A piece of tropical paradise

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The diving at Sipadan is known to be some of the best in the world and I wasn’t disappointed.  There were more turtles than you could poke a stick at, massive schools of giant barracuda, ugly bumpheaded parrot fish and loads of colourful tropical fish.

Despite the limited number of permits to dive Sipadan each day (120 permits between 10 operators!), I managed to dive 4 out of the 7 days I had there.  Before I went, I was only guaranteed 2 days, but even waking up at 4:30am to fit in 4 dives at Sipadan before lunch was well worth it.

The staff at Sipadan-Kapalai resort were just fantastic, especially the dive crew, who were on hand to do everything for you from setting up your gear and putting it on the boat, to being ready after a jetty dive to take your fins with a smile!  I think that many of the crew took a liking to me, being the only single female diver at the resort at the time – one of the dive crew even tried to kiss me!

This place is just paradise.  I think I’ve found my annual holiday destination – I can’t wait to come back next year!

Dive 201: Barracuda Point, Pulau Sipadan (Malaysia)

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Dive time: 00:48:00
Max depth:  20.7 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  30 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  02:46:00

For amazing fish life, this has to be the best site on Sipadan.  Especially when the current is strong, as it was with this dive, it just brings through the big schools of barracuda for an absolutely stunning sight.

We saw a massive school of jacks just out from the wall in the blue, and just as we were ogling at this school of silvery fish, we swam straight into a few barracuda, and then more barracuda, and then I looked up to see the biggest school of giant barracuda that I’d seen here yet.  We floated straight into them as we were carried along with the current, so with some finning, we were able to stay put and just marvel at them circling around, the school breaking up and then reforming again.  This is the sort of thing that just sets Sipadan apart from the other sites that I’d dived over the last few days – more “oh WOW” moments!

We swam over the ridge into the valley of dead coral and there were white tip reef sharks everywhere we looked, resting on the bottom or gracefully skimming over the bottom to find their next rest spot.  There were also several turtles, and a titan trigger fish hunting for its food in the sand by blasting it with jets of water.

On our safety stop, we saw yet another turtle cruising along the reef and occasionally popping up the surface for a breath, and napoleon wrasse – beautiful with its strikingly marked face.

What a perfect way to end a fantastic trip to Sipadan!

Dive 200: Hanging Gardens, Pulau Sipadan (Malaysia)

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Dive time:  00:48:00
Max depth:  20.4 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  30 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  01:05:00

In terms of sheer beauty of the reef and corals, Hanging Gardens would have to be the favourite of my dives sites here.  The wall here is more sheer than any of the other sites that I’ve dived, and the coral growth on it is just spectacular with beautiful fans, anenomes, and amazing assortment of colourful hard and soft corals.

As soon as I descended on the reef, I came face to face with three turtles resting on the one outcrop of rock.  I watched as one of the turtles gracefully took off to the surface for a gulp of air.  As with the last dive here at Hanging Gardens, there were just turtles absolutely everywhere.  They were above me almost every time I rolled over to gaze at the surface, they were resting in little alcoves in the wall, or the were swimming out in the blue.  The largest one I saw had a shell about 1m in length, and was lying very still in a hole in the wall.  It had its eyes closed, which I hadn’t seen of other turtles so I was a bit unsure whether it was sleeping or whether it was dead!

It was only half way through the dive that I realised that this was my 200th dive, and all I could think about was how amazing it was that I was doing it in Sipadan in turtle heaven!  An absolutely stunning dive.

Sabah simians

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Just mentioning the word “Borneo” conjures up all manner of images from rainforest to monkeys to friendly, dark-skinned locals.  Especially monkeys, and Borneo is renowned for its population of curious orangutans and the just plain curious-looking proboscis monkeys.

Back in November, I managed to snag super cheap Air Asia X launch fares from London to Kuala Lumpur for only £198 return!  At this price, it was madness to think of not booking a holiday.  With the flight saving, I decided that I wanted to splurge and do a diving trip to Borneo, specifically diving Pulau Sipadan in the Celebes Sea – known as one of the best reef and wall diving spots in the world – and staying at the very awesome Sipadan-Kapalai resort.

With two days to pass in Kota Kinabalu, I went to the Klias Wetlands yesterday, which are 1.5 hours west of KK.  These mangrove wetlands are an ideal spot to see the hideously ugly proboscis monkeys.  These simians come out in the late afternoon and early evening to play, and we cruised along the river in a speedboat searching the surrounding trees for any signs of monkey movement.  We were lucky enough to spot quite a few proboscis monkeys as well as playful macaques, a monitor lizard sunning itself on a branch overhanging the river, and a fisherman with his catch of tiger prawns!

After a delicious buffet dinner, we headed out on the boat again as darkness descended to check out fireflies.  In the pitch black night, the fireflies light up the surrounding trees so that they are akin to Christmas trees – very cool.  What was not cool though, was being ravaged by hordes of mosquitos.  Despite slathering myself in enough insect repellant to ward off a plague of locusts, I still ended up with itchy red bites over my legs.

Today I escaped to the mountains to escape stifling heat and to check out Kinabalu Park, of which Mount Kinabalu is a part, as well as the Botanic Gardens.  I didn’t climb Mount Kinabalu, since I didn’t actually have any footwear besides thongs!  It’s also a two-day trip, so it’s definitely something to put on the itinerary for next time.  The Gardens were quite small but had quite a nice array of colourful flowers, including a few orchid varieties.

 

Then we piled on the bus to check out the Poring Hot Springs and canopy walk, which involved a fair climb in the rain to the canopy tower up broken rubble steps.  All in all, both the canopy walk and hot springs were pretty disappointing, with neither being particularly exciting or interesting, but it was nice to see a bit of the surrounding KK area.

The most interesting KK experience was my dinner last night at a random local restaurant with the menu written in Chinese on the wall, but a photo menu for dumb foreigners as myself!  From the pictures of pigs’ bladders and cows’ stomachs, it seemed like the restaurant specialised in stewed offal.  Feeling a bit fragile after a 13-hour flight from London and a 7-hour stopover, I went for the safe soup noodles option with sliced beef!

I might wait until I meet up with my parents on the 30th of April to try stewed animal innards – better to waste their money if I don’t like rather than mine!