Organizing your Trip to Sipadan

Sipadan is consistently listed as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. And, as we discussed in our post Is Sipadan All Hype?, with its amazingly rich sea life and unique topography, the island definitely lives up to its reputation. But with so much focus, the tiny little island was in serious danger of being too beautiful for its own good. By the early 2000s, overbuilding and pollution threatened to destroy what Jacques Cousteau had labelled “an untouched piece of art.”

In an extraordinary example of environmentally sound decision making (with perhaps an added dose of financial self-interest), the Malaysian government decided to close Sipadan island for overnight visitors and impose a rigid permit system allowing only 120 people to dive the island each day. While the permit system, which will hopefully protect Sipadan far into the future, is a major environmental blessing, it does make diving Continue…

Is Sipadan All Hype?

Wait until you get to Sipadan… Sipadan, Sipadan, Sipadan. That’s all we’ve heard for the last few years. No matter where you dive, someone’s always there to point out that Sipadan is so much better. Even after more than 80 dives, we were told Sipadan can top them all. It almost seems dive sites around the world are measured against the one and only standard: SIPADAN. You want to see turtles? Go to Sipadan. You want to dive with reef sharks? Go to Sipadan. Huge, whirling schools of fish? I’m sure you guessed it, go to Sipadan. So we did! And now that we have dived Sipadan, we can answer the question: Is Sipadan as good as everyone says, or is it all hype?

Well, after two full days of diving at Sipadan, we can comfortably say Continue…

Eat Your Heart Out, Cousteau!

OK, we haven’t quite matched Cousteau’s accomplishments yet, but we’re getting there. Sipadan was one of his favorite locations in his later years. Although dive operators already started exploring Pulau Sipadan in the early 1980’s, Jacques Cousteau’s 1989 documentary The Ghost of the Sea Turtles catapulted this small island in the Celebes Sea to stardom. Now, 21 years after the great sea explorer came here, it’s our turn and we are literally diving in!

Borneo Bound

Thomas and I have finally taken the leap… out of mainland Southeast Asia, that is. We’ve made our way to the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.

When people hear the name Borneo, they envision a vast wilderness shrouded in dense jungle – a 21st century “heart of darkness” which has somehow fended off the plague of modernity engulfing the rest of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, Borneo is the ultimate battleground in the war between environmentalists and commercial interests seeking to harvest the world’s resources. Much of Borneo has been devastated by these interests – and we come here fully aware of that fact.

I have been to Borneo before in 1991 and that battle was in full swing even then. Large-scale deforestation and conflict with native peoples presented scenes far more devastating than any fictional scene in Avatar. In some ways, the war is over now and the commercial interests have won. So why do we come to Sabah knowing that?

Because Borneo still offers up Continue…

Manglish

You’ve never heard of Manglish?

Sure ah? Where got? Eh hello! How can? What lah you? Like dat cannot lah!

Manglish is half the fun of traveling in Malaysia. An English Creole spoken across much of Malaysia, Manglish is a blend of English, Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Tamil which come together to create a quirky mix which will challenge even the most savvy linguist.

Spoken at the pace of machine gun fire, Malaysians themselves definitely see the humor in their own uniquely jumbled patois. Quite often, I suspect they are kicking their Manglish up a notch in an attempt to see how far they can push it before our comprehension gives. But it’s all in good fun and provides for a lot of laughs on both sides. And yes, they definitely get the humor behind the mangle in Manglish.

The most famous word in Manglish is lah. Lah is to Manglish what like is to Californian English. Nobody can say for sure exactly what it means, but everyone agrees it’s an essential ingredient.

“To lah or not to lah,” that is definitely the question in Malaysia, and the answer seems to be a resounding yes lah.

Colonial Malacca

A rather big name from the standpoint of colonial history, little Malacca is actually far smaller than its less known brother Penang. Despite its diminutive size, the little town has a long history and a certain flair derived from its time as the colonial hot potato that bounced from Malay to Portuguese to Dutch to British hands.

Interestingly, despite the fact that half of Europe seems to have passed through Malacca, the layout of the old city initially seems distinctly Chinese rather than European. Beyond first impressions, a walk through the backstreets slowly reveals remnants of the town’s complex past including the oldest functioning mosque in Malaysia, the oldest functioning Catholic church in Malaysia, the oldest traditional Chinese temple in Malaysia, and the oldest Dutch building in the entire East.

There is definitely some impressive, if somewhat subtle Continue…

Four Years on the Road

That’s right, four years! We hardly believe it ourselves. The last year has been spent in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. While we haven’t added a large number of countries to the list, we’ve traveled extensively and added a mind-boggling number of experiences.

Highlights range from diving with thresher sharks and mantas in the Philippines to market hopping in Vietnam’s northern tribal regions to exploring the vastness of Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park. During our month-long Vietnam Food-venture, we also sampled some of the best food on the planet.

The last twelve months have also taken us through some of the most stunning karst scenery on the planet. We paddled and snorkeled our way through Palawan in the Philippines, cruised Vietnam’s picturesque Halong Bay, and spent two months island hopping along Thailand’s Andaman coast. We’ve also seen some of the world’s most breath-taking beaches from the islands in El Nido Bay to Boracay to Nha Trang to Koh Adang. Pure tropical bliss.

But don’t think we spent all our time lying under the palms. Year four has largely been about our quest to view the planet’s vanishing wildlife from pygmy sea horses to flying lemurs to a dolphin superpod to shy tarsiers… the list could run for pages.

So, happy birthday ContemporaryNomad.com – you’ve seen a lot at the tender age of four.

Mat Rempit

Just when you think humanity can’t get any dumber, a mat rempit speeds by you on the freeway and you suddenly realize that there is truly no limit to the depths of human idiocy.

Mat rempit are Malaysia’s weird cult of outlaw motorbike daredevils. Bands of these rebel bikers zoom through freeway traffic performing insanely dangerous stunts with little or no regard for others on the road. These boneheads crave acknowledgement – psychologists would have a field day with them.

Wherever you drive in Malaysia, mat rempit race by lying on their seats in a pose reminiscent of superman without a brain. The seriously challenged prefer to stand on their seats. Yikes! I personally don’t care if they kill themselves – I just don’t want to have to watch it, or worse, have them take me with them in a massive freeway pile-up.

While such activities are illegal in Malaysia, estimates of as many as 200,000 mat rempit in the country mean Continue…

Kuala Lumpur

Every visitor seems to love Kuala Lumpur. The city is a cultural and architectural melting pot, a medley of Indian, Malay and Chinese influences. Temples, mosques and churches are squeezed in between futuristic highrises, colonial mansions and fancy mega-malls. And then there’s the scrumptious food and the colorful street markets at every turn. What’s not to love about KL?