A Top Dive Spot in the World – Sipadan– diving we wish would never end

This is how I rate the Scuba Diving in Sipadan and Mabul Islands in Borneo Malaysia. In case you like awesome photos – beware there are some great ones in here.
We arrived in Borneo after a full day of flying and waiting in airports, because despite the close proximity of Borneo to Penang, the flights are not scheduled that well and once you arrive in Tawau Airport in Borneo you still have to take a bus/car ride for over an hour to the town of Semporna and then hop on a boat ride for another hour before arriving at Mabul Island.

We arrived in Semporna around 4pm and in the midst of a torrential downpour that reduced visibility to a few feet at times. We were told that the boat was ready to take us to the Scuba Junkie Island Resort and that we should get into our bathing suits because the boat was an open front boat. We laughed pretty hard and were met with the dead silence of serious hosts across the table. So we changed, in a leaking bathroom, into clothes we could get wet in, and put our work laptops, formal clothes, and other electronics into dry bags and covered everything in trash bags. Needless to say we didn’t have the most auspicious start to the trip.

We managed to get completely soaked on the ride out to the Island and then  were offered an umbrella by the very nice manager, a little too late for that unfortunately. It was ok though because we changed into dry clothes, grabbed a beer, dinner and quickly went to sleep dreaming of the underwater wonderland that awaited us the next morning.

View from our resort

Ironically we woke up the next morning to extremely rough seas and actually quote the dive master, “This is the roughest I have seen the seas in two years.”. I figured that they wouldn’t take us out if it was unsafe and thus we had to wait an extra hour after our original time and take the boats from the beach (normally we went from the jetty). However, we did go out that day to do three dives around Mabul Island. (Note: I did break Carrie’s mask before the first dive as my tank decided to sit down on the side of her mask but luckily we borrowed one from Scuba Junkie).

Anyways, the next two days were spent doing three dives around Mabul Island. I really enjoyed the variety of macro (small) marine life, the easy currents, warm water, and diversity of dive sites within 30-45 minutes of the Scuba Junkie Resort. There is even a decommissioned oil rig called Sea Ventures that we dove under. We saw so many cool underwater things that I can’t name them all but to name a few include Seahorses, the largest moray eel I have ever seen, Frog Fish, Mandarin Fish, Turtles, Cuttlefish, Nudibranchs. See some photos below.   IMG_0395

Broad Club Cuttlefish

Juvenile Harlequin Sweetlips
Frog Fish
Mandarin Fish
Thorny Sea Horse
Frog Fish (very well hidden)
Oil Rig (now a hotel and dive spot)

After wonderful dive days around Mabul, we woke up early and got the 6am boat to Sipadan for 4 world class dives. The diving on Sipadan was different than Mabul because of slight geographic differences, with proximity of deep water to Sipadan pulling in numerous large pelagic fish. See here for a brief recap of diving in Sipadan. We were here during the rainy season, which caused lower visibility (but it was still good) and we saw some amazing things including a hammerhead shark, huge school of bumphead parrotfish, huge schools of giant & jack trevally, immeasurable amounts of reef sharks and turtles among the things I remember easily. Carrie described it as an “aquarium in the ocean.” We really enjoyed all the sites and were lucky to dive Barracuda Point twice to see it in different tides.
IMG_2404 IMG_0406
See photos below for some of the highlights.

Moray Eel
White Tip Reef Sharks
School of Jack Fish

After diving we spent our last day snorkeling and then all day traveling to Singapore.
I would definitely recommend – Scuba Junkie Diving & Scuba Junkie Resort on Mabul – see full review on TripAdvisor here.

Relaxing on Mabul
Underwater Pier Repairs

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How to Rock a Wedding in Penang, Malaysia

The main reason we were in Southeast Asia again was for a wedding of our friends. We did have three days of work prior to the wedding (Charles in Singapore and Carrie in Penang) leading up to the wedding but I won’t elaborate on what we did during those days, needless to say we worked (enjoyable for us but probably not for our readers).

The wedding weekend was a blast with tons of events, friendly reunions, all capped off by an amazing wedding dinner party on Sunday night.

On Saturday we woke up early and had our first breakfast of the day (multiple breakfasts, and lunches were a theme in Penang and Singapore) at the E&O Hotel where we stayed for one night. It was a basic buffet breakfast and uneventful but good.

We were then reunited with Carrie’s Singaporean colleagues who promptly took us to our second breakfast at Kafe Kheng Pin where we had some Char Kway Teow, Prawn Noddles, and a few other goodies. This was followed by a city tour of some fun wall art throughout Georgetown (Old Town Penang) and then capped off by me favorite meal in Penang – the Chendol at the Chendol cart.

Prawn Noodles
Prawn Noodles

Char Kway Teow
Wall Art in Old Town Penang
Wall Art in Old Town Penang
Temple in Penang
Temple Tapestry in Penang
Chendol at The Cart

We saw a few other sights in Penang and then enjoyed a beautiful seafood dinner at Hai Boey while watching the sunset. The food was fantastic and the urinal in the men’s room was extremely unique.

Urinal (illusion of urinating onto the fish)

Sunset in Penang

After dinner we headed back to the hotel (some people stayed out for a second dinner) before our early Sunday morning wedding activities.

