Following my only dive trip at Pulau Kapas back in 2017, I actually managed another underwater excursion in October 2018 while on a work trip to Kota Kinabalu that involved staying over the weekends.
Since this is still a blog documenting my travel & food adventures, here’s the short entry to serve as sort of an online dive-log of mine. Do check out the short video I made using the Olympus TG-Trekker, which since died after that trip for reasons unknown (I gotta call the service center, been weeks!)
Anyway, back to the trip.
Kota Kinabalu is a great city to live in if you love to go underwater. The jetty heading out to the islands is conveniently located just a few minute’s drive from the city center. In fact, you can realistically walk there.
a lousy day out diving is better than any day at the office!
The dive trip itself was arranged by Yann May with the local guide (Johny), and during this trip we were the only two divers, which made for a relaxing trip that doesn’t involved being hurried or having to wait for others.
You can get a 3-dive package for RM 250-300 or so around here, usually with a meal thrown in.
While visibility wasn’t the best during our dives, they were relaxing, and we did see a few eagle rays (first minute of first dive!), some clown fish, cleaning shrimps, starfish, pencil fish, lion fish, puffer fish, and more, mostly documented in the video.
As for big aquariums, I’ve visited Aquaria KLCC (even dived in it), Siam Ocean World in Bangkok, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and at one point, I even held the yearly pass for Newport Aquarium at Kentucky, so clearly I wasn’t going to miss the chance to visit Underwater World Langkawi.
As it turned out, the decision was a correct one, what we got to enjoy was well worth the RM 36/pax entrance fee (for Malaysian). Check out the short 3 minute video above.
rockhopper and black-footed penguins!
The aquarium covers some 60,000 sq ft separated in several sections, starting with reptiles and some freshwater fish right after the entrance area. Here you get to see the biggest freshwater fish species – Arapaima Gigas, among others such as the freshwater stingray, red tail cat fish etc.
getting up close with the sharks, and the mesmerizing octopus
Next up is the tropical rain forest, which houses not only fish but birds and and small animals. Our favorites being the marmoset, which looks a bit like super tiny Chinese opera actors if you ask me. There are also flamingos, swan, mandarin ducks and more.
The temperate and sub-antarctic sections are the main draws here, cos for many this would be the first time being up close with seals & penguins. There are in fact two penguin areas, one of each for rockhopper and black-footed penguins.
giant garupa, mud skippers, jellyfish and more
Like many big aquariums, there’s a tunnel at Underwater World Langkawi as well. Here you’ll see several species of sharks, giant grouper, turtles, stingray and more swimming about merrily. To be honest, I thought the tunnel at Aquaria KLCC was a bit more impressive, but this is a much bigger aquarium with more to see otherwise.
After the tunnel, there’s still yet more sea lives on showcase at the various tanks, including spider crab, octopus (very mesmerizing), jelly fish, reef fish, trevally, batfish, mudskippers, shrimps, and of course, clown fish.
Overall I thought it was a very fun experience and I’d recommend it to anyone, but especially those who loves the ocean.
Address: Underwater World Langkawi, Zon Pantai Cenang, Mukim Kedawang, 07000 Langkawi GPS: 6.287737, 99.728655 Tel: 04-955 6100 Hours: 9:30AM-6:30PM weekdays, 9:30AM-8:30PM weekends
Earlier this month I went to yet another island in the East Coast of Malaysia for a little bit of R&R as well as put a bit of time breathing compressed air underwater. For this trip, everything was arranged by my colleague, Rich, I sort of just tag along. A vacation where you don’t have to plan for anything? Sign me up!
Our destination – Pulau Kapas.
Kapas Turtle Valley resort, Pulau Kapas, Terengganu
Pulau Kapas is one of the lesser known islands of Terengganu. Located just 6 km or so from Marang Jetty, it is only some 10 minutes on the ferry (every 2 hours), which makes it really accessible even for those who may be prone to sea sickness. Furthermore, with East Coast Expressway in operation, getting there is easier than ever, around 400km on dual lane expressway with another 20 or so KM trunk road.
snorkeling, sand castle, and playing with hermit crab
Kapas Turtle Valley is run by a Dutch couple who called Malaysia home, there are a lot of pro & cons living in Malaysia as an expat. It is a fairly small resort with capacity of less than 20-30 guests at any one time. It is also located at semi-private sort of beach with other resorts accessible via a short walk across the small hill in 10 minutes, perfect for those who loves a bit of privacy and quiet time.
