Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Diving 2017 - Pulau Tenggol

Before my dive trip to Koh Lipe, I dived in Pulau Tenggol, Terengganu, Malaysia in May 2017. I never heard of this island before 2017, when I started seeing pictures from friends/acquaintances on my Facebook feed. Also, a good friend had this really rewarding internship position with a dive resort on the island where at the end of seven months, she would have gotten her Divemaster certification with all the necessary prerequisites. How cool is that?!

I thought of making this my YOLO trip to kick start my one-month "vacation" of my first job transition in the year by diving in Pulau Tenggol. I got in touch with my good friend, got her to make the booking for my stay in the dorms with five dives. The original financial damage was around RM900 with gear rental but in the last moments before leaving on a speedboat from A'King Jetty to the island, I decided to get a room so that my parents who dropped me off at the jetty can also chill with me on the island for the next three days. I think everything cost around RM1,600, I think. I YOLO-ed x 2 for this trip! (My parents enjoyed this spontaneous trip but would have preferred time to prepare for the trip, mainly to bring all the snacks they can to the island, for everything is limited on the island.)

After an hour journey on quite a calm day, we arrived on Pulau Tenggol. The view was dramatic. One moment we travelling in deep blue waters and then it became shallow, evident of a drop just about 100m from shore of the main bay on Pulau Tenggol. (A visitor brought his drone along and captured the aerial view of the island. The drop is reminiscent of a waterfall! I am no exaggerating, though I cannot find any good drone videos on YouTube to show it to you how unreal  the view is.) We stayed with Tenggol Coral Beach Resort and I dived with their dive centre. The room was incredibly basic but my parents and I found it to be comfortable.

The first thing you see when disembarking the speedboat.

My dad chillaxin' like a villain. (I have another picture of this but with more light on my father. Unfortunately, this removed the details from the background.)

A YOLO family.

The view was great. The clouds were welcomed.

My parents, Shakira, and I. Shakira was interning with the dive centre.


Sometimes Google Camera takes perfect panoramas, sometimes not. Sigh.
For the five dives that I paid for, I went on two dives in the afternoon on the first day (The Edge and Tanjung Api) and three dives on the second day, two in the morning (Teluk Rajawali and Moonwracker) and one in the afternoon (Sri Nahkoda). The dives were incredible! The underwater landscape has got to be the prettiest I have ever seen in my life! I am a huge fan of seeing coral cascades and the bottom of all the dive sites were pretty much full of life! The benthos were mainly living hard corals! I was begging for some red light but found none 20m underwater. :(

See, a living seafloor!
What made me fall in love with this place even more is the fact that nudibranchs are EVERYWHERE! I got to see nudibranchs on all of my dives! I always miss nudibranchs on my dives because of how tough it is to spot them when your dive group is being hurried around a dive site per standard practices of dive centres in Malaysia (from my experience, at least) and me lacking the eye to spot these small animals. So I really enjoyed seeing nudibranchs left, right, and centre so easily around Pulau Tenggol. (People like to call nudibranchs "sea slugs" but they are not sea slugs. This article by an avid diver explains it simply the differences/similarities of "nudibranchs" and "sea slugs". They are all marine gastropods and sometimes the defining feature for me to tell apart nudibranchs from the generic sea slug would be the their bushy gills and sensory organs called rhinophores, keyword being SOMETIMES.)

(I saw many nudibranchs and took a picture of a few of them to help me figure out what species they are. Many still remained ID-less to me because the guidebook for nudibranchs of Malaysia is in my previous/future workplace in Langkawi. So, I shall ID them later, I hope? :D)

A blur picture of a few Phyllidia varicosa hanging out. Probably an orgy.

The nudibranch under the bright light (sorry) is apparently a Blue dragon, Pteraeolidia ianthina. You can spot another Phyllidia varicosa on the right. Heh. Thanks, Quek, for the ID help!

I have no ID for this guy yet.

Another Phyllidia varicosa.

An egg ribbon of a nudibranch.

No ID yet.

Again, no ID yet.

Phyllidia nigra. Thanks, Quek, for the ID help!
Another ID help needed please.
I did not get to see many reef fishes during my dives. I was expecting large schools of fish but the fishes remained low-key for all of my dives. However, I did get to see a couple of butterflyfish species that I do not remember seeing, so I am glad for that. Nothing big during my dives. Many people expect to catch the gigantic Whale sharks and cool-looking relatives in Pulau Tenggol. This just means I really HAVE to return to Pulau Tenggol to dive!

