Short Getaway to the Amazing Kapalai Dive Resort, the Mini Maldives in East Malaysia (Tawau, Sabah)
It's been a while since Veena and I travel due to the Covid-19 lockdown, and finally, after more than 2 years, we decided to go for our first diving trip!
Why this particular place for our first diving trip? People told us this is the mini Maldives in Malaysia and we as a Malaysian MUST visit. Basically, there is no monsoon at this area and it's open all year long.
How to get there?
We were travelling from Kuala Lumpur, we took an Air Asia flight which cost us about RM600/ pax (2-way) to Tawau, a small town. The flight was about 2 hours 45 minutes.
Upon arrival, the resort arranged the airport transfer to pick us up to head to the Kapalai owned Jetty at Semporna town. The journey was approximately 1.5 hrs.
You might want to take note before booking your flights, there will be 2 boat transfer to Kapalai island at 10.30am/ 12.30pm. While booking from the agency, we checked whether we would be able to catch the 10.30am boat transfer, they informed us that it is very much depending on the time of arrival and also traffic. Hence, we took the first flight at 6am, hoping to catch the 10.30am boat transfer. We came out from the airport 9am, the agency told us that we need to wait for the next flight tourist to depart together, we only departed the airport around 10 ish which we missed the first boat transfer.
If we knew it earlier that the agency arranged as such, we would have taken a later flight which both of us wouldn't need to wake up at 3am in the morning then depart to airport at 4am :( . Again, please check with the agency you engaged before you book the flight.
Upon arrival at the jetty 11 ish, we basically need to get our baggage tag and also sign a few documents. Please read through the release of liabilities form which they prepare, in my opinion, it is very unfair where they've taken off all liabilities from the resort, it took me a while to sign it and I texted my lawyer friend to assure should there be anything went wrong, we could still take actions towards the resort/ agency.
There are basically a few accommodation options which we could opt for:
1: Kapalai Island - Kapalai Dive Resort
2: Mabul Island
After some surveys done about 2 months before the trip, we decided to go for Kapalai Dive Resort. Rating was fine and had many good comments about this resort. Have a look at the photos.
Kapalai Dive Resort
Disclaimer: I am not paid for writing this, I do not earn anything from this post, this is just for the benefits of my blog's readers.
Upon arrival, we were asked to check whether our baggage was unloaded to the island, then, we proceed to the lunch. What's for lunch? Biasalah, buffet with many dishes, i.e fish, sotong, beef, eggs, fried rice/ white rice, potatoes etc... (no photos for food as this isn't our focus) a very standard buffet. Before I decided on Kapalai, the reviews from the visitors ranked the food quite high marks, well, i would say it is considered good comparing with many places I went diving, but don't expect too much though...
We had about 1 hr lunch, then, a staff came to see us to explain the "rules and regulations" diving at this area. This area is considered a very well taken care sea in Malaysia, hence, they are very strict on the dos and donts, ensuring all visitors are well aware about that. After the short briefing, the staff brought us to tour the place, told us where is the reception counter, passed us the key, then lead us to the room. Staffs were friendly, helpful and informative.
Many Malaysians are quite afraid to travel to this area as there were people being kidnapped by pirates many years ago. I think you can have a peace of mind now, there are army troops stationed at the resort, there are also marine police patrolling the area.
So, after a long travelling day, what's the first agenda for the day? Our first day checkout dive. We arrived the dive center around 5pm, they've got our equipment rigged up, we just need to ensure it was assembled nicely and the regulator and tank works.
Our first dive is at Kapalai artificial reef. You could be amazed what you could see just at this shore dive i.e giant sea turtle, frog fish, nudietc... Below is the Kapalai Dive site. You may check out the video I shot at the end of this post.
As part of the package, we have 1 day dive at Sipadan (3 dives), 3 dives/ day for day 3 and day 4. Another point that you need to take note, there are limited permit to dive at Sipadan, please check with your tour agency to ensure there is permit available before booking. Another plus point would be unlimited shore dives/ night dives free of charge, if you have your own equipment i.e BCD, regulator and mask, it would be totally free, they do not charge for the tanks. However, the shore dive is unguided, you must have a buddy to go with you and that's a hard rule.
Our guide Wendy is SO GOOD where she is very patient with us (our first dive after 2 years!), while scouting things for us to see, she was holding Veena's hand as Veena need some time to "get use" to diving again... Here she is...
Below are a few more dive sites which the resort sent us to. Not all sites are accessible as it is very much depending on your level and also the situation at the sites.
Overall, I would say this is a pleasant dive trip, I would rate the 1 day dive at Sipadan the best compared to Mabul and Kapalai. Visibility is not at the best, out of the 5 days we were there, 3 days were cloudy and was drizzling.
Below is the video which summarized the 5 days 4 nights stay at Kapalai.
Last but not least, I managed to fulfill another item of my bucket list, is to shoot the Milky Way! Before coming to Kapalai, I've done my homework and I realised there's chance of taking the photo. A few key criteria:
1) Less light pollution - Checked
2) New Moon- half checked
3) Milky way timing- Checked
The first 3 days condition wasn't at my side due to the weather, luckily things turned better just the night before, TADA.... present to you the amazing view at Kapalai (we can't see it with bare eyes, we need to use camera to do long exposure, infinite focus and some touch up with editing softwares).
Below would be my rating for this dive trip (at a scale of 10 being the highest score):
Dive: 7/10 (scores deducted due to the water visibility, weather)
Hope the above are informative for you to decide whether this is the places you should go to!