EAST COAST ISLANDS OF MALAYSIA
Off the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia are a number of islands. They include the Perhentians, regarded as best for escaping and learning to dive; Pulau Tenggol, best for divers, once you learned how; Pulau Redang, withe the best beaches; and Pulau Tioman, the easiest to get to and, many say, the most romantic. On the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia the rainy monsoon season is from October to February and dry hot season is from March to September. During monsoon season, this coastline experiences heavy rain and rolling seas, and many resorts close from November to February.
The Perhentians consist of two main islands. Michelle Jana Chan wrote in The Telegraph: “Even today my old favourite is not the easiest place to reach, but it is worth the journey. Although there are now more than a dozen hotels across the two islands, they are all small-scale and understated. Perhentian Besar is considered the more grown-up island; Perhentian Kecil is more popular with budget travellers. There are many dive schools here and it is a good-value place in which to obtain scuba-diving certification. [Source: Michelle Jana Chan, The Telegraph, November 17, 2011]
Pulau Tenggol is the farthest island from the mainland in the Terengganu Marine Park. “This petite outcrop is one of the country's best-kept diving secrets. There are deep-water dives to spot black-tipped reef sharks, barracudas and nudibranch. Snorkellers will find turtles by the shore, as well as schools of bat fish and giant trevallies and jacks. Whale sharks pass by between March and April and September and October.
Pulau Redang is a short distance south-east of the Perhentians. “This island — the largest on this stretch of coastline — enjoys the same clear warm water and soft sand as its northern neighbours. But access is much more straightforward, with a small airport operating regular flights from Kuala Lumpur (60 minutes) and Singapore (75 minutes). On landing, you are on the beach within minutes of disembarking.
“Pulau Tioman served as Bali Hai in the film South Pacific — shot here in the Fifties — and even today it could pass off as a pretty Polynesian isle. Although tourism has grown since then, particularly among Singaporean weekenders, Tioman — part of Malaysia's protected marine park islands — has managed to maintain a sense of serenity. It has pretty coral reefs both off the north coast and at Turtle Island near the airport. The island is easy to reach, with regular direct flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, as well as frequent ferries from Mersing on the mainland (1 hour, 30 minutes).
Pulau Lang Tengah (30-minute boat ride from the Merang jetty, between the Perhentians and Redang Island) is delightful little island with only four resorts and good diving and snorkeling. A round-island trip by speed boat takes only 10 minutes. The beach is narrow and land is limited but there are few people there and the atmosphere is quiet and peaceful. Getting There: By Boat Ferries leave from the jetty in Merang at 10:00am and 12:00noon and return from the island at 8.30am and 2:00pm.
The Perhentians (21 kilometers off the coast of Terengganu) consist of two main islands: Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Keci. Covered by unspoilt jungle, windswept palms, powdery white beaches and surrounded by sapphire blue waters, the Perhentians is a sanctuary for fishermen, migratory birds and of course, discerning holiday- makers. Of the two islands, Pulau Perhentian Kecil is more geared towards backpackers. Here, you'll find a wide range of budget options for both food and accommodation. Pulau Perhentian Besar, on the other hand, is more developed and therefore offers better facilities. Nevertheless, there are chalets, dormitories and campsites on both islands. Pulau Perhentian, means 'stopover island',
Michelle Jana Chan wrote in The Telegraph: “Even today my old favourite is not the easiest place to reach, but it is worth the journey. Although there are now more than a dozen hotels across the two islands, they are all small-scale and understated. Perhentian Besar is considered the more grown-up island; Perhentian Kecil is more popular with budget travellers. There are many dive schools here and it is a good-value place in which to obtain scuba-diving certification. [Source: Michelle Jana Chan, The Telegraph, November 17, 2011]
Located just off the edge of the Pulau Redang Marine Park, Perhentian's coral-fringed waters have excellent underwater seascapes for snorkelling and scuba diving. Arrangements can also be made for island cruises, and boats can be hired to go exploring for private bays and secluded coves. A trip to these tropical islands is also a must for those who enjoy windsurfing, sailing, canoeing and deep-sea fishing.
