Where do I even begin to describe Georgetown? First of all I consider myself well traveled for my age group. There are few places I have been that left such a strong impression on me like Malaysia. The country is absolutely beautiful, underrated and under the radar. If you haven’t been, then make sure to book your next holiday to this magnificent asian country. When to go? Try to time it with their national holiday, Merdeka. The country comes alive with all it’s inhabitants coming out to celebrate, and they will gladly invite you to celebrate with them. I came to Georgetown just in time for the 64th annual food festival, with the Sunday pop up market falling at the same time. 3 major events all in one weekend. I could not have timed it any better, and that without doing research about where I was going. Now you’ve heard me brag on and on about Malaysia. I’ve shared about Kuala Lumpur, about the amazing dive sites, and now it’s time to put the spotlight on Penang. What can you do and see here in Penang? As I explained, try to time it with the annual Merdeka festival. This way you get the most bang for your buck. Penang is the street food capital of Malaysia, some say even of the world. You are guaranteed a good meal, and yes they cater to vegetarians and vegans. I ate like a queen the whole time. Heck I even went to a vegan restaurant and threw a feast all by myself. If you have me on snapchat you what I’m talking about. It’s so cheap here that a feast is do-able for anyone looking to fill out those booty shorts. When you’ve eaten, eaten and then eaten some more, then taking a walk around town is a good idea to get rid off those yummy calories. Strap on your walking shoes, because Georgetown is a living art museum. I have never been to a place where street art is so prominent, celebrated, and actually become a business for tour operators. Georgetown my friends, is a very cool city, it’s a world heritage site for good reasons. I spent 5 days treasure hunting for different art pieces, every single one unique in it’s own way. Photographing so much that by the end of each day, my battery was almost dead. There is too many pictures for me to share in one post, I will divide it up into different ones. Nothing less for the best, right? Oh and I’m sure I don’t even need to say how friendly everyone is. I’m a solo female traveller, with a lot of visible tattoos, not your ordinary chick. Some people frown upon tattoos, most often conservative people. Even Thai people aren’t the biggest fans of tattoos. My mom keeps telling me to stop because it’s not very lady like. And here I come to a muslim country, where almost every single person I talked to, absolutely loved them and complimented my body art. For some this might not seem like a big deal, but for me it actually means a lot. This just goes out to prove that you will find some of the most friendliest people on earth, right here in Malaysia. And just to put a lid on it, I do think it’s important in these times where discrimination and racism is so prominent, and out in the open, to point out that muslims are just like you and me. To point out the good side you don’t hear about in the media. I find their culture and religion beautiful, if you knew the true meaning of Islam, you would see that it’s peaceful and full of love. Malaysia is proof that people of different cultures and religions can co-exist, as they do and have done for years. Maybe we can learn a thing or two.
“Welcome to paradise” we greet each other when the boat docks at the pier on Sipadan Island. Before we are allowed into the blue, we have to sign in with the local authorities. This way only people with permits are allowed to dive here. Is it worth all the fuss? Absolutely. Was it a dream come true? With the right company, absolutely. Did I go with the wrong company? You bet. For two days I had bugged the people in the reception at Scuba Junkies, to call other companies for me, because my phone was out of credit. After repeatedly being that annoying girl, begging them to call again and again, I finally scored a permit with Billabong. I squealed and jumped up and down, bursting with happiness. Billabong is another dive company on the other side of the island Mabul. Whatever the price, I would gladly pay it for a chance to dive with sharks, jack fish, giant schools of barracudas and hopefully some rays. Every divers dream. This dream not so much, more like a divers nightmare that could have gone very bad. I was told to meet at Billabong at 7.30 am for breakfast before heading out. I couldn’t sleep that night, I was too excited and woke up 6.00 am by myself, before my alarm went off. Checked some emails, updated Instagram and the whole shebang. By the time I was leaving Scuba Junkies the rain came down, hard. I didn’t bring an umbrella, I was completely soaked when I reached Billabong. Me and the other divers started chatting, and one of the girls, Jasmina explained this company is very unorganised. The first sign that this would not go 100% as expected, but hey we are going to Sipadan, and we are gonna see sharks!
