Sun and Serenity on Sibu Island, Malaysia.
Sibu Island, Malaysia
Do you possess a treasured travel memory that you often drift back to when you’re having a shit day? When you’re snowed under at work? Or when the neighbours are drilling again? Perhaps even in the middle of the night when you simply cannot get to sleep. For me that memory is of Sibu Island (Pulau Sibu) in Malaysia. A tropical paradise I often wish I could return to in order to escape the stresses and struggles of daily life.
Photo courtesy of Nikolaj Langner.
Such a place couldn’t and shouldn’t be easy to get to. From the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru, my friend Lisa and I took a public bus to the tumbleweed outpost of Simpang Tenggaroh. From there, a taxi rattled us through an extensive stretch of no-man’s-land before arriving at Tanjung Leman Jetty. The jetty was incredibly sleepy, home to little more than a ticket office, a cheerless stone waiting room and the world’s emptiest KFC. I didn’t partake.
After much thumb-twiddling, our pre-arranged speedboat showed up. A private transfer to Sibu, no less, which Lisa had arranged. We clambered aboard, put on our life jackets and within minutes were humming through The South China Sea. It was a magical moment, the wind rushing through my hair as we closed in on my first tropical island experience. The journey took forty minutes, but felt like it flew by in about five.
Sun and Serenity on Sibu Island, Malaysia.
Lisa worked at a resort called Sea Gypsy Village, but their chalets proved a little expensive for my budget. Thus I cut a deal with Twin Beach Resort on Sibu Island’s western side. I’d read that the resort was basic and really peaceful, even in May when the hot weather was in full swing and the sea at its calmest.
Indeed this was true of Sibu in general, which was nowhere near as developed as nearby Tioman Island. “Twin Beach!” called our captain, as the boat rumbled to a gradual stop at the entrance to a long, wooden jetty.
I was so full of anticipation as I made my way down the jetty. There was a light breeze on my face, a pleasing silence and not a soul to be seen, just what I’d been hoping for. Talk about idyllic, this was quite literally the isolated island getaway that had existed in my mind’s eye.
By the time I stepped onto the beach, the captain had already whizzed Lisa away to Sea Gypsy Village. I’d been expecting someone to come and greet me, but there was nobody. And I mean no one, not even another beachgoer. I can still feel that perfect silence, only occasionally broken by the sound of the waves gently lapping the shoreline.
Eventually, with a bit of poking around between the various wooden chalets, I found the manager in his closet of an office. “Thomas?” “Uh… Leighton”. “Ah, ok. Yes… welcome to Twin Beach! Please, come with me“.
Twin Beach Resort.
My modest chalet faced the sea and had its own porch. “Are there other guests?” I asked the manager as he departed, a ring of keys jangling in his hand. “One or two, but they are touring some local islands today. Now, it’s just you”.
Inside, I found myself a touch surprised by how rickety everything was. Basically, I had a single room with a bathroom, very small, but cosy enough in its own way. There had been a huge price difference if I’d wanted the air con activated. Hence I made do with the raspy old fan, which just about kept me cool.
Admittedly, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself at first. I had come to completely chill out, to grab some serenity and sun. And that was certainly what I was going to get. I thought I’d had some rest back in Johor Bahru after a month on the road in Thailand. But this was next-level chilling. No historic sights to track down, zero restaurants to browse. Hmm, I thought, as I sat down on the porch, staring out to sea. Before I knew what had happened an hour had drifted by.
That first afternoon ebbed away in the same manner as all my days at Twin Beach Resort. First, I took a walk down Sunset Beach, the main stretch of sand. The other strip, Sunrise Beach, was accessible through the woods, but not a patch on its sister.
Sibu Island, Malaysia.
I took somewhere between four to six swims a day. The water was incredible: warm, deliciously turquoise and populated by swarms of darting multicoloured fish. On a few occasions, I dared to swim far out for excellent views across the seemingly wobbly jetty.
When I couldn’t be bothered to stroll or swim, I’d drop into a beach hammock positioned roughly halfway between my chalet and the sea. Then set my iTunes playlist to random and let everything melt away. This is the specific memory I was talking about back in the opening paragraph, my definitive go-to slab of escapism when I really need it.
