PADI Open Water Diving Course @Sipadan, Tawau

Have you got your diving license already? If yes, you have made a right choice. If no, let me convince you further. Diving is like living in another world of water for at least 30 minutes. Having fishes and water creatures as your friends. Truly amazing. You are unable to do that in the air unless you have a pair of wings which no one has created it yet. Apart of that, there is a world you may live in which is the space. Virgin Galactic is providing such service which is a space travel. At least US$200,000 will allow you to experience the same 30 minutes walk in the space. Well, who has that much of money right? So stick back to the reality and learn diving today instead!

Learning diving is also about money which maybe more expensive than a driving license. However, here are some guides that I can assured you will spend much more lesser than driving license and you are enjoying doing it. I am trying to provide as detail as possible and you may leave a comment if you do not understand any of my explanations or you have further questions.

You may choose to take the course locally or internationally but always remember to choose PADI since they are worldwide recognized. Of course, there are other organizations who claimed to be worldwide recognized but you do not want to travel to a place where the staff disappoint you by telling you that your license is not been recognized right? As a beginner, you always take the PADI Open Water Course first which allows you to dive up to 18 metres/60 feet deep. Please trust me you do not need any deeper than that because:
1) The visibility will be more difficult
2) There are no colorful fishes beyond that and just some ugly fishes.
3) You will use more oxygen so you will finish your dive faster than usual.
4) Air pressure is getting higher. You may feel uncomfortable when you are back to the ground.

My diving course was taken all by myself in backpacking way. The cheapest way to obtain your diving license is to do your diving course locally at Uncle Chang, Mabul Island, Tawau. As per my last visit in year 2010, the diving course was only RM800. I can guarantee that this is the cheapest diving course you can get locally. From my survey, the average price ranging from RM1300 - RM1600. The diving course includes:
  • Min 3 Days Theory and Practical (no pool practice, all in the sea unlike other dive school)
  • 1 PADI Diving Manual Book
  • Diving License upon completion of the Theory and Practical course.
  • Free diving equipment rental through out the whole practical days 
  • Boat transfer to dive spots
  • Boat transfer between Semporna and Mabul Island
  • Diving spots will be at all famous spots around Mabul Island (2/3 dives per day)
  • No other hidden charges even you planned to opt for more practical days but only to the maximum of 5 days.
You can choose to shorten your learning days for 1/2 day by completing your theory lesson online through PADI's e-learning course. You need to bring your PASSED theory result to the dive school and get a rebate off your total diving course fee between RM100-RM300. Please take note that the e-learning course itself requires a fee of US$125. So you may thinking what for since it is much more expensive? Well, it is optional for you to think between saving your diving cost or your learning duration.

Some people will think it is better to get the license at the local dive school which provides diving lesson in the pool just to avoid spending additional money for travelling and accommodation at the island. If you are one of the person who thinks this way, I will not say you are wrong. From my point of view, I would highly advise you to take the license at the island instead at the pool because the experience is totally different and you are not going to spend a lot anyway for staying at the island especially at Uncle Chang. Just imagine that you are learning your practical lesson with all adorable sea creatures around you. In my last experience, there was a particular Puffer Fish which kept disturbing us when we were practicing. So cute!!!

Let me elaborate further so you can make a better comparison. Below, I will share based on my one person travel expenses to Mabul Island, Tawau. If you are in a team, just divide as many members that you have based on those categories which can be shared among such as airport transfer and accommodation.

1) Air Ticket - Plan ahead with your fellow adventurous and energetic friends on when you all would like make the trip. As you always know that AirAsia always have the RM0 fare ticket, RM0.10 fare ticket or RM1.00 fare ticket. If you take advantage on those promotions, you may only spent a maximum of RM200/person of a return flight ticket KL - Tawau - KL. When I meant maximum means, I can get lower than that where at that time of travel, I only spent less than RM100 for a return ticket. Please take note your travel duration must be at least 5 days 4 nights.