Getting There: From Kuala Terengganu, take a taxi or bus to the fishing port of Kuala Besut. It lies about 1 hour north of town. The jetty is here. Board a boat at the Fisheries Complex for Pulau Perhentian. The boat ride to the island takes about an hour. Contact: For more information, please contact Terengganu Tourism Office, Tel: 609-630 9433 / 90
Pulau Redang (45 kilometers off the coast of Kuala Terengganu) is the largest of a group of nine protected islands dotting the South China Sea off the Terengganu coast. The island offers crystal clear waters and numerous dive sites for enthusiasts. Sheltered within the Pulau Redang Marine Park, the waters here are rich in marine life. At midday when sun rays penetrate the sea, brilliant hues of coral, anemones and fish can be seen.
The waters around Pulau Redang also contain two historic shipwrecks: The H.M.S. Prince of Wales and H.M.S. Repulse, which sank here at the start of World War II, setting the stage for the Japanese occupation of Malaya. This island is perfect for snorkelling, swimming, scuba- diving, jungle trekking, boating and canoeing. No fishing is allowed within a 3.2 kilometers radius of the island as Pulau Redang is gazetted as a marine park. The collection of corals and other aquatic life is also strictly prohibited. Berjaya Resort offers a golf course in an idyllic setting.
Michelle Jana Chan wrote in The Telegraph: A short distance south-east of the Perhentians, this island — the largest on this stretch of coastline — enjoys the same clear warm water and soft sand as its northern neighbours. But access is much more straightforward, with a small airport operating regular flights from Kuala Lumpur (60 minutes) and Singapore (75 minutes). On landing, you are on the beach within minutes of disembarking. The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort (formerly known as Berjaya Redang Resort) sits on one of the best beaches on Malaysia's peninsula. The pontoon anchored in the crescent bay is a perfect place to pause between snorkelling stints. This is another child-friendly hotel with interconnecting family rooms; a theatre and entertainment zones are planned.” [Source: Michelle Jana Chan, The Telegraph, November 17, 2011]
Getting There: By Boat: Begin your island-hopping adventure by catching a boat at any of the jetties in Kuala Terengganu and Merang. Travelling time to Redang is one hour from Kuala Terengganu and 50 minutes from Merang. Contact: For more information, please contact Terengganu Tourism Office, Tel: 609-630 9433 / 90
Pulau Tenggol is a favorite among scuba divers. Michelle Jana Chan wrote in The Telegraph: The farthest island from the mainland in the Terengganu Marine Park, this petite outcrop is one of the country's best-kept diving secrets. There are deep-water dives to spot black-tipped reef sharks, barracudas and nudibranch. Snorkellers will find turtles by the shore, as well as schools of bat fish and giant trevallies and jacks. Whale sharks pass by between March and April and September and October.
“Accommodation on the island is limited, but the Tanjong Jara Resort on the mainland has an excellent dive school and offers full-day snorkelling and diving trips to Pulau Tenggol. The hotel has two very good restaurants, and offers cooking lessons and visits to night markets.”
Getting There: The nearest town is Dungun, a six hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur. There are boat operators and travel agents at Kuala Dungun jetty that provides boats to Pulau Tenggol. The drive from Kuala Lumpur to Dungun takes about 4-5 hours. Take the Karak Highway to get to Cherating. From there, follow the sign board to Dungun town. Dungun town is 79 kilometers before Kuala Terengganu. Departing early in the morning should be convenient as one reaches Dungun around 7.00am. The boat services starts as early as 8.00 am but it depends upon the weather condition. It is advisable to catch the early morning boat. There are few hotels and resorts around Dungun town should one wish to spend a night earlier to relax and explore Dungun.
Marang: Access to Pulau Kapas and Squid Jigging
Marang (15 kilometers south of Kuala Terengganu) is a jumping off point for boat trips to several nearby limestone islands. The snorkeling is pretty good. People often catch glimpse of sea turtles (not leatherbacks) and colorful fish and a strange looking jellyfish but the water clarity is not great. There are of local markets and batik factories. There is one pleasant resort that features rooms in stilt house above a mangrove preserve.
