Pulau Tiga, the Survivor Island of Borneo

Mud volcano
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Funny, though I’m from Sabah, I learned about Pulau Tiga Island in a foreign TV game show named “Survivor” in year 2000. In this reality game series by CBS network, 16 Americans were competing with one another on Pulau Tiga and the sole survivor took away $1 million. The Survivor TV series is so famous that it gives Pulau Tiga a new nickname “Survivor Island“. The game is long over but not my desire to visit this wild tropical island.

map of Pulau Tiga Park

Pulau Tiga means “Island of Three” in Malay language. In 1978, Pulau Tiga is gazetted as a Marine Park, which covers an area of 158 square KM (96% is sea rich with coral reefs). The Park consists of 3 islands, namely, Pulau Tiga (Survivor Island) being the main island, Pulau Kalampunian Besar (Sands Spit Island) and Pulau Kalampunian Damit (Snake Island). To visit Pulau Tiga, just drive 2.5 hours, about 114 KM from Kota Kinabalu city (KK) to Kuala Penyu town, then take a 20-minute boat ride to reach the island 15 KM away.

office of Pulau Tiga Resort in Kuala Penyu
Pic: the jetty and office of Pulau Tiga Resort in Kuala Penyu
You can follow the boat of Pulau Tiga Resort, but please note that you need to book the island tour package in advance. They also provide land transport from KK to Kuala Penyu for a fee. Since I went with my own transport, I just parked my car in front of their office.

layout map of Pulau Tiga Island
Of the 3 islands, only Pulau Tiga Island has accommodation, the other two islands are uninhabited. I was staying in Pulau Tiga Resort for 3 days 2 nights. You can look at the layout map of Pulau Tiga above to see what are on the main island.

Pulau Tiga, Survivor Island
Pic: Pulau Tiga, a.k.a. Survivor Island
The main island, Pulau Tiga is the biggest island of Pulau Tiga Park. It is formed by eruption of several mud volcanoes hundred year ago. Pulau Tiga is relatively flat, with the highest point reaching 100 Meters only. You only need 6 hours to walk one round of the island.

Pulau Kalampunian Damit (Snake Island)
Pic: the famous Snake Island (Pulau Ular or Pulau Kalampunian Damit)

Pulau Kalampunian Besar (Sand Pit Island)
Pic: Sands Spit Island (Pulau Kalampunian Besar)

jetty of Pulau Tiga Resort
Pic: the jetty of Pulau Tiga Resort on Pulau Tiga Island
The weather was good and the sea was calm, so it was a smooth ride.

beach of Pulau Tiga Island

sea of Pulau Tiga, Survivor Island
As seen in TV, the sea of Pulau Tiga is crystal clear.

entrance to Survivor Island
Pic: Survivor Island welcoming me.

sculpture of Survivor TV reality show
Pic: the sculpture left behind by the “Survivor” TV reality show

hammock in Pulau Tiga
After registration and getting my room key, the resort gives me a short briefing on what they have and what we can do on the island. I just can’t wait to enjoy the sun and the sea!

Pulau Tiga Resort
There are many tall trees in the resort area. Pulau Tiga is a national park, so nobody is allowed to cut any tree. Most of Pulau Tiga is densely forested. Pulau Tiga is one of my favorite islands, due to its undisturbed lush forest and rich flora. Most Sabah islands have beach but no forest.

Mud Volcano

Another geology feature not found in other Sabah islands is the Mud Volcano. There are 3 mud volcanoes on Pulau Tiga. According to the guide, two of them are dry up. The active and largest mud volcano is in the center of Pulau Tiga. You can look at the trail map for its location.

mud volcano trail of Pulau Tiga
The 1,100-Meter jungle trail to the mud volcano is just behind the Pulau Tiga Resort.

mud people
Beware of “Mud Monsters”! LOL. On the way, you will see muddy tourists returning from mud volcano bath. A visit to Pulau Tiga is incomplete without getting yourselves covered in mud. Some says the mud possesses medicinal and therapeutic properties which are good for skin, but most get dirty just to have fun.

Mud volcano area
The trail is mostly flat and easy to walk. You will reach the mud volcano in 20 minutes. If you are lucky, you will see red-faced megapods galloping into the wood. There are about 10 of such wild fowls living in Pulau Tiga, and hundreds of forest skinks foraging on forest floor.

shelter of mud volcano
The mud volcano is just next to the shelter. More mud people appear.

mud volcano pools of Pulau Tiga, Survivor Island
The mud volcano pool of Pulau Tiga. I can smell mild odor like rotten egg in the air.

natural gas from mud volcano
The mud volcano is still active. You can see gas seeps in the mud, sometimes coming with loud burping sound. About 86% of the gas released from mud volcano is methane. The activity emits gas and new mud rich of minerals to the surface, so the mud pool is always “fresh”.

soaking in mud volcano of Survivor Island
There are two mud pools at this mud volcano area. The smaller one (see photo above) can take less than 10 people. This mud pool is very shallow but a few times stickier than another pool behind it.

kid have fun in mud volcano
Kid also enjoys the mud. I remember when I was a kid, if I was covered in mud like this, my mom would beat the crap out of me.

enjoying mud volcano bath in Pulau Tiga
The bigger mud pool is more “watery” and deeper (about 4 feet). There are two ropes that help you to balance in the deep mud. Mud volcano is not quick sand pit. Instead of sinking, you will float on the mud, due to the buoyant force of dense mud. Therefore, it is perfectly safe even if you can’t swim. But little kids are better accompanied by adult.

mud volcano pool
Seeing so many people have fun wallowing in mud like buffalo, I also join the party. The mud is cooling and sticky. Though the mud is mainly fine particles, it mixes with coarse substances such as dry leaves fragment and grainy stones. I relax myself and without any effort, my body just floats on the mud surface, cool… There are a lot of mosquito, so I apply mud all over my face and body to stop them, haha.

family in mud volcano

muddy tourists at mud volcano
More people come. They were scared at first, then they laughed at one another and even started mud wrestling. The mud is sticky so you better take off your shoes and jewelry before entering. A small boy even lost his pant. I advise you not to wear your favorite cloth too, as the mud stains can be hard to wash away.

small mud volcano

make up area of mud volcano
Pic: a small mud pool for facial mask

mud volcano fun
After the mud bath, you can walk to the beach to clean yourselves in sea water. My flip-flop is so slippery with mud that I almost trip over it a few times. You better don’t wear flip-flop with open end, or it’ll be very hard to walk. My body is also so heavy with the mud.

water tank near mud volcano
There is a water tank nearby, but the water volume is too small.

