Easily the best weekend I’ve had in Asia so far! Having successfully followed the ridiculous proceedings to collect my Student Pass (essentially a type of visa) I am now able to come and go from Singapore with ease and took my first steps outside the small country last weekend to go on the NTU Scuba Diving Trip to Pulau Tioman – a small island off the east coast of the Malaysian peninsula!
I’d only dived once before (in Deep Sea World, Fife, courtesy of a brilliant surprise 16th birthday present!) and was very very keen to get onto the trip which I heard about through another Scottish exchange student who was already signed up to go. I’d already missed the essential theory session so was doubtful that I’d get on the trip but decided to contact the organiser anyway. I was lucky and she told me that someone had pulled out and that there was still a space for me….on the condition that I coughed up the $600 that day and watched 5 hours of videos about diving before attending the mandatory 3 hour theory test session that evening. Simply put – it was definitely worth it!
The following Saturday there was a practical training session in the pool to get us accustomed to breathing underwater and managing our gear. With hand signals master, and out-air-procedures practised, our fantastic group was well prepared and more excited than ever to get out into the open water.
Managing to leave work early on Friday, we all met up at the sports centre on campus at 5pm. The organisation was swift with most kit already sorted for us, but in typical Asian fashion, our coach was late and we didn’t get on the road till almost 7. It took all of 15 minutes until we left Singapore and then it was a slow 3.5 hour drive through Malaysia to our ferry, which took a further 3 hours to reach the island. With a quick nibble on some burgers and a glance at our surroundings, we headed to our 8-person huts (2 double beds per room) around 3 am, with alarms set for a 7.30am start!
At 8.30 after some eggs, rice and more rice, we walked down the jetty and hopped back onto to our ferry. Enjoying the morning sun and gorgeous sea, we sat on the open upper deck or at the bow and contemplated the day ahead.
The first dive site was called Tomok – a beautiful bay area with clear blue green waters. I could already see plenty of fish without even stepping off the boat! I’m afraid words really can’t do it justice so I’m just going to have to show lots of photos! We dived down to 5.6m and knelt on the sea bed in order to complete certain aspects of our training that we’d done in the pool. We took lunch back on the island and then came back to the same dive site in the afternoon. The second dive went down to 7 metres and we were under the water for an hour. A Damsel fish got a little territorial and bit my fin and then nipped my leg so I moved out of its way. Our instructor David also messed around with some rubbery pink sea cucumbers but was wise enough to leave the massive black spikey ones alone! Once we surface again, the tanks needed to be refilled so we had some time to ourselves on the boat. My diving buddy, Max, and the majority of my group took a nap, but the scenery was just so beautiful that I didn’t want to sleep. Instead, Mike, Toni and I messed around, jumping/diving from the front boat and swimming in the fish-filled waters.
Our last dive was to 9 metres and we practised some emergency protocols. We surfaced just as the sun was setting and took the boat back to the island to have dinner (more rice!) and fill out our log books.
On Sunday morning we got up at 7am and took the boat to Bakau Bay, a dive site a little further away. This was the final dive we needed to qualify and involved swimming around the reef, keeping our buoyancy controlled with our breathing (and BCD) as we changed depth. We dived down to 15 metres and we under the water for almost an hour, allowing us to spot Star Puffer Fish, lots of Clown Fish (yes I found Nemo) and Gruppa.
Now qualified divers – hurrah! The last two dives of the weekend were definitely the best. Our deepest dive was 17 metres at Kador Bay where we spotted more cuttle fish, and we were able to relax on the boat in the sun between the dives. However, it was our last dive at Renggis Island that provided the best finds – a sleeping trigger fish and two sea turtles! No sharks unfortunately so I guess I’ll have to go diving again soon to spot them!
Before I knew it, the 6 dives of the weekend were complete and we ferried back to Tioman for the last time. Now with permission to drink, we bought beers/wine from the small store on the island and celebrated by a large bonfire. There were even fireworks and chinese lanterns. I took a walk to the end of the pier and a local taught me how to fish using his rod – it was such a surreal and beautiful place.
Monday morning we packed up, I said goodbye to those who were staying longer (jealous), and took the ferry back to the mainland and on to Singapore! Absolutely exhausted, I got back to the campus around 5pm and braced myself for work the next day. Fortunately I won’t have to wait too long until my next trip!
I really hope I get the chance to go diving again whilst I’m here! I’d recommend it to anybody, and Tioman is a particularly beautiful location for it!