April to June is for squid jigging (Candat Sotong) season. If you are in Marang at that time and are not prone to seasickness give it a try. The candat sotong boat departs around 7.00pm and reach the jigging point near Kapas Island in 45-60 minutes. The squid are attracted to lights to clustered around the boats. A jig is a weighted lure with nine hooks arranged in a circular pattern at one end. The other end is secured to a fishing line. Normally the fisherman can land 30kg to 40kg squid a night, if the boat anchored at the right squid shelter or lubuk, it can easily land up to 100kg during a night of jigging.
Pulau Kapas (6 kilometers off the coast from Marang) is an island renowned for its reasonably clear waters, sandy white beaches and swaying palms. Relatively isolated from the hustle and bustle of the mainland, this island is the perfect getaway for those looking for a place to relax. Its waters are home to beautiful marine life such as fish, turtles, corals and others. On land are unspoiled beaches; swaying coconut trees and caves with swallows nests. Visitors can enjoy diving, swimming, snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking, boating and fishing. Accommodation varies from deluxe and budget chalets offering air conditioned or fan. Getting There: Pulau Kapas is about 30 minutes from Marang by boat. To get to Marang, 20 minutes south of Kuala Terengganu, you can take a bus or taxi in Kuala Terengganu. It costs about RM1.00 by bus and RM10.00 by non-airconditioned taxi. Air-conditioned taxis charge RM15.00. Kapas Island is situated offshore about 30 minutes by slow boat or 10 minutes by fast boat from Marang jetty,.
Mersing (160 kilometers north of Singapore and Johor Bahru) is a small coastal town known primarily as a jumping off point for islands off the east coast of Malaysia. It is one of only two major towns situated in the eastern half of Johor state (the other being Kota Tinggi) and lies on the main trunk road that connects Singapore with Thailand and it is the main departure point for ferries to the nearby offshore islands such as Tioman Island. It has accommodation and restaurants.
From Mersing, tourists can visit many reasonably nice nearby beaches. Other interesting places to visit near to Mersing town are Endau town, a major off-shore fishing port in Johor (about 33 kilometers from Mersing) and Penyabong, a quiet fishing village located in a beautiful cove by the sea (about 20 kilometers from Mersing). Another attraction is the Endau Rompin National Park in the north.
Getting There: By Car: From Johor Bahru city centre, take the Johor Bahru–Kota Tinggi trunk road and on through the Kota Tinggi– Mersing trunk road (Highway 3). From the North-South Expressway, take the Ayer Hitam exit (Interchange 244) and drive towards Kluang and onwards using the Kluang– Jemaluang trunk road (Highway 50). After Jemaluang town, get onto the Kota Tinggi–Mersing trunk road, heading towards Mersing.
Islands Accessible from Mersing
The island off Mersing — Pulau Aur, Pulau Dayang, Pulau Lang and Pulau Pinang — are highly-rated diving destinations within the Johor Marine Park Area. The deeper waters around the area ensure good visibility and a large variety of marine life. The island is especially popular among weekend divers. The rich pelagic action also attracts numerous sport fishermen, hoping to try their luck with the marlins or sailfish outside the marine park island. Many private yachts anchor in the calm waters between Pulau Aur and Pulau Dayang. The main reef is located towards the southern end of Pulau Aur and Pulau Pinang. The top of the reef begins at about 12 meters and slopes in excess of 25 meters, making it ideal for diving.
Pulau Rawa (16 kilometers off the coast of Mersing) is known for its white coral sand, tall palm trees and coral reefs with neon-colored fish and other exotic marine life. This quiet island only has two choices of accommodation on it. The wooden chalets nestled amongst coconut groves complement the island's reputation as a quaint hideaway.
Pulau Sibu (accessible from Mersing) is a pleasant hideaway with its lush tropical vegetation, stretches of golden beaches and clear blue waters. The island is dotted with numerous sea caves carved out of rocks. The constant pounding of the sea during the monsoon season has given the island a beautiful yet rugged appearance.The surrounding waters contain fascinating coral reefs teeming with colorful marine life. Shipwrecks off its coast can also be found. In the olden days, Chinese junks and pirate vessels often exchanged cannon fire around this island, and the remains of these battles lie scattered around the seabed. There are facilities for scuba diving, snorkelling, windsurfing, sailing and angling. Visitors can go for a hike through the jungle leading to unspoilt mangrove swamps or visit the kelong, or jetty, where anchovies are caught. Alternatively, head for the kampung, or village, to get a first-hand look at how coconuts are smoked to make copra.
