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  • Thursday, December 20, 2012

    Secret beaches in Malaysia

    In our final Malaysia update of the year, we give you the inside track on where to stay in Malaysia which gives you a little more of paradise away from the crowds. It is definitely worth staying in a place like this if twinning with a dual city break to KL, for example. And beaches in Malaysia have a different kind of Far Eastern elegance to those in the Gulf. We're not saying either are better but they are different and a tropical  holiday is not complete without sandy beaches, the deep blue sea and palm trees. Yes, sun, sea and sand – these are some of the simple components of a great holiday.
    Malaysia is famous for its beaches and most of them are known all over the world: Pulau Tioman, (Pahang), Pulau Langkawi, Turtle Beach and Golden Beach in Similajau National Park … These places are visited by thousands of tourists every year. However, for those who want to get off the beaten track there are some excellent lesser-known beaches in Malaysia – most of which are to be  found on the Malay Peninsula and the islands nearby. These destinations have a number of advantages: lower prices, less people, untouched nature and countless small beaches that you can almost call your own.

    Terengganu is a magic place for sunbathing. Pic: HooLengSiong, Flickr.
    In Terengganu state the Perhentian Islands invite visitors to a real beach paradise. The islands are called Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian) and Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian).  This is a protected area so fishing and collecting coral are prohibited. However, the snorkelling and diving is amazing. There are many great spots for diving and canoeing, and banana boat riding is also available. Also, the beaches have all the facilities: sun shelters, bar and cafes with fresh juice, fish and meat barbeques and very friendly staff.  
    Pangkor island has beaches with nice white sand, coral reefs, and many amazing places for diving and snorkeling. The island is within an easy drive from Kuala Lumpur and has great accommodation options. Here you can find big hotels and kelongs; the choice is up to you. If you feel bored of the beach, then you can go sightseeing to the Dutch fort, visit some fishing villages, Fu Lin Kong Temple, Kali Amman Temple, Pangkor Town or even the neighboring island of Redang, which is famous among divers for its coral reef. Getting here is easy by ferry, which is RM5 per person and departs hourly.

    Diving is a very popular and well developed beach activity in Malaysia. Pic: No Dust, Flickr.
    Pantai Cahaya Bulan, Pantai Bisikan Bayu, Pantai Tok in Kelantan provides great opportunities to discover the local Malaysian culture. Pantai Cahaya Bulan (Moonlight Beach) stretches about 1.2km and is very popular with locals on weekends. Tok Bali is surrounded by azure waters where you can see illuminated fishermen’s boats at night, while Bisikan Bayu has giant trees which look like they are something out of a fairytale. The coastline of the country is undeveloped and the visitors can find a number of wild idyllic beaches here. In the national park of Taman Negara one can see the oldest rainforest on the Earth. Kelantan is famous for its handicrafts, such as kite making, batik, silverware, songket (silk cloth woven with gold or silver threads) and woodcarving. It’s a good spot for shopping and relaxation.
    Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park also offers some amazing beaches. The park is home to islands like Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug. Getting here from the city Kota Kinabalu takes just 15-20 minutes by boat. All five islands have shallow waters, amazing white sandy beaches and coral gardens with a great variety of marine life. The biggest island Pulau Gaya is covered by dense jungle forest where the locals live in houses built along the coastline. Visitors of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park have a chance to imagine how the first Europeans felt in the rainforests of Malaysia while hiking on 20km long tracks. At the same time the island has modern facilities and good accommodation. The beach located in Police Bay is the best on the island. It’s a 400m long line of fine white sand with shallow crystal sea that is perfect for swimming.

    Manukan island is one of five ones composing Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Pic: amrufm, Flickr.
    The best time to visit Malaysia is April to September, as there are monsoon rains from November to March on the east coast and from September to December on the west coast. So  it is time to plan now. Sometimes you get lucky during New Years Eve and tickets from Dubai or Abu Dhabi are always good value. Enjoy!

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    Malaysia's Best Dive Sites

    An update for those looking for a new year's break (yes, we know we are obsessed with Malaysia, but it is a great place to visit from the Gulf) Diving is not something you can really do in the UAE, although other parts of the Gulf like Oman offer some options.  Malaysia's waters, however, are a gateway into the unknown, where those who are moved enough to embark on its adventures can descend to explore biodiversity’s most intimate secrets.
    From beginners to regular weekend enthusiasts, Malaysia has endless diving locations to choose from. The best diving site really just depends on the type of experience you’re looking for.
    For those who’ve never dived before, don’t worry, Malaysia is non discriminatory and welcomes all to her scuba heart.