My nightly rate included breakfast, lunch and dinner. Twin Beach had only one restaurant, so you had to deal with whatever they gave you. The food was average at best, but generous portions at least. In fact, it often felt the chef just threw together whatever ingredients happened to be in front of him. The whole thing was more than a bit lazy, especially when they served me the exact same meal two days in a row. Really?
Twin Beach Resort.
On day three I felt ready to take a walk to Sea Gypsy Village. Lisa had given me rough directions, and warned that parts of the trail were somewhat precarious. But I was not to be dissuaded, setting off with my backpack, a hand towel and a bottle of water.
Before long, the trail took me away from Twin Beach and onto a stone path that ran through a section of thin woodland. Luckily, there were pockets of shade here and there that provided respite from the burning sun.
The further I progressed, the less cared for everything seemed to be. So this is what Sibu looked like in between resorts. Fallen branches, little hillocks of gathered plastic bottles and an occasional crumbly bridge. Still charming in its own way, but not something you’d put on a postcard.
I ended up making the walk to Sea Gypsy Village around three or four times during my stay. The most handsome section of the walk took me through Sari Pacifica Resort. This was definitely Sibu’s swankiest complex, a meticulous garden village home to a dozen large, tasteful beach bungalows.
Sari Pacifica Resort.
Moreover, Sari Pacifica has its own pool, a delightful spot that always had me tempted to take a cheeky dip. Somehow, I resisted, not wanting to get in trouble. I do recall one afternoon exchanging pleasantries with a Chinese family. They were huddled together around a group of chairs eating from pots of instant noodles they’d brought with them from the homeland. Which gave me a giggle.
From the pool, I’d cut down onto the resort’s gorgeous beach. There was never anyone there, so I always made sure to stop a moment. To close my eyes, feel the breeze and thank my lucky stars that life had allowed me to rest a while in this lovely corner of Earth.
I had to walk all the way down Sari Pacifica Beach to access the final and most challenging part of the route.
Here, I’d carefully pick my way over the jagged rocks to get onto the beach at Sea Gyspy Resort. Yes, I needed to negotiate these same rocks on the way back at night in the dark. Luckily, Lisa loaned me one of the office torches so that I could see where I was going. And avoid what would surely have been a broken bone or two, if not worse.
Sibu Island, Malaysia.
Sea Gypsy Village Resort is undeniably pretty and green, with a cosy beach that’s every bit as impressive as the one I had at Twin Beach. Generally, there were more guests knocking around, but nothing that spoiled the vibe.
While the chalets weren’t quite as fancy as those at Sari Pacifica, they were a clear upgrade on my shack at Twin Beach. Not that I regretted my choice of resort. After all, as Lisa was keen to point out, Sea Gypsy Village attracted families and even had a creche for kids. Furthermore, they had a dive centre onsite and a qualified instructor. As a result, this place was always going to be busier.
I invariably hung out at the bar-restaurant. When Lisa wasn’t on duty, we might play scrabble or order pancakes. They had a small library in one corner. So one afternoon I did a bit of reading from crappy detective novels and out-of-date Malaysia Lonely Planet guides.
The cocktails were great, though I often wondered if I might have to make them myself. Somehow, I couldn’t help but imagine myself as Jack Nicholson. “You set ’em up and I’ll knock ’em back, Lloyd”.
Sea Gypsy Village Resort.
We enjoyed a wonderful barbecue dinner one evening at Sea Gypsy Village. As soon as I smelled those sizzling burgers, I knew there was no way I’d be rushing back to Twin Beach for another plate of hurried hodgepodge.
Towards the end of the week, Lisa and I were sitting in the restaurant plotting a trip. Sibu had been great, but I was thinking of an adventure before I called time on Malaysia. As soon as she mentioned Tioman Island, with its world class snorkelling, jungle hikes and turtle sanctuary, I knew we’d picked a winner.
On that final night at Twin Beach, I loaded up my backpack, took a swim and drank in one last Sibu Island dusk. At long last I had ticked a tropical island getaway off my bucket list. And it felt good. Next, I was hoping, Tioman Island would sign off my Malaysian escapades on a high. “Thank you Sibu, thank you kindly”.
Like this? Then why not check out my other reports from around Malaysia.
You might also be interested in my various pieces on Singapore.
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No wonder this is one of your most treasured memories. The place is a veritable paradise. Quite cheeky of your accommodation to serve the same dish for dinner night after night. Barbecue on a beach sounds absolutely lovely though. Looking forward to reading about your adventure. Great piece, Leighton, I feel that you have captured the essence of this island.