The next time I visit Pulau Tenggol, I will opt to stay and go with a dive operator on the mainland (Kuala Dungun). I heard it is cheaper to do so and is something I must research about. My stay with Tenggol Coral Beach Resort was not that good. When asked how to work the water heater, the resort staff did not explain nor demonstrate how to use the heater (it was an old school heater that needed us to switch on the gas line, ignite the gas, and then the fire heats the water). There was a huge group of divers whom all the tea time snacks were kept for (my mother would head towards the eating area ten minutes after tea time started and all food was gone just to observe a new batch of snacks coming out from the kitchen for this group; the group may be special but it does leave a bad impression for us not-so-special guests). I felt that the dive team could have emphasised more on safety and turn down a notch on the horsing around (I only really enjoyed diving with ONE Divemaster). While I returned back to land safe and sound on all of my dives (which I am thankful for), there is always that fear that something bad may happen due to human error rather than the usual risk of being in the ocean.
For those of you who are planning to visit Pulau Tenggol, I would like to state that this is a very SCUBA diving-centric location. #eatsleepdiverepeat basically sums up what Pulau Tenggol is all about and I am glad I had that experience. The snorkelling is better than most places I have been to. Pack some snacks and bring a book. Pulau Tenggol is truly a beautiful place to visit!
(You can check out my other photos here.)
So glad I went on these dive trips in 2017. Perhaps I will dive more this year. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Diving 2017 - Koh Lipe

Many people may think I dive all the time because of the nature of my job(s) but I consider myself to be lucky to even go on a single dive in a year. I would like to dive more but I usually come up with excuses (mostly monetary) to not dive. So when I was counting my 2017 blessings, getting to go on TWO dive trips was one of them. While these two dive trips were only possible because I switched jobs twice last year (it was a bumpy ride for me), I am extremely thankful that I did go on these dive trips with no major regrets.

I visited Pulau Tenggol, Terengganu, Malaysia in May and then Koh Lipe, Thailand in December. Originally, I was just going to include experiences from both these dive trips into an entry but decided perhaps I should separate them. So here is an entry of my most recent dive trip to Koh Lipe! (Inspiration to finally write this entry is Thai food that reminded me of Koh Lipe food. I know, very odd inspiration.)

My visit in December was not my first visit to Koh Lipe. I went on a day trip with a bunch of crazy cetacean scientists in November 2016. Getting to Koh Lipe is easy for Malaysians and/or anybody who is already on Pulau Langkawi in the months of November till April (months may differ every year as direct ferry services to Koh Lipe from Pulau Langkawi is subject to weather conditions; November till April/May are generally the calmer months of the year). I purchased return ferry tickets from Tropical Charters for both my visits to Koh Lipe. (Not sure if this promotion is still on, but for my November 2016 visit, the cetacean scientists and I purchased tickets directly from the Tropical Charters office in Pantai Tengah and we got a RM20 discount each for our return tickets. This promotion is only applicable if you visit their office. Original price is RM220 for return tickets, which is what I paid for the December 2017 trip since we just got them from the website.) We embarked the ferry at the jetty in Kuah and took us about an hour and a half to get to Koh Lipe.

Shameless wefie with cetacean scientists, Vivian, Adrelia, Sandra, and Saliza, in November 2016. I shall call them "cetaceanist". Sounds a little bit like "satanist". Heh.
Since Koh Lipe is small island surrounded by shallow coral reefs, passengers will have to disembark the large ferries and get aboard long-tail boats. I remained dry the entire five-minute transfer on the long-tail boat but you may want to take into account some splashing onto your stuff so pack wisely. Once you get closer to Koh Lipe, you should already be able to see the coral reef at the bottom of the water. The shallow waters of Koh Lipe are generally crystal clear.

On the long-tail boat in November 2016. I did not take too many selfies this past trip. My bad.
When you reach the shore, you must head towards the immigration counter. There is no way for you to skip this process because your passport will be kept by the ferry operator during the transit and will be passed on to the immigration officers. Once you have gotten the stamp, you must approach a non-office station (just a table and a sign) where you must pay a national park entrance fee. (Sorry, did not get a picture of this station.) I forgot how much I paid, I think it could have been 200 baht. If nobody approaches you to do so, please seek out the right officers to make the payment. This is a very ridiculous rule but apparently all travellers into Thailand must have at least 10,000 baht per person or 20,000 baht per family. I do not think many visitors will be checked for this, hence many enter the country with not having to have too much currency. But I suggest if you are staying at least three nights in Thailand, you should have at least 10,000 baht with you. You do not want to end up like these folks.

