Scuba diving is a social sport as it is both safer and nicer to dive with a buddy. My buddy is my brother who’s scuba diving teacher I was on his vacation to Phuket in 2005 where he came down to visit me who at the time worked for Scandinavian Divers. The course was probably more comprehensive and time consuming than he had in mind when I suggested it for him, but after four days he was the proud owner of a PADI Open Water Diver license. As he during the course got the same love for scuba diving as I have he went straight to the next level which is PADI Advanced Open Water Diver.
By teaching him how to scuba dive I gained a reliable and fun buddy. So in the middle of 2006 we made plans for our next dive vacation. We ended up with an incredible liveabord tour on Queen Scuba to the Similan Islands with departure from Phuket. After four days on a very luxurious boat with really nice staff and four dives a day with loads of incredible marine life we came back to Phuket with the best feeling ever.
To top last year’s dive vacation was not an easy task, but after a lot of thinking we ended up with a trip to Sipadan Island. It is a island with world renown dive spots located on the Malaysian part of Borneo. Sipadan Island is most famous for their heaps of turtles, barracudas, travally, white tip reef sharks, black tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks and other kinds of oceanic sharks like the hammerhead sharks and so on. Close by Sipadan Island is Mabul Island where you will find all the macro life like pipefishes, seahorses, nudibranches and much more.
For transportation to Sipadan Island we could either go to Kota Kinabalu, the largest Malaysian city on the island and then transfer to another airplane and arrive in the airport in Tawau or fly directly to Tawau from Kuala Lumpur. The choice was not difficult even if it meant we had to use the low cost carrier Air Asia. So we made reservations from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur and then further on to Tawau. On the way back to Bangkok we added a short stopover in Kuala Lumpur to see some of the attractions they have there.
After arriving in Tawau it is a 85 minute trip by bus or car to the coastal city of Semporna. For accommodation and diving we had the choice of staying there and go on daily trips to Sipadan Island or stay closer to the island itself. A good friend of mine had stayed in Samporna and dived with Scubajunkies so we looked into that, and we also looked into the resorts of Seaventures Dive Rig and Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort. Staying in Semporna would have been cheapest but it would also mean long boat rides every day to the dive spots and it would not be a very exotic stay so we dropped that option very fast. Left with Seaventures Dive Rig and Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort we choose the last one. The first was cheaper and I had heard several backpackers rave on about them, but the photos from the last one was much more exotic so we accepted the extra costs. Our reservation was done with great help from the online company Save Money Diving. They arranged the resort, pick up from the airport and a good hotel in Semporna, all for the lowest price we could find.
We needed a hotel in Kuala Lumpur for the short stop over so we logged on to Agoda who had the best prices. It is easy to find alternatives and prices on their website and we ended up with Swiss Garden Hotel. It is located close interesting attractions in the capital of Malaysia, so we could walk to Chinatown, Times Square Shopping Mall, Petronas Twin Towers and the KL Tower. The two first attractions is close by the hotel while the last two ones would take us about an hour to walk to.
Everything was planned, reservations was made and payments was done when we checked out of Cozy At Ten Hotel in Bangkok. It is a cozy, small, inexpensive and very centrally located hotel. We left luggage we did not need for this trip in the hotel as we would stay there when we came back. A taxi waited for the ride to the airport and we was there in good time before departure. The flight to Kuala Lumpur went smooth and we landed on time. Our next flight was running late so we had to wait for a couple of hours in the airport but we got in the air eventually. We arrived in Tawau some hour later at 19.00. As we checked out of the hotel in Bangkok at 7.00 it had taken us a total of 12 hours to get from the hotel in Bangkok to the airport in Tawau.
The resort we should stay with had organized pick up for us at the airport in Tawau so when we got our luggage a very nice guy presented himself to us. He took our luggage in a very comfortable minivan and drove us to Semporna. As the resort had already organized a hotel for us as well he dropped us at the Seafest Hotel and told us that he would personally pick us up in the morning. We had not had much to eat all day so we wandered through the town and found a open KFC. Then we headed back to bed after a rather tiring day.
Next morning started with breakfast before the driver from last night picked us up. He drove a short stretch and delivered us to the office of the resort where our details was taken and passports was copied. Together with a bunch of other new guests we entered a couple of very fast speed boats and drove for what seemed like 45 minutes until we could see Sipadan Island straight ahead of us. Then the boats changed their course a little and we could see the resort. It was unbelievable. The whole resort is built on stilts on top of a large coral reef within minutes reach to Sipadan and Mabul Islands. We entered the resort and was offered food or snacks before we had a short information meeting.
Then we went straight for a orientation dive on the local reef. It is a reef where we could do unlimited diving so it was nice to go down with a divemaster first to get to know it a bit. We saw turtle, great barracuda, frogfish, several pipefish’s and much more on that dive. After the dive we got the key to our bungalow and when we entered it we got completely stunned. It was absolutely beautiful and the view was incredible. We went for lunch and after lunch we had a boat orientation dive just a couple of minutes away from the resort. The dive wasn’t to eventful to start with but it became really good after a while with octopus, stingrays, turtles, barracudas, hunting flamboyant cuttlefish and a beautiful ribbon eel. We had a dive at the local reef again later that day and after dinner we relaxed before we fell asleep.
Next morning started with my brother saying there was some stingrays just below our balcony, and when I got out to take a look at them I saw a eagle ray swimming nicely by and didn’t mind us at all. The depth below our balcony was not much more than a meter so the water was crystal clear. Over the week we stayed there we saw several turtles, stingrays, eagle rays and loads of other fishes.
