My Top 5 Underrated Kuala Lumpur Attractions

I’m taking a break from my trip to Mexico to continue chronicling my epic adventures throughout Southeast Asia last summer! I picked Malaysia because the country was not even on my radar until I was invited to dive in Tioman. So it was during two stopovers of that journey that I was hit by a slew of surprises. This is why I’m introducing you to my top 5 underrated Kuala Lumpur attractions and travel tips today ūüėÄ

My Top Underrated Kuala Lumpur Attractions and Tips

underrated Kuala Lumpur attractions, Skybar

Another underrated Kuala Lumpur spot Couchsurfers introduced me to? The best viewpoint to see the Petronas Towers: Skybar at Traders Hotel!

1. Kuala Lumpur’s Couchsurfing community: even if you booked a hotel

I may be obsessed with Couchsurfing, but on my first stopover I just wanted to meet up and have my own space. This is why I used Traveloka.com to book my hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

I loved using the site to book hotels while living in ASEAN for two main reasons. Firstly, I was able to pay with my American debit card for no additional charge. This was great because my bank Charles Schwab has no foreign transaction fees. Secondly, Traveloka has no booking fees.

Once settled, I contacted local Couchsurfers (CSers), who encouraged me to join their wildly-popular Friday meetup.

underrated Kuala Lumpur attractions, Couchsurfing

Couchsurfer Lucienne and I exploring colorful Kuala Lumpur market summer 2015

Kuala Lumpur’s Couchsurfing (KL CS) group is a big tight family where locals, expats, and travelers passing by get together weekly. We ate deliciously-cheap Indian food, then went club hopping.

The KL CS community is huge by the way. I even got free rides from one of the locals!

So great is the vibe of KL¬†CSers that I pulled an all-nighter hanging out with them ūüėÄ Heck, one of the girls even explored the city the next day with me and came to visit me in Tampa, Florida¬†earlier this year!

top Kuala Lumpur attractions, Islamic Museum

2. Visit the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia for unique Muslim world POV

As you know, I have lived in three different Muslim-majority countries and have a deep appreciation for their art. So imagine my reaction when I found some of the finest collections linking Egyptians, Moroccans, Indonesians, and other peoples of the Islamic world!

Opened in 1998, the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) intricately weaves together centuries of Islamic culture in a variety of rotating and permanent exhibitions.

Traditional clothing, jewelry, artworks, complete room replicas and architectural models from dozens of countries are impeccably curated throughout 30,000 sq meters.

While I only spent half a day here due to another brief stopover, I would have happily spent on entire day prancing along the museum’s 12 galleries.

Easily reachable by metro and a pleasant (Google maps!) walk from the center, IAMM is on Jalan Lembah Perdana 50480. Still lost? Just ask where the National Mosque is — the Museum is right next door.

off-the-beaten-path Kuala Lumpur attractions, MUD

3. Learn more about Malaysian history with MUD

MUD may be popular among family travelers, yet barely on the radar of solo travelers in Kuala Lumpur.

This musical about Malaysian history follows the lives of three friends as they migrate to Kuala Lumpur seeking better lives.

Through songs and colorful costumes, the story gives the audience an entertaining introduction to the melting pot that makes up the modern nation of Malaysia. You can’t miss it!

unique things to see in Kuala Lumpur, skyline

4. Take in KLCC’s skyline: it’s free!

Got your tickets for an evening showing of MUD? Wake up early that day in order to explore other interesting parts of Kuala Lumpur’s City Centre District (KLCC).

Take in the mix of contemporary, British colonial, and Mughal designs that make the city’s skyline beautifully photogenic. Highlights include the 100-meter-high Menara KL; the (Islamic govt bldg?).

Midday, head to shady KLCC Park for a picnic–another option to save money. The 202,343-sq-meter oasis hosts a big dancing fountain at Lake Symphony; waterfalls; and approximately 1,900 trees and plants.

Can’t abandon the #fitfam? They got a 1.3-kilometer track to break a sweat at as well.

off-the-beaten-path Kuala Lumpur attractions, Aquaria

Off-the-beaten-path Kuala Lumpur attraction: off-the-beaten-path Kuala Lumpur attractions, Aquaria by SAM Cheong, cc-by-sa-2.0

5. Dive into Aquaria

Other underrated Kuala Lumpur attractions in KLCC include Aquaria, a complex aquarium like no other.

