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Dive Review of Kapalai in
Malaysia/Northeast Borneo

April, 2005, an Instant Reader Report by Laura Todd, CA, USA
Report Number 1715
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Reporter and Travel
Dive Experience
251-500 dives
Where else diving
Indonesia, Palau, Tonga, Fiji, Hawaii, Niue, Tahiti
Closest Airport
Getting There


Dive Conditions

sunny, windy  
calm, currents  
Water Temp
82   to 0    Fahrenheit  
Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility
25   to 100    Feet  
Dive Policy
Dive own profile
Enforced diving restrictions  
45 minute limit  
Nitrox Available?
What I saw
1 or 2 
Whale Sharks
> 2 
Ratings 1 (worst)- 5 (best):
  3 stars
Tropical Fish
5 stars  
Small Critters
  4 stars
Large Fish
3 stars  
Large Pelagics
  3 stars
Underwater Photography  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Subject Matter
4 stars  
Boat Facilities
2 stars
Overall rating for UWP's  
3 stars  
Shore Facilities  
3 stars  
Separate rinse tank on dive dock.  No accomodations at all on boat -
cameras must be held in lap.  
Ratings and Overall Comments  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
5 stars
4 stars
Service and Attitude
4 stars
Environmental Sensitivity  
Dive Operation
3 stars  
Shore Diving  
5 stars  

Overall Rating

Value for $$
5 stars   
4 stars    
Kapalai is an exquisite retreat - the long trip is worth it simply for this
setting.  Everybody gets an overwater bungalow with louvered windows, most
of which swing open completely to better appreciate the fabulous views, a
deck to watch the lagoon from and a gorgeous tiled bathroom with both tub
and shower. Single guests will be assigned a roommate based on gender only
(unless willing to pay a fairly steep single supplement).  The snorkeling
right around the resort is marvelous, with swirls of juvenile fish, needle
fish, feeding shells, clownfish, lionfish and blue spot rays.  It's a good
deal as well, with room, 3 meals and 3 boat dives going for about $150 per
person per day.  Transfers from Tawau airport are also included.  Meals are
communal and good but not fancy.  Coffee, tea, crackers, cookies and a
Tang-like juice available all day.  The bar appeared to have beer only.
Decent gift shop with sundries and some replacement dive gear plus small
library of ID books on site.  The staff was organized and very friendly.  A
warning for my fellow Dramamine queens: the sea around Kapalai is mostly
calm but when the wind picks up, your little bunglaow can really get to
moving on its stilts.  The only thing that marred the hotel side of the
experience was construction noise.  They are expanding now that
accomodations on nearby Sipadan are closed.  The dive operation is
concentrating on Sipadan almost exclusively.  Every morning there is a 2
tank trip to the island, about 20 minutes away.  Diving can be crowded,
with at least 3 other companies sending several boats each at the same
time.  The dives were satisfying, with several truly stunning bait balls. 
If you are mellow, the huge swirls of jacks, etc. will part to let you in
the center - pretty fabulous.  Don't worry about planning your trip around
the July/Aug turtle season - we saw at least 6 on every dive, all very
close, not shy at all.  Also mating turtles on the surface.  Many white tip
sharks.  A few people saw distant hammerheads.  A couple leopard sharks. 
Nice small tropicals.  The emphasis on Sipadan means that there is only 1
dive per day at Kapalai per day unless you want to do an unguided night
dive.  So there is much less focus on the small exotic critters this area
is known for.  We did see: ornate ghost pipefish, Napoleon snake eel, white
eyed morays, longnose hawkfish, blue ribbon eels, peacock mantis shrimp,
robust ghost pipefish, an assortment of beautiful small crabs and shrimp, a
barrimundi (very shy), a stonefish, and several nudibranchs.  A few nice
flatworms as well, including the gorgeous pseudobiceros with yellow border
about 1/4 inch and magenta center.  Only one frogfish all week.  No
cephalopods at all.  Only one trip to neighboring Mabul in a week.
Unfortunately, there were further disappointments with the dive operation. 
The boats are poorly set up for diving with the tank wells in the bow,
necessitating that staff bring divers their rigs one at a time.  They tend
to put 12-14 divers on the small boats so the gearing up is unpleasant in
choppy seas.  The boats have shade and overhead storage; they are in radio
contact with the resort and carry leftover breakfast goodies but no other
amenities.  They also switch divers from one boat to another once or twice
daily which among other things means you have to carry your weights around
and for another that you never get used to one dive guide, nor they to you.
   For the afternoon dive, they make customers gear up completely, then
walk down a set of uneven steps carrying mask, fins, camera, etc onto the
gunwale of a bobbing boat - not fun.  It's a boat dive with sites 5-15
minutes away = plenty of time to gear up so this approach remains a
puzzlement.  The quality of the guiding varied tremendously; my favorites
were Leto and Andy.  One divemaster picked up a little nudibranch and the
poor thing tumbled down a coral face when he set it down carelessly.  Make
sure to devote some time to topside Malaysia.  It's paradise for anybody
interested in wildlife.  They have primary rainforest, rare rhinos, pygmy
elephants, tremendous assortment of birds, etc.  The famous orangutan
refuge is easy to see.  The travel desk at my hotel arranged a tour with a
private contractor and for the equivalent of $100 I got a customized day of
sightseeing including the only Rafflesia (huge red strange flower) blooming
in all of Sabah that day, lunch and admission to the national park with a
guide whose knowledge of local ecology was truly encyclopedic.  I stayed at
the Beverly while in Kota Kinabalu and can highly recommend it.  It's a
modern business style hotel with some view rooms (Mt. Kinabalu) and a great
breakfast buffet that is included in the very reasonable ($45!!) price. 
The trip was ably arranged by Katie of Reef and Rainforest.  
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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