Turtles, platform-turned-hotel-and-dive-site, black tip sharks, underwater caving
A few days after my birthday I found myself in the beautiful Mabul Island. I was there for two reasons – to dive, and to go for what I think would be my last travel with M before she gets married in a few months!
Upon being there for almost a week, I came up with a conclusion; this place ain’t famous for nothing. Strangely enough, talking to the locals found that Malaysians don’t really frequent here as much as international tourists do, perhaps due to some bad rep the islands had been getting in the past from terrorist activities (remember that guy who got kidnapped in Sipadan with a ransom? Scary!). In any case, the islands are so beautiful that one can instantly overlook all the army guys patrolling the area frequently.
Sipadan Island - courtesy of a friend's drone! #ilovetechnology
Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai islands are located in East Sabah, Malaysia, the closest airport being Tawau Airport. It takes an hour by road from the airport to the jetty, and then another hour of boat ride from the main land to Mabul Islad.
All three islands are seemingly un-bothered by the fast-paced life of the outside world. Pretty much everyone is there to dive. Mabul is more popular for the micro-animals - think weird looking, alien-like shrimps and slugs of all colors imaginable - whereas Sipadan is where you see the big players, like whale sharks, giant garoupas, manta rays, and a few different species of turtles. Exhibit A: I saw a turtle bigger then myself! (and I always love it when I’m the thinner one! #vain)
One of the diving spots in Sipadan. I can imagine what my Dad would say - "sedapnya kalau masak gulai"
A picture of a micro-God-knows-what-but-its-cute
Bumphead fish - also need some dental work (braces)
When booking diving packages here, I would recommend taking unlimited dives. We were diving 3-4 times a day for days, and yet I'm pretty sure I have not seen everything it has to offer. Often it felt like I was crashing a giant, endless sea-world party – there were so many turtles I eventually lost count, barracudas and bumpheads and some other weird looking fish that also looked delicious, lobsters and stingrays and giant eels – I was the stranger.
Maybe that’s the whole appeal of diving. You get lost in a world that is not yours, and you’re only there to observe for a change, not to participate. Maybe that’s the addiction.
Own toys and rented toys!
If you’re like me (me = amateur diver with minimal photography skills), best to be safe and not too carried away with things. When we went for an underwater cave expedition, I admit that it made me uncomfortable. To make matters worse, the Divemaster's torchlight gave out right when we were in the cave and it was momentarily pitch black (first picture). I mean, isn’t this exactly the intro to a bad horror movie where the entrance collapses and we’re all trapped inside and the oxygen runs out and I’m forced to kill someone using a broken shell fragment in the name of survival?? (but I wouldn’t kill M. She promised to buy me a birthday gift for less than RM100)
The irony - reading about a city while staying by the beach
Local village scenes around Mabul island - check out those sea urchins!
The island itself is amazing to explore on foot. Sipadan is much smaller than Mabul, and Mabul has local villagers who live on houses made on stilts by the sea. My favorite thing to do when arriving in a new place is to always go for a nice long walk around the local neighborhood, and avoid touristy watering holes. If you’re friendly enough you’ll make fast friends who will give you free fresh fish, and they were such nice people to invite us over to try the local sea urchin (you hear that Michelin? Ours was free and not a gazillion bucks). I've never actually had sea urchin before, and I thought it tasted... well, brine-y.
When traversing through local community at a new place it's always best to keep and open mind and have a big smile on your face! Nobody likes a tight-ass diva.
And try not to look too surprised to see a lot of kids running around stark naked and one kid with a cigarette pack.
A plate of Tuna 'Kilau'
A local delicacy that is a must-try would be a dish called ‘kilau’. There are versions of this everywhere in every seaside place in the world. It’s basically raw fresh fish tossed in lime, chilies, onions and simple seasoning. We had a tuna ‘kilau’, and it was zingy, fresh, light and supremely tasty (above picture). We also had some fried barracuda and weird-looking stir-fried snails at a local restaurant. The latter was oddly chewy, like an overgrown squid.
The Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai islands are truly gems of Malaysia. It's such a pride to know that we have such paradise in our own backyard. Just make sure your insurance covers ‘terrorist abduction’ and you’re good to go. Haha ok kidding. It’s one of those places that celebrates the ease of a simple life, with friendly people and just good old beautiful nature.
Will I ever go back? Abso-freaking-lutely.
Me with the oh-so-popular fish tornado-swirl!