A Travellerspoint blog

Sipadan again and lost at sea (briefly)

View 2012/13 Myanmar, Malaysia & Philippines on alexchan's travel map.

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

View 2012/13 Myanmar, Malaysia & Philippines on alexchan's travel map.

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).


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

Flying a virtual airline (future airline of Singapore?)

View 2012/13 Myanmar, Malaysia & Philippines on alexchan's travel map.

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:


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.

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

Thaipusam Day 2 (the aftermath)

View 2012/13 Myanmar, Malaysia & Philippines on alexchan's travel map.

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!


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

Thaipusam Day 1

View 2012/13 Myanmar, Malaysia & Philippines on alexchan's travel map.

large_5550_13592994353924.jpgThe bottleneck and crowd entering from the train station was unbelievable. It didn't help that the area was so commmercial. See the ferris wheel?
Day 1 in the Dark

I got to Batu Caves [Batu-Caves-travel-guide-1348409] station around 2315 so there was less than an hour before Thaipusam officially starts. There was a bottleneck entering the Batu Caves temple grounds. The crowd was unbelievable. We shuffled through the commercial area where just about anything was on sale: food, henna-ing services, dresses, altars, music, icon, AirAsia, mobile phone packages … you name it!

Errr … perhaps they missed one. I always thought a kavadi-bear would be quite cute. Imagine a teddy bear with hooks on its back and a skewer through it cheeks or tongue. Maybe I’d better commercialise it for next year.large_5550_13592994357238.jpgHooks in his back.

Despite all the commercial activity, there was absolutely no hassle or bother with any pesky sales people. On a more distasteful and disgraceful note, there was a fair bit of political propaganda by the National Front to win the hearts and minds of Hindu Indians, who of late have been rather disgruntled.

I found the route that leads up to the temple steps just before midnight. I parked myself there to watch the procession of devotees with their kavadis … which ranged from just a simple jug of milk, to ornate racks, to elaborate carriages which they pull with hooks in their backs.

Some devotees, in particular children and the elderly were very weak from their fasting or long walks to the temple (not everyone walks from the city). Others appeared to be in a trance with fairly blank looks.large_5550_13592994363356.jpgHooks in his back.Devotees claim that the piercings and barefoot long-distance walking don't hurt. I suppose it's like anything ... if it hurts, you're not doing it right?!

Some devotees dance to music played by their supporters. The highlight for me is when those with multi-tier rack-style kavadis start dancing. Their metal frames flex considerably and with all the peacock feathers stuck on them, they do bounce and sway beautifully.

While no one appeared to be in any pain, one man appeared to find his kavadi too much to bear. His supporters had a chair handy and he sat down at various points and was repeatedly given leg massages. There were a number of devotees smoking some cigars and I wonder if they are of the funny variety which help numb any pain they may have.large_5550_13592994368253.jpgOne's kavadi (burden) can be as simple as a jug of milk which is also an offering.

Some parent had their young ones on their shoulders walking up the stairs to the temple. I thought “That’s the heaviest kavadi (burden) of all. You don’t just have it for one day a year; you have it for twenty years. And you can have several of them all at the same time”.

I stayed till 0100 and wanted to take the bus back (to avoid walking through dark quiet streets from the other side of the river in KL city). Being night time and with such horrendous crowds, I had no idea where to find the buses. So I ended up taking the train back as it was just too easy. But I guess if I had come by bus, I probably wouldn’t have found the railway station!

Back in KL city, there were still pockets of activity with people eating even at nearly 0200. So I didn’t feel too unsafe.large_5550_13592994369094.jpgMore elaborate kavadi with icon of Lord Murugan I presume.I was in bed by 0200 after a very rewarding unplanned outing.

Day 1 in Broad Daylight

I headed back out to Batu Caves after breakfast, arriving around 1000. There were noticeably more non-Indians in daylight compared to my earlier visit.

I more or less took the same possie by the trail to the temple steps to watch the devotees make their way up with their kavadis.

There was a woman devotee that really stood out for several reasons. Firstly, she had a rack-style kavadi; I haven’t seen any woman carry one so far. Secondly, unlike the generally emotionless or blank trance-like state that most people seem to have, she appeared to be struggling with fatigue. However when her supporters start drumming and playing music, she gets somewhat delirious and somehow gets energy to dance.large_5550_13592994375129.jpgThis kavadi was a bit too much for him to bear. He had to sit down and have his legs massaged every now and then.

I found my way to the river where devotees prepare themselves with their kavadis. This is where they bathe, have themselves pierced and don their kavadis. Like anywhere in Batu Caves, there was a frenzy of activity and lots of drumming and music. The atmosphere cannot be easily described.

I stayed around till about 1300 when I thought I’d better head back. I didn’t want to get heatstroke. I was soaked with sweat and had been drinking heaps but it’s good to be careful as I have to be in top form for Sipadan and Mt Kinabalu!

I arrived back into the city and 1400 and headed to KLCC (Twin Towers) for lunch and to cool off with an ais kacang. Then I stayed in air-conditioned comfort of my room from 1600 onwards with except while getting dinner. Such bliss after a hot and sweaty day out!


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

(Entries 26 - 30 of 63) « Page 1 2 3 4 5 [6] 7 8 9 10 .. »