13-19 June -- After our eventful jungle trek, we decided on Sipadan island, one of the world's most renowned spots for scuba diving due to its crystal clear waters, volcanic archipellago and abundant aqualife. We arrived early afternoon into Semporna to find a cheap room, do some email and rest up for some serious scuba. We checked into a cheap-o place built on stilts that sat literally on the ocean called the Dragon Inn. We found out later the locals call it the Drag 'em in, since it pulls in and spits out the backpackers, but 15 ringget is good enough for me.
Dive shops abounded in Semporna as all development on the islands is strictly controlled. There are no resorts or hotels even allowed on Sipadan, due to a kidnapping incident with some Filipino pirates and western backpackers 5 years ago, but you are allowed to stay on an island called Mabul, just 45 minutes boat ride away from Sipadan.
We asked around and found Uncle Chang's, the scuba-diving backpacker's dream. Cheap rooms on Mabul, food included, great diving and sure to be a fun scene. The boat to Mabul left early the next morning and as
in the Celebes sea
we sailed out to the Celebes sea, we were surrounded by panoramic scenery of volcanic islands, intensely aqua blue water and lots of other excited divers ready to see it for themselves.
When we pulled up to Uncle Chang's, it was clear this was going to be a fun couple of days. We were greeted by a band of 18 year old local kids banging on drums made of buckets, electric guitars and a sound system; we disembarked, had breakfast, met lots of people and planned the dive schedule.
The water was as warm as the air -- 30 degrees C -- and from the boat we could see lionfish, corals, grouper, bumphead parrotfish, nemos, turtles. It was like going diving in an acquarium. I made it out to Sipadan after a couple of days, as I'm not hugely comfortable with diving (it freaks me out), but it's such an interesting way to see the ocean. After a couple of lessons and getting used to the gear, we headed for a day out to the famous Sipadan.
It's a tiny island, maybe one KM across, sprinkled with powdery white sand. Twenty meters out from shore, the sea
floor drops an astounding 600 meters, made up of a coral wall that's bustling with soft and hard coral and even more sea life than Mabul. It was Hammerhead shark season, and while I missed seeing them the group ahead of us saw a school of over 40 sharks.
The divemasters were a bit lackadaisical, even though they were loads of fun, as they did take us down to 30 meters along the drop off. That said, I went on all three dives and was absolutely intoxicated by the most beautiful sights and underwater fantasy land that I ever have seen.
We made lots of friends on the island, including the legendary Uncle Chang who came out on Saturday night with loads of rum and threw a party (he apparently does this every week). That said, the band was out in full force absolutely every night, playing the standard Guns and Roses covers, Extreme, Green Day, loads of really old music till the wee hours. It was a blast, but after five days and lots of diving and snorkeling, it was time to move on. We've got to make our way out of Malaysia and head up to
Thailand, as I'm planning on having the big Three-Oh on Kho Tao island.
Next stop is the Perhentian Islands on the east coast of West Malaysia. We took a flight yesterday from Borneo back to Kota Barhu, where I've literally spent the entire day (going on 7 hours) updating my blog, resizing pictures and trying to get up to date with all of my news. Already there's a great group of people staying here at the Ideal Backpacker's Lodge, a Chinese run hostel, and we'll share a cab to the jetty at 5 am tomorrow to head to the Perhentians. Another island adventure!
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