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This is a follow up post to the 2013 Maldives trip, while the previous post detailed the liveaboard trip in its entirety, I want to share the dive log and some underwater photos in this post.

Photos are taken with Olympus E-PL3 & PT-EP05L underwater housing, I use an Inon UWL 100 & dome port for wide angle shots, and the Inon UCL 165 close up lens for the few macro photos.

Lighting is supplemented with a couple Sea & Sea YS-D1 from my buddy Terence, control wasn’t the best since I’m still getting used to the set up. I gotta be more patient in trying out different settings, but alas, when the underwater world is so beautiful, sometimes you just want to enjoy the moment.

the Choo family & Cherish, posing with a turtle at Fish Head
Joshua, Aileen & Cherish, posing with a turtle at Fish Head

We logged 17 dives over 6 days of diving, and got to see basically everything except manta rays at cleaning stations, but the sharks, tuna, whale shark, marble rays, beautiful seascape, and wonderful company more than made up for it.

Here’s hoping we will visit this paradise of a country again in not so distant future.

guitar shark found at 38 meters at "Fish Head"
guitar shark found at 38 meters at “Fish Head”

Day 1
Dive 1:
Check out dive.
28.1m
One diver shot up from 20m with mask and regulator off, luckily proper CESA observed
Saw two black tip around 5-6′
Titan trigger non aggressive
School red tooth trigger fish
A very big morey eel
Parrot fish

Dive 2:
Night dive 9pm+
Site: fesdu lagoon
Manta
Set up lights on boat and dhony to attract mantas.
Went down and visibility was not too great due to sand kick up
Manta came close few times, magical
65 mins
During safety stop Manta feeding under lights. Shot a short video
The same diver cut the dive short, still recovering from first dive’s emergency ascent

school of fish at Lily's Manta Point
school of fish at Lily’s Manta Point

a customary picture of nemo
a customary picture of nemo

played with the cleaner wrasses a little at Broken Rock, day 4
played with the cleaner wrasses a little at Broken Rock, day 4

Day 2
Dive 3:
Site: fish head
Guitar shark at 38.5 meter.
Saw some 6 footer gray sharks
Giant morey eel swimming out of hiding place too
Plenty of fish, coral
Medium current, maybe a tad too deep at guitar shark area, luckily monitored and did not go into deco
Alan and Nicole came up late due to deco
The diver who had problem on the first day had a good dive, that’s great

Dive 4:
Before lunch
Second dive at Lily’s Manta point
Didn’t manage to spot any Manta this time
Close to 20m and we found a spot on Sandy bottom waiting for Manta, did not happen
Ended up playing a bit and taking pics at the nearby reefs

Dive 5:
Afternoon dive
Same site at Lily’s Manta point
No Manta this dive either, nice leisure dive
Puffer fish, coral fish, played with the sand and fishes taking advantage pecking the debris

day 3 - swimming with whale shark
day 3 – swimming with whale shark

Kudimaa wreck, I always love the ambiance of a wreck dive
Kudimaa wreck, I always love the ambiance of a wreck dive

Day 3
Dive 6:
Kuradah Thila
Plenty of reef fish, huge garupa too
Nice seascape, Nemo too
Saw a Manta while on Dhoni

Dive 7:
Second dive
South of ali atoll
Site: manigili
Trying to spot whale shark
We Snorkeled with the baby wheel shark first, was fun at first then it got too crowded
Some other group didn’t play nice and cut through front, blah
Still the whale shark was majestic!
Diving later was non eventful except the whale shark for the first minute.
Too much current swaying us left and right so we went up after about 40m

Dive 8:
Third dive of the day
Kudimaa wreck
Beautiful wreck, we went inside a little bit too
Didn’t put my flash trigger securely so no flash available
Big school of bat fish, very bold and curious

Night time Manta! Two came to the boat and we snorkel with them, took some pics. Very graceful and magical, better than whale shark I think

manta visited us again on the 3rd night, majestic creature
manta visited us again on the 3rd night, majestic creature

a moray eel scheming something against Caely, at Broken Rock
a moray eel scheming something against Caely, at Broken Rock

caught Nicole framing these pair of butterfly fish
caught Nicole framing these pair of butterfly fish