The days went by with diving, diving and more diving. The personnel at the resort was fantastic and the security was great as some Malaysian troops stay there permanently and use it as a base to provide security for the whole area. We did loads of diving both at Sipadan and Mabul Islands with some diving below the Seaventures Dive Rig as well. I loved the dives and we saw so many turtles and sharks that we didn’t bother in the end, and that was no problem as there was so much more to see that it was incredible. The only thing I was not happy about was the size of the groups and the dive time. Most of the time we was 10 to 12 people in the group, more often than not me and my brother was the two odd people in a group of Asians. They always had two divemasters but they dived as a whole group. When 14 people is diving together it can be a bit cramped. Divetime was always said to be between 40 and 45 minutes, and that was including the safety stop. When I tried to stretch it to 50 minutes on one of the first dives it was not appreciated. On the last two days we had a divemaster named Alex and his Japanese girlfriend who I believe was named Eiko, and they was great. When they took the main group up after 50 minutes they accepted that we dove for another 5 minutes while they got everyone on the boat. Size of group and dive time was as said very annoying in the beginning, but after a day I found out I just had to accept it and then it was not too bad.
On one of the last days when we had lunch we saw no less than 8 eagle rays patrolling over the shallow reef before they headed for a cleaning station that the divemasters said was very close to the local reef we did unlimited diving on. The marine life was so good that even if the dive time was a bit short in my view we saw so much. The visibility was sadly not to good while we was there, but it didn’t matter to much as most marine life came very close. What we lost out on was the bigger stuff in the blue, but I saw a hammerhead shark and several grey reef sharks.
Everything good seems to come to an end after a while, also our fantastic stay at Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort. We said our goodbyes to the personnel that had done their outmost to make our stay as memorable as possible. It was early morning when we left and when we arrived in Semporna the same guy who picked us up at the airport drove us back to the airport so we could get on our flight to Kuala Lumpur. It went on time and everything was good.
When arriving in Kuala Lumpur we took a low fare taxi from the airport to Swiss Garden Hotel. We could see it was a popular hotel as it took quite a while before we could check in as so many others either wanted to check out or check in. My brother got a smoking room while I was upgraded for some reason and got a non-smoking room. The rooms was very nice with even nicer bathrooms. And the location was perfect as it was within walking distance for a couple of Europeans like us to everything we planned to see.
After unpacking we went to do some shopping at Times Square Shopping Mall. It is a huge shopping mall with just about everything you can wish for. My brother found some really nice clothes and some Star Wars toys for his son, I ended up with a caps and a pair of nice army style shorts. It was evening before we got out of the shopping mall and headed back to the hotel. After some relaxation my brother said he would like to see the Petronas Twin Towers in the evening. So we found a taxi and when we arrived at the twin towers it was a spectacular sight to see them fully lighted up. An hour of photographing was followed by another taxi ride to Chinatown. We was dropped off at Petaling Street and went through most of Chinatown in pursuit of cheap stuff. This as Chinatown is transformed to a huge marked of fake and non-fake stuff in the evening. Every brand you can think of is to be found here with their newest collection at a very low price. A five minute walk at midnight got us back to the hotel where we fell asleep.
We woke up in time to check out from the hotel next morning and left our luggage there to pick it up later. A 45 minute walk from the hotel and we was at the KL Tower. It is apparently the fourth tallest communication tower in the world with an elevator that will bring you up to a height of 280 meter. It was an impressive view from the top of Kuala Lumpur and we seriously considered having a meal at the revolving restaurants one floor up as well, but we dropped it as we really did not have the time nor the money to do it. Some photographs of the city later and we was on our way down for a 10 minute walk over to the Petronas Twin Towers, We had seen them in the evening and would also like to see them in daylight. Took some photographs and visited the huge shopping mall in their basement where we also had a lunch that was not much to write home about.
Everything we had planned to see in Kuala Lumpur had now been seen and we went back to the hotel to fetch our luggage and get to the airport for our final flight to Bangkok. As we had been told by Air Asia in a SMS that the flight was 3 hours delayed we walked very slowly back to the hotel. When we was there it was less than 3 hours before the flight should depart so we got our luggage, arranged a car from the hotel and headed to the airport. It took an hour to get there so we relaxed a bit before I found my passport and tickets and asked if my brother had his passport. He started looking for it and when he could not find it within a minute I saw a kind of desperate look appearing on his face.
He came to the conclusion after some more minutes that he had forgotten his passport and money in the safe in his hotel room. He called the hotel and they asked him to call back in 30 minutes as they needed some time to look for it. Now we had a small dilemma as our flight would depart in less than an hour and there was no way we could get his passport in time for it. So either we both had to go back for it or he had to go back for it while I left for Bangkok alone.
It ended up with me flying to Bangkok as I needed to hold our hotel rooms there while he went back to the hotel again. I arrived at the hotel in Bangkok after midnight and got a phone call from my brother where he said he had his passport and money and that he would fly to Bangkok in the morning. He would sleep in the airport as it was already very late and not to many hours before he hoped to get a new ticket. I went to sleep and when I woke up he had already arrived with a early flight from Kuala Lumpur.
We both agreed that our dive vacation had been really great with loads of lasting memories. Everything had worked out perfect with the exception of excessive luggage on Air Asia that became quite expensive and the little hiccup of my brother in Kuala Lumpur. This was overshadowed by the fantastic service of the booking agencies and dive resort.