A sleepy town stretched along the coast of Sabah, Semporna is known as Malaysia's diving gateway and for the colourful festive Regatta Lepa.
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Semporna is a town better known for its close proximity to Malaysia's top diving destinations, the islands of Mabul, Sipadan and Kapalai. The town has long served as a gateway to these islands, ferrying tourists and dive enthusiasts to and from their underwater adventures. A change in policy regarding nearby Sipadan Island in 2000 led to many dive operators relocating their bases to Semporna.
Most of the population are descendants of the seagoing Bajau, the often romanticised sea gypsies who were said to have spent their entire lives on boats. Not surprisingly, a large part of Semporna stretches along the shoreline, stilt houses forming entire villages literally built on water. Although their seafaring lifestyle is a thing of the past, the Bajau celebrate their deep ties with the ocean through the Regatta Lepa, a unique festival featuring a procession of traditional boats.
Semporna is located on the south east coast of Sabah, and was reputedly named by William M Crocker, a Governor of North Borneo, when he came across the region in 1887. The town caters mostly to dive enthusiasts who prefer to spend their time exploring the marvels of the ocean, offering simple accommodation and some of the freshest seafood in the region. As such, Semporna is a relatively commonplace town that does not offer the typical tourist much in terms of conventional attractions.
Semporna is located on the south eastern tip of Sabah and is connected to other major cities in Sabah by road. Semporna does not offer any rail or air service.
Bus service between Semporna and destinations like Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan are available. These buses stop at an open air area just beside the town's mosque. In addition, minibuses frequently ply the route between Tawau and Semporna.
Semporna is famous for the Regatta Lepa, held annually to celebrate the local population's long standing ties with the sea. It is a festive celebration, and the entire town turns out at the waterfront to watch the various competitions and of course, the centerpiece of the day, the procession of the Lepa, or traditional boats.