After the 6 dives at Mabul, Kapalai, and Sipadan islands, we decided to take day 4 easy and not go for any extra diving sessions.
We checked rather early at 8am, had some breakfast and went for a short snorkeling trip instead.
Uncle Chang’s Sipadan Mabul dive lodge
At Uncle Chang’s, a 3-dive package is priced at RM 560 for Sipadan and RM 260 for Mabul/Kapalai. Extra dive at Mabul is priced at RM 150, and snorkeling at Mabul is free of charge if you’re staying there.
Rental per day for snorkel and mask is at RM 15, and there’s another RM 15 for fins too. It is important to have both items for snorkeling, as Gun found out the hard way by over estimating his ability to swim without fins. We had to cut short our expedition due to tiredness as the dude did not wear a life jacket either.
giant blue clams, star fish, and lotsa neon colored fish, Jen & Lynn
After diving, snorkeling can be a bit disappointing. While it is still beautiful, the variety of fish at shallow depth tend to be a lot lesser, and we are limited to one breath per short dive to the bottom to get a closer look.
around Mabul island, a beautiful mess
After coming back to Uncle Chang’s, we still had 3-4 hours to kill before the boat ride out of Mabul. Irene, Lynn, and I decided to walk over to the other side of the island to get some souvenirs.
On the island, you really do see the way hardcore poor of Borneo lives. Kids below schooling age normally doesn’t even wear anything, and they seem quite content to be running around naked and be peeing whenever they feel like, even in front of you. Houses here often consist of only one room, with a window that can’t really be shut and a frame that doesn’t’ really have a proper door.
Oh, they do have electricity, but only at night.
Nemo Island Shell Fish Shop
To support local economy, we went to Nemo Island Shell Fish Shop to get some souvenirs. As the name suggests, they sell mainly seashells here, anything from RM 5 for a big one to RM 20-30 for those that are more intricate. The lady gave us discounts without us asking first, probably cos we look like really nice people. 😀
There were a couple low quality t-shirts for sale too, with one printed “KLCC”.. heh.
Mabul island to Uncle Chang’s dive lodge
After we went back to Uncle Chang’s with our purchase, Lynn and I went on the island one more time to kill another hour or so, this time soaking our legs on another private resort’s swimming pool. No one came to disturb us, I guess we really did look like nice people.
I took a video on the way from Mabul to Uncle Chang’s, the few jokers: Lynn, Irene, Jen, Gun, and Chan appeared in this short video. I wanna go back there, now!
Well I had, in fact, I had it thrice in 3 successive meals last Monday evening to Tuesday night. First one was with ex-uni mates, then a bunch of Chinese colleagues at Ducking, and finally with Mell at Lucky Loke (one of my favorite tai chau places) the very same night after that.
Mell is a yee sang addict
Yee Sang is originated right here in Malaysia and Singapore (yah I know wikipedia stated Sg., but I don’t care). For the uninitiated, the ingredients include raw/smoked fish (usually salmon), daikon, parsley, crackers, capsicum, jelly fish, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Of course, there’s the all important sesame oil, salt and peper, and plum sauce
Toss em up and yell some auspicious verse while leaving the table super messy is a must (I ended up with yee sang on my hair on my first session). Then enjoy, it’s yummy!
the fried pork belly is super yummy at lucky loke
After the very delicious yee sang, we proceed to order the fried pork belly and spinach with herbal soup to go with rice. That was, of course a little bit too much for just the two of us following a pretty big portion of the auspicious dish.
The fried pork belly was as awesome as usual, with 3-layered meat, a bit of cucumber, some onion, green onion, and generous amount of chili padi, it was hot and very addictive. The spinach too was very good.
Meal for two with Yee Sang – RM 45
Having a good relationship with ex – priceless
By the way, I was going into the cinema last night and there was this guy who got stopped at the entrance.
ticketing guy: “ahh you’re not allowed to bring outside food, what are these?” chinese dude: “this one is.. yee sang, and this one is.. yok kon lor”
Gong Xi Fa Cai everyone!
Address: Lorong SS3/59E
47300 Selangor GPS:3.109577, 101.611776
After the awesome party and three dives at Mabul and Kapalai the previous day, we woke up feeling a heightened level of excitement despite having slept only a few hours. It was what we’ve been waiting for, the three dives at Sipadan awaits.
Sipadan, a Paradise without the nosy St. Peter
Acclaimed by the late (and apparently super famous) marine biologist Jacques Cousteau as “an untouched piece of art”, Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia. Formed by living corals on top of an extinct volcanic cone rising 600 meters from the seabed, the island is often regarded as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world.
turtles like to come here for party
We took off from Mabul island at about 9 in the morning and arrived at Paradise some 20 minutes later. Gone were the resorts surrounding the island since the local authority decided to shut them down, there are only 120 permits issued per day for diver/snorkelers at Sipadan.