Thanks for stopping by Anoush! Pulau Sibu is a little slice of paradise, it was a privilege to spend some time there. Hopefully the chef has pulled his finger out a bit since my visit.
Desert island indeed. I only was able to spot one person in the background of one photo. I would have spent a lot of time reading or just chatting with Wilson. This was certainly a different kind of post. Even got in a different kind of food photo. Enjoyed it immensely.
Yeah, there were very few people around, especially at Twin Beach. I really should’ve gotten myself a Wilson to chat with for those moments when I was feeling sociable. Thanks for checking out my piece on Pulau Sibu, Memo.
Looks like Sibu granted you the serenity to get away from it all and relax. Many times, that is all that we need to clear our minds and heal our souls. The resort was nothing to write home about, but it gave you your basic needs and appreciation for what is really important. Funny coincidence, we just watched the movie Ticket to Paradise last night the message there was similar. Happy Sunday Leighton. Allan
Totally agree re: the clearing of minds and healing of souls. That is very much the mantra for us right now as we prepare for our move from Armenia to the Greek island of Naxos tonight. I hadn’t heard of Ticket To Paradise, which I just looked up. Am so horribly off the pace when it comes to the latest flicks and shows. Maybe that’s a project for our time on the island. Cheers for checking in Allan.
this was a calming start to my day, leighton. i read this with my morning americano sitting in martin luther king park. thanks for taking me away ever so briefly from the morning rain, people on phones and honking cars. thank you kindly.
Ah Stan, I wouldn’t mind dropping into the park for an hour for a coffee and a chat. It’s icy cold here in Yerevan, so the contrast between our day and this article is also marked. Sibu was such a wonderful rest, thanks for reading about it. Have a great Sunday, hope the weather picks up.
Ah, chilling in a tropical paradise – yes, please! I’m not sure you would find one that “peopleless” nowadays. Sibu Island is stunningly beautiful with the pristine beaches and views of other islands in the distance. The food they served you at Twin Beach looked pretty good to me, but I wouldn’t want to eat the exact same meals days in a row – unless it was lobster, which I could eat for every meal every day. Your post has piqued my interest, so I’m now off to Google more about Malaysia. Have a great week ahead, Leighton!
Hey Kellye! We are always on the lookout for “peopleless” places but yeah, it’s a very tall order. Sibu was one of the most genuine escapes I’ve ever had, I’ll always smile thinking back on it. The food was ok I guess… plain but plentiful. Malaysia is a country I’ve only really dipped my toes into, so just one more article coming on Wednesday to hopefully give you a deeper insight into its island scene.
I Googled it, but I haven’t read too much yet. I look forward to your Wednesday post!
Wow, it’s beautiful and I can see why you were so relaxed and peaceful here – although the accommodation and food seemed a bit cheeky serving you the same thing each night. I’d love to explore Malaysia one day, everything I read about it seems so positive.
Thanks for dropping by Hannah. Sibu Island is definitely worth a visit and within easy reach of Singapore if you’ve never been.
You found a very authentic, laid-back, small tropical island getaway. Having only a couple of other guests was great for enhancing the Robinson Crusoe effect. Not having many guests wasn’t great for the food selection. I had the same experience at a safari lodge until more guests arrived.
Thanks for reading about my stay on Sibu Island John. Interesting that you had a similar experience re food for just a few guests. It was a small complaint in the grand scheme of things I guess. Boy did I savour that barbecue night at Lisa’s resort.
Just thinking about your barbeque dinner made me hungry.
Sibu Island sounds (and looks) like paradise! Your view from the porch … I mean, who would ever dare to complain! I also like your hiking trail to Sea Gypsy Village – but those rocks looks like it could be a challenge (never mind in the dark)!
Oh, hang on … did you say pancakes … damn Leighton, you were really in paradise!!
The rocks were treacherous! On several occasions Lisa and her boss offered me the chance to stay at Sea Gypsy after a late night with beers. But I always insisted on walking back to Twin Beach. Partly because I’m happiest in my own bed with my stuff around. But also because I wanted to shine my torch on the hundreds of crabs scurrying across the sand into the sea. The pancakes were great, chocolate and banana if I recall correctly.
