Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pangkor Island - Asia's top 'fresh destinations' 2012 names Malaysia’s Pangkor Island as one of Asia’s top “Fresh Destinations” for 2012., a leading global hotel booking site and part of Nasdaq-listed Priceline Group (Nasdaq: PCLN), today announced its Fresh Destinations 2012.

Included in the Fresh Destinations 2012 is Malaysia's Pangkor Island, which has been described as a "low-key tourist destination with stellar beaches and a healthy selection of accommodation, from beach bungalows to high-end resorts."

This year, the list showcases deserted coastline, picturesque mountain provinces and unsung urban centers, each with its own distinct appeal. Offering unique glimpses at history, geology, tradition and culture, this year's Fresh Destinations list provides all new travel inspiration for 2012. 

Where? On the north-west coast of Malaysia, in Perak state.

What? A small island with beautiful beaches, Dutch colonial ruins, temples and fishing villages. Pangkor is a low-key tourist destination popular with domestic holiday-makers.

When is the best time to go? The weather in Pangkor is not badly affected by the monsoon (November to February)and has hot, humid days year round. If you're planning a romantic holiday, avoid the end-of-year school break.
How to: Pangkor is accessible from Ipoh, 200km north of Kuala Lumpur and an interesting tourist stopover in its own right, especially for foodies. From Ipoh, traveler must make their way to the pier at Lumut (around 80km away)and embark for Pangkor on a commuter ferry for the forty-minute ride.

Highlighted hotels: Pangkor Island Beach Resort 4* - bungalow property with private jetty and ferry, absolute beachfront (from USD 118). Pangkor Laut Resort 5* - exclusive resort with garden (USD 270) and overwater villas (USD 505) on Pangkor's smaller neighboring island

msn travel

Monday, May 14, 2012

Coral Turtle @ Penyu

Malaysia is fortunate to host four species of marine turtles: Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill, and Olive ridley turtles. These gentle reptiles of the sea swim great distances and come on land only to nest. They are known for their longevity among local cultures. Sadly, the number of marine turtles in most places has plummeted and some populations are on the brink of extinction.

Odds stacked against survival
Female turtles lay hundreds of eggs each nesting season. But relatively few young survive into their first year. Crabs, monitor lizards and birds eat the eggs or prey on hatchlings as they make their way out to sea. In the shallows, many more hatchlings are taken by fish. When humans harvest turtle eggs, disturb or degrade nesting beaches, the young turtles’ chances for survival slide further.

They are threatened by the loss of nesting and feeding habitats, excessive egg-collection, fishery-related mortality (for example, accidental mortality in the nets and long-lines of fishing fleets), pollution, and coastal development. Turtles that survive take decades to reach maturity and start breeding. But escalating mortality means fewer turtles are living long enough to reproduce. Effective conservation means protecting turtles at all stages of their life cycle.

Hawksbill turtles 
Due to man’s taste for beautiful jewellery and ornaments, the hawksbill turtles are now critically endangered. Their thin, flexible and highly coloured shell with elaborate patterns is the sole source of commercial ‘tortoise shell’. Locals know them as Penyu Karah or Penyu Sisik but hawksbills are so named because of their narrow pointed beak reminiscent of a bird of prey. 

The largest population of hawksbills is found in the Turtle Islands of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo with an average of 500-600 nests each season. Malacca’s sandy coastline has the second largest population of hawksbills with 200-300 nests per season while Johor and Terengganu have lower numbers.

Olive ridleys
The endangered olive ridley or Penyu Lipas is the smallest of all marine turtles. These migratory turtles often travel thousands of kilometres between feeding and nesting sites. Very little is known about these turtles in Malaysia.

Green turtles 
The endangered Green turtle, or Penyu Agar to the locals, is actually black-brown or greenish yellow but is so called because of the greenish colour of their cartilage and fat deposits. The most abundant species in Malaysia, it nests in great numbers on the sandy beaches and islands of Sabah, Sarawak, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor and Perak.

Largest of all marine turtles, leatherbacks are also one of the largest living reptiles. They are easily distinguished by their leathery carapace (shell), unlike other turtles which are hard-shelled, and by their long front flippers. Seven ridges run down the length of their white spotted carapace.

Leatherbacks are one of the most migratory of all marine turtles. The biggest ever recorded leatherback turtle was a male that reached 256 cm long and weighed 916 kg! They can also dive much deeper than any other marine turtle. The deepest dive ever recorded for a reptile was by a leatherback to a depth of 1,230 metres.

The critically endangered leatherback turtle or Penyu Belimbing
 to locals, is now facing extinction in Malaysia. Rantau Abang, Terengganu used to be the nesting home of one of the seven largest leatherback populations in the world but its population has declined by more than 99% since the 1960s

Monday, May 7, 2012

Coral Sipadan, Malaysia

Sipadan Island is both famous and infamous. A tiny, tropical forest-covered island of only thirty acres floating in the royal blue of the Celebes Sea, it has been declared both a protected area and a bird sanctuary by the Malaysian government. The island is indisputably the most famous dive destination in Malaysia, with diving giants like Jacques Cousteau praising enthusiastically the wonderful diversity of its marine life. 