2) Flight Schedule - Choosing the right time of travelling is vital. Two reasons:
  • Minimum 18 hours off water - You will learned about this in your theory lesson but let me tell you briefly on this. Whenever you travel by air, always have a minimum of 18 hours off water from your flight time for resting purpose. The reason you can read more from the manual book but if you do not comply, it WILL cost your life. So take this seriously. Example: If your flight is at 2.00pm, 2nd August 2010, please make sure you are off the water at 8.00pm, 1st August 2010 sharp! Not a second more!
  • Arrival to Semporna: The operation time for boat transfer from Semporna to Mabul Island is only in the morning at 8.00am. For your information there is a maximum of 2 hours distance between Tawau Airport - Semporna dock and it is RM90 per ride (standard rate) but you always can negotiate such as book them for a return airport transfer @RM75-80 per ride. Therefore, it is impossible to get a flight to reach Tawau before 6.00am. So my advice is to get a flight to reach Tawau before 11.00pm. So you can spend a night at Semporna such as Dragon Inn which cost you RM80-RM100 per night with air-con and water heater. You may book the hotel early to avoid the cheapest room from being fully booked. This is to save your money from spending more such as food unless you wish to travel around Semporna city for a day.

3) Accommodation - Since you are taking the diving course at Uncle Chang, so you just stay at Uncle Chang. Very reasonable price which starts from RM60/head/night. It includes:
  • Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Some breads or local kuih-muih for your supper. Refillable water, Milo, Tea, and Coffee are included as well. (Can drinks charged separately)
  • Free snorkeling equipment rental and boat transfer by following other diving team (provided they are still space available in the boat)
4) Dive @Sipadan - If you graduated earlier, you can opt for diving at the beautiful Sipadan Island with your team. Only 120 divers are allowed there daily so permits are required. You may get a chance to see sharks too!!! That is a beautiful island. Trust me. You do not want to miss this chance.

So let's calculate the additional cost that you are about to spend if you are doing this course at the island.

Flight ticket - RM200
*Airport Transfer (Return) - RM160
*Accommodation at Semporna - RM100
Accommodation at Mabul Island (4 nights) - RM240

*Can be shared among your team.

TOTAL: RM700 (maximum per person)

Additional RM700 + RM800 (diving course) which means a total of RM1500 for the whole diving course + travelling. It is still cheaper than other local dive school which provide pool practice which cost at RM1600 right? Hehe...anyway, you still can consider and make the right judgement.

Enough of talking and let's see some pictures!

This is the Dragon Inn entrance where you are going to stay a night here before reporting yourself at Uncle Chang office which is located at the same place. Please report yourself before 8.00am in the next morning so they will know you are travelling with them.
My RM80/night room is fully booked so I am staying in a RM120/night room with air-con.
The bathroom with water heater. But the water you bath will go straight to the sea.
The view of the Dragon Inn at night.
Boat transfer from Semporna to Mabul Island operates only between 8.00am - 9.00am
This is the Uncle Chang's personal boat! We are here!!!
When you arrived, there is a band to welcome you and sing Sipadan theme song! Very nice! You will feel warm and feel like home. Trust me!
Close shot on the drum which is made of buckets!!!
A place for sun-bathing.
That is where the locals stay.
View of the rooms. The rooms are above the sea. You feel a bit "swinging" throughout your whole 4 nights stay.
More local houses.
Beautiful sky - you just have to admit
Sparkling sea water. You won't see this if you have your diving course in the swimming pool, ya' know? Hehe...
Beautiful sunset. Oh my god!!!
I am living in a dream! A total relaxation!
The air is fresh!!! Ahhhh.....
Even the moon there is so round and bright shinning through our night.
They have live band started to sing every Friday, Saturday and Sunday!!! They are great singers. Trust me.
All the singers and staffs are singing Sipadan Theme Song for us - again. For your information, they are all orphans and being adopted by Uncle Chang. 
The man behind all this - "Uncle Chang" sings as well and after that gives his opening speech to welcome all of us.
I do not know what luck I have at that time apart of meeting the live band, my buddy's boyfriend birthday is on that day too. It was planned by his girlfriend and executed by Uncle Chang and staffs before they arrived. NOTE: A buddy which I mentioned here is: During your diving lesson, you will be assigned with a person which is called buddy. A buddy is to assist each other such as one of them is in the situation of runing out of oxygen, your buddy will provide you their oxygen. Please remember: You are not advised to dive alone even the professionals.
Cake fully sponsored by Uncle Chang
That is not all of it! All the rums and beers are on Uncle Chang's too!!! Hooray~~~ Let's get boozy tonight!
Alright, let's get the party started~~~~~~~~~~
The temperature is rising high!!! 
This is the rock singer! He is sweating big time!
Let the temperature increase further everybody!!!
Oh yay!!! That's what I am talking about!
Everybody is dancing on the wooden ground and do not even care if it is going to breakdown!!! 
Emil (France) and Kerry (South Africa) are rocking the wooden dance floor. Both of them are Dive Masters. Everyone was so high including both of them. They jumped into the sea and...and they cannot be found after that. Well, it is an open relationship ok? So chill out~ Note: A Dive Master job is to accompany a team with minimum of two for diving. They are like a tour guide under the water to tell you where the fishes are and where to see more fishes. You must have a dive master to follow you as they have a license for what they are doing to keep you safe.
Hey, don't miss me out! I wanna to rock the dance floor too! Thanks Sabrina for this shot!
Everybody is so high and treated the tub which we use to clean our diving equipment has became their swimming tub!!! The birthday boy has lost control too!
Okay, crazy night was over and I would like to share a place to dine at the Mabul Island. 15 minutes walk from Uncle Chang. This restaurant serves buffet and their dinner buffet operates from 6.00pm - 9.00pm. When we reached there already 8.00pm++. We still go for it and it costs us RM48/pax. 
The design of the restaurant.
Not much food left so the waiter purposely asked their chef to cook a plate of butter prawns for us. Very delicious.
Here we are, enjoying the leftover food from the restaurant just because we are sick of the food at Uncle Chang after being having the same food for 4 nights....arghhhh~~~
That is the restaurant from far. It belongs to another resorts. Very expensive. They are some resorts designed like Minangkabau which cost RM1000++ per night. Wow~~~ 
If you have Advanced Open Water license, you can opt for a night dive at this oil rig. Thousands of fishes available here for you to see. Fishes are more active at night.
My instructor, Jamie from Australia.

