.
If you are lucky, you can see one of them swimming. They look elegant and can be quite fast. Even though they are mostly walking slowly on land, they can also run fast if they want.
After the food settles in and everybody is rested, we start to prepare for our last activity for the day. Hiking to a mud volcano and playing around in the mud. The guides told us that it will take around 30 minutes of hiking to get there.
Only wearing swimming shorts and one guy having a phone with him, we start our journey. The trail goes straight through the jungle of Tiga island, with plenty of stairs.
Active mud volcano on tiga island
After around 30 minutes we arrive at the mud pit. It looks interesting and has great colors and a distinct smell. Carefully we get down into the pit. Feeling the mud surprised us. It is kinda watery but also thick with a creamy touch. I can feel a few leaves and little tree branches in the mud.
The coolest thing about this mud is its density. With having a density much higher than water you float on top of the mud. You literally can’t get underwater by yourself. With the help of my friends I get my shoulders underwater/mud.
Try sitting upright in the mud or doing the superman jump, you will have a lot of fun. We keep playing and relaxing in the mud for quite some time, not realizing that it is late already.
Once it gets darker we all realized that its probably after 4 pm and a rainstorm is coming up. The first raindrops fall while we are still playing in the mud pit.
Rain on Pulau Tiga
For all of you that think it can’t be cold in tropical areas, you will be surprised.
Even though the trees catch a lot of raindrops, it starts pouring down on us. At this point it becomes so cold that we start to run with slippers in our hands. Running the jungle trail isn’t as easy as it sounds. You constantly have to watch out for small tree branches or other things that can hurt your feet.
The trail feels much longer than it appeared to be, maybe because the cold gets to us? Our bodies and faces are covered with mud and washing it off is the only thing we have in mind. Washing off the mud and getting into warm clothes, as soon as possible.
We arrive at the camp, showers are waiting for us. It takes quite long to get rid of all the mud, but eventually we feel relieved. The clothes we wore during snorkeling are all dried up and we put on everything that we brought, trying to get warm. Just a few minutes after we put on all of our clothes, the boat engines start and we get on it. Tiga island’s pier is broken so we have to wade through hip-deep water. Back on the boat all of us feel exhausted and happy to get back to Kota Kinabalu. Having a warm and nice dinner would be the perfect ending for an adventurous day like this.
Return to Kota Kinabalu
During the ride back to Jesselton point in KK we encounter medium rain which doesn’t really bother us. The boat has sides and a roof, so we mostly stay dry. Now is the perfect time to somehow get comfortable on the hard plastic seats and take a nap, a nap that is really needed. The whole ride back feels much quicker this time, because we are on and off sleeping.
The last 20 minutes before arriving at the harbor we can’t believe our eyes. Such a beautiful sunset, I have not seen that for a while. The picture I took is not edited at all. This is the perfect picture to end a 12 hour Tiga island day trip.
Initially I was hesitant to go on this tour since I am normally totally against tours. I prefer to go on adventures just by myself and local friends, instead of relying on tour guides. However, this time I am very content and satisfied that my friend took me on this day trip.
What I realize after we got home is that the natural volcano mud is the best facial mask I have ever tried in my life. I regret to not have taken a bottle of that precious mud with me. How can I ever find a facial mask as powerful as Tiga island’s natural volcano mud?
If you ever want to have an interesting and fully packed day on the ocean and islands, I strongly recommend a Tiga island day trip.