After about one hour we finally head out, we had to gear everything up ourselves which I do prefer. When you pay 960 ringit for only 3 dives, you expect to get a full 200 bar tank or even more. Especially when there is people in your group who consume air like it’s a helium balloon. Second flag was when I checked almost all tanks, and they were all down to 180-190 bar. If you breathe a normal amount, that will leave you about 45-60 minutes dive time, to explain in normal words. When you breathe a lot, the air will not be enough for that long aka you need bigger tanks. With those prices, you should not accept any less than 50 minutes dive time. The boat ride takes about 30 minutes from Mabul, and like I explained in the beginning of this post, you have to sign in before you’re allowed into the waters. Apparently Billabong had messed up somehow, the guy in the group, his name wasn’t on the list. He had paid and everything, he had to use a false name. What? How? The island itself is breathtaking, a lot of trash everywhere like most islands here, but none the less beautiful. Now it’s time to start diving. Our first dive site was South point. I did find it strange that we didn’t do any buddy checks, and they let me get into the water first. I should’ve done the buddy checks, because my dive buddy didn’t have her air supply on when she jumped in. We can only blame ourselves for that, but she should have checked herself that she could actually breathe before jumping in. Shortly after the rest of the group were in, and down we went. First thing we see is big schools of fish, sharks and turtles. Victory! For some reason we kept going down, down, down. All the way down to 30 meters, probably even deeper. The instructor didn’t say anything, just swam on. Mid dive our instructor left us because he wasn’t feeling too good. We continued on with the dive master. On this dive I got lost from the group while I was filming a turtle, and I swear not even a minute later they were gone. I turned around to let the others have their turn filming, but poof they were gone. I was probably only 5 meters below surface, so I did a 360 degree turn, waited a minute and swam to the surface making as many bubbles as possible like they taught us in training. All I could see was another group and lots of boats. 5 minutes later my group resurfaced about 20 meters away. I felt a little embarrassed but couldn’t figure out how they could swim away so fast? We get back up on the boat, and the instructor is lying on the floor sleeping, headache apparently. More like hungover if you ask me. We drive back to mainland, which is only 50 meters away to have a quick lunch before dive nr 2.
Seeing our first sharks we were all excited to get back in, but because of the deco time we had to wait one hour before the next dive. This time the instructor stayed put, strange but fair enough, at least he won’t leave us again. We jump in with our dive master. And this is when things got really bad. Only 5 minutes of amazement of the giant school of jackfish, surrounding a shark resting in the sand, we dive down to 25-30 meters. None of us had dived in Sipadan before, little did we know that you are supposed to stay above 10-15 meters. There is nothing to see below except the occasional sharks and some smaller fish. You do not come to Sipadan to see small fish. The DM is in the lead, not paying attention to any of us. He is swimming like it’s a race, leaving us behind 3 times because he swam so fast, none of us could catch up. We tried to tell him to slow down but there he goes, having a underwater marathon. And kicking corals to pieces. We were all shocked at how unaware of his environment he was. None of us was diving with a dive computer, we were way below his level so he had no control of our deco time. I quickly realised that he wasn’t asking any of us how much air we had, I knew two in the group consumed a lot, therefore I took it upon myself to check, this way we knew somewhat how we were doing. The DM didn’t ask until Jasmina was on 50 bars, that’s when you are supposed to start ascending to the surface. He brought us up from 25 meters to 6 meters in 6 minutes. While doing safety stops we were going up. Up, up, up instead of staying at the same level. When his deco time was done, he made the sign to go up, but he didn’t inflate the safety sausage on the surface to let boats know people are down here. A boat could’ve smashed our heads while we were coming up. It’s safe to say that as soon as we breached surface I was pissed, and I did let him know how pissed I was by pointing out how fucked up this whole thing was. It felt like they were playing with my life. You guys diving is amazing, it’s so fun and easy. But it’s serious business, and reckless diving can lead to death. By the time of our last dive I demanded to use my instructors dive computer, because I didn’t trust the DM at all. I’m not even sure he was a DM. I was right not to trust him, because once again the instructor left us mid dive. The DM let everyone go as deep as they wanted to. Because I had the dive computer I knew what depth we were at. In our group we had a couple, who for some reason preferred to stay way down at the bottom. When they decided to chase a shark when we were at 27 meters, I had to swim down and get them back up. 33 meters.. I’m only certified for 30 meters. This time I ended up leading the group. Everyone was following me wherever I was swimming, and staying at my level. Thanks for the confidence guys, but I am not a DM. I am not capable of leading a dive, I do not have the training to lead one. With 20 dives I should not be leading anyone. Nor do I know where to swim to see the interesting stuff. On average we had 36 minutes of bottom time on each dive. And neither the instructor or the DM pointed out any of the cool stuff. On the last dive the instructor saw a barracuda, but couldn’t be bothered to tell us about it until after the dive. “Why” we asked, “You guys were down there”. Well gee thanks, you could’ve just banged that friggin tank, made the barracuda sign and we would’ve come up to check it out. So do I recommend Billabong? Excuse my french, but HELL NO. I don’t think I need to write a summary of why I don’t recommend them, I think by reading this post you fully understand why. What did I learn from this experience?
