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  • Writer's pictureAlly Landes

A MALAYSIAN DELIGHT


Redang Island looking out from Pasir Panjang (Long Beach)
 

DESTINATION:

Perhentian, Redang and Bidong in Terengganu – Malaysia

SPONSORS:

State of Terengganu

Ministry of Tourism (Director Mr. Fathil)

Tourism Malaysia, Dubai (Director Mr. Tuan Razali)

Malaysia Airlines

TOUR OPERATORS:

Tourism Malaysia, Dubai

Discover Orient Holidays

GROUND HANDLER:

Hedaco Travel & Tours

 
Arwana Perhentian Resort

DAY 1 | 13 AUGUST 2010 | PERHENTIAN ISLANDS

The Emirates Diving Association received an invitation from the State of Terengganu in Malaysia to embark on a diving FAM trip to discover the diving world in the region of Terengganu and share it with our readers of Divers for the Environment. I gathered a team of underwater photographers and we set off on our mission. We’ve all heard how global warming is presently affecting the world’s corals and it’s no exception in Terengganu. The state is worried with regards to their underwater environment and take the coral bleaching epidemic very seriously.


The first haul of our journey with Malaysia Airlines was to Pulau Perhentian via Kuala Lumpur, and a transit through to Kota Bharu. From there, we caught a bus to Kuala Besut Jetty and took a 45 minute boat ride to Perhentian Island. The diving adventures start from there. We found a little piece of heaven and archived the memory in our “top destinations” file. It is a 12 hour journey from Dubai, so you do need to take the remainder of the day to rest and get acquainted with your little island once you reach it.


Arwana Perhentian Resort Dive Centre

ABOUT TERENGGANU

* Terengganu is situated in north-eastern Peninsular Malaysia, and is bordered in the northwest by Kelantan, the southwest by Pahang, and the east by the South China Sea. Outlying islands, including Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Kapas and Pulau Redang, are also a part of the state. The state has a total area of 12,955 km. The islands of Redang, Perhentian, Lang Tengah, Kapas and Tenggol are jewels in Terengganu’s crown.


The people of Terengganu generally speak Terengganese Malay, which is distinct from standard Malay and Kelantanese Malay, except for those in Besut district and Perhentian Islands who speak Kelantanese. Terengganu is a sultanate and constitutive state of federal Malaysia. The state is also known by its Arabic honorific, Darul Iman (“Abode of Faith”). The coastal city of Kuala Terengganu which stands at the mouth of the broad Terengganu River is both the state and royal capital as well as the largest city in Terengganu.


End of the beach on the stretch of Teluk Dalam

ABOUT PERHENTIAN ISLANDS

* The Perhentian Islands (Pulau Perhentian in Malay) lay approximately 10 nautical miles (19 km) offshore the coast state of Terengganu, approximately 40 miles (64 km) south of the Thai border. The two main islands are Perhentian Besar (“Big Perhentian”) and Perhentian Kecil (“Small Perhentian”). The small, uninhabited islands of Susu Dara (Virgin Milk), Serenggeh and Rawa lie off Kecil. The Perhentians belong to Pulau Redang National Marine Park, which means that fishing, collecting coral and littering are strictly prohibited. Like Besut, people here generally speak Kelantanese Malay.


Both islands are fringed by white sand beaches, and the reefs and crystalline water are host to a wide variety of coral, sea turtles, jellyfish, small sharks and reef fish. The islands’ maximum elevation is approximately 100 m and they are uniformly covered in coastal tropical jungle, with few interior foot-trails and no roads.


Other than the owners and staff of the numerous cabin-styled resorts that dot the islands (many of whom depart for the monsoon season), the islands’ only permanent inhabitants live in a small fishing village on Kecil. With the exception of a single mainland communications tower on each island, there are no structures taller than two storeys.


