Malaysia, 2012





See our Sipadan video on Vimeo HERE
And our video of Kapalai, Mabul and Siamil HERE



Trip dates:

4 - 22 August 2012

Boat / resort:

M/V Celebes Explorer, Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort, Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge, Hotel Maya Kuala Lumpur. All excellently organised, as always, by Diving World NL, our trusty tour operator based in The Netherlands

Dive centre:

Liveaboard and Kapalai in-house centre.


Yes, a bit less on the boat, but correct. In Kapalai, excellent facilities, camera room, rentals, etc.

Number of dives:

35 over 12 days of diving, quite a lot.

Diving conditions:

Windy at the beginning of the trip, calmer later, but water rather less clear than we expected, varying between 5 m in the Mabul dives to 20m+ around Sipadan. Water temperature 28C.


Right, there is a lot to tell about this great trip, so this is going to be a bit long. If you are not interested, scroll down to find the link to the Gallery.

The Celebes Explorer is a rusty ship, but the advantage is that customers don't expect more and it makes for totally unpretentious, laid back atmosphere. Cabins are small and damp, with tiny portholes that can't be opened. The food on board is ok if you like your Chinese-like fare. We did. It was plentiful and tasty, if not with a lot of choice. Drinks other than water from the fountain are extra. Coffee, tea, toast and pastries are available at all times.

We were transferred efficiently from Tawau on Sunday 5/08, it took about 90 minutes to drive to Semporna and once there we boarded the ship, which moors there every Sunday. The other guests already on board when we arrived had a check dive around Semporna that day but it was not great. Very poor visibility and not much to see anyway. The boat moved on to Mabul in the evening, and this is where it stays every night of the cruise.

We were able to dive Sipadan every day of the week we were there. The diving was easy, with perfectly manageable currents in an easy drift. Too bad for an average-only visibility, but we saw the things Sipadan is famous with: barracudas, sharks, schooling jacks and large pods of huge fat bumphead parrots. We dove Barracuda point most every day, sometimes twice.

We dove in a group of six with divemaster Tom (the other, smaller DM is called Jerry). Tom's name is in fact Jeffrey and is a very nice guy, very good divemaster.

Night dives were done in Mabul after the crossing back from Sipadan. We did two night dives but there were many worms in the water and the visibility was very bad.

The key point regarding the Celebes explorers is: if you want to dive Nitrox, you must book in advance. The boat does not carry a mixer on board and they must supply the tanks quayside. We did not know this, and when we asked for nitrox tanks, they said maybe, we'll see what we can do. They list nitrox as an extra service, at a whopping 50 Ringgit per tank. That would add about 500 to your bill if you did all your dives with nitrox, and everything paid for on board has to be cash, they don't take credit cards. So in the end we did up to four dives a day on air, which I don't think is very safe. In compensation, the dive time is limited to 45 minutes, which the DMs enforce gently but surely.

So, all in all, we loved the diving and the atmosphere on board, but there could be major improvements to this operation. Sipadan diving is really outstanding and that is ultimately what counts, i.e. the opportunity you have in this boat to dive there every day. Rumour has it that the owner is going to replace the boat, hopefully this will be soon, but I would expect a much more expensive package then.

I did not take my camera down during the first day because I was tired and a bit queasy. On the second day, during the second dive, the alarm went off, leak. It was small, and the water did not reach the camera, but the circuitry got a few drops in hidden places and by the afternoon it was dead. I could still have put the camera in and risk it, but I had my GoPro with me and decided to just shoot some video and the odd still with it for the rest of the week. The gallery of underwater pictures is made of these stills and since there is no way to use strobes with the GoPro, I have converted them to B&W. I actually like that album a lot, its different. It still manages to convey the beauty of the place, and in a rather dramatic way.

We then went on to Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort for a 6-night stay. What a place, we loved it! The island has only a small sandbank above water, so the whole place is built on stilts. The rooms are spacious and with their own sundeck with loungers, very private. There is one restaurant and no separate bar, but there was a lot of choice for food every day. They have free WiFi in the lounge, which was great. As avid divers, we simply loved the dive centre. Excellent organisation, planning, services, divemasters, and a really pretty housereef. Marine life is all around you in Kapalai 24/7, you see the fish, rays and turtles every time you walk from one part of the resort to the other, or while you enjoy your drink on the deck. Big turtles come grazing in the late afternoon, and the restaurant has a pit in the middle that is illuminated at night attracting little rays and juvi batfishes. One evening we had a sea snake on the terrace deck. You might be scared to hear this, but it was really cool. A girl with a broom was enough to convince the critter to go back to sea.

The Kapalai day boats go a lot to Mabul and we did not appreciate the bad visibility there after a couple of dives, so we had to push a bit to dive Kapalai. The DMs would say we had current around Kapalai, but we insisted and the two last days stayed around the resort and did excellent dives, with great visibility and lots to see, especially the last one, where we came upon a group of about 8 large turtles dozing around at the bottom of the mooring line. Also, we were able to go twice to dive Siamil Island, and we liked it a lot for macro photography. Diving Sipadan from this resort (and the others around the area) is a matter of luck, as they only guarantee you going there once during a weeks stay. They leave at 5 am and you do 4 dives, with short-ish surface intervals in the Island, where the resort provides snacks and lunch. After a full week diving Sipadan from the boat, we did not insist on diving more than the one day they signed us up for that programme.

After Kapalai we went for a 2-night jungle tour based at the Kinabatangan River Lodge, very basic, but allowing for very interesting boat rides to seek out and watch wildlife. They do two boat outings a day, one at dawn and one at sunset, each for about two, two and a half hours. It can be miserable if it is pouring down (often is) but we were lucky and were able to wait for the afternoon downpour to pass before going out and saw loads of things, including wild elephants minding a cute baby during a river crossing.

We ended our trip flying from Sandakan to KL, where we had a night stopover to shop and visit around. Great trip all in all, and we are thinking seriously to go back again next spring, as they told us that April/May are the best months for visibility. Cant wait to go back.

If you would like to see an album of top side pictures, click HERE.


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