2010 Asia – Sepilok & Lankayan

Something relaxing…

04.30, sound of the alarm, yack. A quick shower, a 7-minute walk to the airport and it was time to check in again. The good thing of waking up so early is that after checking in we still had some time for a cup of cappuccino and a banana chocolate fritter muffin, very Malaysian…

07.15 our plane took of punctual for our 2-¾ hour flight to Sandakan. I even managed to doze away a couple of times during the flight so before I realized it we were already descending again. The luggage did not take to long and as arranged somebody was already waiting for us to bring us to Sepilok Nature Resort.

Now that was a different story from the Tune hotel last night, a nice all wooden spacious chalet for the two of us, surrounded by palms and overlooking a pond. It was a fantastic setting and both of us felt in seventh heaven again. Now talking about heaven… that decided to open whilst we were having lunch, it was an absolute cloudburst but after an hour suddenly, as quick as it started, the rain stopped. It was like somebody closed the valve.

Not much later the sun was shining again and we went on a little stroll towards the orang otan Rehabilitation Center. This center, like it’s counterpart in Sarawak that we visited in 2007, focuses on re-educating orang utan’s that have been captured and kept as pets to get used to living in the wild again.

It was feeding time at 15:00 when a ranger brought a bucket of bananas and not much later the orang otans arrived. We were focused as soon as something started to move in the bushes and not much later a red hairy animal made it’s way to the platform where the bananas were served. The animals were hilarious, their movements, their characters and even their faces when another orang otan took a banana away. It was fun to watch. The orang otan’s were not the only ones interested in the bananas, so were a bunch of other monkeys who, once they had built up courage, approached the platform to steal some bananas. This led to funny moments when the orang otans disagreed on their fellow diners.  To our liking it was over far to quick, fortunately we have another chance to see it once we return from Lankayan.

The rest of the afternoon was very relaxing, we had a beer, read a book, it’s a tough life but then someone has to do it… As I was a bit tired I had an afternoon nap and even after dinner we did not make it long. The day had started early and we only had enjoyed a couple of hours of sleep. Did we need any more excuses for an early night? I don’t think so….

Woken up by the alarm again, but this time with a difference, we felt like we had a good night of sleep. After breakfast we were brought to the marina where a speedboat was waiting for us.  It was loaded with 400 Horse Power, enough to jet us over the water with 46 miles an hour, not bad at all. We passed some small islands and some fishermen settlings on poles but after that there was only water to be seen. Water, water, and more water. The trip took us just over and hour and a half after which we could see Lankayan in the distance. The pictures we had seen on the Internet had not been misleading at all. It looked like a paradise in the middle of nowhere, absolutely perfect to spent a couple of days.

Our boat moored at the jetty from where we strolled to our home for the next couple of days. The look of it made us dribble, everything one can wish for. A beautiful white sandy beach, a couple of chalets, and trees. No more, no less. We kicked of our sandals and decided not to wear them for the next couple of days. We were briefed on the island’s daily routine of meals and the activities. Hmmm, two sorts, diving and a kayak trip around the island. Further each bungalow had a hammock and a piece of beach and that was about all that the island had to offer. Relax, and do absolutely nothing at all. Perfect I would say.

Before lunch we even managed to do a ‘hike’ around the island. We saw lots of small black reef tip sharks in the shallow water, plenty of other fish life and coral. It promised to become a nice couple of days. The hike did not take us much longer than 10 minutes after which we were back at the restaurant. Just in time for lunch… Needles to say we became extremely hungry after all this exercise, fortunately the food was plenty and well tasting.

An hour or so to relax after which we had our first orientation dive. It was good to get used to diving again after an almost 8 year break. In front of the jetty a kind of track was set up which led us past a number of interesting objects which housed a lot of fish, and even a small wreck.  As the tide was changing visibility was not that good but our guide pointed out lots of interesting things. Ghost Pipefish, shrimps, lionfish, not bad for a first dive. It was good to use this dive to check our weights and refresh our, by now, rusty diving habits. Both of us were amazed how well it went so now we are ready for the boat dives tomorrow.