Highlands, jungle, and coral reef ecosystems flourish here, interconnected by walk-through tunnels.

The highlight at Aquaria though is the giant tank that holds a 90-meter-long shipwreck replica. You can even explore it with a moving travelator!

To fill your belly, I recommend you go off-the-eaten-track with one of Food Tour Malaysia food crawls. I was surprised by the variety of cuisines delicious dishes Kuala Lumpur has to offer as well.

Like this Kuala Lumpur mini guide? PIN IT below!

Underrated Kuala Lumpur Attractions Guide

Got other underrated Kuala Lumpur attractions & tips? Comment below!

 

My Seaventures: Livin’ on a Rig in Borneo [Photo Essay + Video]

ocean views from dive rig in Borneo, Malaysia

Already enchanted by the Malaysian Borneo, I was swept away from Mabul Island¬†to the quirky Seaventures Dive Rig. There, I was given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore Sipadan and other stunning sites in the area for a second time–in the same week. I couldn’t believe it!

My biggest surprise, though? The dive rig itself became a top highlight of my entire week¬†in Borneo. Even more so than some of the dive sites! Continue reading to find out why ūüėČ

Seaventures, Malaysia: Livin’ on a Rig in Borneo

Imagine living on a converted oil rig: a floating platform over the ocean where 20% of the world’s coral reefs thrive.

Gasp.

The story of Seaventures is even more fascinating than that, though. For starters, the dive rig was actually built in PANAMA, Central America.

For a few tours, it was used to accommodate workers as an oil and gas rig – being towed from assignment to assignment.

sunset, Malaysian Borneo dive rig

But its career ended in 1985, when it was sent to a shipyard in Singapore Рand nearly forgotten.

And theeeeeeeeen…the former¬†Chief Minister of Sabah stumbled upon it and had the brilliant idea to converting it into¬†a¬†dive resort.

What he didn’t know at¬†the time is that¬†the structure would actually morph into one of the finest artificial¬†reefs in the region.

Ecotourism at its finest!

Inside the Dive Rig

Borneo dive rig deck

I was converted: staying on a dive rig was even cooler than staying on an overwater bungalow.

Yes, really.

I felt as if I were aboard a cruise ship, actually¬†— but no sea¬†sickness. Ever.

And, contrary to initial belief, I had a greater sense of freedom and space.

inside dive rig resort, Malaysia

From such heights, I could fully appreciate how gorgeous the Malaysian Borneo is.

Everywhere I went, expansive ocean vistas followed me.

I could see villagers going about their business. Kids splashing by fishing boats, too.

I even saw turtles and shoals of fish from the freakin’ sundeck!

dive rig oceanview

Daily afternoon boat trips were offered to a village in Mabul Island. However,¬†I loved the Seaventures Dive Rig so much I never wanted to spend every precious second on it–except when it was time to DIVE!

Diving in Sipadan ONE. More. Time

Despite an impending storm, Sipadan still shone. In fact, the stark contrast of gray clouds and bright aqua¬†waters further deepened the island’s imprint on my heart.

Sadly, I didn’t encounter the resident barracuda vortex¬†again….

Sipadan barracuda vortex, Borneo Malaysia

Sipadan barracuda vortex by Seaventures Dive Rig team

Visibility was negatively affected, too…

…BUT! The waters still looked pristine.

Sipadan beach, Borneo Malaysia

AND I managed to spot several sharks and other fantastic marine life.

Barrel sponge coral spawning. A turtle threesome (they were really doing it, I mean mating). Silver tip, white tip and gray reef sharks.

LOTS of them. Lots of them all!

diving in Sipadan, sea turtle

adorable sea turtle in Sipadan by Jonathan Sanchez

More Surprises in Mabul

Seeing Mabul’s tiny,¬†camouflaged¬†residents again was another treat.

Several cuttlefish, my favorite juvenile yellow box fish, ribbon eels, scorpion fish, pygmy seahorses, and the most gigantic crocodile fish ever!

And the star of the show: a peacock mantis shrimp being attacked by a fish.

I squealed so hard underwater, I scared both critters away. Hahaha!

Luckily, I spotted¬†many others ūüėČ

pygmy seahorses, Mabul island

find the pygmy seahorse! Photo by Seaventures manager Jonathan Sanchez

And some of¬†the fattest nudibranches I’ve¬†seen in my life:

fat nudibranch, Seaventures house reef

Seaventures House Reef

Shockingly though, the best dives during my stay at Seaventures were the ones at their very own house reef!

