Malaysian Food Blog, Travel, Diving & More

Tag / sipadan

Almost 3 weeks after my diving trip to Mabul and Sipadan, I’ve finally sorta figured out how to do simple editing with iMovie. Below are two videos compiled from multiple shootings both under and above water with my canon S90 compact camera.

The above video are edited from multiple dives at Kapalai and Sipadan where we encountered many turtles, grouper, huge ball of jackfish, sharks, and even a little pygmy seahorse. What you can hear from the video was exactly all one can hear while diving. Bubbles and the sound of you sucking that air via regulator, ahh.. tranquility.

This is making me miss diving again!

As mentioned in this post titled Mabul and Kapalai under 18 meters of water, we had an awesome party at Uncle Chang’s dive lodge in Mabul on the first night we stayed there. Now there’s the video evidence.

Irene, Jen, Lynn, Chan, and Gun were all awesome and made the trip that much better too. I can’t wait to go back there again!

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.

More on Mabul island on the next post.

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!

By the time you read this, I should be well on my way to the Paradise for a diving trip that is long overdue. For the next few days I’ll be going from KL – Tawau – Semporna – Mabul Island – Sipadan, and should be back by Saturday with a whole lot of smile and hopefully many pretty photos.

all my gears are packed and I’m ready to roll (off the boat)

The gears that I’ve packed (and this is post also serves as my check list):

  • wet suit (not in the photo) – last used at Redang, 2005
  • snorkel & diving mask – last used by suan & horng at Kerabi, 2009
  • diving booties – last used at Krabi and Phuket, 2008
  • water proof bag – bought at Phuket, 2008, unused
  • Ikelite underwater casing for my canon S90 – just bought a few days ago for too much money
  • Seiko orange monster – bought in 2008, never used for diving
  • PADI Advanced Open Water Diver’s license

Getting to Paradise in 3 easy steps

Who said you have to go to a place of worship to get to paradise?

Paradise is just a 2.45 hours from KL via air to Tawau, another hour’s cab ride to Semporna, 45 mins boat ride to Mabul, and from there, a further 15 mins speed boat ride. Paradise is also known as Sipadan island, a place rated as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world.

This is my first trip there, and lets hope it’ll be a good one. My dive buddy will be the crazy Irene from Kuching, and this is the first time I’m meeting her, I heard she’s not entirely sane, but my life will be literally dependent on her when we’re underwater. Wish me luck!

I’ll be meeting her with four other travel buddies at Tawau in a few hours’ time. Can’t wait!