Mersing, Malaysia, 30th August - 1st September 2019
A sky full of stars. The closest thing I ever had in my life to an experience like that would be in the jungles of Pulau Tekong on a new moon. Sadly, back then I wasn’t in any condition to appreciate whatever semblance Singapore’s light polluted skies had to that. Fast forward 2 years later, my friend Hon Yi introduced me to an astronomy expedition, led by experienced astro-photographers (himself included). Having always wanted to see the milky way with my very own eyes, I agreed to tag along on the expedition, together with my roommate Ellson.
We met at Kranji at 11am to begin our journey to Mersing. The expedition comprised of 3 different MPVs, and the journey would take approximately 2.5 hours inclusive of immigration clearance. We were thoroughly impressed by the skill of our driver, who was able to drive in the bus lane all the way to the last minute before cutting back into the car lane. In addition, the speed at which Malaysia conducts their immigration procedures was definitely much faster than that of Singapore (with good reason too).
After about an hour and a half’s journey, we arrived in the town of Mersing. As much as the exchange rate favours Singaporeans, the prices of items do not differ by that much. As water from the taps is not potable, we had to purchase mineral water from the provision store to last us for the next 2 days. We had our lunch at KFC (their green chilli chicken actually tasted quite good), before heading off to Sri Kanda resort, where we would set up our base camp.
Sri Kanda resort was located at a remote part of Mersing, with empty beaches, and dark skies. As we chilled in our air-conditioned room, the more experienced astronomers were setting up their equipment. With setups bigger than us, some of the telescopes in the expedition could have been mistaken for military equipment. As it was only our first time on such an expedition, all we had were our DSLR cameras, and a star tracker. The star tracker’s main purpose is the shift the camera at the speed of the stars (the stars don’t actually move, but the earth rotates). This prevents the formation of star trails caused by long exposure of the camera. As evening approached, we went out to do a quick set up of the star tracker, before heading back in for a short nap.
As night falls, we started seeing all sorts of constellations form in the sky. Our expedition leader, Remus, did an introduction to each of the different stars in the sky, the constellations they formed, and the timings at which each star will be visible. From 8pm to 1am, we tried out all sorts of different foregrounds for the milky way. From a nearby hill to some huts, the outcome was quite magical and soon we got hooked onto it. Unfortunately, the skies started to get cloudy, and we decided to head back in for the rest of the night.
Some of the shots taken
As dawn approached, we had breakfast before making our way to the beach. The beach was completely empty, and the surroundings were extremely serene. I went to put on my swimming wear and headed for a short swim at the beach. Being alone, and having waves slightly too strong for comfort, I quickly headed back to this mini swimming pool in the resort, where I proceeded to get a sun tan for the next 3 hours. I spent most of the time just soaking in the water, surfing on the net (with my laptop just beside the pool), embracing the peace and serenity. As almost everyone was fast asleep, I had the pool to myself for the entire duration, and it was an experience I would definitely want to go through again.
After a sumptuous lunch, I headed back to the room to sleep, in preparation for what would hopefully be a long night ahead. For the rest of the night, the skies remained clear, and we had a field day taking photos of the milky way. After about 4 hours trying to capture the perfect shots, we ended up taking a step back to admire the stars for what they are thought our own eyes. After processing a few of the photos we took, we crashed for the night.
I woke up to watch the sunrise, snapping a few photos before heading back for breakfast. With our MPVs leaving at 9.30am, we quickly kept our equipment, and boarded the MPVs back to Kranji MRT.
The nights of stargazing have left me starstruck by our insignificance on the universal scale. Ultimately, in our lives that span for only a mere fraction of this universe, it is up to us to decide how we spend this limited lifespan.