The artificial reefs under the rig have attracted an incredible variety of residents: from elusive red orange/blue flamboyant cuttlefish and juvenile yellow box fish to large schools of Chevron barracuda and yellowtail trevally.

yellowtail trevally shoal, Malaysian Borneo diving

And the night dives there? Unparalleled!

Massive bumphead parrot fishes, moray eels, pipefish, tiny baby octopuses. Ah!

Borneo night dive, octopus cuttlefish

crazy front view of colorful cuttlefish on a night dive by Jonathan Sanchez

But the fooooood

Oh gosh, and the food?

Spicy fish curries. Grilled lamb shanks. Deviled eggs. Sweet and sour tofu.

And a seemingly-endless supply of top-notch pastries, ice cream, and cookies.

dive rig barbecue night

Drool.

It all tastes even better during BBQ night, with a side of live music!

Why, oh why am I back to America? Take me back to Malaysia, please!

Seaventures dive rig

Dive rig resort photo by Jonathan Sanchez

Many thanks to Melinda, Jonathan, and the fantastic staff at Seaventures Dive Rig for such an unforgettable stay.

*Even though it was comped, I was not given any payment for positive reviews. This photo essay truly reflects my experience in the Malaysian Borneo.

I can’t wait to go back there and pay¬†every single penny it’s worth!

Overwater Tiki Huts, Bizarre Creatures: My Borneo Malaysia Getaway

Borneo Malaysia sunset, Mabul

It’s not every day check-in happens¬†inside an overwater tiki hut ‘office,’ overlooking green turquoise seas. Diving in Borneo Malaysia has been a dream of mine ever since I first heard about the region’s¬†crown jewel, Sipadan Island.

Yet, this unexpected welcome to Sabah was more than icing on the cake: it was a firecracker that further aroused the butterflies already filling my tummy.

Post check-in, the Borneo Divers Resort staff whisked me away in a fun boat ride to what would be my home in Mabul Island for the next four days.

Malaysian Borneo resort, Borneo Divers deck

My Borneo Malaysia Getaway: Mabul, Kapalai, and Sipadan

I was so busy dreaming about Sipadan, I didn’t even realize the underwater gems that awaited at¬†Mabul and Kapalai. A rich mix of coral, reef fish, and even macro life was like a belated birthday gift to me.

After falling in love with muck diving in Lembeh Strait, this was bound to be yet another unforgettable diving getaway.

The GOLDEN Triangle

Also known as the “Amazon of the Seas,” the¬†Coral Triangle¬†is home to¬†20% of the world’s reef species.

In other words, it is the global epicenter of marine biodiversity.

Within such triangle is a smaller one, known as The Golden Triangle. It comprises three islands: Mabul, Kapalai, and Sipadan.

Malaysian Borneo coral, Mabul Island

Borneo Divers Resort AND Mabul Island

Arrival to my resort alone was memorable enough. Huge corals outcropped the crystal clear waters, while thousands of glassfish surrounded the long jetty.

Before I splashed into the water though, I explored the grounds and captured a gorgeous sunset.

Loungers sprinkled throughout an expansive deck. Wooden bungalows with French doors and windows. Dreamy beds and hardwood floors. Towering ceilings in the dining hall.

Borneo Divers Resort pool area

It felt as if I was in Bora Bora or some other expensive resort in the South Pacific. But no: this was a moderately-priced hotel in Malaysian Borneo, amid the Coral Triangle.

Then, a¬†night dive¬†at Paradise 2: Borneo Diver Mabul Resort’s¬†house reef.

Wow.

Dozens of clown fish, flounders, flathead crocodile fishes, batfish, needle¬†fish,¬†moray eels–you name it! All teeming thanks to a beautiful mix of natural and artificial reefs.

Mabul island sunset, Sabah, Borneo

After¬†four¬†days of underwater adventures, I discovered what’s so special about Mabul Island: it is full of both colorful¬†wall¬†dives and macro¬†diving.

While mostly tiny creatures thrive here, you are as likely to spot both a¬†tiny and giant cuttlefish, incredibly-huge school of yellowtail trevally,¬†sea¬†turtles, and¬†a¬†fat Pikachu nudibranch–all in¬†the same afternoon.