Day 4
Dive 9:
Site: broken rock
Nice leisure dive, Joshua having a bit of problem descending, tried helping but didn’t manage cos I didn’t carry weight
Saw a pair of yellow batfish, nice pic opportunity
Morey swimming outside too

Dive 10:
Site: vashu giri kandu
Deep and with quite a bit of current
Saw napoleon wrasse, sharks, and eagle ray
Hanging on the side wall to fight off current
Almost deco at 3-4 mins for a while
One of the more challenging dive sites

Dive 11:
Night dive
Alimatha jetty
One of the more exciting dives
We had some sardin in a milo tin and lots of nurse sharks came
Got very close to them too
A few knocked me and the camera pretty solid
Giant trivoli were huge, almost 2 feet in length and very bold
Huge marble Rays too
Haze was petrified underwater, didn’t know nurse sharks don’t bite
Awesome dive even tho it was very shallow at about 5-8 meters only

diving with nurse sharks at Alimatha Jetty, thrilling experience
diving with nurse sharks at Alimatha Jetty, thrilling experience

huge marble ray among the sharks
huge marble ray among the sharks

Day 5
Dive 12:
Site: miyaru kandu (means channel)
Black tip, napoleon wrasse and a honeycomb eel.
Others saw a school of black tip at deeper end too
Quite deep, less exciting dive especially after last night

Dive 13:
Site: kandoona
Pretty deep dive, hit deco for about a minute strong current and we just hang on the rocks, looking at quite a few gray reef sharks just chilling at the channel, kinda like f1 car in wind tunnel
A few Napoleon wrasse too
35 meter

Dive 14:
Site: vilivaru giri
Lots of reef fish, a few types of trigger
Trying to take a photo of a pair of pipe fish but an unsuspecting morey bit attacked the strobe
Saw a turtle too
Quite a lot of clown fish too
Beautiful corals, including table coral
Brown ribbon eel
Others saw octopus too

spotted this beautiful jellyfish at "Sunlight" dive site
spotted this beautiful jellyfish at “Sunlight” dive site, day 5

beautiful seascape at "Sunlight"
beautiful seascape at “Sunlight”

plenty of these small critters at Miyaru Kandu, day 4
plenty of these small critters at Miyaru Kandu, day 4

say cheese, Mr. Turtle of Miyaru Kandu dive site
say cheese, Mr. Turtle of Miyaru Kandu dive site

Day 6Dive 15:
Site: sunlight
No Manta
Played with sand again
Saw a tiny little flounder which was very cute
The two coral blocks had some jewel garupa, Nemo etc
Saw a pretty good size jelly fish on the way up too

Dive 16:
Dive site: Lankan reef
Saw a tuna for the first time. A bit far away so can’t get any pics.
It was some 10-20m from a shark that everyone was checking out
No Manta sightings tho
Reef fish aplenty, pipe fish too
Dive 17:
Dive site: Lankan reef
Another try for Manta but yet again no luck
Saw a shark, turtle, yellow pipe fish and other reef fish
A more relaxing end as the last dive of our trip
It was well worth it, we got to see eventing we could hope for. Not seeing Manta at cleaning station is alright.

Haze & yours truly, signing off
Haze & yours truly, signing off 

We went to Maldives for a holiday of sun, sea, and plenty of fun in the beginning of October 2013. This was the second dive trip of the year, the first was Anilao at the Philippines in January.

Two international trips in the same year, I can’t really ask for more. Anilao was mainly for macro (small creatures), while Maldives is famous for its’ awesome big marine animals. Perfect.

This post is about being on the cruise and the entire trip, there will be other entries with underwater photos detailing the dive sites and diving experiences.

map of Maldives

For those who aren’t familiar with this paradise of a country, Maldives is located in the Indian ocean, about 400 kilometers south-west of India.

We took the Malaysian Airline flight that goes straight from KLIA to MLE. The airfare cost a little over RM 1,000 all inclusive. This was a promotional price, usual fare goes for around RM 1.6k.

Luggage weight limit is 30kg, but showing your dive card gets you another 10kg if you’re traveling to a dive destination. Air Asia also flies to Maldives now (via Columbo).

the airport at Male, Maldives
the airport at Male, Maldives

The flight to MALE took about 4 hours and we touched down just passed 10pm.

