Sipidan – world class #scuba #diving? Hope so

Leg #1 of the journey.

Plane, bus, boat, SCUBA

Plane, bus, boat, SCUBA

World class scuba diving? Sipidan, Malaysia had better offer that. I’ll be there in August,

Jacques Cousteau liked it…..

I’ll be staying at the SMART resort on the island of Mabul. Supposed to offer high-end accommodation. The resort has bungalows on the water, but a wee bit out of my price range. I’ll be in a chalet near the beach.

SMART will be my home for a week. In order to dive Sipidan, which restricts the number of divers it allows on site each day to 120, I had to book a certain number of days at a specific hotel room price point. And, that only guarantees one day of actual Sipidan diving. But, there are amazing unrestricted dive sites outside of the restricted area for the rest of the stay.

Costs so far: (not including Vancouver to Kuala Lumpur flight and one night hotel in KL)  = $2497.00 CDN (biggest chunk of the cost)

  • Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau:  225.73 MYR = $75.00 CDN (Yes, I know Air Asia did crash a plane earlier this year. I flew the airline to Bali two years ago. It was great. I’ve also got a flight booked on Malaysia Airlines, which lost two planes in recent years. Not worried).
  • SMART resort 8D-7N: 7207.00 MYR =  $2422.00 CDN
    Package Includes: Transfer between Tawau -­ Semporna Jetty -­ Sipadan-­ Mabul Resort -­ Tawau by van and speedboat, food and  hot beverage while at the resort (excluding alcoholic, fruit juice and carbonated soft drinks). Three boat dives per day with divemaster around Mabul, Kapalai and Si Amil islands including use of tanks with air, weights and weight belt. Unlimited diving at Mabul’s House Reef and 1 Day Sipadan Diving. For someone accustomed to a $30USD a night room in Roatan, Honduras, this is a bit much. At this price point, I likely won’t be able to/want to do this a second time in the future. I’ll be taking pictures and videos so I have lots of memories.

Next week: Tank meets Orangs.

Malaysia-bound: #scuba with #orangutans

Travelling Sabah, Malaysia with bug spray and scuba gear. Oughta be fun.

Travelling to Sabah, Malaysia with bug spray and scuba gear. Oughta be fun.

[Okay, not really. But I’ve been scuba diving with Pandas, so anything is possible!!]

I’ve been making the arrangements for a year. Paying for it since last October. But, this journey has been in my head much longer.

Three years roughly. That’s when my orthodontist and occasional dive buddy mentioned (while tightening my braces – OUCH) a couple of scuba videos he’d watched. One was shot in Layang Layang, part of the Spratly Islands, north of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. The other video was from Sipidan, near Tawau in the Celebes Sea.

By the end of the appointment, they’d been added to the scuba diving bucket list. The plan, originally, was to do both in one visit to Asia in the summer of 2015. Then, life stuff happened and the trip was postponed for a year. Turns out Layang Layang wasn’t going to work. So, Sipidan became the focus. Oh, and since I’m there maybe see some orangutans.

I’ll cost it all out in a future posting – but you can imagine it’s a wee bit costly. A ‘take money out of your saving account for a trip in a lifetime costly’. But, I’ve made a commitment to spending money on life experiences rather than buying stuff. In the end, I’ll have made three payments to the dive company-adventure travel agency I’ve been working with. It’s called Dive Downbelow. Very professional, but having to fax documents between Canada and Malaysia is hellish.

I’ll fly from Vancouver to Kuala Lumpur, with a stop in Taipei. Overnight in KL then fly to Tawau, where I’ll be picked up for a bus ride to Semporna then boat ride to my accommodation and home for one week, the SMART resort on Mabul Island. Check out the maps below.

More about the trip next week.

#Vacation in #Tadjikistan anyone?

Guy in photo

This guy needs a vacation. To a place with cheap beer. Syria? Congo DC?

He may look creepy and menacing under all the Photoshop filtering. But, this is a smart guy. With a great tip on finding an inexpensive place in the world to travel.

Based on the price of a bottle of beer.

Pint Price  (Find out the price of beer before you travel)

According to guy in photo, (, actually) you can determine if a city will be cheap or expensive to visit based on the price of a lager.