Borneo diving, Mabul Island

giant cuttlefish spotted by Borneo Divers Mabul Island Resort team

Kapalai

Kapalai is not an actual island, but a sandbar where another resort on stilts sprawls graciously amid 28 dive sites.

Shallow seas surrounded by luxurious overwater¬†bungalows: again, you’ll be questioning¬†whether you’re somewhere in the South Pacific!

Ugly, yet fascinating critters such as blue rings octopuses, ghost pipefish, and even leaf scorpion fish inhabit here.

Spider crabs, Titan triggerfish, juvenile¬†frogfish–even MATING Mandarin¬†fish as well!

Kapalai diving in Borneo

SIPADAN

Then, the moment of truth: with permit secured, I was allowed to finally visit a diver’s¬†wet dream.

SIPADAN. ISLAND.

It only took me one immersion to finally meet the legendary barracuda tornado.

A shoal of thousands of them, spiraling around me.

It is, quite likely, the most amazing thing I’ll ever see in the seas.

Borneo Sabah diving, barracuda shoal

barracuda shoal by Borneo Divers Mabul Island Resort

(except of course, a meeting with a Great White or school of whale sharks :D)

Sipadan Island took my breath away before I even went under, though. It is a virgin, protected island–caressed¬†by the purest aqua¬†waters.

Venture a few meters away from the dedicated surface interval hut and you will be hunted down by local authorities!

It was really, really hard not to…

Sipadan Island Beach Borneo

As a Borneo Divers Mabul Island Resort guest, though, I got to dive in Sipadan four times in one day with my permit. Squee!

So no time to get lost around the island ūüėČ

Back to the diving: just barracudas, barracudas everywhere. Add to that dozens of turtles, several schools of white tip sharks, giant bumphead parrotfish, dog tooth tunas, and even nudibranches laying eggs!

bump head parrotfish, Sabah diving

school of bumphead parrotfish another species by Borneo Divers

While visibility wasn’t¬†the best¬†during my visit due to a passing storm (10-15 meters¬†max.), Sipadan’s marine life still was what divers’ dreams are made of.

Ahh, Borneo Malaysia. Your beaches, your marine life, your food, your people. I will never forget you!

Have you been to Borneo? What was your experience like?

Terima kasih banyak to the team at Borneo Divers for such an unforgettable getaway, free of charge. I was not paid for positive reviews, however. Malaysian Borneo is as magical as these photos and video depict <3

Malaysia Foodie Guide: My Top 15 Dishes + Where to Eat Them

Honestly? I didn‚Äôt think a ‚ÄúMalaysia foodie tour‚ÄĚ would be that interesting. It‚Äôs crazy to think I almost give Malay cuisine¬†a miss, thinking it would be a more ‚ÄúWesternized‚ÄĚ version of other Southeast Asian countries’.

How ignorant was I?! Seriously.

Malaysia foodie guide, fried noodles

fried Malaysian noodles by Alpha, Flickr

The Malay Peninsula has been not only a strategic global trade center, but also a melting pot and asylum of foreign cultures for thousands of years. Chinese, Indians, Arabs, and Javanese are among the many ethnic groups that make the country a fascinating smorgasbord for foodies.

For this reason, I’ll introduce you to the delectable buffet of exotic dishes and spices Malaysia has to offer today. Below, my top 15 must-try dishes and spots in Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown, Penang.

Malaysia Foodie Guide: My Top 15 and Where to Eat Them

Malaysia foodie guide, banana leaf meal

Indian-Malaysian banana leaf meal by Sham Hardy, Flickr

Char Mee

Kim Lian Kee: 49 Jl. Petaling, by Hong Leong Bank, Kuala Lumpur. Dinner only.

This is one of the most popular hawker foods in Malaysia. The thick noodles are cooked in rich duck soy sauce with cabbage, then sprinkled with crunchy pork lard. Sound and look gross, but those crisp lard bits are the BEST part.

I tried the weird-looking concoction¬†during a Kuala Lumpur off-the-eaten-path¬†tour. Seriously, if it weren’t for the encouragement and knowledge of our guide, I don’t think I¬†would have eaten¬†what seemed to be fried black¬†rat tails…!

You can’t blame me though: Southeast Asia is infamous for weird¬†food! Thankfully, the dish was¬†finger-licking-licious.