- Thank you Scotty for that excellent training you gave me while teaching me to dive. It really came handy while dealing with this madness
- Get my own dive computer
- I’m doing my DM next year so I don’t have to follow twats like that
- Go with Scuba junkies. You get 4 dives, it’s a bit cheaper and they will not leave you, nor forget to ask for air, they will point out cool stuff and you will have a grand time, all while feeling safe
- I don’t regret going with Billabong, because that’s what I wanted. But next time, I will butter myself up with more patience
This video is of all three dive sites put together, Mabul, Sipadan and Kapalai. It was absolutely amazing, I can’t express my feelings enough how much I love diving! Just prepare yourself, because I will be incorporating this activity a lot on my upcoming trips. Check out the video and enjoy this beautiful tuesday everyone 🙂 Oh and remember to put the video in full HD if the setting isn’t already there.
Like a newly hatched turtle clumsily crawling through the sand to reach the first dip in the ocean, not knowing what the future will behold, but is drawn towards the ocean, a calling to be amongst the unknown. This is pretty much how I felt when I first started diving, clumsy but eventually got the hold of it. I’m still very much fresh off the boat, not nearly a professional, but can now proudly say I have 26 dives under my belt. Diving wasn’t a goal of mine when I started this one year trip, but after watching Chasing Corals on Netflix one night in Vietnam, I felt this urge to go down there myself. I was terrified on my first dip, I’d had this fear for the ocean for as long as I can remember. A very unrealistic fear of sharks trying to eat me as soon as I would dip my feet in the ocean. But I went on and I threw myself, literally, out into the blue. Now that fear of sharks has vanished completely. I now welcome them like a child waiting for Santa Clause. In fact I finally had the chance to swim with sharks here in Malaysia! Smaller reef sharks and white tips, but none the less, sharks! What magnificent creatures. They move so elegant, almost gliding through the waters. But my absolute favourite marine animal is turtles. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted one. I remember having one of those bead stuffed turtles you could by when going on vacation, I loved them. Seeing huge turtles the same size, no, bigger than me is indescribable. These huge beautiful creatures are so big, but yet so gentle, and chill. They just float through the water, and don’t give a damn about us. Probably wondering why we get so excited by the fact that they just exist. “Ok human, I get it, I’m adorable. Can you let me eat in peace? Great, thanks”.
(Look at this cutie!!)
When, where, what, how to dive in Malaysia? Have no fear, I will tell you how I did and who I went with, and who you shouldn’t go with.
First things first, you need to book flight tickets to Tawau airport. Tawau is your port to Semporna, the mainland before reaching Mabul where most people stay. You can always stay at Semporna, but if you can afford it deff go to Mabul. If you don’t mind spending an extra 2 hours on a boat back and forth everyday, then Semporna is just fine. I stayed at Mabul, and went with Scuba Junkies. When you don’t do the Sipadan package, there isn’t any fixed price for accommodation and diving. The prices for non-Sipadan diving is just a guideline, when you add everything up it’s the same price as shown online. I payed 1750 RM for 5 days accommodation, in dorm, 12 dives, non-Sipadan, food and beverage included. If you want to dive in Sipadan, then please do book in advance, because they only have 120 permits per day which is divided by 12 different dive companies. These are really hard to come by, but it is definitely worth it. They were out of permits because I booked too late, but I managed to score one through Billabong.. Jeez I wish I knew what I knew now. It was a complete disaster, and I will tell you about that later and explain why I don’t recommend going with this company.