Pemanggil (four hours by boat from Mersing) is an an east coast island famous for fishing. It also has lush jungle scenery and white sand beaches and good snorkeling right off shore..
Getting There: Most boats to the islands leave from Mersing Jetty. You can catch a boat ride to Sibu Island from Tanjung Leman jetty, south of Mersing. Pulau Sibu is about a 20- minute boat ride away from Tanjung Leman. By Car: From Johor Bahru to Mersing take the Johor Bahru–Kota Tinggi trunk road and on through the Kota Tinggi– Mersing trunk road (Highway 3). From the North-South Expressway, take the Ayer Hitam exit (Interchange 244) and drive towards Kluang and onwards using the Kluang– Jemaluang trunk road (Highway 50). After Jemaluang town, get onto the Kota Tinggi-Mersing trunk road, heading towards Mersing. Look out for signboards that will lead you to the Mersing Jetty. Contacts: Johor Marine Park Information Centre in Mersing, Tel: 607-799 1161; Mersing Tourist Information Centre (METIC), Tel: 607-799 5212; Tourism Malaysia Johor: Address: L3-26 Aras 3, Bangunan JOTIC, 2 Jalan Ayer Molek, Johor Bahru 80000, Johor, Malaysia, Tel: 607-222 3590/3591, Fax: 607-223 5502, Email: email@example.com
Tioman Island (1½ hours from Mersing by hydrofoil) is where the 1959 film version of the musical “South Pacific” was shot. It features beautiful beaches, good diving, nice walks and accommodation that ranges from luxurious resorts to cheap bungalows. According to legend, this island is the final resting place of a mythical dragon princess. The warm waters and good visibility make Tioman a paradise for divers with colorful Gorgonian sea fans, Staghorn corals, nudibranchs and beautifully sculptured sea sponges. Even snorkelers can get close to Napoleon Wrasse, Golden Striped Trevally, Bumphead Parrotfish and shoals of Fusiliers. This island is an idyllic spot for leisurely days under the sun. Swim in its emerald waters, enjoy a stroll by the beach or be lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves.
Tioman Island lies about 56 kilometers off the coast of Pahang state in the South China Sea. There are several villages scattered around the coastline, the larger ones being Salang, Tekek, Genting, Paya and Juara. Each village offers a different and unique atmosphere. Tioman's verdant greenery is home to a splendid variety of plants and small animals, including butterflies, monitor lizards, deer and monkeys. Its flora and fauna have been featured in National Geographic's documentaries. The island's granite formations make for excellent rock-climbing expeditions. The more adventurous can attempt to scale the sheer cliff face of the legendary Gunung Nenek Semukut or Dragons Horns. Berjaya Tioman Beach, Golf & Spa Resort offers a luxurious stay amidst a backdrop of rolling hills and scenic views.
Yoshio Hanada wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Tioman is an idyllic island located in the South China Sea...The island is about 70 kilometers long and for the most part comprises deep jungle and clear rivers and streams, creating an almost mystical feeling for visitors. Abundant flora and fauna can be found in the dense jungle. The beautiful island is surrounded by emerald green water known for its colorful fish and beautiful coral, the reason for the island's popularity as a diving and snorkeling spot.” [Source: Yoshio Hanada, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 27, 2004]
Michelle Jana Chan wrote in The Telegraph: “Pulau Tioman served as Bali Hai in the film South Pacific — shot here in the Fifties — and even today it could pass off as a pretty Polynesian isle. Although tourism has grown since then, particularly among Singaporean weekenders, Tioman — part of Malaysia's protected marine park islands — has managed to maintain a sense of serenity. It has pretty coral reefs both off the north coast and at Turtle Island near the airport. The island is easy to reach, with regular direct flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, as well as frequent ferries from Mersing on the mainland (1 hour, 30 minutes). [Source: Michelle Jana Chan, The Telegraph, November 17, 2011]
“Where to stay: The delightful Japamala, built on a forested shoreline in a rocky bay, may be the country's most romantic hotel. Guests arrive by speedboat at a private pier, where there is also an excellent Italian restaurant. Villas are cleverly built into the landscape and feel like a cross between treehouses and caves. Beyond the rough shoreline there is good snorkelling in the bay; a new swimming pool is due to open later this year.”