Just imagine, sitting on the waterfront, white beach, some clouds, a beer in the hand and then doing nothing at all, just enjoying the moment, how tough can it get. Well, let me tell you, very tough as we were rudely disturbed in order to see one of the island’s other attractions…

Lankayan is not only a diving resort but it also houses an ecological center for turtle research and breeding. Every evening turtles come to shore to lay their eggs. Once done and the turtles returned to sea these eggs are collected and let to bread under safe circumstances so no birds or other predators can eat them. Once they come out they are collected again and released into the sea. Tonight was exactly one of those evenings. One small baby turtle had cracked through the sand that was the sign that more eggs must have popped. With a little help 158 small turtles surfaces and put in a big bucket. Once all were collected they were quickly brought to the beach where they were released. All had to be done very quickly otherwise the little animals would get to exhausted and would stand no chance to reach maturity. Out of every 1000 babies set free only one or two would reach that maturity. The workers at the conservation center always look for a place at the beach, which is free of black tip baby sharks that want to feast on the turtles.

It had been yet another great experience and by now we were ready for a beer. Set at the waterfront again we came to the conclusion that doing nothing at all can be a strenuous activity. But as said, somebody had to do it and the both of us were more than willing to sacrifice ourselves.

During dinner it started to rain again, a heavy tropical rain. Actually we were rather enjoying it and it brought that refreshing breeze. We spent the evening chatting with some other guest of the island and time flew by to quickly. It was still raining when we went to bed and the noise of the raindrops on our roof was deafening. Still we managed to fall asleep and by the time we woke up in the morning the rain had gone, sun was shining so what else could we wish for? Breakfast and an early morning dive perhaps?

At 08:00 we went to the dive center, which was located at the jetty in front of the island. The dive masters were already present and our kit assembled for us. We were really getting spoiled over here. The first dive of today was a wreck dive. Not far ahead there were two wrecks, a wooden one and a steel one.

We descended along a rope to 18 meters depth where we started our exploration. Giant Groupers, Trevallies, Lionfish, there was so much to see. Paul was doing well so we even went twice through the wreck. We were really enjoying ourselves. Time went by to quick and as we were running out of air we ascended by the rope again for our 3-minute safety stop at 6 meter. After that we returned to the boat and once all divers had surfaced we returned to the island for our second breakfast (I know, we are really suffering over here).  

We even managed to do another ‘hike’ around the island; now the sun was shining it looked more beautiful than before. The sand was so white it almost hurt our eyes. The sea was emerald green, the sky bright blue with some clouds. Truly a paradise on earth! We shortly relaxed in front of our bungalow, enjoying the sound of the waves, after we went back to the dive center for our second dive of the day.

This time we went a bit further out to Bimbo rock. Not long after we descended we saw a blue spotted ray, fantastic, the real fun still had to come though. Once at the sandbank Paul spotted a large leopard shark resting in the sand. Not much later we saw a couple more graciously swimming just in front of us. It was magic. There was lots of coral and fish life, more colors than you can imagine. This was certainly a special dive.  Far to quick for our liking we had to return to the rope, do our safety stop and head back to the island.

We did not have much time to recover from our underwater adventures as lunch was being served. The tom yum soup was a perfect combination of spicy and sour. Wow. After that we had a selection of meat, fish, squid and stir-fried squid. Paul had a beer to let the lunch go down gently but as I wanted to do a third dive I stuck to juice.

To let lunch settle I went for another hike around the island. After that it was diving time again! Yippee! I buddied up with Sara, an English lady we had met on the boat. There was yet another coral reef to explore. The absolute highlight on this dive was a baby batfish, something that even delighted the guides, as they are extremely rare to spot. I particularly loved a big squid that was carefully checking on what we were doing. Once again there was a lot to see and the dive ended far to soon.

Back at the island I joined Paul who was working extremely hard…. on his tan. It was so relaxed I dozed away and did not wake up until the sun was setting and we were called to witness another baby turtle release. Although it was our second time it was still wonderful to see about 200 small baby turtles get off in the water on a way to an uncertain future.

A shower, a beer (or two) later and we were ready for another relaxing evening, chatting away, listening to the waves and ehh, doing absolutely nothing.

We might be in paradise but that does not mean we can take it easy. A new day and once again the alarm went off at 7:30. A shave, quick shower and we were ready for the first breakfast of the day… After that it was diving time again. Once again I enjoyed 3 wonderful dives during which there was so much to be seen. Leopard sharks, white tip and black tip reef sharks, spotted rays, some orang otan crabs, it was just magic and every dive went by to fast.