While the noodles are also known as Hokkien mee in Kuala Lumpur, I call them char mee here to differentiate them from the Penang curry soup variety (coming up later on this post!).

Malaysia foodie guide, hokkien char mee KL

Penang Rojak

Macallum Street Hock Seng Rojak: Gat Lebuh Cecil, Penang. Closed Mon.

Speaking of weird¬†food, rojak¬†is another one for the Malaysian foodie books. Meaning “mixture” in Malay, this traditional dish is¬†a savory-sweet fruit salad.

Penang style mixes the tart flavors of green apples, raw mangoes with sweet honey and guava. They even add squid fritters! The hearty garnish? A thick, toffee-like peanut-prawn sauce.

Unlike other traditional rojaks, Penang rojak does not include fried tofu or bean sprouts.

Malaysia foodie guide, rojak

Photo by Alpha, Flickr

Assam Laksa

Kim’s Laksa: T-junction of Jl. Tun Sardon &¬†Jl. Balik Pulau.¬†Closed Tue., Wed.

Penang’s signature¬†dish¬†was¬†ranked number 7 in CNN’s “World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods” in 2011. Start with a tangy, boned mackerel¬†fish¬†broth spiced up with chilies, tamarind, and lemongrass. Then, add¬†a good dose of¬†thick rice vermicelli,¬†cucumbers, lettuce, sliced onions, mint leaves, ginger flower buds, and a dollop of prawn paste.

Not one of my personal favorites, but a Malaysia foodie guide isn’t complete without it!

Malaysia foodie guide, asam laksa

Penang Hokkien Prawn Mee

Seng Lee Coffee Shop: 270 Jalan Burma, Georgetown. Closed Mon.

While there are several types of Hokkien mee, the soup kind served in Penang is my favorite. Base ingredients include yellow noodles, rice vermicelli, prawns, pork, bean sprouts, water spinach, fried shallots, and a boiled egg cooked inside a spicy broth.

Add to that a spoonful of fried chili paste when served and you have a sweet, savory, fragrant, complex curry bowl.

While you can also get some of the best Hokkien mee in Kuala Lumpur (at Kim Lian Kee, Petaling Street Market), I gave it a try during a belly-busting Penang food tour.

Penang Hokkien Mee, Malaysia foodie guide

Photo by Jonathan Ooi, Flickr

Curry Mee

Tua Pui Curry Mee: 23 Lebuh Kimberley, Georgetown. Closed Wed.

Also known as curry laksa in southern Malaysia, the spicy curry noodle soup is another Penang favorite.

Sounds familiar? You’re not reading¬†double! This dish¬†differentiates itself from the aforementioned Hokkien Mee by adding rich coconut milk and cuttlefish (or shrimp) to the mix.¬†And¬†coagulated blood. And blood cockles. ūüėÄ

Rich, flavorful¬†and–shockingly enough–couldn’t¬†taste the blood!

Malaysia foodie guide, curry mee

Nasi Kandar

Kapitan or Kassim Mustafa: Lebuh Chulia, Georgetown. Both 24 hours!

Think of it as a tasting of Indian-Muslim cuisine in Malaysia. It works like this:¬†go to a buffet-style eatery and pick your sides. Uninitiated? Order¬†“kari campur” — literally meaning ‘mixed curry’ in Bahasa Melayu. This will allow you to taste¬†the best curries in the house.

It can be anything from lamb, squid, beef, fish, chicken, or even fish roe and crab curries! With a side of veggies, of course.

Malaysia foodie guide, nasi kandar

Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak Tanglin: Kompleks Makan Tanglin, Kuala Lumpur. Breakfast only.

Coconut-milk-infused fragrant rice surrounded by a¬†main protein, anchovies, a¬†boiled egg, peanuts, and spicy prawn sauce (the infamous sambal). As simple as¬†“fat rice” is, it is one of Malaysia’s most traditional dishes.

Proteins can be anything from spicy fish, spicy squid, fried chicken, fried fish, chicken or beef rendang. Possibilities are pretty much endless. You could eat a different type of nasi lemak everyday of your Malaysian holiday without getting bored.

nasi lemak, Malaysia foodie guide

Photo by Alpha, Flickr

Air Tebu

any cart you stumble upon will fill the sweet tooth!

All the spicy food made me crave a sweet refreshment. One of my favorite traditional Malaysian drinks is the sweet sugarcane nectar juice known as air tebu.

