With seventy per cent of the planet underwater, you mustn’t think twice before plunging in to the deep blue waters of any ocean. What awaits is a whole new world for you to immerse yourself in sans crowds, pollution and any form of mundane you’re used to. We’re talking abut scuba diving.
Blessed with some of the most marine-rich waters in the world, Borneo (Malaysia) promises to deliver those exhilarating experiences of swimming with hammerheads, cruising alongside turtles and gliding by the swirling tornadoes of barracudas. Not convinced yet? Read on
- Go big or go home – Welcome to Sipadan the No. 1 dive site in the world
You can’t walk three steps in Borneo without someone asking you if you’re here to dive at Sipadan. Located off the East coast of Borneo, this tiny protected island permits only 120 visitors per day to dive in its serene waters. The Sipadan Barrier Reef is the largest Barrier Reef in South East Asia and also has the world’s highest marine biodiversity offering staggering drops to over 500 metres, cleaning stations that attract manta rays, devil rays and hammer head sharks. Frequently making appearances are barracudas, pygmy seahorses, big-eye trevallies, flamboyant cuttle fish, mandarin fish, clown fish, swordfish and other marine life that absolutely boggled my mind. Think of all those Nat Geo videos you watched growing up, marvelling at the sea creatures you only dreamed of seeing. This is the real deal. Keep in mind, visitors can only stay at the surrounding islands of Mabul and Kapalai and are required to purchase permits months in advance. Hell, it’s worth it!
- Diving at Mabul and Kapalai
While Sipadan is your show stopper, the islands of Mabul and Kapalai provide similar experiences. Resorts have been set up at each of these islands ranging from comfortable to luxurious essentially catering to the throngs of divers that visit the nearby islands.
The way to go is to stay at Mabul or Kapalai and hop on to a boat to explore Sipadan and the other islands.
With sites ranging from well-developed artificial reefs and home to thousands of schooling jackfish, groupers, giant moray eels, 100’s of resident turtles, blue-ringed octopus, harlequin ghost pipefish, dwarf stonefish, seahorses, nudibranchs, Mabul promises an experience like no other. A night dive here is recommended due to the untold numbers of weird and amazing critters, some luminescent, creating a spectacle underwater. Quite a nerve racking experience this night dive turned out to be. You enter the water at dusk and rise only when it’s pitch dark and to the sound of gentle waves. While under the surface you’re greeted by schools of luminescent fish and other night creatures you annoyingly point your torch at. The feeling of having accomplished a night dive is like no other and highly suggested for an unbelievable experience.
Kapalai is the third point of the famous Golden Triangle, with Sipadan and Mabul being the other two. Built for its proximity to the world-famous Sipadan, it would be criminal to not explore the macro dive-sites situated within 20 minutes of each other.
- Island feels and socialising
It’s not always all about the diving. Most mornings do begin as early as 7 am with lunches and dinners beginning earlier than the usual hour. Irrespective of where you decide to stay, you’ll be surrounded by backpackers and divers here for the same reason as you are. Conversations flow easily, revolving around the day that was, previous scuba experiences and sharing knowledge from countless dives from all over the world. Each resort has its own beach to laze on or crack open a beer once back from those dives and few resorts provide you with a unique opportunity to mingle with the locals.
Scary yet exhilarating is how I describe my 4- day experience scuba diving off the coast of Borneo. It’s no easy feat completing 4 dives a day, battling strong currents, finning in the pitch dark with only darkness surrounding you nor does it get easier strapping those heavy oxygen tanks to your back but the visual experience is worth all the nerves and discomfort in the world. A sublime feeling in the tranquil waters, easily melting away your troubles, being carefree using only your fingers to convey O.K.A.Y to your fellow divers, welling up at the site of unbelievable beauty that isn’t witnessed by all; we live in a truly remarkable world that exists right under our nose.
How to reach: Fly Kuala Lumpur to Tawau. From Tawau car/shared taxi to Semporna (port). Boat to the islands of Kapalai and Mabul.
How? Scuba packages should be pre-booked especially if you wish to dive at Sipadan.
Tour Company: Scuba Junkie (http://scubajunkiemalaysia.blogspot)
Resort in Mabul: Scuba Junkie Mabul Beach Resort
Difficulty level: Medium