Paul had a slight headache after the first dive and decided to have a relaxing day whilst I opted to go for the 2nd and 3rd dive. Relaxing is the keyword for Lankayan. With no roads there is no sound to be enjoyed but the waves gently crushing on the beach. It is truly a paradise and it’ll be difficult to get used to the real world again. Tranquil, friendly, I could go on with superlatives but that would just be an understatement. We have not been wearing shoes for days now and the sand feels wonderful under our feet.

In front of our bungalow and the restaurant is a bowl of water to rinse the sand of.  How perfect can a place get? Before dinner-time, Paul, Sara and myself did a sunset dive in front of the jetty and we found some special fish, juvenile lionfish, puffer fish and some other, mainly small species, a delightful dive. In the evening we met some new people and yet again it became a fantastic evening. At 23:00 we got our last beers and the staff asked whether they could close the bar and go to bed. We finished our beer and off to bed we went as well for deep, satisfying dreams…

Tuesday, our last day at Lankayan Island. Paul started the day lazy and I went for my first dive of the day. Once again superb! Then 2nd breakfast, another dive, this time with Paul, and once again we felt like floating in an underwater paradise. By the time Paul was getting close to his reserve air and we wanted to start our ascend in the next couple of minutes Band, the dive master, caught our attention. One of the divers totally ran out of air (Stupid idiot) and he wanted to go up with him leaving us and some other divers to continue the dive. As we were ready to go up anyway I pointed out to Band that I would take care of the other diver and Paul and make our ascend. I offered my spare regulator to the other diver (Still had 100 bar left so that was no problem) and with the three of us we made a controlled ascend, including the mandatory safety stop at 5 meter. During all my dives I never had to use my spare regulator but this time I was happy that all my skills were still intact to bring this ehh… idiot to safety. Once back at the jetty Band thanked me for taking control and I told him it was my pleasure but also asked to get another guide in during the next dive, I was not going to do this once again as we were here for our own pleasure and not babysit for fools who ignore the vital rule of diving, always control your air supply…

The third dive worked out without problems and Paul spotted a large number of rays. We also saw some shrimps, another blue ribbon eel and plenty of other fish at the top of the coral. We did rally not want this dive to end, especially as it was our last one of this trip and we had such a ball of a time. 

We thanked all the staff for being such good people and having such a professional organization. Also we invited Band and Joy, the two dive masters, who we spent most time with, to have a beer with us tonight. What a fantastic time we had, I really got into diving again…

Back at the bungalow we picked up our first ‘decompression’ beer and relaxed at the terrace in front of our bungalow whilst enjoying the sun slowly setting at the Sulu Sea. The Philippines are only a 45-minute boat ride away but the next day we’ll head back to Sandakan to visit the Orang Otans one more time.

Our last evening in Lankayan turned out to be very special. We joined up with Sara, Cat and Rob for dinner after which the dive masters joined us for an evening of joy and music. Band, our diver master for most of the dives, was also a gifted guitar player and singer. The rest of the crew acted as background singers and we really had an absolutely wonderful evening of sing-alongs. Lots of stories from our underwater adventures came up, can’t remember an evening where we laughed this much. It was fantastic but around 22:00 it was time to settle the bill and return to our bungalow.

Holiday or not, it was another short night. The alarm went off at 05:45, at 06:30 break fast was served and just after 07:00 it was time to say goodbye to all our new friends at Lankayan and board the speedboat which brought us back to Sandakan.

Back at the resort we paid another visit to the Orang Otan rehabilitation center after which it was time to say goodbye to Sara, Cat and Rob.

We walked back to the resort where we opted for a quiet and relaxing day, reading a book and doing nothing at all. We still managed to make our way to the orchid garden but that was about it.

In the evening we flew back to Kuala Lumpur, checked in at the airport hotel after which it did not take us long before we were deep asleep again.

Note: All underwater pictures on this page were made by Sara Mackmin. Not only has she been an fantastic dive buddy and an absolute fun person to be around with. As turned out, she also is a good underwater photographer as the pictures on this page proof. Thanks Sara for letting me ‘nick’ your pictures. Hope to see you again soon, either above or under water!

Note: the pictures on this page are unedited RAW material, Due to a system crash I lost all edited work on this trip. Time permitting I will rework those pictures and present them in the brilliance they deserve, for right now I decided to temporary publish the unedited material.

Continue the trip with the final part: Bali