While this may frustrate people who made the long journey without proper planning and ended up not being able to dive here, I think it is a right step in conservation of the island and dive sites. This basically made sure that there won’t be more than a couple dozen boats coming to the island per day, limiting pollution as well as potential damage too the eco system caused by overly touchy divers too.
a huge school of jackfish
Our first dive was at White Tip, 10:10am. It was wall dive with vertical drop of 600 meters into the deep blue. As the name suggests, we did really see some white tip sharks, and there were plenty of turtles. In fact, all three dive sites at Sipadan were full of sea turtles. Sea turtle resting on cora, sea turtle swimming, sea turtle hiding in the cave, it was like a space ships in starwars, they’re everywhere.
We also spotted a pretty good size trigger fish, and fortunately it wasn’t their breeding season just yet and no one was attacked. They can be pretty vicious when protecting their nests. Tales of taking a chunk out of diver’s fins are not uncommon. 18 meters maximum depth and 45 minutes later, we understood the rave about Sipadan.
corals and many tiny colorful fishes
After about an hour’s rest, we headed to the Hanging Garden for our second dive. Maximum depth of 18 meters for another 45 minutes of eye feast. There were unicorn fish, beautiful reef sharks, angel fish, moray eels, tiny blue/red/spotted tropical fish, and of course, more turtles.
After the second dive, we stopped by the island and swallowed had some lunch that was tapao-ed from Uncle Chang’s. A bit of shrimps, vegetable, and some fried chicken wings never tasted so good and yet so irrelevant, we were all too excited anticipating our final dive.
bumhead parrot fish that’s really huge, sharks
The last dive of the trip was naturally, the famous Barracuda Point that is located just a stone’s throw away from the jetty. Right at the get go, we saw a huge school of jackfish swimming in a swirling in a giant ball. The dive master actually used my camera to take a video of me swimming into it, I shall figure out how to use iMovie on this mac and post up the video soon. It was pretty amazing.
The amount of fish at this area is astounding, we saw all the fish described previously except in much higher concentration, and there were plenty of sharks too (usually around 3 feet in length). Most amazing of all was the herd of bum head parrot fish we followed for a while, they were as big as me and most probably heavier. Pretty calm and chilling though, minding their own business and shat a lot at the same time.
It was an awesome experience diving at Barracuda Point, and I will surely return to this site in the future, after all we didn’t manage to see the famous barracuda tower on the dive despite being underwater for another 45 minutes.
Mabul island tour, at nemo island shell fish shop
One of Uncle Chang’s employee, Zul, volunteered and took us for foot tour around the island of Mabul. We took about an hour to complete the some 2km path, and Lynn discovered Mabul’s ipod where you can listen to the ocean from anywhere in the world in stereo.
After a night’s stay at Semporna at the lion’s lower jaw of Sabah, we packed up our gears and took the boat to Mabul island. The six of us jumped onto the speed boat operated by Uncle Chang’s Sipadan Mabul Dive Lodge.
We were all stoked as it was the first half of our 2 day, 6 dive expedition.
all smiles except for Chan, who is susceptible with sea sickness, noob
A lot of people associates diving at Mabul/Sipadan to be an expensive affair, but with Uncle Chang’s, accommodation is at an affordable RM 60 per night including all meals, with 3 dives at Mabul & Kapalai priced at RM 260, and a further RM 560 for 3 dives at Sipadan (longer boat ride and 1-day dive permit). For those who doesn’t dive, there’s a RM 100 boat transfer fee that includes unlimited snorkeling at Mabul.
We had a bit of an engine problem half way to Mabul, so the usual 45 minute ride took over an hour, no one really complained though. We were too excited for what’s ahead of us.
giant sea turtle
Mabul and Kapalai are arguably the best spots for muck diving, which basically consist of slightly water with higher concentration of sediment, a condition perfect for many exotic sea creatures to call home, albiet with slightly lower visibility.
Our first dive site was at Eel Garden where we spent 43 minutes at 17 meter underwater. There were plenty of giant sea turtle, stone fish, lion fish, and of course, the famous Nemo too.
pipe fish, crocodile fish, blue nudibranch
After stopping at the dive lodge for slightly over an hour, we proceed to our second dive site at Kapalai island and spent a further 42 minutes at a maximum depth of 18 meters.
The dive site at Kapalai consist of mainly sandy bottom with plenty of man made corals. Ship wrecks and other structures make perfect home for plenty of fishes. There were giant grouper, trigger fish, cuttle fish that flashes colors, blue spotted stingray hiding under the wreck, and even a sea dragon too.
clown fish with anemone, blue spotted ray, cuttle fish, hermit crab
We probably didn’t have enough surface interval between the two dives as the boat transfer from Semporna to Mabul took a bit too long. As a result, Chan somehow ran out of air (while I still had some 70 bar left) and Gan managed to throw up after surfacing. I think we almost went off the dive chart for diving again too soon, oh well..