You’ll be expected to spend close to RM 100 per night per person to stay at KTV, with breakfast inclusive. The bungalows are comfortable, bathrooms are big and quite luxurious for island standard, and you do have electricity around the clock.
food at Kapas Turtle Valley was excellent
What I love most though, is the food prepared by Sylvia. Breakfast usually consists of very good pastry, dutch cheese, egg, and juice, while lunch & dinner is as per order (usually from 3 choices) and priced reasonably. Her dishes are at least on par with some of the better restaurants in town, and that is certainly quite a luxury on an island, with a budget.
kayaking looks a lot easier in photos
Holiday on island is about rest and relax, reading a book, listening to the waves and such, but if you’re restless, or you’re between 3-6, there are still quite a bit to do.
Making sand castle, catching hermit crab, snorkeling at the house reef, kayaking, throwing freebies, or even sailing on a catamaran is an option.
Aqua Sport Divers, the only dive center at Pulau Kapas
We spent 5 days and 4 nights at Turtle Kapas Valley, and only decided to put in some diving on 3rd and 4th day.
Aqua Sport Divers is the only dive center on the island, and some 25 minutes walk from where we stay. Fortunately, they are more than happy to ferry us on a small speed boat to & fro from KTV to dive center.
nemo with anemone, always one of my favorite shooting subjects
As for the dives, underwater visibility at Kapas isn’t exactly stellar, mostly due to the fact that the island is a mere 6 kilometers away from peninsular Malaysia, but they were more than decent.
Over the 3 dives, we spotted moray eel, barracuda, humphead wrasse, clown fish, jelly fish, big puffer, blue spotted stingray, and more. There were even a story about a group getting a glimpse of a whale shark a couple weeks prior.
UW pics taken with Olympus TG-5
I loaned a couple cameras from Olympus that are fit for underwater purposes. The Olympus TG-Tracker for video, and Olympus TG-5 mainly for stills. They were very convenient, pop the SD cards in and you’re good to go, no meticulous checking of seals or carrying my huge set up of my (now dated) Olympus E-PL3 with underwater housing. The picture quality isn’t as good as a micro 4/3 format for sure, but there were more than acceptable, and of course, carrying a small pouch with 2 cameras is much easier than a whole luggage full of gear for just one.
Overall it was an awesome trip, thanks to Rich & San San for organizing, will look forward to more R&R trips such as this one.
Quite a few moons ago we went to do one of the more touristy things you can do in Selangor – firefly watching at Kuala Selangor.
To be honest, it was my first time doing that, and I had our Singaporean friends Angus & his girlfriend to thank for this experience. Funnily, the attractions closest to us are some that we often never bother to visit.
Firefly watching at Kuala Selangor
The tour is fairly simple, you arrive at around sunset, pay some RM 30 or so, put on your life jacket and hop on the boat. D’Tour is just one of the many operations that offers similar services.
The boat then take us along Selangor River to the area where the fireflies gather. It was quite a sight to see, the trees by the river were packed with fireflies that seems to blink in sync, like a single colored x’mas tree. Quite neat, and no, we didn’t get too many mosquito bites.
It was quite fun and anyone should at least try this once. The whole journey lasted around an hour or so.
This part of Kuala Selangor has quite a few seafood restaurants in operation, and many of them are seemingly packed on every weekends. We hop onto the one right next to D Tour – Kuang Wah Seafood Restaurant.
The set up is a carbon copy of many Malaysian seafood outfits – with plastic tables & chairs, and a wall of aquarium and fiber glass containers full with assortment of live seafood for your picking. The prices are also clearly stated.
deep fried mantis prawn, lala with superior soup, drunken live prawn
For the four of us, we started with deep fried mantis shrimp with chili and salt (RM 30). The meat was firm and rather flavorful, a good start.
Then it was lala in superior soup (RM 15). The soup was more spicy than superior, but does tick the checkbox somewhat.
Drunken prawn came in a clay pot (RM 30), and had some mushroom, green onion, and plenty of ginger strips in a soup base that I can’t stop drinking. It was quite awesome, and you can also definitely tell the freshness of the prawns by how sticky the skin is to the meat.
steamed 7-star garoupa, Sg. friends & Haze
Our main dish was the steamed seven-star garoupa fish. We chose the simplest of preparation method to enjoy the natural flavor of the seafood, and it proved to be good decision. The meat was smooth and sweet, with the superior soya sauce complimenting the fish meat perfectly.