Scuba-diving, snorkelling, and swimming are the most popular tourist activities here. On most beaches, the water is shallow with lots of rays, cuttlefish and parrotfish. For diving, there are dozens of dive sites around both the main islands, as well as several offshore sites. Apart from these, you could also enjoy activities such as camping, canoeing, fishing, and jungle trekking. As for accommodation, most of it can be found on Perhentian Besar, the larger island. Hotels are usually aimed at budget travellers.


The only access to the Islands is by boat from the fishing villages of Kuala Besut and Tok Bali. Local tourist operators run fishing boats and speed boats several times a day.



PLACES TO STAY:

Perhentian Kecil is a backpackers party island and when accommodation is full, you will find backpackers sleeping on the beaches. Accommodation on Perhentian Besar is where you should choose to stay, but accommodation on both islands is incredibly basic and you will not find 5 star accommodation here. You can check accommodation reviews on Trip Advisor to check up on your choices.


Website Link for accommodation on the islands: www.myoutdoor.com/perhentian/

Our Accommodation: Arwana Perhentian Resort – www.arwanaperhentian.com.my


Tour Operator Recommendation:

Perhentian Island Resort – www.perhentianislandresort.net or Coral View Island Resort (does not have its own website).


DAY 2 | 14 AUGUST 2010 | PERHENTIAN ISLANDS

DIVE 1 | DIVE LOCATION: Temple of the Sea | VISIBILITY: 20+ | DEPTH: 23.9 m | TEMPERATURE: 30˚C | RATING: ★★★★


This is a pinnacle dive teaming with life. The visibility was a breath of fresh air after having done a dive in Dubai the week before with only 3 m visibility. This dive site is resident to a Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) with only 3 flippers, the reason being was unclear but definitely nice to see it if you get the chance. My group was on the other side of the pinnacle busily absorbed in photographing and filming when the other group spotted it. The dive site is densely populated and you are guaranteed to see schools of Snappers, giant Pufferfish, Boxfish, Blue Spotted Rays and Moray Eels. It was a good start to our diving itinerary.


The team off to do a dive

DIVE 2 | DIVE LOCATION: D-Lagoon | VISIBILITY: 15+ | DEPTH: 11.3 m | TEMPERATURE: 30˚C | RATING: ★★★


This shallow afternoon dive is located on the edge of the small island and was a wonderful finale to the day for me. I had asked if we could see Bumphead Parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) in the region and I had been told that they were very rare to see. Well they heard my request and a small herd of around 30 (they are the underwater version of buffalo herds) came swooping towards us, and I managed to swim within their grazing path and get some great film footage. They are magnificent to see and such large fish, it is sometimes daunting being among them. Their parrot-like beaks make an incredible sound as they swoop down and bite into the coral and barnacles on the rocks, it really is an incredible experience to see them. This site is also resident to 3 huge Jenkin’s Whiprays (Himantura jenkinsii) that can always be found resting in their reef homes.


View from the Perhentian Island Resort Jetty

DAY 3 | 15 AUGUST 2010 | PERHENTIAN ISLANDS

DIVE 3 | DIVE LOCATION: Sugar Wreck | VISIBILITY: 10+ | DEPTH: 17.6 m | TEMPERATURE: 30˚C | RATING: ★★★


This wreck is 90 m in length and has plenty of angles to get a glimpse of different marine life. Schools of juvenile Barracuda and yellow Snappers are found hanging about at the top of the wreck. Keep a good eye out for Nudibranchs as they are on all the dive sites, they’re not easy to find though. Watch out for Scorpionfish as they are about and keep a good look out under the crevices for Bamboo Sharks. We managed to find one very small juvenile and they are said to be common on most of the dives around Perhentian.


There was another dive done in-between this and the next dive, but I chose to sit it out as I had caught a cold the first night over and my sinuses were playing up, so Reema and I decided this was a good cue to go and explore the island while the sinus tablets kicked in. Michael, our tour operator from Hedaco was going to do a trek across the island and through the jungle with Kit Choong and asked if we wanted to go with them. It couldn’t have been better. We wouldn’t have seen as much without him. It’s definitely recommended to do a trek. There are Fruit Bats and Squirrels on the island, and during our trek through the tropical jungle we got to see a large Monitor Lizard. We did our trek in flip flops and it provoked no problems, but make sure you take mosquito repellent with you as we were a main target. To start our trek, we took a boat around from Arwana Perhentain Resort and started the trek from the beautiful white sandy beach of the Perhentian Island Resort. They have one of the most beautiful beaches on the island.


