DIVING IN SIPADAN ISLAND, SABAH (MALAYSIA)
Are you a diver? If so - does SIPADAN ring a bell? If it does, then I'm sure you have already visited the Island. If you haven't - folks what are you waiting for? As for those of you who have never heard of SIPADAN - jot it down and stick it up on the refrigerator for easy look up on "Things to do and Places to go to" pronto.
For the rest of you - brace yourselves my friends - after you read off from my rich experience - you will be running straight to the Airport with your passports along with the sun blocks! Don't forget any important details like the bikinis, beach bum shorts and yes, importantly the full diving gear. If anyone questions the urgency in getting there - tell them it's your second honeymoon.
SIPADAN is an island of only 16 hectares, covered by luxuriant and impenetrable rainforest. . Rare species of bird inhabit the higher
branches of the trees. Enormous coconut crabs live in the trees and giant monitor lizard’s stalk in the undergrowth.
The Malaysian Authorities have this land protected as a Terrestrial Wildlife Sanctuary. It has been a bird sanctuary since 1933, and it's interesting to know that it's forbidden walking on the white-sandy beaches during the hours of darkness for fear of disturbing the peace and territory of both nesting and hatching turtles.
This is the
turtle capital of the world. Your first dive will probably enchant you in more than one way. The first giant green turtle that you meet might bedecked
with remoras seemingly lethargically and uninterested in you recording its portrait. Once you have gotten a grip on your own emotions - you'll then have to come
to terms on how you allowed yourself to listen to your buddy on coming down here with only one roll of film. (NOTE: 10 roll of films might just be about
right for the purpose of this trip. For those of you on digital, you might want to make the resolution at least 1024x640 and above. Darn, this is the last time I'm
gonna listen to Jason on her brilliant idea on bringing only one 128mb memory stick.)
Green turtles share the water with the hawksbill, a
species more commonly encountered elsewhere in the world. Shoals of batfish follow the turtles - you never see turtle excrement fouling the reef! Resting white-tip
reef sharks are common. In fact, the whole gamut of under- water life found in the Indo-Pacific Basin lives here. More than 3000 species have been recorded to
date and you will encounter everything from hammerhead sharks to the smallest and prettiest nudibranch in and around Sipadan's reef.
Most of the other divers regard it is an underwater photographer's paradise. One roll of film is never enough for a dive and it is possible to dive five to seven times each day depending on your preference. The first and earliest dive would be around dawn at 6am. The next is two hours later. The third is around 11am and the fourth at 2.30pm. There is a sunset dive around 5pm, and night dives are possible. Few divers ever miss the first five dives, and this regime is followed every day. Hooray for diving computers!
Getting There - For service, price, and effective scheduling when traveling to Asia and the Pacific Rim, Malaysia Airlines is hard to beat. Repeatedly ranking among the top international airlines, their equipment and in-flight service are excellent. If your initial destination is Sipadan Island, the best routing is to fly non-stop from anywhere to Taipei, with a change of planes for Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capital of the Malaysian State of Sabah. From "KK," catch a 45-minute connecting flight directly to the small coastal town of Tawau. From there you can continue on by car to Semporna, the jumping off point for Sipadan, or spend your first overnight at Tawau. Other options include connections from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and various other gateways.
The Basic Program - We stayed with Borneo Divers'. Their program includes air transfer forward from Kota Kinabalu, land transfer from Tawau to Semporna, and boat transfer from Semporna to Sipadan. Airport tax, the cost of the hotel overnight in Tawau or Semporna, and meals in transit are not included. Once at Sipadan, the basic package includes lodging, tax, three daily meals, three boat dives per day, and unlimited beach dives and tanks, with the dive shop open for business from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Coffee, tea and juice are available all the time and is free. Canned soft drinks, beer, and alcoholic beverages from the well-stocked bar are additional and will be charged.
For many reasons, I have selected Borneo Divers Lodge as my resort of choice. Borneo Divers are one of the most advanced, experienced, and best-organized operators on Sipadan. They have the best resources, and the most complete physical plant - i.e. refrigeration, kitchen facilities, showers, toilets, generators, compressors, water desalinization system, etc. Borneo Divers also have the only decompression chamber in the region, and most importantly, appear to be the most ecologically conscientious.
We were provided with transportation by van from Tawau airport, and a 1-hours ride through the countryside would bring us to Semporna, the jumping point for Sipadan. Upon reaching the jetty, we had to register ourselves with our operator, since security in getting to the island is extremely tight. This small shack is located next to the jetty to, a convenient place to register while waiting for the boat to be prepared.
After checking in with the operator, we begin boarding the boat, which was provided by the dive operator.
The waters of Sabah are guarded tightly by the army. It would take around 85 minutes to get to the island by boat. Constantly we would see navy boats patrolling the area.
It is compulsory that all divers go through the orientation dive with the local divemaster before starting to dive in Sipadan.
What to Bring? - In point of fact, you'll need very little in the way of clothing at Sipadan, so pack lots of cameras, film, and dive gear, and just a few pairs of shorts and T-shirts, plus one light, long sleeved shirt or jacket. Comfortable footgear is important if you plan on doing some touring after Sipadan. I suggest a sturdy pair of walking or running shoes (wear these on the plane), and a good pair of waterproof sandals. But at Sipadan, remove your shoes on arrival and stow 'em, everyone goes about barefoot. The dive shop provides ample storage for your gear, and a 110 v. charging station for your strobes. It's preferable to bring your basic dive gear, but don't feel obliged to haul a bunch of back-up equipment, as Borneo Divers keeps a good supply of well-maintained rental gear on hand. Water temperature generally ranges from 80-84 degrees Fahrenheit (26-28degree), but if you intend to maximize your bottom time, I suggest that you do bring a lightweight, full wet suit, or a good dive skin. A dive computer will certainly add to your dive time and safety.
The Bottom Line is Bottom Time - One of my friends description of Sipadan, "I could tell you that after more than 4000 dives logged at the world's most renowned dive spots, Sipadan is still the best I've ever seen". Even though I stayed in Sipadan for nearly 2 weeks, I still get excited about every dive when I wake up in the morning. I could remind you Sipadan has constantly been awarded "One of the World's Best Beach Dive" awards, or I could just say it was GREAT!!!, with lots of exclamation marks, but I'm afraid that you would think its just hyperbole. So with the help of my dive buddies, I have recorded for you all the marine life we saw during our diving on a recent trip to Sipadan. On our first day we sited and swam with:
Ten or twenty white tip and black tip sharks, at least fifty giant sea turtles (both green and hawks bill), some very big jack cravalle feeding on swirling schools of terrified chromis, schooling bar jacks, giant bump head parrot fish (balbometopon muricatum), exotic unicorn fish, a broad variety of beautiful anemones and clown fishes, at least three different kinds of lion fish, harlequin trigger fish, a big titan trigger fish building its nest, colourful crinoids, starfish, a swirling school of 500+ barracuda spiraling in the sunlight…and the list goes on and on.
Hmmmm…..Well, I guess this is it. Probably after reading my experience on going there, you would be appealed to what SIPADAN has to offer. If you’re a couple who loves diving, then it might get you in the mood for a second honeymoon - minus the noisy neighbors.
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