Hi again, and this is Badi Yee. In this post, I am going to specifically talk about how to enjoy a trip to Bukit Tengkorak (Skull Hill) of Semporna meaningfully.
Many people (regardless of locals or foreign visitors) who visit Semporna fail to take into account of this landmark. It is always foregone / bypassed because the general misconception is that “There is nothing to do over here anyway” versus “there is something better to do by diving out there”. But because there is precisely NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING (again I emphasize NOTHING) to do here, that’s where it is a plus point instead of a negative point. It is one of the greatest places to spend a quality “stopover” (assuming if you know how to enjoy a place that is scenic but idle) as a normal break to all the activities that you do.
But ultimately, if you want to go, you can give yourself only that one reason of “I just want to go”, and if you don’t want to go, you can always procrastinate and give yourselves 1001 kinds of excuses.
The choice is yours. I am NOT going to spoil you over that.
STAGE 1: Planning to Bukit Tengkorak (Skull Hill)
Assuming that now that you want to go to Bukit Tengkorak (Skull Hill) of Semporna, you may want to read about it here at https://www.heritage.gov.my/english/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=344&Itemid=367
(What, just one site? Heck yes, because I will spill out for you the local’s view of this place!)
If you want to skip the entire thing and just look at the pictures, just scroll down.
So again, what’s the plan? Just some sightseeing? Some picnic? Or some good old’ guided trekking up the hill? Depending on what you need, there are 3 very important things that you’ll want to bring up.
- Mosquito repellent. Yes you may laugh, but unless you’re born here, you’ll notice the jungle-sized mosquitoes (they are big and ferocious) that occasionally buzz the idle visitors in this humid, and hot trek along the hill.
- Water / liquid replenishment. Because there is absolutely NOTHING up there. Not even a stall (what do you expect of an archaeological site turned into tourist attraction spot?)
- Spare clothing / towel / both: There are absolutely NO toilets, and you’re not allowed to do your nature’s calling up there. Besides, the fact that it may be steep for some trekkers, with the weather+humidity conditions, you’re better prepared for lots of sweat.
STAGE 2: Getting there.
Getting there is easy. Its getting out of the place that isn’t. Unless you do NOT have your own transport (refer to my own first post about travelling around and travelling to Semporna for the issue, I just can’t summarize the gist of it) then you’re going to spend lots of money for something that you may feel that you’re better off spending elsewhere (especially on your diving gear, if you’re coming to Semporna primarily for diving)
For locals, “prirates” (a local term for private privateers / pirate-esque taxi drivers, all mashed up) rates are from RM2 per person to RM3. If I were you, best get the number of the ride you’re coming and going out to. Worth the effort, and minus the hassle.
Bukit Tengkorak is situated in an area called “Tampi-Tampi” (pronounced “thump-pee-thumb-pee”). The landmarks to really watch out for is SMK Agama Tun Sakaran. This is a secondary school that is situated not far from the site. I’ll talk about another placed called “Tampi-Tampi Resort” (its not a resort by that name, but its a resort that’s situated in Tampi-Tampi, which I’ll post about it later).
Once you’re in this area, you’ll be whisked past a village-esque place (which is more of a palm-oil infested village) before arriving at the site office. The National Heritage Authority of Sabah had designated a RM4.2 million construction of a National-Park office, but even in the three years I’ve been here (and counting) I have yet to really see this office functioning beyond cosmetic and aesthetic features.
STAGE 3: Do what you do, right here.
I would and could have written an entire walkthrough, step-by-step, but its miserably spoiling and I think I’ll end up doing a virtual tour instead of letting you to discover. However, to make up for it, I have included a series of pictures (of which depending on how my editor-in-chief sees it) that should be useful as a rough guide of what to expect. Remember, you can blaze through this, or you can take your own sweet time. Either way, your call. (By the way, there’s a really good coconut fruit stall right at the entrance to the complex, and its worth every pennies) I’ll give you pictures with some commentaries, so as for you to really figure it out what you want to do.
STAGE 4: Winding down
Assuming that you’ve done what you want to do (primarily sightseeing, and some picnic probably, you won’t be doing archaeological hunts here) you may want to consider “what next”. I would suggest depending on the time of the day, to spend some time in Tampi-Tampi Resort, or head back to Semporna Town and spend some good time hanging out lazily.
