09 June 2007

The Sipadan Dream

It was an amazing overland and underwater adventure. It began on...

31st May 2007 - The beginning
Upon arrival at Sipadan Water Village Resort (SWV), the sound of gongs and clangs drowned the village, we were greeted with warm smiles of the reception and restaurant staff. I thought wow, this is so over the top.

We met these two brave little boys, Reuben and Ryan from Singapore, who went out to sea with us.
Our DM for the day is Ron. He led us on an orientation dive in SWV's house reef Paradise 1 to check our diving skills. Besides the 3 boat dives a day, a couple of hours of our day are spent exploring the house reefs; Paradise 1 and Paradise 2.

Ron brought us to an underwater dental station where you can get free consultation and scaling done by 'em cleaner shrimps. lol

.Cleaner shrimps checking Cod's and Ron's oral hygiene.

And being the dive manics that we are, before we even set out on our 1st boat dive, we signed up for Sunset Dive right away. lol

We've got one of the best rooms; located right next to the Dive Centre and has an absolutely picturesque view.

Even at the comfort of our own balcony, we can see vast marine life and the occassional bobbing of a turtle's head when it comes up for air. As exhausted as we are when we return from our dives, there's no escaping the calling of blue waters. As we set foot into our room, look out at the blue sea, we're smitten once again.

For people who are after the bigger things in life, the pelagics, Sipadan is the island for you. It's one of the finest creation ever. Because of it's location; 5 degrees north of the Equator in the Celebes Sea, it is in the region that harbours the richest variety of marine species in the world. We had 2 boat dives scheduled to Sipadan per day on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd June. I've read and been told great tales about Sipadan, and here i am experiencing the Sipadan dream for myself. The water is not just blue, it's crystal clear blue, it's so blue you think you can drink it. It goes from baby blue to light blue to turquoise to azure to dark blue to navy blue to sapphire to.. an entire palette of blue. The island is shaped like a mushroom and drops off to 600 friggin' metres. In Sipadan, we do a combination of drift and wall dives, i.e. diving vertically with corals infront of you instead of below you and drifting with the current as if you're watching a slideshow.

.Turtle napping. I wanna bring her home.

The turtles here are totally oblivious of the divers. Though not as many as i expected, they're a definite dive companion in Sipadan, every now and then a turtle will swim under you, over you, and directly under the sunlight for a perfect kodak moment. More often that not, I have to check my depth gauge when diving in Sipadan because the visibility is so good and there isnt exactly a visible bottom to judge my depth from. I looked down to the blanket of deep blue and there's a constant hope of something emerging from it... hammerheads??

.Angel surrounded by thousands of jacks. Grey reef shark.

Barracuda Point, where the current is most consistent, is where you will find huge swirling schools of barracudas. Unfortunately, we did not get to witness the barracuda tornado which is endemic to this area. The sheer numbers of fish here is astounding, literally hundreds if not thousands of jacks, the amazing bumphead parrotfish that we saw at sunrise, triggerfish - i've not seen so many triggerfish in one single site, wrasses, leopard shark, hammerheads and whaleshark if you are lucky and countless other big fish.

This site starts of with a wall which merges into a ledge at around 22 meters where resting sharks can be seen.

.I'm trying to imitate missy toitle. Sneaking up to a whitetip shark (My old man would say 'beh chai si' i.e. 'dunno the word D.I.E')

Sad to say that the corals here are in pretty bad shape. The other sites we've covered in Sipadan are South Point, Hanging Gardens and Mid Reef. I particularly love Hanging Gardens and Mid Reef. They are gorgeous beyond description and as the name speaks for itself, it's a wall draped with soft corals of lovely pastel colours. It is also a wall dive which begins with a drop-off just over a metre from the surface, descends gradually to a terrace at about 70 metres and then plunges into an abyss. MidReef, to me is the most beautiful and colourful dive site in Sipadan. This is where our DM Jay spotted the sailfin goby! It's coral formation is absolutely stunning, exploding with fancy coloured soft corals, sea fans and grogonian fans. I tried to capture some artistic shots and kinda failed. I need 'em Strobes and Wide Angle Lens! buuhuuhuu.

.The gentle turtle.

.Angel. Our dive group 'hanging'.

.Safety stop in Sipadan is never a bore. Rainbow rays piercing through the waters.

.Angel and I. Yeayyy, we're so brave.

Another great site in Sipadan is the turtle tomb. 10 metres down the wall of this site lies a narrow tunnel, where turtles enter seeking food or rest. Some went too far into the complex cavern and got lost, and eventually died there :( In the labyrinth lies at least 19 turtles. Sadly, this dive is only available to divers with cave diving experience.


.DM Ramil who found us the pygmy seahorse!.

Mabul and Kapalai, on the other hand, are a macro dream. The sites we've covered in Mabul are New Lobster Cave, Lobster Wall, Old House Reef, SeaVentures, Paradise 1, Paradise 2 and in Kapalai - First Bouy, Second Bouy and Maki Point.

SWV's house reefs are a goldmine of macros. And you can do self-dives between 6am - 6pm at completely zero cost, free of charge! Dozens of tanks stand by the jetty awaiting thirsty divers. We did a total of 7 free dives in SWV's house reef on our own. And each time, we spotted something new. I'm a new fan of sand diving.

.SWV's house reef - Paradise 2.