Overall it was a pretty good dinner, our friends from Singapore certainly did not complain. I’d say that Kuang Wah offers very good value for money as well. The dinner came to be only RM 132 to feed four hungry adults, with each of us having a fresh coconut (RM 4.50 each) as well.
If I was at Kuala Selangor again, I’d certainly not minding coming back to this particular restaurant again.
Earlier in the year, one of my colleagues sent out an email to the whole department mooting the idea of a group hike to Gunung Kinabalu, the highest peak in Borneo and South East Asia, I immediately msg Haze to check on her interest, and a few months later in late July 2016, we found ourselves at the foothill of the sleeping giant.
Kinabalu Park entrance & Timpohon Gate, our starting point 9:40 am
First, let’s talk about the mountain and what one should prepare if you have the intention to scale all of 4096 meter. Here’s the check list of equipment that will be extremely helpful:
hiking stick(s), preferably a pair. This will aid in providing traction as well as relieve to the impact to your knees, especially on descent
water bottles or water bladder. It’s going to be a very long hike, you’ll need hydration, at least 2-3 litre
cloths for cold weather. Temperature at summit can be as low as a few Celsius, factoring in wind chill and you’re in for a treat. We find the down jacket from UNIQLO quite good for this application as it is very compact. You are also advised to bring at least a pair of long pants and maybe long john
snacks, packed lunch is provided with the package, but some condensed calorie such as chocolate or energy bar is helpful
hiking lamp or torch light. Head lamp is helpful as you may need to have your hands free for hiking stick or ropes on 2nd day ascent that starts at 2:30 am
hat & sunscreen. You’d want to protect yourself from getting sun burnt
gloves. Preferably 2 pairs just in case they get wet, doesn’t need to be very thick, you need them to protect your hands while grabbing the ropes, and also not have your fingers get too cold near summit
poncho/umbrella. Just in case it rains on you
extra change of cloths. It is a two day hike and it also may rain
ibuprofen. Taking 600 mg ibuprofen every 8 hours is shown to reduce incident of altitude sickness
a small first aid supply. Plasters, some bandages can be helpful
While these supplies are important, you are also advised to get it as light as possible. They get heavier and heavier every step you climb up, you can also hire porter to carry everything for you at a rate of RM 10 or so per KG (both up & down)
first stop was Pondok Kandis 10:04 am
Secondly, you’re going to be needing some training. If you’re not already an avid hiker, you’re gonna need to get some practise hike before the Mount Kinabalu ordeal.
Many hikers used to go to Batu Caves to walk those stairs before Kinabalu hike, but whoever is now in charged of that public property seems to not be letting anyone do that anymore. Next best thing is going to places like Kiara Hills or Bukit Tabur if you’re near KL, or even better, Penang Hill. We did those places once each with quite a few gym sessions to get ready, and at the end wished that we had done more practise hikes.
Pondok Ubah, 10:30 am
You can’t climb Kinabalu Mountain like you do with other hills. Permit and hiking guide are required for every climber. For that we signed up Amazing Borneo Tours. The package we got was as follow:
RM 1250 for Malaysian, RM 1630 for non-Malaysian inclusive of GST
includes 1 breakfast, 2 lunches, 1 dinner & 1 supper
1 night accommodation at Laban Rata
return transfer from KK to Kinabalu Park, and Kinabalu Park to Timpohon Gate
Haze and myself actually ended up renting a car and drove to Kinabalu Park ourselves since we had planned to stay at Kundasang after the climb while others in our group made used of the KK hotel transfer. I wonder if we could have gotten a slightly cheaper rate if we had stated that earlier.
Pondok Lowii 11:13 am, Pondok Mempening, 12:21 am
The journey from Kota Kinabalu starts at around 6am from the hotel. It takes some 2 hours or so to get to the main entrance of Kinabalu Park. We then got paperwork for climbing permit sorted out and collected our pre-packed lunch in paper bag.
Our group was then ferried to the Timpohon Gate (elevation 1866 m)to start our climb at around 9:33am.
Pondok Layang-Layang, 1:11 pm
The aim for first day is to get to Laban Rata (elevation 3272 m), which is about a 6 km hike of 1400 meter in elevation. Along the way there are quite a number of shelters, or Pondok. The shelters aren’t really equal in distance or elevation between one another, but provides a good place to catch your breath.