We then went back to the dive lodge and had our well deserved lunch. It wasn’t great food, but perfectly edible with meat, vegetable, rice, and fruits.
fluet fish, angry eel, upside down pencil fish, moray eel
After lunch and a bit of rest to clear the residue nitrogen in our body, we headed to our final dive site of the day, Paradise II at Mabul. There we spent 45 minutes at a shallower 12 meter maximum depth, I managed to finish with more than half a tank of air left.
Paradise II had plenty of turtles, moray eel, sting ray, and we even spotted a hermit crab. It was already 4pm by the time we were done.
Some of the best photos I took on this day came from this dive as shallower water = better colors.
the most beautiful sunset this side of malaysia
We spent the rest of the day completing our dive logs and a bit of tanning. As Uncle Chang’s is located at the west side of Mabul island, by around 6pm when the sun starts to set, the whole resort bask in amazingly beautiful golden rays of light.
They claimed this place to have the most beautiful sunset, and they were right. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
rocking it on at Uncle Chang’s Sipadan Mabul Dive Lodge
After dinner, the live band at the lodge came out and started rocking the crowd. There were 4-5 singers, some of them orphans under Uncle Chang’s wing (part of profits go to orphanage), and the man himself (long hair, white t-shirt) too sang “we are the world”. The singers were actually rather entertaining, with the girl possessing an exceptional though unpolished voice. She’d have made Simon Cowell proud.
After a while, bottles of free rums were given to each table, and the dive masters started pouring cheap red wine to us too. That got the crowd really going, in no time we were dancing on the floor and singing together with the rockers. It was absolutely awesomesauce.
The night more than made up for the canceled Killers concert.
A couple of us spent the night sleeping on uncomfortable wooden deck chair under thousands of stars at night, with sea breeze blowing on our face, and max brenner the cat on my stomach acting as an extra organic heater. It was splendid.
I didn’t know I was going on my 3rd diving trip this 2-6 February until about a month ago.
It was Irene who mentioned that she’s going to Mabul/Sipadan with her sisters and 2 other guys, since she sounds like a crazy person who is fun to hang out with, I decided to tag along despite not having met anyone face to face prior to this trip, Irene including.
rather refreshing to be flying a non-budget airline for once
So I logged into both AirAsia and MAS for flights to Tawau and decided to take the non-budget route since the price difference was not more than 10% in this case.
RM 434 paid for the return fare, including 20kg luggage allowance, pretty delicious meal (the nasi lemak is just as good as those served on Air Asia, and comes with Ferrero Roche too).
Tawau to Semporna, at Dragon Inn
When I reached Tawau at 11+ in the morning, Irene, Lynn, Jen, Chan, and Gun had already been waiting there for some three hours after flying from KK. We chartered a van (RM 250 both ways) to our destination for the day – Semporna.
The 90+ km journey from Tawau (nearest airport) to Semporna took just over an hour. Instead of lush pristine Borneo jungle that I had envisioned, it we were greeted with rows upon rows of palm trees with the occasional village houses instead. Not a whole lot of visual treatment going on.
Semporna, at the lion’s lower jaw
Semporna is often the stopover town for divers and travelers alike heading to Mabul/Sipadan islands. Located at the southeastern corner of Sabah (the lion’s lower jaw), Semporna has a population just over 100k, with a rather tiny town center that isn’t even as big as SS2 in PJ. You could walk the whole downtown area in 15 minutes or so.
the view from Dragon Inn Floating Resort
We checked into Dragon Inn Floating Resort to spend the night. Since there were 6 of us, we chose the dormitory style accommodation for the night to give everyone a chance to chill together. At RM 20 per person per night it was really cheap, but unfortunately the lack of air conditioning proved to be a major problem not for being too warm, but for having too many mosquitos making a feast of us.
Speaking of mosquitos, here’s quiz from Lynn (answer at the bottom of the page): What’s the difference between a mosquito and a fly?
Umai – a traditional Sarawakian delight
Irene brought a packet of Umai all the way from Kuching for me (thank you very much!).
Umai is a traditional Sawarakian food that is best described as a sort of raw fish salad. A packet of raw fish (white fish) that is pre-marinated with lime juice and onion that is served by mixing with red chili, fresh lime juice, and probably some salt and pepper.
Give it a few tosses ala yee sang style and you’re ready to roll. It was actually quite refreshing, kinda like the cross of Japanese salad and Chinese yee sang but with a heavy lime juice taste and a hint of spiciness. I liked it and would try a fresh version when I find myself at Sarawak next time.
dinner at the restaurant by the bridge
For dinner, we took a short walk from the resort and settled upon the little restaurant by the bridge that connects town center and the resort. The vegetable was okay, spicy squid rather tasty, and the venison somewhat tough and forgettable.
We sat under the sky with a gentle breeze brushing our hair, waiting for the next day’s diving excursion at Mabul and couldn’t care less if dinner wasn’t exactly impressive. It was less than RM10 per pax anyway.
Next up – Mabul island.
Answer to Lynn’s quiz: A mosquito can fly but a fly cannot mosquito!