Trekking through the tropical jungle of Perhentian Island

DIVE 4 | DIVE LOCATION: Terumba Tiga | VISIBILITY: 20+ | DEPTH: 18.7 m | TEMPERATURE: 30˚C | RATING: ★★★★


This is a nice dive and quite different in topography from the other dives we have done so far as it is made up of very large boulders. There are lots of Giant Barrel Sponges (Xestospongia muta) and Whip Coral everywhere. We got to see quite a few Blue Spotted Rays and were greeted by a Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) on entering the site that made the headlines with our paparazzi team. Different species of Damselfish and anemones are found in abundance on all the sites and are a pleasure to see if you particularly like them as much as I do. A particular favourite you will see on all your dives is the skunk clownfish.



DIVING VERDICT:

There are 17 dive centres spread out on the islands and they each take out a maximum of 30 divers a day during the high season which cater more to discover scuba diving courses and open water courses. You will not be the only dive boat at the dive sites, meaning the sites are heavily populated with newbie divers. The dive sites are lovely though and there is plenty to see. The coral bleaching will not affect your diving and the water temperatures are coming back down so there is hope for coral recovery.


DAY 5 | 17 AUGUST 2010 | ABOUT REDANG ISLAND

* Redang Island, locally known as Pulau Redang or just “Redang” is one of the largest islands off the east coast of Malaysia. It is one of nine islands, which form a marine park, and which offer snorkelling and diving opportunities. Access is from Merang or Kuala Terengganu on boats operated by the resorts; there is also a small airport with services operated by Berjaya Air from Singapore (Seletar Airport) and Kuala Lumpur (Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport). The island is also an important conservation site for sea turtles. Previously, the indiscriminate economic exploitation of turtle eggs had caused fewer turtles returning to nest on the island. This has led the Terengganu state government to set up the Koperasi Setiajaya Pulau Redang in 1989, a cooperative aiming to develop and manage socioeconomic programmes that could improve the livelihood of Pulau Redang locals without endangering its natural resources.


The Pulau Redang archipelago comprises Pulau Redang, Pulau Lima, Pulau Paku Besar, Pulau Paku Kecil, Pulau Kerengga Kecil, Pulau Kerengga Besar, Pulau Ekor Tebu, Pulau Ling and Pulau Pinang. Pulau Redang is the biggest of all the islands in the Marine Park, measuring about 7 km long and 6 km wide. Its highest peak is Bukit Besar at 359 metres above sea level. The boundary of the Pulau Redang Marine Park is established by a line linking all points 2 nautical miles (3.7 km) from the shores of Pulau Redang, Pulau Lima, Pulau Ekor Tebu and Pulau Pinang. The other nearby islands of Pulau Perhentian Besar, Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Pulau Lang Tengah, Pulau Kapas and Pulau Susu Dara are also gazetted and protected as Marine Parks. Today, only the bigger islands like Redang, Lang Tengah, Perhentian and Kapas have resort facilities for visitors. The management of the Marine Parks primarily involves protection of the sensitive marine and terrestrial ecosystems by controlling the impact from human activities. These include waste and pollution management, and conservation of coral reefs and terrestrial habitats. The 2000 film, Summer Holiday was filmed on the Laguna Redang resort, and a replica of the tea house now serves as the resort’s gift shop.


Coral Redang Island Resort Sdn Bhd

PLACES TO STAY:

Accommodation on Redang is much nicer than Perhentian island, but you can’t actually compare it.


There are a few to choose from: http://www.myoutdoor.com/redang/Accommodation.html.


We experienced a day at Coral Redang Island Resort Sdn Bhd: www.coralredang.com.my.