Sunday morning started off very early with a 6am pick up at the hotel and shuttle to the groom’s parent’s house to gear up for the day. The bride was at her parent’s house – a one hour drive away.
The activities for the day centered around the gate crashing of the wedding and the tea ceremony.

For those unversed in Malaysian weddings, a wedding gatecrash is a Singapore/Malaysia tradition where the groom and his groomsmen aka “Brothers” goes to the bride’s house to fetch the bride during the traditional Chinese ceremony. The bridesmaids aka “Sisters” test the groom and his brothers through a series of games and challenges. Mainly these games include eating something sour/spicy, singing songs, dressing up in goofy outfits and of course the obligatory red packet (hong bao).

I was generously included as one of the brothers for the day, which did mean of course that I had to partake in the games and help my friend overcome the sisters to obtain his bride. It was a very fun way to start the day with the most challenging part being having everyone tie their ties before we even left for the bride’s house (luckily this was easy for me since I wear a tie so often).

Other tests included eating some chili bread (not that spicy), making animal sounds, singing Chinese love songs and well let’s just say we finally crashed the gate after some embarrassingly fun trials. See photos and videos below.

The cars dressed up for the gate crash


Groom and Brothers getting ready to crash the gate
If only we could spell with our goofy headbands on
Writing the vows (such as: I pay, she spends)
We must eat everything before we are allowed in

After the gate crash, we became purely spectators as the couple partook in traditional wedding customs and the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. This tea ceremony is a traditional ritual to introduce the newlyweds to each other’s extended family, and a way for newlyweds to show respect and appreciation to their parents.  The newlyweds kneel in front of their parents, serving tea to them as well as other elder relatives.  Parents give their words of blessing and gifts to the newlyweds.  The ceremony was touching and inspirational to us and something that we were very glad to experience.

The tea ceremony at the bride’s parent’s house was followed by similar ceremonies at the groom’s parent’s house and then a couple hour break for the afternoon before the wedding dinner.

Morning Wedding Activities

Carrie and I managed to sneak in a 30 minute nap before the wedding dinner and despite three meals already got geared up for the 8 course sumptuous dinner.

Dinner included a wonderful Gangham Style performance by the brothers, fake cake cutting, a great live band, touching toasts and a song by the bride as well as high quality food and company.

IMG_1848 Wedding Dinner Menu


After the exhilarating day we were off to bed before our next adventure…Scuba Diving in Sipadan (Borneo, Malaysia).

Things I would recommend in Penang:

  • E&O Hotel
  • Sri Ananda Bhawan Indian Restaurant
  • Hai Boey Seafood Restaurant
  • Cendol Cart
  • Penang Street Food
  • Penang Street Art
  • Old Georgetown

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Trip Recap – Where: Singapore, Penang, Malaysia, and Sipadan and Mabul Borneo, Malaysia.

When: January 2013
Where: Singapore, Malaysia (Penang and Borneo)

This trip was driven by our desire to support and celebrate the nuptials of two wonderful friends that we knew from when we lived in Singapore.

During the trip we managed to work for a few days, attend a wedding, get in a few days of Scuba diving, and ate ourselves silly in Singapore.

I am in the process of writing three separate posts for the different parts below:

  • Essentials of how to rock a Wedding in Penang, Malaysia
  • Top Dive Spot in the World – Sipadan. How it really was…
  • Eating, shopping, and having fun in Singapore. The pig out guide to Singapore in just over 48 hours. 

Overall comments are below:

It was amazing and exciting to be back in Singapore, after a little over a year from leaving the country. We forgot how well things worked, how convenient things are, and how much fun all the cultures can be. We really enjoyed being there during the start of Chinese New Year festivities and were blessed to be able to see friends and celebrate the wedding of our friends.

It was odd to be in Singapore without a home to stay in, as this was the first time we stayed in a hotel in Singapore. It was nice to meet my local coworkers too, but again very odd to be in a different office building.

It was a really fun trip and great to see our friends in Singapore, who we missed more than we thought. We also had the joy of riding in the A380 from San Francisco to Singapore with Singapore Airlines and got upgraded to First Class on United during the leg from Seoul to San Francisco.

My impressions of both experiences are as follows: The A380 experience was exciting to be in a new and a LARGE jet that had stairs in the rear of the plane. Otherwise it was quite ordinary except that it took a long time to take-off and land. It was a thrill for this traveler. The United Airlines Global first class though was a very, nice experience and although I couldn’t afford it on my own it was great service, very enjoyable food, and allowed us to sleep for a few hours on the plane and would recommend it if you can afford or upgrade to it.

Airbus A380
First Class on United from Seoul to San Francisco

Johnnie Walker Blue in the Lounge pre-flight


Look for full posts of each location over the next few days…

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Photo Friday – Return to Singapore

 On Monday the 7th, we are returning to Singapore and Malaysia for work, a wedding, and some vacation. The photos below are some of our favorite Singapore foods…..so excited

Hand Pulled Noodles from Lan Zhou La Mian

Xiao Long Bao

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Photo Friday – New Year 2012 – Africa Safari

Inspiration heading into the New Year….this was during our Safari in Africa.

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