Sipadan, Marbul & Kaipalai, Borneo

Sipadan is consistently voted one of the world’s best dive sites. Here’s  7 amazing things  to see there, above AND under the water….

1) GIANT green turtles & hornbill turtles
Dozens of them just floating around magically at sites like Hanging Gardens & Lobster Wall. By far everyone’s secret favorite underwater animal. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTENLcLgWI8‎‎

2) Reef Sharks
Up to 40+ in one day is pretty average for Sipadan, which is just about enough to convince me they are friendly. Most of the time they are safely 10 – 20m down on the seabed, cruising around the cleaning stations using smaller fish to prune their sharkskin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mUAVi9iFQ8

3) Barracuda Tornado
You’d be hard pushed to out do a shark, but these guys manage it as shallow as 3 metres with their perfectly choreographed tornado swirl. They can be found at the aptly named Barracuda Point site. It’s pretty lucky to see them don their famous formation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4JDt3-WDTc‎

4) Into the Blue Dive
Sidadan is famed for its 600 metre drop off – hence all the interesting Marina life that flocks towards it. This creates the opportunity for an daring (read petrifying) ‘Into the Blue’ dive, where you swim into the void of such deep  sea that you can’t tell left from right or up from down without a compass as frame of reference. I’ve never been more relieved to get back to a reef!

5) AWAS, Mabul Island
Everyone seems to love this site, just 50 metres off the Marbul jetty. It’s artificial house reef & mini wreks are cool to explore, as is surfacing just under the pier and being 30 seconds away from the nearest beer.

6) The Sea Gypsies of Sabah
Marbul island is shared by thousands of ‘stateless citizens’ displaced from Malaysia/Indonesia/The Philippines and known as Sea Gypsies. The kids have distinctive sun bleached streaked hair, plenty to say, and seem to cohabit in relative peace with the dive schools.

7) Scuba Junkie’s homemade pizza back on mainland Semporna. It’s not just desert island good, it’s world good.

How to get there: AirAsia fly from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Tawau for around $250 SGD even at Chinese New Year.

Diving: Scuba Junkie are one of the best dive operators.  3 day/2 night/10 dive packages are around $650 SGD. Book early as only 120 permits to Sipadan National park are issued a day.

Batu Ferringhi, Penang

This yesteryear spot of North Penang still rocks a touch of the ‘British Seaside’ vibe, favouring old fashioned deckchairs instead of loungers. The rest is pure Malaysia though; Laksa stalls, fish spas and burka clad parasailers!

There’s a decent souvenir market lining the main road from 8pm – 11pm nightly selling faux Mulberry bags, Premier League shirts, and bling jewelry, as per.

Reflexology massages and beachbumming are the activities of the day (A.K.A bring a good book.) It’s pleasant, but pretty low key.

Where i stayed; Roomies Hostel, a 3 mins walk from the beach & a rarity amongst the resorts.
Getting there; 101 bus from Georgetown 40 mins or 35RM in a taxi.

Georgetown, Penang

Penang is a bit like Malacca’s bigger brother, only with less pavements and more traffic. Once a mainstay of the backpacker trail, in recent years it’s been bumped off for nearby Langkawi, the Perhentians and Thailand.

However it’s amazing how a tourist board can turn that around; step 1) Embrace street art, 2) Get imaginative with wrought iron and 3) Create the mother of all scavenger hunts around Georgetown’s alleyways to tick them all off your list!

Extra pub quiz fact; Shoe fasionista Jimmy Choo was born here. His first small factory is on Lebuh Leith.

Getting There: Singapore to Penang $60 with Jetstar.

Where I Stayed: The lovely Ryokan Hostel, Lebuh Muntri, 30RM dorm inc breakfast.

Juara Turtle Sanctury, Tioman Island, Malaysia

The 8th & 9th of August mark two important dates for Singapore; Hari Raya Festival and National Day. Also known as… August’s Four-day weekend!

You know the drill by now; Public Holiday = Malaysia. This time, to save some turtles!

Juara Turtle Sanctuary is a conservation & habitat protection programme set up on East Coast Juara Beach.

If you have x4+ nights spare, you can volunteer for the residential programme where you get to witness the night nesting patrol & the release of baby turtles at dawn. Wise old longer term volunteers also help to give educational ‘turtle talks’ for visiting tourists.

Guests of nearby RiverView Gueshouse can volunteer for a one day programme where you can help with cleaning duties for the center’s most famous resident Jo – a 7 yr old blind turtle rescued from the beach where she was found running in circles! I also found myself helping in the kitchen for the centre’s Hari Raya Festival Open House and even clearing up an oil slick from an illegal tanker dump on nearby Juara beach!