From the left: Alex (Germany), Emil (France), Me (Malaysia) and Thomas Kiermaekers (Belgium)
My roommates, Sophie and her boyfriend. Everyone with the maximum of 4 sleeping in one room and share the same bathroom. This is the life of backpacking yo!
Alex's girlfriend, Martina (Germany)
Newly-wed couple cum my classmates: Mik and Jeremy from Holland.
Ok, I am tired but I had fun even I am here all alone which give me an opportunity to meet other peoples from other countries. This experience is just priceless. When we were about to leave the place, they sang Sipadan Theme Song for us again. It made us miss the place even more~
There are things I wish everyone of you to take note:

1) Please do not litter - The locals already spoiling the Mabul Island. I am afraid that one day the pollution will reached Sipadan Island. So if you would like to see the beautiful island, please do it quickly. Can you imagine you can see refrigerator, television and all those stuffs by the beach??? The locals just want to milk as much as they can from the tourists but they did not know they are harming their children's future living. What if the island no longer a tourist spot? What can your children work as at that time? I really disappointed with the locals.

2) Please do not touch the coral reef - I mean seriously, you should know when you touch the coral reef, you are already killing them. I know they are beautiful so let it be and watch from a distance. Be a responsible diver.

3) Stay away from Blue Fin Trigger fish - Becoming a diver, if you think Shark is the greatest threat for a diver, then you are making a grave mistake. Trigger fish is the one you should beware of. They are like wild dogs owning a territory. Just stay away their territory at all cost and you will be fine otherwise they will bite you. You can easily identify the trigger fish by looking at their fin. The way to defend a Trigger fish from chasing you is by turning your body away from the trigger fish and flap your fins.

4) Do not pee in your diving suit - Normally you will be given a wetsuit as your diving suit to keep you warm when you dive. When you pee inside the wetsuit, I can guarantee that people will smell your pee and at that moment you will not just showing your greatest embarrassment but you are also showing how selfish and irresponsible you are.

I would like to apologize that there are no pictures of any ongoing diving activities because I do not have an underwater camera at that point of time. However, now I already bought one for my upcoming Krabi trip. So stay tuned! the way before I forgot, April - October are the best season to travel to Sipadan Island. Other months you will receive a lot of welcoming rains.

Total Damage: RM1500
Freakout Level: 5/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Price: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Will I Revisit?: Yes!

Uncle Chang's Sipadan Mabul Dive Lodge
P.O.Box 37, 91307, Causeway Road,
S.O.T.C, Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia

If you already have a diving license, you may want to check their diving rates

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