Diving in Malaysia
This remote area of the Indo-Pacific Ocean offers some of the best diving in the world. Divers head to Mabul and Kapalai to dive the renowned sites of Sipadan where vast numbers of green and hawksbill turtles breed and lay their eggs on its surrounding beaches and resident schools of thousands of barracuda and trevally patrol the drop-off. Muck diving has also become a big attraction for divers in Mabul while the water village of Kapalai is uniquely situated on a shallow sandbar surrounded by the sea.
The seas around Sabah are acknowledged as encompassing Malaysia's best dive sites. The waters are cool enough to support a prolific underwater ecosystem of magnificent coral reefs, marine life including large numbers of sea turtles, swirling schools of trevally, pacific barracuda and giant clams. An equally impressive variety of bright fascinating tropical fishes give the underwater world a burst of rainbow colors. Further out in the deep blue depths are some of the larger species such as groupers, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and even the occasional whale shark to name a few.
Of all the dive spots, there is one that stands on its own - Sipadan Island, off Sabah. With its deep waters, lush coral reefs, and vast array of deep ocean species, Sipadan was recognized as an underwater haven by none other than ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. Another such beauty in Sabah is Pulau Layang-layang (Island of the Swallows). This island has great potential for ecotourism. Diving in this region is not recommended during the monsoon months of November to January when seas can be rather rough.
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
US and Canadian citizens must have a valid Passport and a return or ongoing
ticket. No visas are required for a stay of up to three months. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months upon return from Malaysia.
EXIT REQUIREMENTS: The departure tax is Malaysia Ringgits $40 (approx. USD $11) per person.
Check with your doctor and the Center for Disease Control for vaccinations currently recommended for travel to Malaysia at www.cdc.gov. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid vaccinations are commonly recommended for this area.
Culture and Customs
Malaysia's most frequently visited region for diving is Sabah on the island of Borneo. Sabah's population is heterogeneous and culturally diverse, with more than 30 different ethnic races and over 80 local dialects spoken. Malaysia's cultural mosaic is marked by many different cultures, but several in particular have had especially lasting influence on the country. Chief among these is the ancient Malay culture, and the cultures of Malaysia's two most prominent trading partners throughout history--the Chinese, and the Indians. These three groups are joined by a dizzying array of indigenous tribes, many of which live in the forests and coastal areas of Borneo.
Perhaps the easiest way to begin to understand the highly complex cultural interaction which is Malaysia is to look at the open door policy maintained during religious festivals. Although Malaysia's different cultural traditions are frequently maintained by seemingly self-contained ethnic communities, all of Malaysia's communities open their doors to members of other cultures during a religious festival--to tourists as well as neighbors. Such inclusiveness is more than just a way to break down cultural barriers and foster understanding. It is a positive celebration of a tradition of tolerance that has for millennia formed the basis of Malaysia's progress.
Electricity, Telephone and Internet Access
Electric supply is on a 240-volt 50-cycle system. Some dive shops and resorts
have 120-volt stations for guest use for charging camera batteries, etc. It is recommended
that you use them to avoid damage to delicate equipment.
The country code is 60. International calls can be made from public telephones with card facilities or at any Telekom office. Pre-paid telephoone cards can be purchased at airports, petrol stations and some shops.
Tap water in most Malaysian cities is generally considered safe to drink, but it is still advisable to boil water before drinking or to drink bottled water.
Language & Currency
Malay is the official language of Malaysia. However, English is widely spoken throughout the country. Malay refers to a group of languages closely related to each other to the point of mutual intelligibility but that linguists consider to be separate languages.
Local Malaysian currency is the Ringgit (RM), largely known as the Malaysian Dollar. It is issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Ringgit notes. Coin denominations are 50, 20, 10, 5, and 1 sen (cents).
Most international credit cards – Visa, MasterCard, JCB, American Express and Diner Club are widely accepted in the cities. You should have your passport ready whenever you wish to cash travellers’ cheques which can be cashed out at most banks. It is also advisable to have Ringgit on hand since some shops do not accept credit cards or travellers’ cheques. Money-changers and banks are plentiful in towns and cities to exchange currency which will give you a better exchange rate than hotels or shops.
Malaysia is on Malaysian Standard Time (MST). It is 8 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, making it 8 hours ahead of London. Daylight Saving Time is not observed in Malaysia.
History, Art, and Culture
The ancestors of the people that now inhabit the Malaysian peninsula first migrated to the area between 2500 and 1500 B.C. Those living in the coastal regions had early contact with Chinese and Indians; seafaring traders from India brought with them Hinduism, which was blended with the local animist beliefs. As Muslims conquered India, they spread the religion of Islam to Malaysia.
Sabah, then known as North Borneo, was part of the Sultanate of Brunei around the early 16th century. There was minimal foreign interest in this region and control over most parts of north Borneo seems to have remained under the Sultanate of Brunei for several hundred years. In 1888 North Borneo became a protectorate of Great Britain.
From 1942 to 1945 during the Second World War, Japanese forces occupied North Borneo. The Japanese forces landed in Labuan on January 1, 1942, and continued to invade the rest of North Borneo. Bombings by the allied forces devastated most towns including Sandakan, which was totally razed to the ground. Resistance against Japanese occupation was concentrated on the west and north coast of North Borneo.
In Sandakan there was once a brutal POW camp run by the Japanese for British and Australian prisoners. They suffered in agony in their first year of captivity under notoriously inhuman conditions, but much worse was to come through forced marches of January, March and June 1945. Allied bombardments caused the Japanese to relocate the POW camp to inland Ranau, 260 km away. All the prisoners, who by then were thinned down to 2504 in numbers, were to be moved, but instead of transport, were forced to march the infamous "Sandakan-Ranau Death March" route. Sickness, disease, exhaustion, thirst, hunger, whipping or shooting of the failed escapees killed their lot except for the six Australians who successfully escaped, were never caught and survived to tell the horrific story of the death march. The fallen of this march are commemorated each year on Anzac Day (Memorial Day) in Australia and in Sandakan, at the original POW campsite where a POW hut style museum and a black marble memorial obelisk monument are exhibited.
When Japan surrendered at the end of the war, North Borneo was governed by the British Military Administration and in 1946 it became a British Crown Colony. The Crown continued to rule North Borneo until on September 16, 1963, North Borneo together with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore formed the Federation of Malaysia and from then on, it became known as Sabah and declared independent from British sovereignty.
Location and Size
Malaysia is on the Malay Peninsula in southeast Asia and its area slightly exceeds that of New Mexico (approx. 127,000 sq. miles). The nation also includes Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo to the east which they share with Indonesia. At a height of 4,436 feet, Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia and the fourth tallest in Southeast Asia. The jungles of Sabah are classified as rainforests and host a diverse array of plant and animal species. Kinabalu National Park was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2000 because of its richness in plant diversity combined with its unique geological, topographical, and climatic conditions.
Located off the southeast coast of Sabah there are three islands which attract divers from across the globe, these are Pulau Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai. In year 2004, the Government of Malaysia ordered all on-site dive and resort operators of Sipadan to move their structures out of the island by 31 December 2004. This move was mainly to conserve a balanced ecosystem for Sipadan and its surrounding reefs. Diving continues to be allowed in Sipadan for divers who are ferried in and out by dive and resort operators from the mainland and surrounding islands. Divers are required to purchase permits to dive Sipadan each day.
A total of approx. 25 million people of which about 3.4 million reside in Sabah.