Sipadan was at the top of Scuba Diving magazine’s Gold List for The Top Dive Destinations of the World, a distinction it shared with two other destinations known for an equal diversity of their marine life - the Galapagos Islands and Truk in Micronesia. It is surrounded by a sand and coral shelf which, at an average distance of a couple of hundred meters out from the shore, plummets dramatically to drop off down a vertical wall for some eight hundred meters. Nearby Mabul Island is similar.

Sipadan Island is located off the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia's eastern-most state which lies on the north-eastern corner of the world's third largest island - Borneo Island. Sabah and another Malaysian state, Sarawak, share Borneo with a neighbour, Indonesia.  
There are eleven popular dive sites around Sipadan, another half-dozen around Mabu, and two or three at a third nearby destination, Kalapai Island, a sandbar which completes the triangle, and boasts its own dive resort, so the choice for diving in the area is extensive. 

Not all the sites are of equal appeal, however. The Kalapai Island sites, for instance, have poor visibility because of the sandy bottom, as do several around Mabul. These sites are best for shallow slow dives searching out the abundant macro life. At the top of the list however, is an extraordinary Sipadan site, Barracuda Point. If you are lucky, and the water conditions are right, you will witness here a remarkable vortex of thousands of Chevron Barracuda swirling like an underwater tornado; hence the name of the site. 
Barracuda Point is also home to dozens of huge Green Sea Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles which are completely unfazed by divers and which one can approach very closely. Here too, White Tip Reef Sharks are common. 

On one dive we saw seven, the big ones swimming out in the blue and the smaller ones of one to two meters close to the reef wall. Grey Reef Sharks, Scalloped Hammerheads and Leopard Sharks are also common.  On the same dive we looked out into the blue and saw a Pygmy Devil Ray swimming gracefully past.

Later, near Barracuda point we dropped in the water again to swim with a school of thousands of silvery Jackfish, or Big Eye Trevally, twisting and flashing in the aquamarine water. Smaller sea life includes Bannerfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Cornetfish, Parrotfish, Mandarin Fish, Sea Horses and Pipefish,Crocodilefish, Frogfish and Stonefish, Octopus, Eels, Spiny Shrimps and lobsters, Cuttlefish and huge, brilliant nudibranch.

My favourite was the Pyramid Butterflyfish, a common, but dramatically beautiful reef resident mostly seen on small schools of several dozen. 

Another colourful resident is the Redfin Anthias, often seem with more common orange Anthias. This beautiful little fish has a lemon yellow body with a purplish red dorsal fin, tail and body.  The abundance, colour and variety is amazing. 

I saw a school of Yellowback Fusiliers pass a pair of bright Foxface Rabbitfish dancing an elaborate courtship. Then a Harlequin Sweetlips Juvenile, all white polka dots and oversized fins, propelled itself in frantic wriggles under me like an eager puppy. 

Beautiful too are the coral gardens which grace the top of the reef. They are a cornucopia of mauve, deep-purple, lime-green, red and yellow soft corals. Our trip organizer, Aryani Arshad of Planet Scuba in Kuala Lumpur, credits Sipadan’s popularity to this abundance of sea-life, the best in the world. Also, she adds, the shallowness of the coral gardens make them ideal for snorkelers. It is a macro heaven on earth.

An unusual dive was under a former oil platform now converted into a dive resort, Sea Venture, just off the shore of Mabul. The site was rich with Stonefish, Frogfish and smaller sea life. Most amazing were a pair of paper-thin Razorfish swimming nose down in a circular hunting pattern. Like many other local sites there was some current here although surface sea conditions were very calm. Sipadan can be dived year round because it is not affected by the Monsoon rains which seasonally close dive sites in western Malaysia, but it is not for everyone. Occasional strong currents and the extreme depth and vertiginous nature of Sipadan’s drop-offs suggest that you should be of some experience before attempting to dive here. 
A huge benefit of diving Sipadan is the climate. Because of its position, Sipadan, as well as Mabul and Kalapai, escapes the monsoon rains. The daytime temperature varies between 28 to 34 degrees Celsius; the cooling sea breezes negate any humidity. Water temperature is a balmy 27 degrees Celsius which means that a three mil shortie is more than adequate; in fact, diving without a wet suit is a good option and an enjoyable experience. 

Arriving at the Mabul dive resorts is an adventure in itself. Arrangements, beyond the plane, are best left to a professional like Aryani of  Planet Scuba. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau in eastern Sabah takes about two hours and fifteen minutes. Both Air Malaysia and the cheaper, no frills, Air Asia, fly to Tawau which boasts a small but attractive and efficient airport. There Aryani takes over; you will be met and whisked by bus or van to Semporna, a sea-side town about an hour and fifteen minutes away where you will board a fast boat propelled by two huge 100 horse power outboards for an hour long cruise to Mabul. 

There a welcoming drink, a comfortable room, a pleasant shower and a delicious Malaysian meal await you. You will fall in love with the local people on  Mabul, a group of the Bajau Laut  who belong to the world’s only nomadic tribe of sea gypsies. A walk through the village will bring you many wide smiles and happy greetings from its charming and beautiful residents. Put Sipadan on your list of places to visit soon.Believe me, you won’t regret it

by David Lavoie