UK Mum’s Environmentally Protected Beach Paradise: Pulau Subu

The Malaysian resort has a selection of vacation p - Linda Wills in Malaysia

The Malaysian resort has a selection of vacation p – Linda Wills in Malaysia

A gutsy British mother settled on Malaysia’s Pulau Sibu in the 1990s and has created a tropical haven for first-time scuba divers in a Marine Park

Fancy a blue-sky break in a place where mobile phones and computers don’t exist? A gutsy British mum who settled in Malaysia’s Sibu Island in the early 1990s, has created a environmentally protected beach paradise where it hardly ever rains.

Eighteen years ago, Linda Wills stood on an idyllic Malaysian beach, stared across the South China Sea and made a tough decision. Recently widowed, Linda was faced with the dilemma of whether to remain on the remote beach resort which she had intended to refurbish and run with her diver/photographer husband, Daniel – or return “home” to England.

Daniel was killed in a ski boat accident in 1993 and, alone in a foreign country and left with two small children to raise, most people assumed Linda would return to home to England. She didn’t.

Sea Gypsy Resort and Dive Base

Instead, she employed a team of local staff – some of whom are still working with her today – and began the demanding, but extremely satisfying job of creating the Sea Gypsy Village Resort and Dive Base. “Actually, it wasn’t so hard a decision to make, now that I look back!” she laughs, “Who wouldn’t want to live on a beach paradise?”

Visitors from Around the Globe

Today, Pulau Sibu Island’s Sea Gypsy Resort attracts visitors from across Asia and all over the world. It seems to have found a comfortable niche as a getaway for overworked city dwellers from Singapore, Kuala Lumpar, Bangkok and Hong Kong who need to escape to a rustic beach paradise for a few days.

The island forms part of the Seribuat chain and is 12km off the east coast of the west peninsular of Malaysia. It is shaped like a triangular hour glass, about 6km long and never more than 1km wide it’s whole length. The area around Pulau Sibu is part of a protected Marine Park.

Pulau Sibu

A paradise island retreat in Malaysia - Linda Wills in Malaysia

A paradise island retreat in Malaysia – Linda Wills in Malaysia

The small inlet at Pulau Sibu also makes it the ideal place for aspirant divers – especially kids and teens – to test the waters for the first time in a non-threatening setting.

The only way to get there from the mainland is via small motorized longboats which depart from the pier at Tanjong Leman when there are enough passengers on board. Tickets are a mere 4 ringgit (virtually free!) each.

Tanjong Leman

When I visited there, driving up from Singapore, (they provide transport for just 70 ringgit per person [US$20] return) the Tanjong Leman boat sputtered around the short bluff into Gypsy at about 10pm. We were met by the resident dive master/stand-in manager/and all-round nice guy, Sam Smith. Sam, who is also English, is the man you go to when you need to know something, want to organize an activity or just feel like a friendly chat. He is even known to occasionally play with fire to keep the guests entertained should the need arise. This was a skill he learned on another beach “somewhere far, far away”, he told us enigmatically.

Do Nothing: It’s Encouraged

The “hub” of Gypsy is the dining room, bar and lounge area. This is where guests are taken when they first arrive and is also especially designed to promote: doing nothing.

There are no cars, no phones, no internet or no computers at Gypsy. But if you really must make a phone call on your hand phone, you have to trudge through the jungle to the other side of the island so you have line of sight to the mainland.

The staff, and especially Linda, encourages guests to “leave all that guff at home”. The hub, with its comfortable couches set under an open-air awning and fantastic long wooden bar stretching along the rear, shouts: “Chill out here!” And, apart from experiencing my very first mini scuba dive – that is pretty much exactly what I did.

Sea-facing Accommodation

Sea Gypsy offers a choice of sea-facing accommodation, including quaint Malay-style chalets on stilts with en-suite bathrooms (I stayed in one of those), smaller A-frame huts, and specially constructed family sized dorm-chalets with huge en-suite bathrooms.

“Families need big bathrooms and we understand that,” says Linda.

The decor is simple but adequate and in harmony and keeping with the natural style and colors of the environment. “We choose to have large overhead fans and 24 hour electricity rather than air conditioning,” says Linda, “There is absolutely nothing nicer than going to sleep with the windows open listening to the sound of the ocean and the rustle of the palm trees. That’s what an island holiday is all about!”

Dan’s Dive Bar

Sea Gypsy also has a fully licensed bar in “Dan’s Dive” and I took full advantage of the chance to watch the moon rise while slowly sipping several very excellently put together cocktails. The bar is open as long as any guests would like to drink. Hanif, a master cocktail maker, is happy to ply guests with a range of the resort’s own creations (as well as the old favourites), including the Virgin Sibu Surprise (!) and the very, very more-ish Frozen Banana Cream Gypsy. It is just the thing for a first time diver who is nervous about heading for watery depths the next day, as I was.

Great Diving Spot

Jan Gerstel is Gypsy’s dive base leader and instructor. He has worked for Linda intermittently for the past couple of years. The diving around Pulau Sibu is superb with wide ranging fields of soft corals that make a kaleidoscope of colors, countless types of hard corals and an astounding variety of marine life. The visibility can vary from 25m to 3m, averaging out at around 10m. “Unfortunately,” says Linda, “There seems to be very little rhyme or reason nowadays as to when the visibility will be good or bad as our weather patterns have changed and we can’t quite figure it all out!” For someone who has always politely opted out of scuba diving whenever the opportunity presented itself in the past, going on my first dive was an incredibly painless and actually very enjoyable experience.

Artificial Dive Reef

And I thought I would be trembling through the whole thing – particularly as I was worried about feeling claustrophobic having a mask and snorkel strapped to my head and heavy tanks on my back. After a short training session, we hit the water and before I knew it, I was 60 metres off shore and exploring an artificial reef 6 meters below the surface. And I didn’t even think about sharks once.

Sea Gypsy is set in a five-acre clearing of jungle with plenty of shade trees and garden. The beach is about 350 meters long and has soft golden sand which continues out into the sea making swimming both safe and comfortable. Says Linda: “It might have seemed crazy on the surface to others, but my children grew up running around free on a beach in the sun. They are surrounded by people who loved them and I have a crew of loyal staff. Who wouldn’t want a life like mine?”

Getting there

  • Singapore Airlines flies from Hong Kong to Singapore. Sea Gypsy Village staff will collect guests for the three-hour drive to Tanjong Leman.
  • The boat trip takes about 15 minutes.
  • To book, go to the website or contact Linda at her email:

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