Sibu Island sounds like it’s your happy place, Leighton. A tropical paradise, no less. Your accommodation was modest, but do you regret not having stayed in Sea Gypsy Village instead, with more amenities and with your friend? Being by the sea definitely brings a sense of calm, of believing everything’s all right in the world. Can’t wait to see what you got up to in your next destination in Malaysia!
Hey Rebecca, Sibu Island is indeed my happy place and I think of it often. No regrets about the accommodation. It was definitely a nicer setup at Sea Gypsy, but I loved the quiet at Twin Beach, where there were no families and, well, hardly anyone else at all. If I’d been willing to splash out, I guess Sari Pacifica would have been a good choice located a bit closer to Lisa. I totally agree with the effect the sea has on us, we are so looking forward to our Greek island adventure which begins… tomorrow! Thanks for reading and commenting, as always.
Sibu Island does look beautiful, the beaches with a lovely scenic background. Sounds like a great place to relax. Maggie
It was about as idyllic as a tropical island can get I believe, not that I have a huge collection to my name. Thanks for stopping by, Maggie!
Wow that looks like the perfect spot for some R&R. I’d love to teleport there right now and be sitting on the beach under a tree with a pile of books and my camera 🙂
Thanks for dropping in Lyssy. I do hope Sibu Island has retained that sense of peacefulness. It is such a small island and, I think, could be easily ruined by mass tourism.
What a delightful piece of paradise you had for a few days! Peaceful respite for sure. I love those rocky shores next to the water-maybe a little tricky to walk across but the picture is lovely. Sign me up for a visit here any day 🙂
A piece of paradise indeed. Those rocks were very tricky to navigate at night, even with a torch loaned to me by the team at Sea Gypsy Resort. Thanks for reading about my stay on Sibu Island Meg.
I can understand why this is a special place for you; it looks like paradise. It looks like a great place for a yoga retreat, focusing on silence and inner calm. Those rocks though, scary! I guess there’s always a little trouble in paradise. 😉 Thanks for sharing, Leighton.
I don’t think there was a yoga retreat on the island when I visited. But you’re right, the cap fits, I wonder if it’s in the works or maybe even already been built. Getting over those rocks safely was a delicate process, thanks for checking in Tricia!
It looks so beautiful and peaceful, and virtually having the stretch of Twin Beach all to yourself was the icing on the cake! It is exactly the thing quiet beach holidays are made of!
I couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic and peaceful spot. I have always imagined that The Maldives is the pinnacle of this kind of island break. Having not been to The Maldives yet, Pulau Sibu stands as my best secluded beach break so far. The bar has been set.
Sibu does look like a place where you can just relax without too many distractions around you, apart from the nature itself which of course is very much welcome, I can imagine. The empty beaches look inviting, and the gentle waves calming. I can totally understand why Sibu has a special place in your travel memory.
Thanks for checking in Bama. After all the excitement (Thailand and Singapore) and weirdness (Johor Bahru) of the 5-6 weeks that preceded my arrival on Sibu, it was incredible to have this near-perfect beauty and silence in front of me each day. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
What a wonderful, little island to appreciate the vastness of the ocean and sky before you, Leighton! This would be a perfect place to escape to when the Irish weather’s getting me down – feeling the sand between my toes always lets me forget my cares and relax. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx
Hey Avia, it’s great to hear from you, thanks for checking in. Sibu was/is an amazing island and one that will always live long in the memory. I’m happy I got to add it to the archives!
The views from your small chalet look idyllic Leighton and it’s definitely a place to unwind. Strange that the menu was so limited though!
Thanks for your comment Marion, Pulau Sibu is a little slice of paradise.
Not been here Leighton but we have been to Tioman (and other parts of Malaysia) so I’ll be interested to see what you made of it. You definitely found the serenity you were seeking, though as we all know such things have a short lifespan for most of us and we feel the need to move on. My go-to place inside my head when bad thoughts are soiling my day? Well, of all the wonderful places I’ve been around the world, my mental karma is the Camel Estuary in Cornwall. Close my eyes, take myself there, and problems melt away.
Having just scanned some Google images of the Camel Estuary, I can see why Phil. Tioman was a whole different kettle of fish to Sibu, but I also have fantastic memories of my time there. I’m curious to see how similar/different our experiences were.
I heard Malaysia has stunning coastal areas. Your blog proved. You must have enjoyed Sibu island right?