The airport is built on Hulhulé Island and while you can see the capital of Maldives – Male, the two islands are not connected to each other.

crystal clear water right outside the airport
crystal clear water right outside the airport

Hence, instead of lines of buses and cabs, you have ferries and plenty of private boats picking up travellers.

Right from the get go, we were already impressed. By the airport there were crystal clear water, coconut trees, and gentle cool breeze. We knew that it was going to be a good holiday.

Before getting off the airport, we bought a local SIM card for data services. 22 USD gets you the “unlimited” data package that lasts a month, though unlimited really means 5 gigabytes worth of data before you get throttled.

Data coverage is surprisingly good, albeit the relatively slow speed.

plenty of liveaboard cruise ships parked near Male
plenty of liveaboard cruise ships parked near Male

We were transferred to Handy Cruise via a Dhoni, a multipurpose sailboat that’s equipped with a motor used in Maldvies. The Dhoni also serves as the boat that we used for diving, as well as a rescue boat in emergency situations.

Having a separate boat for diving ensures that the main boat that we spend most of our time in is always dry and clean.

aboard on Handy Cruise, where we spent the next 6 nights
aboard on Handy Cruise, where we spent the next 6 nights

The Handy Cruise is a pretty fine liveaboard boat, there’s a sun deck on top, followed by 5 cabins on first floor (two of which has built in jacuzzi), with access to front and rear of the boat. The entertainment area (with TV and sound system), dining room, kitchen, and the bar is on the main deck. There are five more cabins on the lower deck as well.

There’s a charging station for cameras & phones on the common area, and each room is also equipped with air conditioning with attached bathroom and hot shower. I’d say it is equivalent to a 3-4 star hotel.

light attracts planktons, which attract the beautiful manta rays
light attracts planktons, which attract the beautiful manta rays

We logged 17 dives in 6 days, with the seventh day spent clearing nitrogen out of our body before flying home. As mentioned earlier, posts on diving will follow.

For two nights, the crews set up strong halogen lights at the rear of the boat. This attracts planktons and small fishes, which in turn attracts manta rays that feeds on planktons.

There was a single manta ray on the 2nd night of the trip, and two more that visited us on the 4th night. These magnificent creatures were some 6-8 feet across their wingspan, gracefully gliding through the water and doing back flips just beneath the surface as they feed.

Beautiful beautiful fish, and no, you can’t have it for ikan bakar.

we parked near Machchafushi island on the 4th night
on the ocean, you get beautiful sunset everyday

The cool thing about living on the ocean, or really anywhere around Maldvies is that you get beautiful sunsets every single day. There are no tall buildings or hills obstructing the view. It was magical.

Of course, if you’re an early riser, there’s sunrise as well, but who can wake up for that?

on the ocean, you get beautiful sunset everyday
we parked near Machchafushi island on the 4th night 

We cruised passed many small islands with beautiful resorts on them. The views are worthy of wallpapers and postcards. The photo above shows the Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa on the Machchafushi island, South Ari Atoll. Spending a night there cost something like RM 1,700.

We paid less than half of that per day, including, diving, food, board, and tips.

dolphins came by and played a bit in front of our boat
dolphins came by and played a bit in front of our boat

We were also extremely lucky. On the way crossing from South Ari Atoll to Maadhoo, we spotted a pod of dolphins. A few of them actually came and ride the wake of our boat for a couple minutes, it was the closets I’ve been to wild dolphins. You gotta be there to appreciate the moment.

food on board was not bad, we had sashimi for a few days after they caught this sailfish
food on board was not bad, we had sashimi for a few days after they caught this sailfish

Food on Handy Cruise is pretty good too.

While we’re diving, the boatmen sometimes go fishing (at non-reserve areas, of course), and they actually managed to net a 7 foot long sailfish on the 4th day of the trip. We dined on delicious sailfish sashimi for the next 3 days, cooked sailfish filet wasn’t nearly as tasty though.

Maldivian food is not very different from Indian cuisine, their dal is creamier, there’s plenty of seafood, and the meat of choice is usually chicken and the occasional beef. Since it is an Islamic country, everything is halal too.

Oh, the papaya from Maldives is also a lot juicier and sweeter than our Malaysian counterpart.

we stopped by Maadhoo island, beautiful place
we stopped by Maadhoo island, beautiful place

On the penultimate night of our stay, we stopped by Maadhoo Finolhu, also known as the picnic island.