You can watch people have fun in Mud Volcano in the 2.5-min video below:

Click Here to see wider video

Another new video of Mud Volcano bath:

Click Here to see wider video

Pagong-Pagong Beach

Near to the Mud Volcano area is a junction to Pagong-Pagong Beach about 800 Meters away. Very few tourists walk this trail so it is not maintained properly.

jungle trail to Pagong-Pagong Beach
When I was approaching the beach, I saw hundreds of hermit crabs on the trail and on the shrubs.

Pagong-Pagong Beach of Survivor Island
After a long walk and moving around a few fallen trees, I reached Pagong-Pagong Beach at the north side of Pulau Tiga. The beach is wide and covered with yellow sand. I can see Snake Island and Sands Pit Island from there. Nothing really impressive but the good thing is – there is nobody around so the whole beach is yours and you are free to do anything. 😉

Pagong-Pagong Beach of Pulau Tiga
This beach is one of the main filming sites for the “Survivor” reality show. The 16 contestants were divided into two groups, one group was based in Pagong-Pagong Beach, another at Tagi Beach.

Larai-Larai Beach

Another nice beach that I explore next day is Larai-Larai Beach at west side of Pulau Tiga Island. If it is low tide, you can walk on the beach from Pulau Tiga Resort to Larai-Larai Beach and reach there in 45 minutes.

Larai-Larai Beach of Survivor Island
I go to Larai-Larai Beach because it’s the best spot to photograph sunset. And they tell me there is an interesting rock that looks like bird (Batu Burung). Please be informed that there are a lot of sandflies at this remote beach in late afternoon. I don’t recommend you to go there without applying insect repellent with DEET formula, unless you want to go home with dozens of itchy bites that last for week.

Larai-Larai Beach of Pulau Tiga
When I arrive the western end of the island, I see large area of rocky shore. There are pockets of sea water trapped among the rubble during low tide, and you can find goby fishes, anemones, shrimps, seashells, etc. in these tide pools. Quite fun to look at.

Bird Rock (Batu Burung)
Pic: the “Bird Rock” (Batu Burung)

Bird Rock (Batu Burung) of Pulau Tiga Island
The sunset view is really magnificent at Larai-Larai Beach. I took many great shots. However, high tide hit the beach after dusk, so I have to walk 3 KM in the dark forest of Larai-Larai Trail back to the resort. Again, I want to remind you that such activity is for those who are adventurous. Don’t bring your city girlfriend there for sunset. It won’t be romantic.

More Photos

You may check out my photo album on Pulau Tiga Island if you would like to see more nice pictures:
photo album of Pulau Tiga Park

Related Posts
Snake Island of Pulau Tiga Park
Sands Spit Island
Accommodation on Pulau Tiga

Photos taken in Kuala Penyu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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By Murphy Ng
  • Hocksonglim

    Didn’t you join the Prefect Board tour to Pulau Tiga? Back then it was a completely empty island with only snake and lizards….. : )

  • HSL

    I understand YTL is going to build a resort in Pulau Tiga. I am wondering which part of the Island it will be located?

  • mysabah

    They have taken over Borneo Survivor Resort at east side of Pulau Tiga. It is closed for renovation and upgrade at the moment. I saw their dozer busy working on the site.

  • mysabah

    I didn’t join you guys in that trip. I remember everyone says it’s fun.  🙂  That time I didn’t like to travel.

  • The mud pool is getting bigger I see.. I remember my first ever trip to Pulau Tiga in 2009.. There was no rope, and there was this newly form mud pool near the shelter next to the bigger pool. That was the time when I forget that I have my cellphone with me in my pocket when I jump into the mud pool.. Crazy thing happens to my cellphone after that.. Still can be turn on after I wash it with clean water, it last for a few days after returning back to Kuala Penyu. Despite having this situation, i still want to go there and this time I keep my cellphone at home.. hehehe

  • mysabah

    Oh dear, luckily your cellphone survived the mud dip. That’s why I also leave my iPhone at home whenever I go for an adventure trip, as a drop of water in wrong place can cost me hundred.

  • Xperia Z probably the best choice for now..

  • I’ll probably get an Xperia too, but smaller one which can fit into my pocket.

  • emy

    Is there any services like boat services to go to Pulau Tiga excluding the hotel?

  • Yes, you can charter a boat. Please call Mr. Faizal at +60 13-8702021 for info.

  • NurKamalia Isa

    Hello, I’ve never been to Pulau Tiga before but it sounds interesting. I’ve been on an assignment about Pulau Tiga for a while, but could not find the right answers. So was hoping anyone who ever went could help me with it. Do email me back, if you could.
    nur_kamalia91@rocketmail.com

    Just wanna know more about their roomrates, packages and the foods there.
    Thanks!

  • Hi Nur, thank you for visiting my blog. I wish to help you but for the latest room rates, it’s better to contact the resort directly. You could find their contact at: http://www.mysabah.com/wordpress/?p=2060