.The big-mouthed Crocodile Fish. Crocodile Fish' eye.


.Bloody cute nudis.

.Pink squat lobster.

.Jawfish brooding eggs in its mouth.

.Ok, honestly, i wasnt expecting anything like this at all. Yes, it's underwater at around 6m.

Two of my favourites in Mabul are the Mandarin Fish and the cutest pygmy seahorse!!!! After numerous whinging of wanting to see the resident pygmy seahorse beneath Seaventures Resort, we got the entire boat to ourselves and 3 DMs to help us look for it :P It is so tiny that Ramil actually brought a magnifying glass so we could see its face! Their size varies from mms to a maximum of 2cm.

.Seaventures - Dive rig resort that i see every morning when i wake up. Angel, Nina, Myself and Ramil.

.Can you see it hidden in the sea fan?. So frigging adorable!.

When Ramil finally found it, we were a few minutes away from hitting decompression. Nooo.. After balancing myself, I only managed to get 5 shots, and it's the last dive of our day, last dive of our trip. I cant believe it. Well, i suppose that's another reason for me to return :P

In total, we've logged 23 dives in 4.5 full diving days at a maximum of 6 dives per day.

Anyways, it wasnt just all dive dive dive, our Divemaster Jay showed us around the island. We checked out Sipadan-Mabul Resort, on the other side of SWV, that looks rather posh but didnt seem like they had alot of divers, Borneo Divers Mabul Resort's beach bar where we had frozen magaritas and taught the bartender how to make tequila pop and icecream in Baileys kekeke, ate at Mabul kampong's wooden restaurant where villagers gathered to watch "wayang hantu" and at another one that serves maggi mee of any flavour you want - tambah dua telur!,Uncle Chang's backpacker chalet where they gave us the cheapest rum ever and made us sing the Sipadan Song with them, and ofcourse our resort's own Sunset Bar. While walking around the island at night, armed with a torch, Jay casually said:

"Becareful not to step on little children"
Me: "What????" "Step on little children??"
Jay: "Yea, sometimes they like to lie down on the sand in the middle of the path"
Me: *looks at Angel in disbelief* (then a naked little boy ran passed us) Muhuhuuu..

The heartbreakers of Mabul Island.

.Borneo Diver's beach bar. Full moon for the 5 nights we were there, amazing.

Cheap-cheap accomodation at Uncle Chang's chalet
.Uncle Chang, Angel and Jay singing the Sipadan song and half-naked european men at rear. In-house entertainment - bucket drums.

.@ SMART - they've got carpets!.

.SWV's Sunset Bar where we have our drinks, a bottle of wine and hang around until the wee hours of morning.

. Happy hour on land. Happy hour underwater.

5th June 2007 - The end.

.Pakcik you're super cute la... He's the carpenter of the resort and has on this straw hat that he lacquered over i-dont-know-how-many-thousand-layers until it is so tough and weighs a ton now.

.Be very scared.

.wei wei.. can you hear me?.

.So long Mabul.
.More pics here.
Many thanks to Amy for arranging our accomodation, Divemaster Froi, Ramil, Jay, Nina, Allan, Ron for showing us the beautiful world downunder, Videographer Andy for filming us, Leslie for all your advice on dive and camera equipments, boatmen for carrying our tanks, and everyone else who made our trip ever so pleasant.

Back home... back to work...

We were so close to ditching our flight. The influence and beauty of nature really cleanses one's soul. Living it and breathing it gives a whole new meaning to serenity. Our days in Mabul Island passed with fond memories and experiences that we plan to relive very soon : )

The Sipadan Song
1. There's an island in the celebes sea
The name Sipadan you must go and see
If you're a diver and you want the best
Well come go along and we'll do the rest

(*) Chorus:
Well I'm glad to say the drop off is o.k.
Barracuda point's not far away
Lobster lair is also there
And the hanging gardens are very rare
2. Divers down at the waterside
Looking at the drop off with agaping eyes
Wondering what's there down below
Is it a nobby's clark or is it Jacques Cousteau (*)

3. There's a skeleton in turtle cave
You can go to see if you're feeling brave
Dive right in until it ends
But dont stay too long or you'll get the bends (*)

4. White tip avenue and turtle patch
Oh! the coral garden there is no match
Soft coral, hard coral and sea whips too
Tropical fish to amaze you

5. Jacques Cousteau and Calypso came
All "Ze Micro Paradise" he did acclaim
Divers in silver up and down the reef
Cameras were clicking there was no relief (*)

6. There's so many places you may have been
All the caribbean islands the coral sea
The barrier reef and the maldives too
But Sipadan Island is something new (*)

7. But i'm sad to say you're leaving tomorrow
Sipadan Island will be far away
I know that when you leave her shore
There'll be memories in your heart forever more

. Sei mao @ Dead cat. Muhhuuhuuu.

We'll be back!

P.S.: How do you get to Sipadan?
  • Brunei - Kota Kinabalu (30minutes) - by air
  • Kota Kinabalu - Tawau (45minutes) - by air
  • Tawau - Sempourna (roughly 1.5hours) - by coach
  • Sempourna - Mabul Island/Kapalai Island (roughly 1 hour) - by boat
  • Reside at any of the resorts in Mabul/Kapalai
  • Mabul/Kapalai - Sipadan (30minutes) - by boat


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