I cannot tell you the price of a bottle of beer in Canada. “$8.00?”, I guessed. “WRONG”, guy in photo said, snickering at my ignorance. WTF do I know about beer? Last (and first) sip of beer I had was in the late 1960s in Montreal.

In case you’re wondering, a bottle of beer in Canada costs $4.56, according to Pint Price.

Here’s what you need to know. Beer is pretty cheap in Tadjikistan (.45 CDN), Congo DR (.67 CDN) and in Burkina Faso (.79 CDN). Countries that end with ‘stan’ seem to have among the cheapest beer. It’s .73 CDN in Kazakhstan.

But, in Turkmenistan a bottle of beer will cost you the equivalent of $4.09 CDN. You’ll pay quite a bit less in tourist-friendly (!) Afghanistan where a bottle of beer is $1.74 CDN.

If you’ve got money to burn on beer, head to Greenland. There, you’ll pay $11.00 CDN for a bottle of lager. Iceland seems a bargain at $5.36 CDN. And over in Vatican City – who knew those Catholic dudes were guzzling beer at a cost of $5.86 CDN per bottle?

If you like a bit of danger with your cheap-ish bottle of lager, I recommend a trip to the world’s most dangerous country at the moment. In Syria, you’ll pay $1.58 CDN a bottle.

Even though I don’t drink beer and never will, here’s what a bottle will cost in the destinations I’ll soon visit:

  • Malaysia:  $4.73
  • La Paz, Mexico: $1.87
  • Cozumel, Mexico: $1.87
  • Palau: no listing – maybe there’s no beer there.

Bottoms up my friends. Where ever you decide to park your bottom on vacation.

Currency conversions: $1.24 CDN = $1 USD;    $1.90 CDN = $1 GBP;    $1.37 CDN = $1 EUR

(Sorry, my Canadian keyboard doesn’t make the pound or euro symbols. Or, I’m too dumb to find them.)

Plummeting Canadian dollar = less #travel for this #scuba diver

This is the life.

This is the life. But, I still have to live and eat. Rising cost of living means less travel.

Met a Fort McMurray-based couple on a dive boat in Vancouver recently. Childless. In their 40s. They’d come to Vancouver to scuba dive (top-of-the-line scuba gear) and take in a concert (front row seats and backstage passes to meet the band). An extravagance that was quite a common occurrence for them. They worked hard in Alberta. They bought toys and travelled. When the conversation turned to the plummeting Canadian dollar against the USD, he said, “you can’t stop living just because it’s expensive.”

Okay. But, some of us have to cut back and prioritize when costs rise. Some thoughts on travel, my priorities and how I pay to play:

  • I rarely travel for work. When I do, it’s generally limited to B.C. Any blog postings you see refer to personal travel. To be clear, neither of my employers sends me on scuba diving trips and never will.
  • I work two union jobs. For parts of the year, that means working six days a week.
  • I choose to spend money on travelling instead of things. I’ve come to value experiences more than stuff. With a closet full of quality, well made clothes, boots and handbags, I don’t need any more. Once a committed Holt Renfrew shopper, I now buy the odd thing at Costco.
  • I limit restaurant meals. I bring lunch to work. I rarely buy booze.
  • When I don’t have to drive I walk, run or cycle places. I once ran to a medical appointment at a hospital to avoid paying for parking. The doctor insisted I walk home, though. I ride my bike to Spanish class each Monday night. Even in the pouring rain.
  • I rarely see movies or concerts and I’d never pay to meet the band. Unlike the fellow from Fort McMurray, I have no desire to take a selfie with Ace Frehley. I do free things, like ride my bike.
  • I get the difference between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’. I do, occasionally, mix them up. Can you say, “Venti non-fat latte”?
  • People I’m close with have suffered health problems in recent years. A good reminder we never know how much ‘good health’ time we have left.
  • Taxis? Almost never and only when a flight gets in very late at night. I usually take transit to and from Vancouver International Airport.
  • I have a credit card that gives me Aeroplan points and I charge just about everything. From Starbucks to car insurance. For Costco purchases, I use a card that gives me WestJet miles. Points add up quickly.
Going forward:
  • Until the Canadian dollar rises, I’ll be limiting the amount of travel I do in US dollars. That means cutting back on Mexico and Central America after completing the trips I’ve already booked for later this year. Was considering a month in Costa Rica in 2016 to study Spanish and scuba dive. Probably not going to happen.
  • Flying on points to Asia is looking more appealing. Fairly cheap once you get there. The trick with points is to book the flight when you see it. Don’t wait or it will be gone. This is the reason I had to pay for my flight this summer to Kuala Lumpur. And, the reason I’m diving in La Paz, Mexico instead of Roatan, Honduras in October.
  • I’ll be doing more local scuba diving and less foreign.
  • No more upgrading to business class. An extravagance I can no longer afford. I’m small and don’t need the leg room.

