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.
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 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
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
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
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, 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
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
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
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
dawn: Shark Fin Reef
morning: West of Eden
afternoon: Elephant Head Rock
evening: West of Eden
Day 2 – we spent the morning dives at Similan Islands, and went up north after lunch
dawn: Christmas Point
morning: Breakfast Bend
afternoon: Koh Bon
evening: Koh Tachai
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.
dawn: Richelieu Rock
morning: Richelieu Rock
afternoon: Tachai Pinnacle
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
dawn: Koh Bon Pinnacle
morning: Koh Bon wall
afternoon: BoonSong Wreck, near shore
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
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, 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!
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
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
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.
My recent diving trip to Tenggol island marked the 3rd time I attempted underwater photography. This post is more on some of the better photos I took with the limited equipments I currently operate while breathing compressed air – Canon S90 with Ikelite Underwater casing.
Paradise with beach, crystal clear water, and sun, right here in Malaysia
Looking through the photos make me want to have underwater strobes and a couple Inon wet lenses so much. It’s a wish that can be answered by a few dozens RM 100 bills I can’t really afford to part with at this moment.
There’s always a delicate balance on splitting the limited amount of dough between gears and diving itself. Oh well, soon, soon…
Anyway, here are some of the better photos that serves a good summary from the 3 day trip.
nemo in anemone
Nemo, the artist formally known as clown fish, is quite abundant at coral reefs around Tenggol.
In one instance, Haze was talking to our dive master Charlie and used the word “nemo” before correcting herself and address it as “clown fish”. Charlie had to tell her that nobody uses clown fish anymore, not even the .. ahem.. older generations. Pixar is really that influential.
blue spotted stingray
Ikan bakar never looked so pretty. I found this blue spotted stingray (the colors are gone when you .. bakar them :S) hidden under some corals, these bottom dwellers usually like to hide under boulders, which makes this quite an opportunistic capture. I like how the blue spots turned out.
Haze, KY, Dave, and Rich
First pic was when we just arrived, the second on one of our normal boat dives with me and my full set of gears, and the last one just before the night dive on second day.
By the way I think that was the only pair of jeans on the whole island.
this crab is probably quite yummy on dinner plate
A lot of crustaceans come out to play and prey at night, Rich spotted this fancy crab amongst the rock and I was able to snap a pretty decent photo with the built in flash. I so wanted to have this on the dinner table, but alas, Tenggol is a marine park.
spiny lobster, even more yums!
Also known as rock lobster, this decapod would probably taste even better than the crab mentioned above! This thing was huge, at least 2 feet in length. But then looking through sea water amplifies your vision by around 30%.. emm..
the 5 sisters of Tenggol
This is one of the five sisters of Tenggol. They are five Vietnamese ship wrecks laying at the bottom peacefully at over 30 meters depth, there’s another wreck on slightly shallower water in the middle of the lagoon too.
We went to the wrecks every morning for 3 days straight. The slightly murky water, low light condition, and the quietness of being underwater gives this site a pretty ghastly feel. One can only imagine what went through the refugees’ minds from the moment the board the boat with all their belongings to feel the war torn country to the point when they reached Tenggol and had to sink their boat to make sure they weren’t gonna be towed out and left alone drifting in open sea.
A wide angle converter would do me good at this site.
look ma, a green turtle!
This was the only green turtle spotted over 8 dives. A shy little one about 2 feet in length.
Turtles aren’t very common in this part of the world anymore, this probably has something to do with the fact that they’re still selling turtle eggs at Kota Bharu and Kuala Terengganu, with the authority turning a blind eye on the grotesque abuse on animal conservation effort in this country. It’s just sad.
Giant barracuda, smile!
Schools of juvenile barracudas are pretty common at Tenggol, but the big ones less so. This was one of the two giant barracudas we spotted during the last dive. They’re some 3 feet across and can look downright scary, this photo doesn’t do justice to the awesomeness of this fish though.
look at the stars, look how they shine for you
Other than going underwater and enjoying the beach, the other thing that I absolutely love about being on an island is the stars. They are absolutely brilliant at night, thousands and thousands of stars when the sky is clear.