Spot a cart in a busy market by looking for the big sugarcane grinder pictured below. Good luck! ūüėČ

air tebu, Malaysia foodie guide

air tebu is also found in Indonesia, as pictured here by Gunawan Kartapranata, CC

Char koay teow

Kafe Ping Hooi: Lebuh Carnarvon and Lebuh Melayu, Georgetown

Literally meaning “stir-fried rice cake strips,” this¬†noodle dish is famous not only in Malaysia, but also in neighboring countries Indonesia, Singapore, and even Brunei. Of Chinese roots, char koay teow used to be a¬†working class’ dish, but is now¬†a favorite among all Malaysians, including Muslim communities with their halal versions.

Common ingredients include prawns, eggs, deshelled cockles, chilies, Chinese chives, and bean sprouts stir-fried in soy sauce at high heat.

fried Malay-Chinese noodles

Photo by Ben Lee, Flickr

Penang Popiah

Padang Brown Food Court, Dato Keramat Stalls, Georgetown. Lunch for crab!

Meaning “thin wafer” in the Teochew and Hokkien dialects, these big Malay-Chinese¬†spring rolls are the most unique I’ve ever tasted. Turnips, egg, carrots, tofu, lettuce, spicy and¬†sweet sauces make for an interesting flavor¬†profile.

Want them ultra¬†special?¬†Search for stalls that make their own “secret sauce” in addition to adding premium ingredients such as crab or shiitake mushrooms.¬†In fact, don’t even think about ordering other than the crab popiah at Padang Brown!

Malaysia foodie guide, popiah

Roti Canai

Valentine Roti: Stor No. 1, Jl Semarak, Kuala Lumpur

Another Malaysia foodie favorite is the Indian-Muslim flatbread. It’s like a cross between a Danish pastry and a Greek flatbread.

Roti canai’s fluffy, buttery¬†softness pairs wonderfully with the spicy curries served alongside it.¬†You can find¬†it¬†for as cheap as one¬†Malaysian ringgit, making the traditional snack¬†a backpacker favorite.

Malaysia foodie guide, roti canai

Hakcipta Mohamed Yosri Mohamed Yong, Creative Commons

Thosai Roti Tisu

Kayu Nasi Kandar: Jalan PJU 1/43, Aman Suria, Petaling Jaya, KL vicinity

The thinner version of roti canai is basically the Indian-Malay version of the French crêpe. While it is sometimes paired with curries, roti tisu is mostly served as dessert, covered in either sugar, jam or ice cream.

roti tisu, Malaysia foodie guide

Kuih Bom

try from any street cart serving them fresh, Kuala Lumpur or Georgetown

This uniquely-Chinese dessert traveled to the Malay Peninsula with migrants looking for work. The sweet sesame balls, known as jin deui in the mainland, are traditionally made with glutinous rice and stuffed with lotus or bean paste.

In Malaysia however, common kuih bom stuffing is either ground nuts or shredded coconut. Make sure you get them hot and fresh!

Malaysian foodie guide, sesame ball kuih bom

Apam Balik

Head stall at the Petaling Street Market: Jl Petaling, Kuala Lumpur

It’s actually a Southeast Asian¬†take on a taco, but somehow made it as a heritage Malay food in the eyes of the Malaysian Department of National Heritage. It can be as thin as a cr√™pe or as thick as a¬†cake! Flavors are¬†generally sweet, but¬†can also be savory such as the ham, hot dog, and beef floss varieties.¬†

apam balik, Malaysia foodie guide

Malaysia foodie guide, sweet snacks

Cendol

Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul: Lebuh Keng Kwee, Georgetown

Closing my introductory¬†Malay foodie guide is the country’s¬†flagship dessert. The exotic delicacy is made of shaved ice, green rice flour¬†jelly noodles (infused with the aromatic herb pandan),¬†red beans topped with palm sugar syrup… Oh, and a good helping of fresh coconut milk!

Gulp.

I could have done without the beans and al dente jelly noodles, but all in all, cendol is a refreshing dessert you must try at least once.

Malaysia foodie guide, cendol

Have you tried Malaysian cuisine? List your favorites below!

Pushing Past My Fears by Becoming a Rescue Diver in Tioman

Rescue Diver course in Tioman, responsive

Unresponsive diver was almost¬†twice my size. I’m tiny: about 108 lbs (~47 kilos); 5 feet, 4 inches (165 cm) at most. We were in chest-deep water, relatively calm conditions (at least!), but a rocky beach was still ahead of me.