The immigration counter.  
Lack of shade. So you should already have some sunscreen on you before disembarking the large ferry. The line may be long, so just enjoy the view. (I meant the landscape. Not the booty at the bottom right. I just realised the stranger resting on the bar in this picture, which I captured in 2016!)

After clearing immigration, you can then move to your accommodation. Depending on where you have booked to stay, transportation in small vans or sidecars of motorcycles may be provided. If you are on a budget like me and my buddies, you can walk to your accommodation. If you are staying along Pattaya Beach, walk along Pattaya Beach. If you are staying elsewhere (like Sunset or Sunrise Beaches), make sure you use Walking Street and do not simply take a back lane easily accessible on the right side of the immigration office.

The cetacean scientists and I thought we were taking the quickest route to Sunrise Beach in November 2016 via the back lane. We ended up getting lost but thankfully, the island is small. So we finally found a street linking to the main pathway of the island.
For my most recent trip, my friends and I stayed and dived with Davey Jones Locker (DJL), an establishment that provides free lodging (dormitory style) for people who dive with them. Getting to DJL was a little bit challenging because it is located towards the extreme western end of Pattaya Beach. I have no problem with walking but walking under the sun with no shade? Quite tough.

Walking Street - the street that connects you to any part of the island. And the street to lead you to delicious Thai food! You will be spending a good amount of time along this street. Clinics, convenient stores, restaurants, cafes, massage parlours, and etc. are all located along this street. Do not be afraid to take a "risky" turn. Quite difficult to get lost along this street.
Very nice path to walk on. I saw many people walking barefooted here. Totally fine. But just be reminded that there could be much hazards like sharp objects. It is after all a very busy street.

Me at the zero mile marker. Behind me is the post office, if I am not mistaken.
There are many cool looking establishments along the street. This is my favourite building. I do not know what it is. Just looks nice from the outside.
Enroute to DJL.
We finally arrived at DJL after 10 to 15 minutes of walking on the beach. It is a very lowkey place with a nice sea hibiscus tree at the front. We paid our dive fees which included an additional national park diving fee of an amount I forgot. Yes, you will have to pay two national park fees when diving in and around Koh Lipe. You have been warned, so do not be surprised when the dive centre requests for this payment. The dorms are simple - no hot water for shower and no electricity during certain hours of the day. I found the sleeping arrangement comfortable, even without the air conditioner. (The AC was broken during our entire stay.) Most importantly, the place was clean.

Embarrassingly, I did not take a picture of the front of DJL. This is the only picture of the front of DJL I have. The sea hibiscus tree is the only shade provider of this establishment's veranda.  

The common area. You can use the refrigerator and there is plenty of drinking water.

The bunk beds we slept in. Nicole is on the left and Shion is on the right, my travel companions to Koh Lipe in December 2017.
I paid about 7,500 baht for six dives. This fee included the dives, full gear rental (I got to use a dive computer for the first time in my life, wheee!), boat rental, guide, "refreshments" (just cold water, which was very much enjoyed by me), and lodging. Only Shion and I dived. We did one dive during the first day in the afternoon (east of Koh Talak), three dives the next day (Koh Talu, Koh Adang, and Stone Hedge), and then two dives the day after (east of Koh Talak and Pattaya Corner). I thought the dive service was great. Our guide, Ed, did a good job in briefing us for our dives and helped us to put on our gears. Unfortunately, dive conditions were terrible. The surface waves and underwater currents were strong during our first dive and the visibility throughout our stay was shit. The changing weather pattern has screwed up temporal dive conditions. Anyway, I got to see many amazing creatures. I was so glad to see many species in the wild that I have only seen in captivity!

Shion, Nicole, and I hiding from the hot sun.

Our guide, Ed, at the bow.

Ed warned us about keeping as close as possible to the bottom to avoid being caught in strong underwater currents. He also warned us about sea urchins. We were caught in between a moving body of water and a sharp bed of sea urchins.

This is a common sea cucumber but I have yet to learn its name. Many people think that the black stuff coming out at the front are feet of the sea cucumber. I think it is the body part used for feeding rather than movement. Someone correct and inform me!

A lionfish. I do not know which species this is. Pterois antennata or Pterois volitans? They all look the same to me!

And what are you suppose to be? A black Pterois volitans?

Shion goofing around.

Some Christmas tree worms, Spirobranchus giganteus. It is a polychaete worm, many-haired worm. The "many hairs" on its "crown" contains cilia to filter food in the water column.

Painted rock spiny lobster, Panilurus versicolor. I have seen this in captivity and a former colleague found a perfect moult on the beach before. I was really excited to have seen this living specimen in its natural habitat.

