In Summer 2019, I spent two months in South East Asia for work and vacation. One of the destinations I travelled to was the Pom Pom Island in East Malaysia where I spent three days and two nights with my friend.
To get there, we caught an early flight from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau, a town in Sabah. It took around 3 hours but it would be quicker if you fly from Kota Kinabalu. The resort pick-up service transferred us from Tawau airport directly to Semporna where we could take a 45-minute speed boat ride to the Pom Pom island.
It seemed like the sea was really connected to the sky and this tranquil view made me feel a sense of calm and relief.
When I saw the small coral reef island as we were approaching, I was so thankful for the gift that nature gave us. You can directly see the bottom of the shoal through the crystal blue seawater. The sea is glittering under the sun just like a giant gem.
After lunch, we started off with our first activity, snorkelling. It was my first time snorkelling so I was totally thrilled. At the same time, I was scared as a swimming novice. I had an unpleasant experience once in high school that I almost drowned in the swimming pool. This fear followed me for years and I always hoped to overcome it.
Arriving at the dock, our snorkelling instructor handed us two life jackets. Even with the life jacket, my heart was pounding like crazy. The instructor taught us how to use a snorkel. He followed us around so I felt safer and more relaxed. I saw numerous marine life that I could barely name them except the cute Nemo family. There was one second that I wish I could be a fish living in this fascinating underwater world.
One of the things I love the most must be the colourful sky, especially at sunset. Nature is a true artist and a magician who can let the colours dance freely on the canvas. I tried not to blink my eyes so frequently to miss any spectacular view. For the rest of the day, we just spent our time strolling along the beach and capturing some picturesque views. Walking on the soft white sand with bare feet, you can still feel the heat from the sun. When the seawater was flapping on your feet, the instant refreshing feeling will run through your body.
On the second day, we assembled at the dock with other travellers at around 8.30 am for our second activity, visiting Timba Timba Island and more snorkelling. Timba Timba was famous for its tail-like sand bar in the middle of the sea. At low tide, the sand bar will expose and you can see the colours of the seawater are different on each side of it.
After stopping by the island, we went for snorkelling in the middle of the sea. Sometimes nature is also like a naughty child. In one minute, it can be a good kid who just rewarded a lollipop but the next minute it can turn into a nerve-wracking troublemaker. The dark clouds were hanging over the sea and the waves became bigger and bigger. Can you imagine snorkelling under such weather condition?
I got nervous and started searching for my friend. She was far away from the majority of the group so I signalled her to get back to us. Plus, I noticed that many people in this group were like me who was a swimming novice, but even if we were excellent swimmers, how could we fight against the powerful nature? As soon as I felt a sense of danger, I quickly asked the lifeguard to get everyone back to the boat before the storm came. Luckily, the pouring rain only started after everyone was back to the boat safely.
When we reached our resort, the rain stopped and the sky started clearing up. In the afternoon, here came to the most challenging activity of this trip, scuba diving. My friend didn’t come along with me this time but it didn’t stop me from trying. I went to the dock alone to meet my personal diving instructor. I was surprised when I found out she was from my hometown. I really admire her because she was so brave and inspirational. She used to work as a yoga instructor but she had a strong passion for scuba diving so she quitted her job to come to this foriegn island to pursue her dream.
I had the guts to jump out of an aircraft for sky diving in 2014. However, this time, the scuba diving didn’t make me feel at ease. In the beginning, I couldn’t descend for more than 3 metres. Surrounding by the cold and dark water, my breath became short and body turned stiff. There were a few times I inhaled water and started drowning. My instructor had to inflate my buoyancy compensator to let me return to the surface. I couldn’t even recall how many times exactly I was going up and down but I knew I struggled for at least 10 minutes. I really appreciate my instructor for being extremely patient with me and kept cheering me up when I was about to give up. Finally, I conquered my fear and got down to 12 metres.
Under the water, one of my hands was holding the regulator the entire time to ensure it didn’t get loose in my mouth. These are the only few pictures that I had from my first scuba diving experience (as I was trying to safe my life the whole time hahaha) but the feeling will be remembered forever.
On our last day, we went to the Mataking Island for some extra snorkelling. Mataking is known for the narrow sand bar connecting two islands, Besar and Kecil. Walking on the sand bar between the islands gives you a feeling of walking on water in the middle of the sea. Mataking has Malaysian’s first underwater post office where you can send a postcard to make your scuba diving experience more interesting. Additionally, the underwater world in Mataking covered with beautiful soft corals, feather stars and you can also discover unique marine critters such as leaf fish. After ‘warming-up’, I tried to snorkelling without a life jacket and I even managed to swim back to the boat (of course with the help of my instructor).
When I was about to leave, I felt reluctant. The experience from this short island stay was very meaningful to me and I hope there are more of such experience coming along in my life (my next goal is to try the Nevis Swing in Queenstown, New Zealand!).
Some fun facts about other islands in the area:
Kapalai: known as ‘The Little Maldives’ and famous for its water chalets.
Mabul: the only island has both luxurious resorts and Baju Laut (Sea Gypsies), and it is also the world’s best site for muck diving.
Sipadan: the only oceanic island in Malaysia and is one of the best diving sites in the world. The French explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1989) called it “an untouched piece of art”.
Tun Sakaran Marine Park: the largest marine park in Sabah and is a fantastic place for hiking.