Packing sucks

I’ve written about keeping costs down during trips, with visits to supermarkets instead of restaurants, sleeping in airports and buying airline tickets many months in advance. I scored pretty inexpensive airplane seats to Cozumel for my annual trip in December. Booked them in February.

I’ll continue to take trips but not at the rate possible when the Canadian and US dollars were at par or close to par. This is not a hardship. I’m fortunate and grateful for what I have.

Montreal 2015: Cosmo, Cote St Luc BBQ + Pendellis round two

Street where I grew up in Hampstead, Montreal

Street where I grew up in Hampstead, Montreal.

Off to Montreal this week. Taking my older sister, who hasn’t visited since we moved west in 1976.

We were part of the mass Anglo exodus that left following the 1976 Olympics. Many families parked in Toronto. We didn’t stop until we got to Vancouver.

Montreal is a pretty old city, unlike Vancouver, and the ‘look’ doesn’t seem to change much.

I like that.

The plan is to hang out, see some friends and eat. To visit the same haunts as last year. This time though, not going to do it in one day. That was a idiot move.

Really looking forward to having a Mishmash at Cosmo. More than 1,000 calories and I don’t care. My sister is excited about Cote St Luc BBQ. We have fond childhood memories of the delivery guy pulling up to the house.

My mini Mishmash. YUMMY.

My mini Mishmash. YUMMY.

Huge portions.

Huge portions at Cote St Luc BBQ.

Love this city. Be good to us Air Canada.

“This place is for peasants”: boorish behaviour at SFO @united

We, the peasants, of the United Lounge at San Francisco airport. The peasant in front has two laptops.

We, the peasants, of the United Lounge at San Francisco airport. The peasant in front has two laptops.

I wish I’d had time enough to take a picture of this asshole and his companions. Three (two males, one female. The younger man may have been their servant) boorish travellers, botoxed to an inch of their lives. Wearing the type of travel duds you find in magazines targeting (insecure?) people who identify as sophisticated travellers. You know, the yacht club set.

I first heard, then noticed, the trio when they marched past me in the United Lounge at San Francisco airport. The lounge isn’t opulent, but has comfortable seating and snacks. Staff keeps it tidy and the refreshments replenished – always available to help the spoiled and clueless work the cappuccino machine.

But none of this mattered to the trio. They were looking for a VIP section of the lounge. Where, I guess, they could ogle and be ogled by their kind. Where, I suppose, they could mingle with superior human specimens, without being contaminated by the bottom feeders in the rest of the lounge.

“Is this it?”, the woman barked at the employee busy emptying a trash can. “Is there another section?”

Unhappy with the response, the three turned on their heels and sprinted to the exit.

Heading home to my 'low social rank'.

Raising my coffee cup to low social rank – the coarse, the unsophisticated, the uneducated.

“This place is for peasants,” the older guy remarked on his way out.

Raised by wolves.






Don’t be this guy on #vacation

I’m very naughty. But, we must draw attention to these affronts to humanity.

I expect Santa will deliver a lump of coal to me at the Cozumel dive resort where I’ll be staying on Christmas morning. Or, Krampus will swoop down and carry me away in his sack…to another dive resort, I hope.

Here’s my holiday message. Please, don’t be this guy. Or, don’t let your man be this guy.


This made my eyes bleed. The ugly side of travel.