The white stuff are apparently Synaptid sea cucumbers. I need help identifying the small black fish that seems to inhabit the sponge.

A very well camouflaged scorpionfish, Scorpaenidae. Like the lionfish, the scorpionfish is extremely venomous. So it made sense when Ed told us to watch before we held on the bottom if we experienced exertion and needed to rest.

You may have to squint your eyes and spot tiny shrimps floating about the spines of the sea urchin. I think these shrimps are Harlequin shrimp, Hymenocera picta. A "lifer" for me.

Some cool looking nudibranchs (the purplish and orangish stuff). I will have to identify them in the future when I can get my hands on a nudibranch guide book.

A very beautiful clam. No idea what the name is.

A very large grouper. I think it was the size of my entire upper body!
This is a Dogface puffer, Arothron nigropunctatus. This is perhaps my most favourite pufferfish in the world! Its face resembles that of a dog and all dogs remind me of my good boy Tiny!

A school of Moorish idols Zanclus cornutus.

Another beautiful nudibranch whose name I do not know.

Which lionfish are you?!

The Giant moray eel, Gymnothorax javanicus, was a common feature on all of my dives. 

My action pose.

The long-tail boat we used to get to our dive sites. Diving off of these guys are an experience of its own.

Waiting for my turn to climb aboard the boat after my last dive at Pattaya Corner.

I forced myself to bring my "dome" this trip to Koh Lipe. I remembered snorkelling with the girls in November 2016 and how clear the water was in the shallow reefs. Regretted not bringing the "dome" back then.

Nicole diving in for me to shoot. She could not dive with us because of a life changing event. I am so glad she got to join us on this trip.
I was hoping to see more and I missed a lot of small stuff another diver got to see (like Sexy shrimp and pipefishes). Below is a compilation of the scenes I captured. Enjoy!

During our downtime, we lazed a lot on the beach and in the water. We walked to other areas on the island, like Sunset and Sunrise Beaches. These two beaches are aptly named because you can actually check out the sunset and sunrise from the respective beaches. Enjoy eating the incredible Thai food along Walking Street and in restaurants. I wrote a little bit on the food I ate while in Koh Lipe in my previous entry.

Fresh coconut with no straw! I drank it out of the shell. Coconut water comes in a natural goblet!

Sunset Beach.

After the sunset.

In the morning at Pattaya Beach.

The bar next to DJL. I had toast for breakfast on the first morning before diving. Spot the cetacean vertebrae.

Yummy coconut ice cream!

We get to put any toppings on our coconut ice cream! I chose not to taint the ice cream with chocolate syrup and added cornflakes and peanut toppings for a crispy texture instead. Sadly, the spoon was disposable.
I had this "Thai pancake" for breakfast on the last morning in Koh Lipe. It is basically banana stuffed roti canai with cinnamon powder and condensed milk. Artery clogging goodness right here!
I refrained from alcohol during the beginning of the trip. My strategy was to save as much money as possible and maybe get a couple of drinks on the last night. There are many amazing bars along the Street and the beach. I spent most nights sleeping while Nicole and Shion enjoyed the nightlife. Nicole found out that one of our dormmates is a singer when she visited a bar on the beach with a huge Peace sign at the entrance on the second last night. Nicole convinced Hillary, to play again on our last night. And wow, she sings and plays the guitar really well! She's also a passionate soul in greening urban areas. Wonderful. If I do not return to Koh Lipe for diving, I may return to Koh Lipe to hangout at this beautiful bar, whose name I never learned!
I really like these art fixtures a restaurant placed on the beach. A very attractive string art!

The inside of the cool beach bar we went to on the last night. I like how the entire building is made with a lot of wood and have no flooring so you can actually still enjoy the beach even when inside the premises! SMART!

My "tipsy" night sky picture using my GoPro. Someone really has to teach me how to capture the night sky using the GoPro.
If you do not SCUBA dive, try snorkelling! The visibility is way better than diving but you see less stuff, though. Just be careful when you go out snorkelling. Always have your orange life vest on and be alert for speeding long-tail boats! There is little to no designated safe snorkelling sites around the island. 

The diving may not have been great but thinking of Koh Lipe makes me smile because of the wonderful experiences with amazing people. Thanks, friends, for making Koh Lipe amazing! 

PS: I just remembered that the day before we left Langkawi for Koh Lipe, I had a fever that rendered me very weak. I thought I was going to have to flake the trip to Koh Lipe and just buy an expensive flight ticket to go home. Thank God I recovered almost immediately the next day and managed to visit Koh Lipe again and dive.