A Travellerspoint blog

January 2013

Sipadan again ... how lucky can I get!?


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large_5550_13597824348051.jpgClownfish at Turtle Patch. Photo courtesy of Mark Gan.
While waiting for my chicken thosai with curry for breakfast, I noticed the young waiter (about 15 years old) buying cigarettes from a younger boy (about 6 years old). Strange, considering he sells cigarettes at the café.

I asked him about this. The café sells cigarettes at RM10 (USD3) per pack while the boy on the street sells them at RM2 (USD0.70) per pack. They must be smuggled, I thought. I inspected the packaging expecting them to be Indonesian but everything was in English so presumably it is Filipino.

Today it rained while we were walking to the boat; I was soaked. But the rain cleared before we got to Sipadan. Yes, someone else had cancelled and I got to dive Sipadan again! Yes, three days in a row! I feel like the luckiest diver around to have dived three days in a row in one of the top five sites in the world (according to some rankings).large_5550_13597824341938.jpgWhite-tip reef shark at Barracuda Point. Photo courtesy of Mark Gan.

1. The first dive was at Hanging Gardens, which was a beautiful wall dive with lots of small colourful fish and largely hard coral (with some soft). Naturally, being Sipadan we saw some turtles and sharks.

2. The second dive at Turtle Patch was similar but I did see something new, a couple of Variable Thorny Oysters which are colourful and snap themselves close when they sense motion (light-sensitive).


3. The third was at Barracuda Point. Visibility was less today and we still saw plenty of turtles, sharks, huge school of jackfish and many other smaller fish. The humphead parrotfish were nowhere to be seen today. Likewise there were no barracudas even though we all twirled with our nipples suggestively to attract them (that’s the sure way of finding them, says the divemaster).

On the boat back to Semporna [Semporna-travel-guide-1098708] we saw a few schools of dolphins jumping through the water at various times. We were all very excited; they appeared quite small and may have been young ones.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Sipadan again and lost at sea (briefly)


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Ryan and I met up for breakfast at a local café, a different one from yesterday. I opted for their version of vegetable murtabak with curry (much better) and kopi tarik again, then shared a fried rice. I introduced Ryan to thosai which he enjoyed very much. I’m proving to be a good host and eating buddy.

As there had been a cancellation, I managed to get an upgrade to dive Sipadan [Sipadan-travel-guide-1308044] again for RM50, which was the permit fee.

The rain going out to Sipadan was torrential. The boatman lost his orientation slightly after passing Mabul as he was operating on visual navigation. We all kept an eye out for any island, any island. He climbed up onto the roof and then came back down and took us safely to our destination where we hopped out and signed ourselves in.

Our dives were as follows:

1. Lobster Lair: This was one of the most beautiful wall dives I can remember. There was plenty of small colourful fish and coral. These were complemented with white tip reef sharks and turtles. Due to the weather and depth (up to 25m), much of the dive was dimmer than what I’m used to.

2. White Tip Avenue: Despite the name, this was similar to the first dive but with slightly better light. We also saw a grey reef shark and a moray eel.

3. Barracuda Point: Visibility here was worse than yesterday but the turtles put on a stunning display at the cleaning station. There were 5 turtles on the crown of the high outcrop, seven more circling around it and a handful lazing at various levels below.

There were also plenty of sharks, a huge school of shiny jackfish which we were able to swim through. For some reason we saw a huge school of Humphead Parrotfish but didn’t frolic with them like yesterday.

As we all played with our nipples before our dive, we saw a few barracudas but they weren’t in a tornado formation. I was told that the formation only happens when they are sleeping and it is a special sighting (like the school of humphead parrotfish) … I was merely lucky four years ago when I first dived here.

Our first surface interval was as miserable as our ride to Sipadan. We were all cold and shivering. I warmed myself up with coffee from a communal cup as our caterer had forgotten the cups today.

Again, Sipadan (especially Barracuda Point) was truly astounding. I don’t know how I can be satisfied diving anywhere else. In fact, I haven’t really been impressed by my dives in the Pacific and Indian Oceans … it’s going to be even harder to impress me now.

