Malupascua, The Philippines

Threasher Shark

A flight to Cebu. 3 hour drive to the port of Maya. A midnight sail in a outrigger boat by moonlight…. But where else in the world can you wake up at 4.30am to dive with thresher sharks?

Everything else is classic Philippines; San Miguel, cockerels, dogs, Bruno Mars ringtones, hammocks, an annual village barrio fiesta, Tanduay rum.

What makes Malupascua extra special is that it’s still defined by the above, and not it’s near devastation in typhoon Yolanda only 6 months ago. Support it with your tourist dollars, it’s an amazing place.

Where we stayed: The family run Aabana Beach Gorgeous beach bungalows with breakfast served on your own huge veranda. It’s also right next door to the best dive school on the island: Evolution Where we ate: The amazing Angelina Italian and inland budget shack JinJins.

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.‎‎

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.

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.‎

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.

Dili, Timor Leste (East Timor)

wpid-20131017_115016.jpgTimor Leste completes the South East Asia bucket list. I’m happy to say I’ve a passport full of stamps for all 11 countries now, thanks to a slight obsession with Lonely Planet’s SEA on a Shoestring.

Like all places slightly left field of the radar, this trip was definitely the best thing to come out of the basement of Singapore’s People’s Park Center. You have to book flights in person, with the pleasant, but unheard of, Sriwijaya Air – one of the last remaining airlines to offer you hard boiled sweets upon take off. Retro.

IMG_3888Named the first new country of the 21st Century, Timor Leste has had a rough time of it. Its 134th on the Human Development Index, and UN presence only pulled out as recently as 2012. The capital, Dili, could be straight out of Pedro Juan Gutierrez’s Dirty Havana Trilogy – A beach front city where everyone lines the scruffy malecon and stares out past the oil tankers, out to sea. It’s rough and ready. The handful of tourist cafes are full of NGO workers, Darwin riggers on R&R, and visa-runners from Indonesia. As one sign proudly confesses “we’re not Kuta!”

Three East Timor facts; 1) Starbucks buy 90% of their coffee from here 2) There’s still no postal delivery system. (Post still sometimes gets re-directed via Portugal!) and 3) It’s a spectacular place to do your PADI scuba diving qualification! (After backpacking for 2 years I had to succumb to it eventually)

IMG_3917So, 5 highlights of the PADI: Open Water Course include….

1) A few hours of classroom theory, AKA watching cheesy Ozzy ‘how to dive’ videos modeled by what look like the 1988 cast of Home and Away.

2) Flashbacks to GCSE Maths as your asked to calculate nitrogen narcosis equations. Although technically you can’t really call it a final ‘exam’ if you get to sit it in in a hammock :)

3) Pool skills, weight belts and oxygen tanks. You come away with a new respect for Cuba Gooding Jr in Men of Honor. Also; weightlessness and buoyancy. You come away with a new respect for Sandra Bullock in Gravity.

4) Emergency practice drills of loosing your oxygen supply and removing your eye mask for a minute 10 meters underwater. Followed by the hand symbol for ‘okay’ – even though you’re secretly crying about the salt water in your eyes!

5) Just remember girls, no matter how scared you are – always dive with boys. At 18 meters their oxygen runs out way before yours!

And finally, calm down, remember to breath, and enjoy it – here’s why it’s all worthwhile. And if you still think scuba’s scary, check out Freediving!

The dive sites we visit are a mixture of reef and mud-diving shore dives at Dili Rock West, Dili Rock East, Dili Pier & Tasi Tulo. We see rare nudie fish, gobbies, and even a Dugong!

IMG_3873As for the rest of Dili and Timor, sightseeing is a little sparse. Apart from a couple of museums, local food markets and handcraft centers, diving or charity work is still definitely the main attraction for the moment. However you have to admire a country for this little gem – the very Rio De Janeiro-esq Cristo Rae statue. Bravo for giving it’s fellow Portuguese speaking cousin Brazil a run for it’s money!

Getting Here: There are direct (but pricy) flights from Darwin/Singapore. Alternatively fly via Bali/Denpasar with Sriwijaya Air & Air Asia for only $450 SGD return to Singapore.

Where I stayed: Dive Timor Lorosae is not only a fantastic dive school but is also voted #1 for accommodation on Trip Advisor. From $40 USD a night.

PADI Open Water: $450 USD. Prices are more on par with Fiji prices, so slightly more expensive than Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, but maybe worth it to not follow the crowd. French/Australian instructors – Stephanie and Dana are both brilliant! : 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.

Blasts From The Past…

April 2020

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