A Travellerspoint blog

Sipadan, where my Barracuda dream came true


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large_5550_12422113185270.jpgTornado of barracudas. Photo courtesy of Christian Albert.
We boated out to Sipadan [Sipadan-travel-guide-1308044] Island around 8 am. It was sunny and calm. The Dive Master surprised me when he said that we were at Barracuda Point ... where I had specially come to, but not knowing whether I’d be able to dive here due to my lack of experience.

Once in the water, we saw large schools of fish here and there but I wasn’t able to enjoy myself fully ... I had been consuming more air than the others yesterday and I was afraid I’d have to cut short my dive before seeing the barracudas. Fortunately, close to the end, we saw a tornado of them circling. Kim went up to them, wondering if it would be safe to cut across their path!

Barracuda Point, said our Danish dive master, is the third best divespot in the world, according to some ranking.large_5550_12422113185549.jpgBarracudas close up. Photo courtesy of Christian Albert.

We did two more dives, both along the wall (drop-off) and saw many lifeforms including big turtles.

The Sipadan area has many excellent dive sites ... customer demand is very high and numbers are strictly restricted by the authorities to conserve the area. As a result, it isn’t possible to dive Sipadan on its own. One can only dive Sipadan with a multi-day dive package - one day is allowed at Sipadan on a 3-day package while two days with a 4-day package.

Sipadan Island was where the 2000 kidnappings took place. The resort has now been dismantled and an army post has been setup. Some media accuse the Government and dive operators of downplaying the piracy and terrorism risk. You often see stealthy grey inflatable police speedboats staffed by men in black hoods cruising between the islands and the mainland.

The island's name means "border" in Malay / Indonesian. That's quite prophetic as it was the subject of a border dispute ... the British and Dutch colonial masters didn't appear to have tidied up the border and the ambiguity carried through into recent times.

PS: Others who went to Sipadan a day later also saw lots of sharks. But the light and clarity wasn't as good due to dull weather.

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

Diving with Pirate Captive & Dynamites


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large_5550_12420355443490.jpgSibuan Island appears to be a paradise.
We left Semporna about 8:30 towards Sibuan Island ... it started off somewhat as a race between us and this 10 year old girl who was in sole charge of a motorised sampan carrying her younger sibling! People grow up quickly in these surroundings.

We did three dives ... two at the drop-off near Sibuan Island and another on the reef. The last one on the reef was the most colourful with its coral and sealife. We saw one barracuda, a couple of giant turtles and a big worm-like creature (about 1 metre long). It was also memorable because we heard an underwater explosion due to people using dynamites to fish! A bit scary as I thought I had some kind of catastrophic equipment failure until I checked that I was still breathing.

We're pleased to have built a bit more confidence in our diving, but we have some way to go ... Kim and I use our arms too much (and legs too) ... the others generally dive with their arms folded and the dive master hardly kicks at all.

Talking about our dive master Vincent, he was kidnapped with his party of 21 in 2001 and held captive for 3 months by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. They were fed and watered ... with the same simple food that their captors had. Fortunately there were no fatailities.

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Gateway to dive sites ... Warning! Pirates Approaching!


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large_5550_12419581305731.jpgTourist village complex of restaurant and hotel rooms, over the murky waters of the mainland. Far cry from the luxury chalet on the reef.
Travelling to Semporna [Semporna-travel-guide-1098708], the diving Gateway

We took a short flight from KK to Tawau this morning and were transferred by van to Semporna (which means perfect or complete) in Malay. It poured down for part of the way on the road ... things have changed since I started taking an interest in travelling ... in the early days one had to fly to Semporna in a Twin Otter 19-seater aircraft.

Semporna itself is a small town in the south-east corner of Sabah [Sabah-travel-guide-1319168], close to Indonesia. It has with a jetty which serves as a launchpad to the nearby islands. The town is still in quite a natural state (ie. considerable litter in places) without any large scale development.

After lunch, we fitted ourselves out in our dive gear then reviewed our scuba learnings from a year back.

Pirate Alert

This region is in the New Zealand government's "High Risk" which means that non-essential travel (including tourism) should be deferred. This came about from an incident(s) where people were held hostage by pirates from a neighbouring country. Despite the higher military presence, the rating hasn't been lowered.

We are staying on the mainland ... because we couldn't justify the megabucks for a chalet over the reef out in the sea. This region caters to the super-rich and backpackers ... nothing for Ma and Pa holiday-makers and their kids. I guess the super-rich in those chalets over the sea would make perfect pirate-baits!!

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Cheap Diesel & Bum Equipment


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When we visited in 2001 we visited the neighbouring islands, the foothills and villages (much of it courtesy of David). KK seems to have it all ... it is a city by the sea next to Asia’s tallest mountain.

So this time, we treated this visit more of a stopover. So it was the usual food and mall stuff. As we’ve found in previous visits to Malaysia, Diesel jeans here can be very cheap. Original (licensed) products are about EUR35 per pair ... but we’ve seen big discounts making them as cheap as EUR5-8.

Likewise with Bum Equipment and a few other brands.

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Tuning in to KK


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Interstate travel woes

We switched allegiances from “World’s Best Cabin Crew” (Malaysia Airlines) to “World’s Best Low Cost Airline” (Air Asia) when we flew from Kuching [Kuching-travel-guide-1096915] to Kota Kinabalu (which everyone calls “KK” .... err ... nearly everyone ... the exception was the now defunct Australian Airlines which called it “Sabah” ... that’s like calling Melbourne simply as “Victoria”).

As Sabah and Sarawak states have separate immigration controls, we had to clear immigration despite being a domestic arrival ... together people from four other aircraft. There were some issues with the management of Visitor vs Local queues and as a result, Kim took some time to clear. He wasn’t very pleased and made his gripes clear to the supervisor. All-in-all, it is still faster than Auckland airport.

Hyper in Borneo

We checked into Tune Hotel adjoining a hypermall development called “1Borneo” ... there were three other hotels adjoining this mall ... a Novotel, a Mercure and a Best Western. We had pre-booked the best deal through Tune ... typically rates can be as low as a few cents for the room and you add on your extras like air-con and towels ... we weren’t so lucky with catching the best promo so our total came to about EUR10 per night!

According to its website ... the shopping podium has a gross area of 1.5m sq ft ... though ginormous by New Zealand standards it is a baby compared to the some malls in KL that are about 5m sq ft. Nevertheless, it is impressive ... it has high-rise luxury apartment blocks attached as well.

Catching up with a mate

After dinner, an old school friend David picked us up to experience some of KK’s night spots. First we went to Tanjung Aru hawker centre by the beach ... it has been tidied up heaps since 2001 when he last took us there.

Next we dropped into a coffee-shop / bakery for supper. The teh tarik here was tops ... rich smooth milky tea ... in fact, so rich it tasted chocolatey ... available hot or iced. Then came the soft fresh bread (or toast) smothered with butter and kaya which is a local jam made from a caramelised reduction of coconut milk, sugar and eggs (equal volumes). Very decadent!

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