Tourism Malaysia Recommends Berjaya Redang Beach Resort: www.berjayahotel.com, a 5-star accommodation on the island.


What a little paradise Redang is. You must book a year ahead as this is one place you must stay at for your diving/island holiday! It was unfortunately full everywhere and we had to stay on the mainland. This is where the white, silky sandy beaches are, and is considered one of the most beautiful islands in Malaysia. The Coral Redang Island Resort is lovely and the Coral Dive Centre and dive staff here are really fantastic.


Matt, our dive master was a real pleasure and a great guide clearly in love with his ocean. He asked if he could also take his camera down when he saw all our equipment! We were clearly there to captivate their underwater world and take our time about it and too right, what a wonderful underwater world they have!


The dive centre receives yearly updates on the coral bleaching in the area from the government which is great for us to see and understand the drastic change in percentages. Water temperatures had reached up to 32˚C the previous month, but had come down to 30˚C during our visit and was expected to continue declining. Standard temperatures in the area are from 25-28˚C, which has caused concern to everyone in the Terengganu region.


On Perhentian Island, we were told that there are 9 dive centres and they take out 30 divers a day during the high season, most of which are discover scuba or open water courses. Redang have fewer dive centres and it is very obvious that there are monitored and fewer divers per day, the dive sites are peaceful and undisturbed. When you reach a dive site, you are the only boat there, it really is first class! There is coral bleaching everywhere, but this does not affect any of your dives and with the water temperatures coming back down and with continued monitoring, they should be able to recover.



DIVE 5 | DIVE LOCATION: Tanjung Tokong | VISIBILITY: 20+ | DEPTH: 23.4 m | TEMPERATURE: 30˚C | RATING: ★★★★★


Paradise! What a fantastic dive. There is so much to see, you get a little of everything! You can only do this dive in the mornings as it is located right by a turtle reservation and they keep divers away from it in the afternoons for the turtles that come to nest on the beach in the evening.



DIVE 6 | DIVE LOCATION: Steve’s Stone | VISIBILITY: 20+ | DEPTH: 18.3 m | TEMPERATURE: 30˚C | RATING: ★★★★★


Another great site. This site is hard to find if there is a bit of a current and you don’t descend straight away, but we were lucky to have no current and were relaxed getting all the cameras in. This is made up of several different small reefs and is great fun as there is so much to see. We saw a few Moray Eels, a very large Stonefish, Cleaner Shrimps, Pipefish of different sizes, active Blue Spotted Rays and the list goes on. A fantastic dive for photographers!


Coral Redang Dive Centre

DIVE 7 | DIVE LOCATION: Paku Kecil | VISIBILITY: 20+ | DEPTH: 16.2 m | TEMPERATURE: 30˚C | RATING: ★★★★★


We managed to slip in a third dive and just didn’t want it to end. This was an awesome finale to our day’s diving and located straight in front of the resort. Keep your eyes open to the top of the reef as we spotted a Blacktip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus), so they really are there. The end of this dive turned out to be a drift dive and thoroughly enjoyable with the layout of the reef. We saw a large Pipefish, a Hawksbill Turtle eating within a garden of Whip Coral, two huge Stingrays and so many other wonderful things. Redang was definitely the highlight of this diving trip and a destination I will come back to and explore more of.


Coral Redang Dive Centre kitting up area

DIVING VERDICT:

There are dive centres at every resort on the island and the dive sites that Redang has to offer are spectacular, as are the beaches. This really is first class diving. We dove with Coral Dive Centre and Matt our divemaster was a superb guide. The dive centre is perfectly equipped and the staff is excellent. If the rest of your family don’t dive, but they love to sunbathe on beautiful beaches, snorkel and explore, then Redang is perfect for everyone.


Coral Redang Dive Centre

DAY 6 | 18 AUGUST 2010 | ABOUT BIDONG ISLAND

* Bidong Island is one square kilometre in area and is situated off the coast of Terengganu, Malaysia in the South China Sea. Bidong Island is accessible from the coastal town of Merang.