Read all about JTP here: www.juaraturtleproject.com/

Getting To Tioman
Ignore the ‘you must book 6 months in advance’ brigade! Yes it’s peak season over the national holiday, but you can still take the ‘let’s just rock up’ approach. That said, it’s not the easiest island to get to!

The cheapest way:
Singapore Centre to Kranji MRT (50 mins Red line) $2 – 3 SGD with EZ card > Transfer to Causeway Link Bus 160/170 direct* Larkin Station Johar Bahru Malaysia ($1.30 SGD/50 mins) (*Direct – means change buses twice at the Singapore & Malaysia border checkpoints) > Transfer to Causeway Express Larkin to Mersing bus ($11RM / 2.5 hours)
Total: 4.5 hours / $8 SGD (Same in reverse) Book here: causewaylink.com.my/singapore-bus

The Quickest way:
In theory long distance 5Star coach service run direct from Mersing to Queens Road Singapore – 3h / $35 SGD. In reality however they are often 3+ hours late! So you find yourself stuck in Mersing on a Sunday evening there’s a gaggle of lovely air-con taxi’s willing to take you direct to downtown Singapore. We paid $30 SGD each (x6 people shared/$180 SGD the whole car) plus you don’t even have to get out at the border!
Total: 3 hours / $30 SGD (Same in reverse)

Boats:
Run March to October depending on tides/monsoon. 35 RM one way from either Mersing Jetty or Gemuk Jetty (25 mins North / 60 RM Taxi Shared by x4) ) The ferry takes 2+ hours to Tekok. You’ll be offered tickets 30 secs after hopping off the bus in Mersing!

Stay:
Riverview Chalets Juara – Cute, clean, beach-front & river-view bungalows at the far end of Juara Beach. Rent a canoe and meander 50 mins downstream at high-tide to spot snakes, monkeys, and an assortment of jungle creatures. Once you reach Tekok Jetty take a $35 RM/25 min jeep / or a HELL of a hilly 7k hike to the most beautiful & peaceful side of the island.

24 Hours in….Malacca

IMG_3591I’ve been back in Singapore a grand total of 9 working days and hurray, it’s a Public Holiday. Course it is! Happy Birthday Buddha (Vesak Day.) And what do 3 day weekends always mean for Singapore? Answer) A mass exudes to Malaysia!

Malacca kick-started my travel buzz again. It has hints of Pai Thailand about it  in its cute craft markets & ice cream stalls, met with glimpses of Ubud Bali in its artist studios and antique shops. I say this in a ‘ramshackle Malaysian’ way however, i.e  add lots of dirt & traffic!

Top Tips for 24 Hours

IMG_3603Do: Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum
For $12RM you can take a guided tour of this  palatial Peranakan townhouse with its tiled parlous, Victorian dressers, indoor wells, peepholes and everything else gorgeous about 1800’s interior design that makes you WISH you of the era (and social class) of your typical Chinese/Malay dynasty.

 

IMG_3567Don’t miss: Jonker’s Walk Night Market (Friday and Saturday 5pm – 12am)  I saw 3RM souvenirs, 2RM durian icecream , 1RM  earrings, 15RM mice?! At the south end of Jalan Hang Jebat a crowd gathers for local celebrity; Dr Ho Eng Hui who splits open a coconut with his bare elbow and does some very elaborate things with whips!

 

IMG_3535Stay: At the Oriental Residence. The view from the back porch straight onto the twinkly Melakan river, is as lovely as the staff. Very much like a home-stay rather than a guesthouse, it’s rated top #4 on Trip Advisor for good reason. Double rooms from $55RM.

 

 

IMG_3612Eat: A lot! (Malacca is famous for foodies.) On the corner of the action in Chinatown the Geographer Cafe, serves tasty veggie curry and local sour plum juice. Other than that there is street food galore.

Drink: At Tofu Cafe (watch out for Mojo the aggressive poodle!) or Shantaram Bar (watch out for the cats!) It’s all about shared beers in short glasses talking about local elections with Malacans who are happy to mingle.

 

a IMG_3609Getting there: Just 4/5 hours from Singapore (depending on the border traffic.) Bus company Maju Express have tickets from $16 SGD one way from departing from the Textile Centre, Jalan Sultan Rd to Melaka Sentral. A taxi 4km into town then costs 20RM.

Previous Older Entries

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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