I wandered around the markets in the evening and saw lots of parrotfish for sale, all cooked up over the BBQ. I didn’t feel too bad as I’ve seen the destruction they do to the coral around Sipadan; the divemaster says Sipadan is quite well-patrolled and there is no dynamite fishing … confirmed by the fact that we didn’t hear any underwater explosions.

Then I found mangoes for RM10 (USD3.50) for a bundle of five. They were the pale-skin Filipino variety (much like the Thai). Extremely sweet and juicy and can only be eaten over the basin in the bathroom.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Diving Sipadan: Even better than I remember


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large_5550_13595515067503.jpgAn river of barracudas flowed under me as I descended into Mid Reef. Photo courtesy of Amir.
I grabbed a vegetable murtabak with curry for breakfast washed down with a kopi tarik. That wasn’t quite enough so I complemented it with toast and kaya (ordered specially without butter or margarine).

The instructions from the dive operator was to standby at 0730 on one’s first day. They do really mean standby as they didn’t open till about 0745 but I was fortunate as I could sit in my hotel lobby and look across at their shop.

After doing the paper work and fitting the gear we left at 0830 for the one hour boat ride to the famous Sipadan [Sipadan-travel-guide-1308044] island where we signed in with the authorities. Since the pirate kidnapping over a decade ago, the resort island has been converted into military base (for surveillance of the maritime area) with only one small section available to the public for their surface intervals, snorkelling, picnicking and toilet; a horn sounds if one ventures into military area.large_5550_1359551507254.jpgOne of many turtles were seen on the day, including several parked at at Turtle Cleaning station. Photo courtesy of Amir.

All three dives are at Sipadan today:

1. The first at South Point was good with plenty of turtles and white tip reef sharks. There were also three such sharks resting on the sea bed in one place. Other fish of interest included a puffer fish.

2. The second was at Mid Reef. As I descended from the surface, I realised I was going down into a river of barracudas. I swerved gently to one side then turned around to watch them go past. For a moment I thought I was at Barracuda Point where the famous swirls of barracudas take place.There were also plenty of white tip reef sharks, turtes, nudibranches and a few lion fish and puffer fish.

3. The third and last was at Barracuda Point.large_5550_13595515076739.jpgMe with a huge school of Humphead Parrot Fish at Barracuda Point. Photo courtesy of Amir.Sadly the famous swirls of barracudas weren’t here today. But instead, we had a seemingly endless number of Humphead Parrot Fish in shallow 3m coral pools. There was also a large school of jackfish. We swam through them for quite a while before re-descending.Further along we saw plenty of turtles, plenty of white tip reef sharks (including two resting under a large flat sheet of coral) and a very large cowtail ray. There were also a few lion fish.

Weirdest of all was a turtle cleaning station, which is an outcrop where turtles park up to have themselves cleaned by fish. There was one in particular that was parked on an incline. Some turtles are so big they’d be bigger than a human torso … about from one’s shoulder to one’s knee.large_5550_13595515072782.jpgHuge school of Humphead Parrot Fish at Barracuda Point. Photo courtesy of Amir.

Even though we didn't see the barracudas in a tornado swirl, I was more than overjoyed. The divemaster had asked us to play with our nipples in circular motion as it supposedly gives a guaranteed sighting but some people didn't cooperate.

It was truly an awesome day (that's a word I use very reservedly). I wonder why I bother diving anywhere else. I hope the western governments (including New Zealand) continue with their travel warnings against visiting here (due to the piracy and kidnapping risk). Quotas are hard enough to secure as it is.

I’m kicking myself for not booking for next year. A couple of weeks ago in Mandalay, I booked for AirAsia’s sale next Xmas. I kept it simple with HKG-KUL-KCH and vice versa. As I was unwell, down and missing my darling, I flagged the idea of diving in Sipadan again and also the possibility of going to the Harbin Ice Festival in Manchuria through Beijing.

Life is full of regrets; it is just my little kavadi to bear (Kim and I have been using this expression for many years, using the word “kavadi” instead of “cross).

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Flying a virtual airline (future airline of Singapore?)