The long and slender island with white sandy beach on boat sides is used for nothing but to host picnics and bbq parties. This was the first time we got off the ocean after 5 days. You do get a little bit of “land sick” after spending so much time getting used to gently rocking on the boat.

BBQ party at Maadhoo island on the 5th night of the trip
BBQ party at Maadhoo island on the 5th night of the trip

The BBQ party was awesome, instead of a sand castle, we had a sand whale shark. The crew even set up disco lights and sound system. Good food, great company, and we danced through the night.

Stepping on the beach along the water line excites the bio-luminescent creatures to generate lights, it was like tiny dots of stars on the beach. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I think Michael Jackson must have gotten his inspiration for the Billy Jean music video from this.

On the last day, we spent a few hours on Male, the most populated island
On the last day, we spent a few hours on Male, the most populated island

On the last day of the trip, we got to spend a few hours on Male, the most populated island in Maldives with some 100k inhabitants.

The island is less than 6 square kilometers, with majority of traffic comprises of motorcycles traveling at maybe 15-20 KM/h. We visited the fish market and witness a master carving up a huge yellow fin tuna in just some 5 minutes, bought some souvenirs from the local gift shops, and spent some time at the fruits and vegetable market too.

By nightfall on the 7th and the last day of the trip, it was time to go. We reluctantly bid goodbye to the excellent crews on the Handy Cruise and left for the airport on the Dhoni.

It was an excellent trip and one that I hope I’ll be able to repeat in due time.

As promised, here are some photos taken from our diving trip to Anilao last Junuary (post on accommodation). These pictures were taken from the first two days of diving.

For anyone who’s interested, these is my underwater set up:

  • Olympus EPL3
  • PT-EP05L underwater housing
  • Sea & Sea YS-01 strobes x 2
  • Inon UCL-165 M67 macro wet lens
  • Ikelite tray & i-Das arm system

ribbon eel, Sombrero, Anilao
blue ribbon eel, Sombrero

I did a total of 11 dives over 4 days. We visited a number of dive sites but also went back to a few that we really liked.

Anilao really has quite a lot to offer. On the surface it is quite an unassuming peninsula. There isn’t any great beach nor excellent landscape, but underwater it’s a very different story altogether.

clownfish in anemone, Sombrero
clownfish in anemone, Sombrero

While lacking bigger marine life such as turtles and sharks, Anilao is teeming with huge variety of smaller underwater creatures. You can always expect a big variety of fish, shrimps, crabs, cephalopods (octopus/cuttlefish/squid), searhorses and various types of nudibranches basically in every other dive.

juvenile cuttlefish wasn't very pleased
juvenile cuttlefish wasn’t very pleased

Underwater landscape at most of the dive sites aren’t spectacular either. Arthur’s Rock by the resort offers perhaps the best seascape with more hard corals and rock formations, while sites such as Basura is shallow with sandy and at some parts, grassy bottoms.

emperor shrimp
emperor shrimp

It is when you look closer that you’ll start to marvel at what Anilao has to offer. Hidden amongst the corals, rocks, or sea fan are tiny creatures such as emperor shrimps, transparent shrimps, and and nudibranches.

play time with an octopus in a half bottle
play time with an octopus in a half bottle

Here, even what looked like floating debris could turn out to be ghost pipefish and other creatures. We were lucky as our guide Richard was great in spotting these and pointed them to us.

an unsuspecting scorpionfish
an unsuspecting scorpionfish

One of the strangest creatures I saw was this (I’m assuming) algae octopus that went bipedal and started walking away on the sandy seafloor with two tentacles acting like legs. It was both weird, wonderful, and slightly scary, like something you’d see in a B-grade sci-fi. Luckily it was no bigger than a tennis ball.

algae octopus going bipedal
algae octopus going bipedal

As for diving condition, there is usually very little current underwater. Other than the sites involving pygmy seahorses (maybe on another photo set), dive sites are generally rather shallow, which meant relaxing dives.

the elusive ghost pipefish
the elusive ghost pipefish

The only little problem we had was that the temperature can get a little chilly (about 25-26 C), having thicker neoprene or extra hoods/gloves should solve this problem.

transparent shrimp
transparent shrimp

Now this is making me miss diving again. We have a trip scheduled this October, but lets see if there’s a way we sneak one in between.

nudibranch - Nembrotha kubaryana
nudibranch – Nembrotha kubaryana

Two months ago, from the 1st to the 7th January, Haze and I traveled to the Philippines for a dive trip at Anilao. The week long trip includes two nights at Manila and four nights at Anilao, Batangas. In this entry I’m going to talk a bit about the journey and Arthur’s Place, the resort we stayed while at Anilao.

map of Anilao, the Philippines

Anilao is a pretty popular diving destination in the Philippines due to its proximity from Manila, as well as the myriad of underwater creatures the various dive sites has to offer. If you love macro (those small stuff like nudibranch, crabs, shrimps, etc), you will love Anilao.