Pondok Villosa, 2:36 pm
The shelters from Timpohon to Laban Rata (with our time of arrival):
Pondok Kandis, 1981 meter, 10:04 am
Pondok Ubah, 2081 meter, 10:30 am
Pondok Lowii, 1167 meter, 11:13 am
Pondok Mempening, 2515 meter, 12: 21 pm
Pondok Layang-Layang, 2702 meter, 1:03 pm (this is also where we had our lunch)
Pondok Villosa, 2960 meter, 2: 36 pm
Pondok Paka, 3080 meter, 3:21 pm
.. and finally – Laban Rata, 3272 meter, 4:18 pm
Pondok Paka, 3:21 pm
We actually split into two groups about half way with another group being a little faster. Our time posted is quite of quite a leisure pace with a lot of rest at the shelters, and some stops in between as well. Dinner at Laban Rata is served at 4:30 pm so we actually got there just in time.
we reached Laban Rata at 4:18 pm; food, sleeping place!
Dinner is buffet style and there’s plenty of food to go around. There’s also a small shop at the restaurant that offers bottled water, snacks, and even beer, at a price that’s quite a bit more expensive than in the city. A 1.5 litre of water was some RM 15 (or maybe a bit more), but I bet most of us won’t want to carry anyone’s 1.5 kg worth of anything up there for RM 15.
After dinner it’s a good idea to get some sleep before the 2nd day’s hike. Hostel style bunk bed is all you get, and we’re lucky to have a room with 6 beds for our group to enjoy our very own snoring symphony.
getting ready for summit try, 2:30 am
We woke up at 1:30 am for 2nd day’s hike. Buffet style supper is provided and we ate as much as we could in our sleepy state to get ready for the summit try.
Temperature at Laban Rata is already pretty cold at maybe 12-15 Celsius, so we put on our cold weather cloths and lights. I left a climbing stick in the room and to carry only one since I wanted to have a free hand for grabbing the climbing rope along the route.
by 4:53 am we reached KM 8.0, the last stop
The climb to summit is pretty different from the first day’s trail. It is a lot steeper and generally more hazardous, there are parts where you’ll need to grab hold of the climbing rope to help yourself up. It is also potentially more slippery when wet as some areas are just rock face without any steps or wide path like the first day.
To give you an idea of the difference in gradient, first day we hiked 6 km for 1400 meter in elevation, the second day it was 2.5 km for 822 meter. It is that much steeper.
reached the summit at about 5:45 am for sunrise
We started the climb at 2:30 am and reached the summit just over 3 hours later. It was a gruelling hike as I was already quite tired from previous day’s climb. There are a couple stations for resting, and we also took a few stops closer to summit whenever we felt tired. It got really cold and windy, we had to took cover behind some boulders while resting.
Haze unfortunately decided to turn back some 10 minutes into the climb as she was showing signs of altitude sickness with very elevated heart rate. Ian had decided to stay back (as per planned) as he had made the summit a year ago. Thank you Ian!
Poul near the summit
Low’s Peak is quite a small are and gets rather crowded. We waited for our turn to take the all important I AM HERE ON TOP OF Mt. KINABALU pictures, stayed another half hour or so admiring the view before slowly making our way down.
there are areas where ropes are required
The view going back down to Laban Rata was breath taking. You could see the whole of Kundasang and plenty of cloud around.
the view on the way down was breathtaking
The evidence from 2015’s earthquake was also very apparent. There were boulders the size of cars littered by the slope along the newly created path after the previous one was destroyed. Lives were lost during that day.
result of the earthquake, look at the size of this fallen boulder
It was about 9:30 am when we reached Laban Rata, just good timing for another round of breakfast. All these walking really does work up your appetite, and it is a good idea to eat as much as possible to replenish all those spent calories. We then took a bit of rest before heading back down by around 10:15 am.
at this check point you also find the highest toilet in all of South East Asia
The journey down, was not nearly as demanding in a cardiovascular sense, was very punishing to our joints. My right knee (which suffered MCL injury before) started acting up about 70% down. Thankfully those hiking sticks provided some relieves.
Most coincidentally, we also met with an intern, Vinod who worked at our department a year ago. Hello!
we met with an ex-intern on the way down, also look at the porter!
Climbing Kinabalu Mountain was quite an experience, and one that I hope that we can do it again next year!
By the way, our pre-discussed contingency plan before climbing was that if anyone couldn’t make it, Ian was going to stay with the person, and if Ian was that person, I was going to stay with him. The reason being he had done it before, and I was the person who has more opportunity to try it again. You may not need to use this plan like we did, but it’s a good idea to have one.