Back to Mabul and Scuba junkies, it’s a great company. They are very professional, hands on at all times and you feel well taken care of. The staff is amazing, everyone is really friendly and they will make you laugh from start till’ end. In fact a couple of us watched the game of thrones finale together with all the instructors and DM’s. What a finale right?! And the food is really good, they do cater to vegetarians (yay for me). Food is included as I stated above, with every meal there is a vegetarian option. Fresh fruits, water, coffee, tea and cakes in between dives. I met so many amazing people here from all over the world. It’s funny how you meet so many different people you wouldn’t normally befriend, but here you have the same passion and love for diving, and just like that you get along like you’ve known each other for years. You can also do your open water and advanced, or any other course. If you don’t have a certification, I recommend you get one so you aren’t as confined when diving. You wouldn’t want to miss out on all the great stuff because you have to stay above 12 meters, right? Either way you will love it, even snorkelling is great. And for the actual diving in Mabul, what can you see, well I think the video I made will explain that a little better. Check it out in my next post 🙂
(There is a lot of mosquitoes here, as you can see in the picture I got bit right in the middle of my forehead, so lather up in anti-repellent)
Stunning by day, stunning by night. This bustling city is breathtaking 24/7, with tall skyscraper soaring in the sky. By night the buildings light up with bright twinkling lights leaving you mesmerised. Make sure to bring your walking shoes when coming here, because those 10,000 steps recommended every day will quickly double in Kuala Lumpur. Together with my new friend Wei, we started our stroll around 6pm, just in time to catch that beautiful sunset light. Wei promised to help me find street art, and he sure did deliver. To see the street art, check out my blogpost about the colourful streets of KL. We continued our stroll to chinatown. I’ve never been in a china town before so that was quite interesting. I’m not gonna lie, the two first days in KL I didn’t really try any street food. I just bought food from the super market in the lobby area. Partly because I was craving western food, and partly because I was lazy. I’m a terrible cook, and after I left the comforts of home and lived by myself, I often ended up eating sandwiches, yoghurts and noodles because I couldn’t be bothered to cook. That habit still hangs on I guess, nothing wrong with that, we can’t all be Gordon Ramsey. Wei took me to a great place where they had delicious Chinese dishes. We cracked open a couple of beers, enjoyed our food, had a great conversation about past travels and places on our bucket list, while people watching. People watching has become one of my new hobbies, it’s so interesting to see how other people live.
As I said bring your walking shoes, you wouldn’t want to miss out on all the hidden sights because you were too lazy to walk the distance. We walked back to the hotel instead of taking a taxi. It’s so easy to navigate in this city, I used the Petrona towers as reference to where I was going. I’ve wanted to get a shot of the towers during night, capture those mesmerising lights. Wei kept asking me why I don’t just google whatever and take the picture of the internet. You see he prefers to capture moments you can’t find anywhere else. Fair enough, but me, I would rather take that picture myself, see it one time myself than hear about a thousand times from everyone else. Plus how else do you improve your photography skills if you always use every one else’s picture? Before we went up the room we took the elevator all the way to the top to check out the 360 degree view of the city. If you happen to stay in a skyscraper hotel, do take advantage of the view. If you don’t have the view where you are staying, go for a drink in one of the tall buildings. The view at night is a must see. I truly loved Kuala Lumpur, day and night. I’m sure you will too. And it doesn’t hurt that I have not met one person who haven’t been nice. Everyone is so friendly, that asian friendliness is just as prominent here like in Thailand. Malaysia is quickly climbing up my top 5 countries list.
There is more to KL than just shopping and skyscrapers, if you take the time to get lost, go beyond the tall buildings, there is a world of street art hidden in nooks and corners all around the city. After finding out that gadgets and techs is cheaper in KL than back home, almost half price cheaper, I headed over to Low Yat plaza to buy extra gear for the drone me and my friend bought together. Low Yat plaza is a shopping mall located 5 minutes from Pavilion, filled up with all the tech you can imagine. Nerds and techies, eat your heart out. I took a Grab back to the hotel to drop off stuff, as we drove by my eyes caught glimpse of amazing colours. Streetart! Oh how I love street art. It tells so much about todays younger generation, and the people living in the city. Like a gateway beyond the fancy buildings and luxury shopping. I had no idea where to go to find it, but by the time I got back to the room, I had a new bunk mate. Wei from China, who happened to be a photographer. Wei is an amazing street photographer, and he loves shooting pictures of people. He invited me to join him down to chinatown, and promised to help me find the street art I was looking for. It’s quite interesting to see how professionals work, so if you ever meet up with one who is willing to stroll around with you, soak in all the tips and tricks they have to offer. Because I can promise you that your photography skills will improve immensely. I would love to snap shots of people, but I feel like I’m imposing on their privacy. So for now I’ll stick with my objects and the occasional person photo.