We were just chilling on the beach, under the star, and sipping some whisky at night. It was awesome, I want to be back there now!
Pulau Tenggol was where it all got started back in 2004, I got my PADI Open Water & Advance Open Water diving license together with Terence and Saint.
When my colleague Richard (he was at xmas eve party 2009) told me about this diving trip, the memory from 6 years back found it’s way from my secondary storage and told me I had to go back there, and Terence agreed too. This despite having just came back from Sipadan less than 2 months ago.
breakfast at some Malay restaurant at Dungun
Together with Richard, San San, Jonathan, Joe, and Terence, we packed our gears and drove up to Dungun last Friday. Spent a night at some cheap hotel, and headed to the Jetty after the excellent breakfast with nasi minyak, roti canai, and nasi lemak at some Malay restaurant by a junction (there aren’t many junctions at Dungun).
Tenggol Island Resort, precisely where we were back in 2004!
Some 45 minutes on pretty choppy water later, we arrived at Tenggol island, and as fate had it, we checked into precisely where we did some 6 years back.
The island still looked exactly like it did when we first got here. It was still relatively untouched, with virgin jungle embracing the sandy bay that has 4 very small resorts housing not more than a few dozen divers at any one time. It is nice to see that the place doesn’t turn to another over commercialized island.
this is Charlie, our resort operator & dive leader
We got our room keys, unpacked, and immediately suit up for the first dive. Our resort operator and dive leader, Charlie Lee, and I share a similar talent in drawing. While I draw maps to food, he excel in underwater topography, and drew maps of every dive sites before we visit them.
The maps come with depth, underwater geological features, path, and so on. Very impressive!
Ahh, being underwater, I miss it already
Our first dive was at Turtle Point, located at the Southern end of the bay, it is protected from the sometimes vicious current at Tenggol. With a maximum depth of 18 meter, the site is usually chosen for check-out dives.
My log book told me that it is also the place where I had my very first dive, though at that time we only went to the relatively safe depth of 9 meter.
Joe busy working, baby barracudas, Terence, blue coral fish
dive #1: Turtle Point
date/time: 27/3/2010 11:26 am
depth: 17.6 meter
duration: 43 mins
visibility: 10-20 meters
Four out of six of us brought cameras with casing fit for underwater usage, which makes for plenty of photos. You can check out the photos I took at this FB album
giant sea cucumber, tang fish, evil crown of thorns star fish
It was nice to get underwater again, Turtle Point was very stress free. We saw a school of baby barracudas, and unlike their grown up counter parts, they looked so cute when they’re at only 1-2 feet in size.
Sea cucumber, tang fish, and various other coral dwelling fishes were spotted too. There’s also the crown of thorns star fish that actually eats coral.
Phyllidia varicosa (scrambled egg nudi), Suunto D6, moray eel
We went on shore and had a very good lunch of curry chicken, vegetable, and rice. Usually lousy food is expected at dive resorts, but the meals we had with Charlie were all rather good, way beyond expectation.
Shortly after that it was our second dive of the day. We were pumped!
dive #2: Tangjung Gemuk
date/time: 27/3/2010 2:20 pm
depth: 26.9 meter
duration: 44 mins
visibility: 10-15 meters
Nemo and cousins, skinny puffer fish
Tanjung Gemuk is located a bit further away and had a bit of current going on. We took advantage of the current and did a very enjoyable and relaxing drift dive for the most part. Spotted puffer fish, two different types of clown fish, the “scrambled egg” nudi branch (sea slug), and more.
We probably covered 4-500 meters in 44 minutes. It was another excellent dive on just the first day.
There are 6 more dives on this trip, and I shall continue on the coming posts. For now, time to sleep!