“I have to at least try getting him out. I can’t fail by trying, but by quitting.”

I stopped, took a deep breath, and thought about the different beach exits I had learned the previous day during my Rescue Diver and EFR PADI courses in Tioman as I gave him two full rescue breaths. I knew it would be more than five seconds before I could give him another one, as I had to get him out of the water as soon as possible in order to perform chest compressions (full CPR).

“Dragging him by the arms won’t work: upper body is my weakest point. Piggyback is my only option: at least I’ll be mostly using my legs, my strongest area.”

Rescue Diver course in Tioman, Salang

I swam, then walked closer to shore¬†in order to safely go on my knees without water blocking his¬†airway, but deep enough so I wouldn’t have to deal with his full weight just yet. Then,¬†I carefully placed his arms over my shoulders and slowly tried to stand up…

I struggled. I stumbled down.

I tried again, my legs wobbling as I gradually stacked my body up.

“I’m up, I’m up!” I internally cheered.

I took another, yet more determined breath as I fixated my eyes on the shore, avoiding the rockiest path.

One step. Two steps…

I was still up.

Then, less than five minutes later, there I was: I FREAKIN’ MADE IT. No time for celebration though, time is crucial. I slowly went down on my knees, sliding the diver on the sand. His fall was a bit harder than I would have liked, but at least he was laying down, neck in a safe, neutral position and ready for me to open airway and begin CPR right away.

Rescue Diver course in Tioman, scuba guru

“That was good! Good. Great

Said Scuba Guru Grahame Massicks, as he’s locally known, as he sat down.

“Wow, I never thought I could do that!” I yapped. Grahame responded: “I told you it would be easier than the drag, specially given your size.” It was the final day of the course: he had taught me well.

This was my first time taking a PADI diving course with an independent Master Instructor. While I enjoy taking courses with recognized dive schools, I wanted to try something new in Malaysia.

Rescue Diver course in Tioman, Salang jetty

beautiful views during every immersion, too!

No schools would take me for a Rescue Diver course unless more people signed up.

I went ahead and sent an inquiry to Grahame anyway. While he teaches on-demand, he recommended I take his Nitrox and unique underwater photography course instead. This is when I learned why other schools had turned me down: the more students in a rescue course, the more scenarios to apply your skills in.

Grahame said the Rescue Diver course in Tioman Island was still doable though, even if I was the only diver signed up for those dates. However, we would have get creative.

So what did he do?

He took me in a couple of dives with two of his Open Water course students.

Brilliant.

Rescue Diver course in Tioman, immersion

We actually had some incidents that could have become accidents.

One of his students went on an uncontrolled ascent due to over-inflating his BCD (buoyancy control device); while the second student panicked, having trouble breathing. I was able to put some rescue diver (and even Divemaster) skills to the test, even though I was on a customized, fast-paced, one-on-one course.

It changed my whole perspective about¬†PADI diving¬†courses. I’m sure a¬†larger dive school wouldn’t have provided me the real-world experience and personalized attention¬†Grahame gave me.

Salang Bay’s beauty¬†and Grahame’s 15+¬†years of experience as a dive instructor¬†in Malaysia are some of the¬†top reasons I booked a¬†PADI¬†course with the Scuba Guru in Tioman.¬†I can’t wait to go back to that island and learn from him again.

After seeing his portfolio and accolades (including being semifinalist in several prestigious photo competitions) though? I want to take both of his PADI-approved Distinctive Specialty Courses: Digital Photography Diver and Intermediate Digital Photography Diver. Then, I will finally be able to share high-quality underwater shots with you!

Rescue Diver course in Tioman, Salang beach

Are you a certified diver? Have you ever taken a private diving course?

Special thanks to Grahame¬†Massicks for¬†offering¬†me two¬†diving¬†courses of my choice on a complimentary basis. I was not paid for this article or¬†positive¬†reviews however. As such,¬†this story is an authentic account of my very own¬†experiences.¬†By taking the¬†combo Emergency First Response¬†and¬†Rescue Diver course in Tioman Island,¬†I pushed past many of my fears and perceived limits. It was a very personal, transformative experience and can’t thank Grahame enough for believing in me the whole way.