I’ll be posting plenty of underwater photos on subsequent posts.

we drove from Manila to Anilao, took about 2 hours
all smiles, driving to Anilao took about two hours

We flew Cebu Pacific and spent New Year’s day at Rich, my ex-colleague’s place at Manila.

On the next day, we drove about 2 hours to Anilao on a journey that’s about 75% highway and 25% slow moving busy town-roads. Our destination was Arthur’s Place where we will meet up with Dave, Caterina and others diving buddies (we dove together at Similan Islands and Tenggol Island)

Arthur's place, love the lawn
Arthur’s place, love the lawn and the gazebo

Arthur’s Place has about a dozen rooms facing a lawn with a gazebo in the middle. The restaurant is located “upstairs”, while the dive center is half a level down, right next to the beach. It isn’t exactly luxury, but the rooms are clean, and comes with hot water and air conditioning.

Once we have our equipments set up for the first day, the helpers at the resort made sure we had fresh tanks of air for every dive, and transferring of equipment from boat to dive center’s usually taken care of as well. The level of service is excellent.

Arthur's Place at Anilao
Dive center at Arthur’s Place

Our dive guide was Richard, the guy knows practically everything about dive sites at Anilao. All we had to do was telling him what we wanted to see, and he’ll know exactly which dive side and be able to locate that particular frog fish that’s only 2cm across, or the one sea fan with pygmy seahorse out of the hundreds of sea fans underwater.

If you are going to Arthur’s Place, I highly recommend getting Richard as your dive guide.

the pebble beach, not real sandy, but not too bad
the pebble beach, not real sandy, but still a lovely view

The beach in front of Arthur’s Place isn’t exactly superb. The beach is made of broken corals, pebbles, and sand. A pair of booty is very useful if you want to take a stroll by the seaside. This is typical of beaches around Anilao and not limited to this stretch at Arthur’s Place.

Water is generally clear and you can snorkel or dive right from here.

awesome sunset everyday at Arthur's Place
awesome sunset everyday at Arthur’s Place

Arthur’s place faces west, which means post-card worthy sunset view every evening. We had the privilege of enjoying four golden sunsets here, and each time it takes your breath away.

some of the food we had, plenty of choices to last a week
some of the food we had, plenty of choices to last a week

Everything here is ala-carte basis, and that includes room, diving (per dive depending on number of divers, distance of dive sites), and best of all – food. The restaurant at Arthur’s Place carries a pretty decent menu offering traditional dishes such as steamed fish, chicken adobo, bangus (milk fish for breakfast), to Western entries such as their very delicious bacon cheese burger.

The prices are from around 80 to 200 Philippines Peso per dish, while on a slightly high side for Philippines, we had no qualms about how they tastes and looked forward to every meal.

KY, Haze, and Rich, partner in compressed air breathing
KY, Haze, and Rich, partner in compressed air breathing

Over all we spent about RM 2,500 for 4 nights of accommodation, food, and around 20 dives for myself and Haze. It was money well spent and the trip was only made better by the excellent hospitality by Rich and San San.

Looking forward to doing this again. Underwater photos coming soon.

It’s been a fantastic diving trip to Anilao, the Philippines for myself and Haze over the past few days. The place is a heaven for macro and muck diving, with so many little critters going about the ocean floor minding their own business.

While it’ll take a while for me to process and pick some of the better photos from the trip, here’s a pair of porcelain crabs I shot on the 10th dive (out of 11) of the trip.

a pair of Porcelain Crabs from Anilao

These two crustaceans lived on an anemone, sharing home with a family of clown fish. This is just one of the many wonderful underwater scenes that you just gotta see for yourself.

More posts on Anilao coming up soon!

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