Every time I visit somewhere new I try to have a low expectation, that way I don’t get disappointed. It’s hard not to have some expectations when you see pictures and 1 minute videos on social media that completely blows your mind. I remember when I was younger, while flying to Bangkok there would be commercials on the screen in front of you, in the beginning of the flight and in the end. Every now and then a commercial for Malaysia would show up, and ever since I’ve wanted to visit this country. Well last week I finally got that opportunity, it was a spontaneous decision coming here, and thanks to my new profound love for diving with a promise of seeing sharks in Malaysia, I had to hop on the flight to KL after Laos.
I don’t remember much from those commercials I saw on the airplane, and with little background knowledge I wasn’t sure how Kuala Lumpur actually looked like in pictures. I arrived late afternoon, already dark outside as the sun sets early here in Asia. Walking through the terminal to immigration, the walls were covered in pictures with amazing marine life. Yas! Can’t wait to go to Malaysian Borneo and swim with turtles and sharks, hopefully a Manta Ray. Malaysia is my 26th country, with yet another stamp in my passport. I can’t help but get excited whenever I see the immigration officers use the stamp, immediately I check to see what it looks like. Some people collect snow globes from their travels, I’m happy with just the stamp. The simple pleasures in life man. *Erhem* tell that to the 24 hour later version of Christine who couldn’t help but pick up an item or two in a luxury store.. When in KL right? I mean sometimes it’s nice to buy one thing that will last you longer than the trip you’re on, whatever let me live.
The best way to get around in Malaysia is through GRAB. The first time I saw a Grab logo was in Thailand, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. After being in Vietnam I met people who said Grab was a lot cheaper and more reliable than regular meter taxis. Coming to KL I saw one of those Grab counters in the airport, and after checking the price of regular taxis and tran express (train), Grab was the cheapest and fastest option. The way to go is to download the app, when you open the app it will immediately show your location, just type in your destination, it will show you the distance and the price (the price is always fixed), and then it will start searching for a driver. When a driver is found, it will tell you how many minutes until the driver arrives. Usually not more than 5 minutes. Amazing right? It’s like Uber, but in Malaysia people prefer Grab. Next time your in a city with Grab, give it a go. My Grab driver was a super friendly chatty guy who made me feel more welcomed in a city, than I have ever been before. He did a great job pointing out different buildings, answering all my questions as we drove on.
In KL I chose to stay with Mercu Summer Suits in a dorm, the pod kind. I thought it would be a regular hostel/hotel but we drove into this beautiful 36 floor building, with many different companies renting out rooms. You can’t enter the elevator area without a keycard, and the reception is just the general area. When you book a room you have to call when in the lobby area and they will come and get you. I stayed in the 11th floor, with an amazing view, on the same floor as the gym and the pool. The dorm didn’t feel like a typical dorm. The pods were huge with a kitchen and a couch so you can sit and relax outside of the sleeping area. The floor was made of tiles so it felt a bit cold. The slippers I bought in Laos came quite handy. Yes they are as comfy as they look, it’s like walking on marshmallows.
(Pictures are taken from google)
The city itself is filled with stunning architecture, skyscrapers, well dressed business men, street vendors selling delicious coffee and of course, the infamous Petronas towers. Just as beautiful in the day like during the night. I couldn’t help but snap a picture from every angle they were visible. My neck hurt by the end of the day of all the looking up. I had no idea what was inside the Petronas towers, but turns out the first part is a shopping mall and the top part is offices. In the beginning of this post I mentioned I did a little luxury shopping. Or as me and my friend like to call it, an investment, because the quality will last you a lifetime and beyond. I have had the biggest crush on Kate Spade’s purses and phonecases. They’re quirky, different and colourful, just like me. This years summer collection is a Mexican travel theme, which is quite fitting my lifestyle atm. The second item I couldn’t help but take home with me, was a beautiful Marc Jacobs wallet. It’s a envelope style, so it takes minimal space in my camera bag when I’m out walking. For years I’ve hated using wallets, I’ve always used a coin purse. In Norway you never really use cash anymore, therefore I’ve never had the need to have a proper wallet, just enough space for my credit cards. But after I started traveling, cash is the way to go. But here you have so many different bills, and it’s hard to keep track of them when you press everything into a coin purse + the actual coins. A good investment I would say. So did I only go shopping in KL? Of course not, continue on to the next post to see all the amazing street art hidden all around the city.