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After a leisurely breakfast and repacking, I walked to the bus outside the Mydin store to catch the bus direct to KLIA and LCCT. I got to the airport just as check-in opened and dropped my bag and went to the lounge for a couple of hours of eating, drinking and doing errands like paying bills and filing them into Google Documents.

I proceeded to the gate some 40 minutes before departure and was shocked to see my flight boarding as AirAsia does 25 minute turnarounds normally and the plane wouldn’t normally be here. They must build some slack in the schedule sometimes for whatever reason.

During boarding I noticed that one of the cabin crew had an Indonesian rather than Malaysian flag on the name tag. Then it appeared all of them had the same. The PAs for the fight were made in Malay and English, both with normal Malaysian Malay intonations without a hint of Indonesian accent. Strange!

I then noticed that the supposed Indonesian flag had stars and a crescent, making it in fact the Singapore flag. I asked one of the crew who advised that they were Singaporean; hence indistinguishable from Malaysians in speech. They are part of a small group recruited from and based in the republic.

During the flight, the Captain’s announcements were in English only (without being followed by Malay). I checked and found out that the pilots are Singaporean too. It’s all starting to make sense. The cabin crew aren’t required to have knowledge of the Malay language also. Which explains why the safety demo was a bit un-co … for this route the audio was played in Malay rather than English and some of them didn’t know the language to pick up the audio queues precisely for when to pull the inflation tag, hold up the whistle or the light.

It just seems so strange that AirAsia, a cost-leader, would employ staff in a base where the salaries may be 2.5x higher (or more). I suppose it saves on overnight accommodation for the first and last flight of the day if they had used KL-based crew. But more likely, AirAsia has aspirations for a Singapore subsidiary, and having crew this way means they can start up ASAP with trained staff should they ever get a Singaporean Air Operator’s Certificate. Right now, the Singaporean crew are flying Malaysian-registered aircraft.

Well, AirAsia Singapore … I wish you well and hope that you will soon paint the skies over the “little red dot” red too! For the unfamiliar, “little red dot” is a term used by Singapore’s neighbours to describe the city-state, much to their offence.

The Singapore-based crew do only two trip-patterns:

1. Early: SIN-KUL-SBW-KUL-SIN.
2. Late: SIN-KUL-TWU-KUL-SIN.

While the former is a full day, the latter is a very long day for shorthaul crew because they typically work a full week (unlike longhaul crew who may only work twice a week).

For taking notice of their nationality and interest in their work, the Senior Flight Attendant offered me a free bottle of water. I take it was from their allocation as it wasn’t the same brand that was being sold from the bar!

On the flight, I had also chatted up Ryan (young Queenslander miner) and we shared the taxi to Semporna [Semporna-travel-guide-1098708] which cost RM95, taking an hour. By chance, we were also staying at the same hotel and will be doing some dives together. We grabbed a quick dinner before retiring.

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Thaipusam Day 2 (the aftermath)


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large_5550_1359440919979.jpgBatu Caves were nearly deserted today but the aftermath was evident.
I woke at 0800 and thought it would be good to take another peek at Thaipusam. It was so easy on the train, taking 25 minutes and costing only RM1.20 (USD0.40).

I got there at 0930 and found the place rather quiet. It looked like a war zone. There was litter everywhere. While bins were plentiful, they were overflowing because the huge crowds meant there was no practical way of clearing them periodically.

I walked up to the cave today. Yesterday, I hadn’t … it was a mix of being too hot already and kinda thinking that it was the special day for the devotees and I shouldn’t be jostling with them for their sacred moment.

There was one man with a small kavadi and many people with pots of milk. They hand the milk to the priest who pours it over the “vel”, Lord Murugan’s spear. I asked a bystander what happens to the milk as with the amount brought up, it would surely overflow. He replied that it just goes down a drain!

The “party” was definitely over and I didn’t stay long and headed into the city. I had dinner with the couple that had moved over from Masterton at their home near Damansara. From my experience with KTM Komuter which crawled, I expected the LRT to be similar. I allowed plenty of time and found myself getting to their station some 45 minutes early!

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