This concludes part 1 of this post.
* * *
Part 2: The pictorial guide to Bukit Tengkorak (Skull Hill)
The place you want to go is Kpg Tampi-Tampi, pronounced “Come-poon Thump-pee-thumb-pee”.
Goats on roads are part of everyday occurrences in Semporna. We call them the ‘unofficial JPJ’. They cause roadblocks, yes, but you must not attempt to knock them. Their owners have surprisingly good tracking abilities (beats me how they do it)
This is the junction…
This is the enlarged picture (re-taken, actually)…
This is the entrance. The man and the woman you see in this picture are both waiting for “prirates” to pass by. Turn right to enter the complex and compound. Keep going to the end to go to Kpg. Tampi-Tampi.
This is the entrance. From here its about 300-500metres in. The only problem is…
This IS the problem. Locals had enough of people in cars with extra-loud exhaust mufflers, and even in this place they (drivers) may have tendencies to speed. The only solution to this problem? DIY-road-bumps, made by the villagers.
This is the entrance. To the left of this picture is a coconut-fruit-stall. The ‘gateway’ to the hill is far end (middle of the picture). However, before you go in, you’ll have to turn right first to enter the complex.
You must remove your shoes, and register your name (this is after all a National Gazetted National Park). You’ll need to write your name, and pay an entrance fee of RM3 (that is the local price) and RM10 for non-Malaysians.
Write your name here, and pay the entrance fee. I was informed as of 30thJune 2012, the complex has still yet to operate for its main function. (Disclaimer: The person in this picture, IS my wife. I would wish to respect her privacy)
This is the beginning of the trek. Climbing up is steep, but descending down is surprisingly leisurely.
This is the plan, and you can best visualize it. I will have more pictures for you so that you can visualize the layout. The place where you registered is the gallery which serves as the main complex.
This is how it looks like, going up. The wood structure is similar to most other designs you’ll see in Malaysian National Parks. This is a standardized design, after all.
This is POINT 1. The view here itself is nice. But it is even better when you’re on top of the hill.
There are few others of these type of canopy structures as you trek up. There are even words of advises and also places where they have placed signboards to tell you more about this place. Please enjoy them (i refuse to upload the pictures to spoil the experience you’ll be having later)
In fact, you’ll see a ‘congratulatory’ sign board for going all the way up!
See? I told you there was one!
In between checkpoint 3 and 4, this is the ONLY small stretch that has no bridges built.
According the officials, it is intended to be left that way, and in the future if there are further excavation expeditions, this would be one of the hotspots for them to target.
As well as this, this is nearing to the top of the hill. At this point you’re nearing probably 500 feet above sea level. You see all those sea shells there? Yes, they were here originally. So you’re looking at 3000 years of artefacts still unexcavated, unexplored. Don’t ask me why they didn’t just excavated the entire mountain (political and economic feasibility, I suppose) but since it remains like this just as it is, I’ll let you enjoy this.
On the very top side of the hill, on the back end, there’s this remains of a long-dead volcano. This picture is only one-fifth of the length. There are no official records to say that you cannot traverse this patch of land. However if you do, please remember that this is a very rocky patch of land. The jagged earth can cut through if you’re wearing too thin of a shoe. But the view behind is very satisfactory. You can even see Sipadan and Mabul from here too, if the weather is permitting (which it usually does) This part has been selectively let that way, because the grass grows strangely very fast. It is still a volcanic soil after all.
They have made a lot of effort in making this place as enjoyable as possible. Still, it is best to practice caution. You are also at your own risk should you attempt to climb the rocks, or do anything that’s not on the pathway. It is a risk, but probably one you’ll enjoy if you have attention to detail. After all, this entire zone used to be a hub of society 3 aeons ago.
Just a teaser. If a dog could climb up (this is at checkpoint 3 out of 4), then you should also be able to as well. J
This is one of the better places for you to hang around (there’s also another one on the back, but I forgot to take the picture of the place) which is cool, windy and has a good scenic view.
Note: To do this you’ll need a quarter of daylight to nearly half a daylight (3 hours to 6 hours) depending on how well prepared you are, and how long you’re willing to stay.
Guest post by Badi Yee:
- I am a very avid fan of motorcycle touring riding, and I enjoy local delicacies. Proud to be a Liverpool F.C supporter. I can always be reached at @badiyee if I am needed.