    A diver descends. Pic: Waltermera182/Wikimedia Commons

    Redang Island
    On just about any beach in Malaysia you can learn how to dive, but Redang Island is a particularly good choice for beginners who just want to try it without getting certified.
    Most resorts have dive centers offering ‘discovery dives’ for non-experienced divers. Here you can get a ‘crash course’ in diving basics and embark on an up to 1- hour shallow dive for around RM150 (US $49).
    If you have more time and cash most will argue the Open Water Certification is the way to go. During this 3-5 day period you learn diving basics including safety, breathing techniques and equipment familiarization.
    First, you’ll practice in shallow waters and progress as your confidence increases. By your last day you’ll be diving up to 18 meters deep.
    Because of the thorough training, Open Water certifications are typically more expensive, costing between RM800 – RM950 (US$258 – $306), but people who’ve done it will argue it’s worth every penny.
    The Perhentian Islands
    When Stephanie Pizzo, an English teacher living and working in Seoul, South Korea, talks about the time she recently spent diving and calling the sands of the Perhentian Islands home, it sounds like a scene from the movie The Beach.
    She said the islands have a relaxed atmosphere with easy-going travelers and families who want to make paradise home for a while.
    Pizzo originally planned to be there to dive and then travel to Tioman for a yoga retreat, but she gladly gave up her yoga deposit to finish her three-week vacation on Long Beach.
    “Between the beauty of the island, the people there and the diving I just couldn’t pull myself away,” she said.
    And who would blame her?
    These two islands of paradise, Kecil (the smaller one) and Besar, located off the northeastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, are known for their shallow turquoise blue waters, abundant marine life – including tiny psychedelic organisms called nudibranchs – and wreck diving; a spectrum ranging from beginner to advanced levels.
    Pizzo recommends two dive shops – Matahari Divers and Turtle Bay Divers.
    Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil. Pic: Stephanie Pizzo/Facebook
    Kota Kinabalu
    About 31 miles off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah, Borneo, sits the final resting place of three WWII Japanese merchant tankers torpedoed and sunk by USS Dace on October 14, 1944.
    These sites, collectively called the ‘The Usukan Bay Wrecks,’ present divers with a unique mix of exploring mysteries of the past, while also observing vividly colored and complex marine inhabitants that call these decaying artifacts home.
    Among the abundance of soft and hard coral reefs on the ships are a variety of marine life including giant grouper, yellowtails, barracudas, snappers, nurse sharks, tunas, and rays.
    Because depth sites are around 26m – 40m (85ft – 131ft), one must have at least an Advanced Open Water Certification to dive. Companies that can assist in diving packages include Discover Borneo and Borneo Dream.
    Mabul Island
    This small, white-sanded fishing village off the southeastern coast of Borneo is known throughout the world as one of the best ‘Muck Diving’ diving sites.
    Muck Diving gets its name from the muddy or ‘mucky’ environment found in that area. You might ask why anyone would want to dive in subpar visibility, but the muck creates a haven for unusual and exotic looking organisms, such as the vibrant extra-terrestrial looking nudibranches, flamboyant cuttlefish, anglerfish, shrimp, blue-ringed octopus, pygmy seahorses, garden eels, frogfish and more.
    The shallow depth ranges make this an ideal location for beginners but many advanced, particularly underwater photographers, can be found due to its curious marine life.
    Nudibranch Pic: Jens Peterson/Wikimedia Commons
    Sipadan Island
    Out of all the locations in the world one could dive, The Guardian ranks Sipadan Island #8 while for CNNGo it is #1.
    The tiny (approximately 200 meters in width) oceanic island in the Indo-Pacific basin is the epitome of evolutionary design, exemplifying an array of rich marine habitats.
    With crystal clear waters, sea turtles, colorful fish and unique coral formations there’s a diverse platter of experiences, plus those who are experienced and on the explorative side will love the Wall Diving – vertical walls that extend deep into the ocean, created from rocks and reefs.
    While there are shallower wall dives, the more seasoned divers can descend deep into the abyss.

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    Wednesday, December 12, 2012

    Low taxes in Abu Dhabi - Funny

    Jobs in Abu Dhabi have become topical that they are now being referred to in every day conversation. This skit - a parody of Gotye - Somebody I used to Know is called - "Some recruiter I used to know." For those of you looking for a new job in 2013, good luck! In the mean time, enjoy this hilarious video. You'll know this kind of recruiter! Listen out at 1:39

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