On April 30, 1975, the Vietnam War ended with the evacuation of the American Embassy and the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Army. Millions of people tried to flee the new Communist rule in Vietnam. In May 1975, the first boat with 47 refugees arrived in Malaysia from Vietnam. They were called “boat people.” However, the number of boat people fleeing Vietnam was relatively small until 1978. Bidong Island was officially opened as a refugee camp on August 8th, 1978 with 121 Vietnamese refugees. The capacity of the camp was said to be 4,500. Another 600 refugees arrived in August and thereafter the arrival of boats from Vietnam was a near daily occurrence. By January 1979, there were 18,000 Vietnamese on the island and by June 1979 it was said to be the most heavily populated place on earth with about 40,000 refugees crowded into a flat area hardly larger than a football field. By the time Bidong was closed as a refugee camp on October 30, 1991, about 250,000 Vietnamese had passed through or resided in the camp. With the closing of the camp, the remaining refugees were repatriated back to Vietnam. The refugees strongly protested their forced repatriation. A total of 9,000 Vietnamese were repatriated between 1991 and August 28, 2005 when the last refugees departed Malaysia for Vietnam. In 1999, the island was opened to tourism. It has regained its former pristine beauty and many former refugees have revisited their old home.


DIVE 8 | DIVE LOCATION: Heritage Row/Vietnamese Wrecks/Jetty | VISIBILITY: 20+ | DEPTH: 18.6 m | TEMPERATURE: 30˚C | RATING: ★★★


This dive was done through Seamonkey Merang Divers whose main shop is based at the Sutra Beach Resort & Spa on the main land who are familiar with all the dive sites around Bidong Island. This particular site is an underwater gallery where the statues are replicates of the original pieces made especially for divers. It’s a vast dive site and it offers a different angle on diving and was fun to see, although you are there purely to see the gallery as there is not a lot else in respect to marine life. We got to see a school of juvenile Barracudas and we were entertained by a small school of Shrimpfish. They started off in a small cluster and then evolved into a larger mass while they posed to have their photo taken. They are always a fun species to see.


And this sadly comes to the end of our diving trip. If we could have prolonged it, we would have as there is so much more diving to do. We had a stopover in the Terengganu capital, on our way back to KL. From Sultan Mahmud Airport there is an hours flight back to KLIA with Malaysian Airlines and then you make your transit back to Dubai, unless you decide to do a mandatory stopover in KL for a few extra days.


DIVING VERDICT:

All the other dive sites around Bidong are worth seeing from the briefings we were run through, and you need a good week to dive all three islands. Make sure Redang is the last island you stay at and dive from for the perfect finale!


Terengganu capital day trip

TRIP SUMMARY:

The landscapes are gorgeous, the skies are out of this world and the diving is a world of unlimited exploration and beauty. You will not be disappointed. On returning back to the real world, you will dream of and plan the next visit in search of the magic once again.


SUGGESTIONS:

  • Bring Mosquito Repellent with you. It can be purchased in the island resort shops if they have it in stock.

  • Make sure to take sinus decongestant tablets as these are impossible to find if you catch a cold.

  • Best time to go: The monsoon season peaks between November and March every year. You can expect more rain and rough seas and most resorts are typically closed from the end of October through to the end of February. Peak season is between July and August and prices rise accordingly. During off-peak times, rates are negotiable. You may need to book well in advance during peak times and for public holidays and weekends. Note that most budget resorts do not accept bookings and handle guests on a walk-in basis only.

  • The Malaysian currency unit is Ringgit (RM) and sen, where 100 sen equals one Ringgit. Remember to convert your foreign currency or get cash at an ATM at the airport before heading to the islands as they will not accept any other currency.

  • Tipping is not mandatory but is widely practised. RM2-RM5. Most hotels and restaurants include a 10% service charge on all their bills.

  • Bring plenty of drinking water on your dive trips as most dive centres will not supply any.


REFERENCES:

* From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia



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