Yes, I loved every minute of my time on the island. It was especially enjoyable after such a busy period of travel in Thailand and Singapore. Thanks for reading and commenting Secret Blogger!
You are a wonderful writer, thanks for sharing this place 🙂
That’s very kind. Thank you for reading and getting in touch!
We’re supposed to get a major snowstorm tomorrow, so I’ll be dreaming of Sibu Island, especially when I’m shovelling all that snow. Sounds like you had such a relaxing trip and that it was easy and enjoyable to get to. How amazing to have the place mostly all to yourselves.
Shovelling snow eh, if only Jeremy Renner had taken the shovel approach. I hope you guys can keep warm and get some outdoorsy time again before too long. Or is that unlikely? Sibu Island was a magical experience for me and those memories continue to come back into focus whenever I find myself trapped in shit weather or a less-than-inspiring environment.
Ha!! We haven’t had much snow this year so we’re actually looking forward to the snowstorm. We’re hoping to do some cross-country skiing this weekend.
What a lovely island Leighton, no wonder why you treasure it so much. Once in awhile I feel like finding this kind of an island as well, the perfect place to find your peace, and heal your soul. It was great for you to have Lisa at a short distance to spend some time with, but also to have your own place to indulge the quietness when wishing to. Have a lovely week ahead,
Hey Christie, thanks for reading and contributing to the comment thread. I’m glad that you relate to the idea of getting away to a place like Sibu from time to time. It shows that our hearts, minds and dreams are alive I think.
Nothing like having paradise all to yourself! I understand why you go back there in your mind, a happy place. Thanks for sharing this one.
Cheers Ruth, Sibu will always be up there when I think of my most magical travel experiences.
I love this treasured travel memory of yours. Reading this piece was so calming somehow- I could feel the serenity of Sibu Island through your words and images. It is rare in this modern age to find yourself somewhere so quiet and without distraction, where you can truly unplug and rest- which is why a place such as this is so appealing. Truly looking forward to reading about your next adventure!😊✈️
Thanks for stopping by Laura. Sibu is indeed a special place, I hope it has managed to retain its sleepiness in the years that have passed. My next adventure was a very different but equally enjoyable Malaysian island.
Wow, this area looks absolutely beautiful, and that is so cool that you could swim with the fish there!
Thanks Allie, what a special little island Pulau Sibu is. I’m even dreaming of it now here on Naxos island in Greece. It’s 11 degrees but chilly in our mountain village and we are shaping up for 3 days of rain and storms. I hope you are well.
What a wonderful post! This was exactly what I needed this morning before heading out into the cold of Brussels! Sibu Island seems like a tropical dream, and having a beach almost to yourself must be fantastic! My “escapism” memory is also in a hammock by the beach but in Brazil! I frequently go back to the warm ocean breeze, the sound of waves, the rocking motion of the hammock and the beautiful pink and purple colours of that sunset… how lucky we are to have such wonderful memories!
Hey Juliette, I know well from years gone by what the cold of January Brussels feels like. So you have my empathy ha ha. A beach hammock in Brazil sounds equally blissful and yes, we are lucky as hell, long may such luck continue.
Exotic place. Pulau Sibu layak dikunjungi. Jangan lupa mampir ke Indonesia jika kamu ada waktu.
Thanks for your comment!
Thanks for sharing ❤️
Thanks for reading!
Well, this certainly is a beautiful spot and really laid-back. So much so I suspect I’d get bored after a couple of days, especially as I can’t take more than a few minutes of hot sun! But I can absolutely see why it’s the place you think back to when you need a moment of serenity. I don’t think I have one such place to be honest, but the deck at Mandina Lodge (Gambia) at sunrise probably comes closest 🙂
Ah I’m sure those would be some lovely go-to memories and images when you need them, Sarah. Like you I’m also not one to typically do nothing for too long. But I do like to soak up the sun from time to time. Thanks for reading about my time on Pulau Sibu.
Sibu island, look beautiful views same like Florest island Indonesia. Never been there, thank you for sharing
Thanks for your comment! I hadn’t heard about Florest Island so will take a look now. Cheers.
Looks so beautiful and serene. You were really in touch with nature. Nature at its best!
Thanks Heidi-Marie! I appreciate you reading, commenting and indeed following Leighton Travels.