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Malaysian Food Blog, Travel, Diving & More

Tag / liveaboard

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.

My first dive trip of the year started out with a simple facebook update that went something like “need to get wet!”.

Rich, my colleague and fellow dive buddy then informed me about a spot available on the Similan Islands liveaboard dive trip, and less than a week later I found myself at LCCT with a bag full of diving equipment, and a ticket out of the country.

Similan Islands dive trip map
Similan Islands liveaboard itinerary

A tip for you would be travelers – always check your passport. I made one of the most stupid errors of all time by bringing Haze‘s passport to the airport instead of mine and was only able to board the plane thanks to some crazy driving from LCCT-PJ-LCCT + Horng helping out by saving me 2 km’s worth of driving + AirAsia flight delay.

Talk about an exciting start to the trip.

Khao Lak, the stopover town for Similan islands trip
Khao Lak, the stopover town for Similan islands trip

Anyhow, we made it to Phuket airport by late night on Valentine’s day, and took a truck/van to to Khao Lak. The journey took about 1.5 hours although it is only some 80 km away. We should appreciate the Malaysian highway system, similar journey would have taken only half the time here.

We checked into Nangthong Beach resort for the night. We shared a bungalow style room, and the resort has a nice, tranquil pool with beautiful garden and walkways. The only downside is that it is also almost exclusively filled with European retirees.

No bikini babes here.

good eats at Khao Lak - burger, mango salad, noodle soup, grilled chicken
good eats at Khao Lak – burger, mango salad, noodle soup, grilled chicken

Like most small tourist towns in Thailand, the main street (there’s only one) of Khao Lak is littered with massage parlors, restaurants, and luckily, many portable hawker stalls too.

Over the course of the day, I had some awesome mango salad, sweet grilled chicken, noodle soup with coagulated pork blood, and a plate of forgettable pad thai (from an overly tourist friendly restaurant, no surprise there.)

MV Vilai Samut, operated by Liquid Adventure at Khao Lak
MV Vilai Samut, operated by Liquid Adventure at Khao Lak

In the evening, we gathered at Liquid Adventure (our dive operator)
and were sent to the port to get on our liveaboard boat – M/V Vilai Samut.

According to Liquid’s boss, Joachim, the name of the boat translate to something like “young lady”. She had just entered her teens, and measuring a healthy 26 meters in length and 6 meters wide.

The liveaboard caters to 18 or 20 guests with some 10 crews (captain, helpers, dive masters, kitchen staffs). Living cabins aren’t exactly spacious, but they are air conditioned at night and pretty comfortable.

every meal is taken care of on board
every meal is taken care of on board, mostly Thai cuisine

There were two kitchen crews on board and food is typically either Thai, Western, or a little bit of a mix in between. We had tomyam, French toast, fried rice, noodle, vegetable, fruits, grilled fish, soup, and more. Three meals a day and an afternoon snack in between lunch and dinner too.

Live on the liveaboard boat is fairly repetitive, and revolves around – Dive, Eat, Sleep. Throw in a bit of reading in between, since most of the time there’s no phone connection at all, let alone internet.

Leila from France, and Linus from Sweden are 2 of our 4 dive masters
Leila from France, and Linus from Sweden are 2 of our 4 dive masters

Our dives are guided by 4 dive masters – Linus & Sandra from Sweden, and Kevin & Leila from France. They were very professional, friendly, and to many, good looking people too.

Each dive master usually leads a group of four or less divers. This ensures that everyone is taken care of and us not over crowding a single fish at the bottom of the sea, for example.

the sea is teeming with thousands of small fish

the sea is teeming with thousands of small fish

Most dives started out with Linus giving a briefing on the dive site with wacky but useful illustrations on the white board before we proceed to the stern of the boat and basically just jump off from there.

There were a couple dives where we used the dingy to get to the dive site, but that was only for evening/night dives usually, when the boat is basically parked and we needed to go fairly close to the rocks.

puffer fish hiding in a small cave
puffer fish hiding in a small cave

Over the course of 4 nights and 4 days, we did a total of 15 dives. Averaging 4 per day, and 3 on the last day.

The dive sites for day 1 were all at Similan Islands

  1. dawn: Shark Fin Reef
  2. morning: West of Eden
  3. afternoon: Elephant Head Rock
  4. evening: West of Eden

Day 2 – we spent the morning dives at Similan Islands, and went up north after lunch

  1. dawn: Christmas Point
  2. morning: Breakfast Bend
  3. afternoon: Koh Bon
  4. evening: Koh Tachai

all these photos are of the same octopus!
all these photos are of the same octopus!

Day 3 – we headed up north to pretty close to border of Myanmar at Surin National Park, spent half a day there before making our way down south again.

  1. dawn: Richelieu Rock
  2. morning: Richelieu Rock
  3. afternoon: Tachai Pinnacle
  4. night: Koh Bon

Day 4 – the last day, we did two dives at Koh Bon and stopped by to check out a wreck before heading to shore

  1. dawn: Koh Bon Pinnacle
  2. morning: Koh Bon wall
  3. afternoon: BoonSong Wreck, near shore

a pair of fancy harlequin shrimps

a pair of fancy harlequin shrimps

Despite the fact that we did not have the luck to spot one of the big fellas (leopard shark, whale shark, or manta ray), the dive trip still turned out to be rather awesome.

This was the first trip where I had an underwater strobe to go with the camera, it is a Sea & Sea YS-01 Haze bought for me during our Hong Kong trip. I think it helped the quality of photo quite a bit.

pipe fish, dog faced puffer, giant puffer, giant baraccuda
pipe fish, dog faced puffer, giant puffer, giant baraccuda

There were also some new stuff I saw during this trip that I haven’t seen before, among them are the pair of exquisite Harlequin shrimps at Richelieu Rock, a few octopuses at Koh Bon & West of Eden, honeycomb moray eel at Boonsong Wreck, and groups of tiny baby barracudas (about 2 inches long).

jewel grouper
jewel grouper, plenty of them around pretty much all the reefs we visited

To me, one of the most awesome visual feast was the feeding frenzy between a group of few dozen rainbow runners and tens of thousands of anchovies (or some other fish fries). The coordinated movements of the anchovies was just unreal, and all of these happening right in front of our eyes (and around us too), amazing stuff!

lion fish
this is probably the 10th lion fish I saw

Unfortunately, I also flooded the camera on the 6th dive. The trusted and well used S90 is now not responding, and I might have to fork out some $$ for a replacement (perhaps an S95 as it should fit my ikelite underwater housing).

Lesson learned here – always service the O-ring after opening/closing of the underwater housing.

camouflage exposed by strobe, a scorpion fish
camouflage exposed by strobe, a scorpion fish

Of the 15 dives, it is hard to pick favorites. Some dives are very atmospheric with lots of swim through under giant boulders, some had crazy amount of marine life, some beautiful corals, and some relaxing while others more challenging.

But if I had to pick one, it’ll be Richelieu Rock. Visibility isn’t that great at 15-20 meters, but there are ghost pipe fish, harlequin shrimps, sea horse, and generally very beautiful seascape. If you head over to this part of the world for diving, don’t miss out this dive site.

moray eel, honeycomb moray eel
moray eel, honeycomb moray eel

With the first dive trip of the year filed away, I now wait for our local diving season to start. Perhaps a PADI rescue diver is something I should aim for this year.

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