Getting There: Tioman is accessible by boat from Tanjung Gemok in Pahang and Mersing in Johor. Journey time is approximately 1.5 hours. By Air: Berjaya Air operates daily direct 45-minute flights to Tioman from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Tourism Malaysia Pahang: Address: Lot G.01, Bangunan Mahkota Square, Jalan Mahkota, 25000 Kuantan, Pahang, Tel: 609-517 7111 / 112, Fax: 609-517 7114
Tioman Island and South Pacific
Yoshio Hanada wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Tioman, despite its location in the Northern Hemisphere, was the setting for the supposedly magical island of Bali Hai in the 1958 Hollywood film South Pacific, directed by Joshua Logan. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning short story by James Michener, Tales of the South Pacific, the story was set on a South Pacific island during World War II. It revolves around two couples — a French planter and an American nurse; and a U.S. lieutenant and a young woman living on Bali Hai. [Source:Yoshio Hanada, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 27, 2004]
“As a Broadway production, it turned into such a massive hit that it was brought to the silver screen. Classic songs from the work, such as "Bali Hai" and "Some Enchanted Evening," are popular even today among the older generation. In the film, there was a cheerful Tonkinese trader, Bloody Mary (played by Juanita Hall), who sang the unforgettable song "Bali Hai."
“Soon after arriving, I started out on a quest to find out more about this film from the locals. Most people, though, looked somewhat bewildered and would shake their heads when I asked them about the film. Even the head of one of the villages in Tioman Island, Haron Ahmad, 70, who has lived on the island all his life, did not have any idea about the film. "When I was young, I remember there were hordes of foreigners who arrived here carrying cameras. I had absolutely no idea they were here to make a film," he explained in Malay.
“Most of South Pacific was shot in Hawaii and on various South Pacific islands. But the scenes of Bali Hai, were filmed on Tioman. After the film was released, the lure of reaching the unknown paradise depicted in the film prompted many visitors from Europe and North America to come to Tioman and Asia for a taste of paradise, accentuating the image of Asia as an exotic destination...In one part of the film, a young U.S. lieutenant, lured by the exoticism of Bali Hai, goes over to the island and embarks on a brief love affair with Bloody Mary's daughter. The romantic scenes were shot at Mukut Waterfall.”
Visiting Tioman Island
Yoshio Hanada wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “From Singapore, the flight was only 40 minutes. Our altitude steadily dropped as the plane approached the short runway set amid lush vegetation. The airport was reminiscent of a bus station, but the landing was smooth. Emerging from the plane, we were greeted by the sight of lizards, monkeys and cats, which seemed to be welcoming us to the island.” but “as the airport at Tioman is old and small, there are plans by the Malaysian government to build a new international airport near Paya” and there are concerns that the coral and the whole natural environment of the island will be affected by the construction of the airport.” [Source: Yoshio Hanada, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 27, 2004]
“As with most parts of Tioman, moving from one village to another requires the use of boats, as most parts of the island are impassable on foot. To get to the waterfall, I joined a Bali Hai Tour, organized by a resort hotel. Traveling by speedboat along with other tour participants, including a middle-aged Dutch couple and a twentysomething Swiss couple who appeared deeply in love, we eventually reached a jetty after a 30-minute ride. There was no one in sight. We then took a mountain trail and trekked for about 15 minutes. With every passing minute, we could tell that we were nearing the waterfall as the unmistakable sound of pounding water became increasing audible.
“Finally, the sight of the gushing waterfall appeared before our eyes. Wiping away perspiration, one of the Dutch tour participants remarked, "I really like the atmosphere of the jungle." Looking visibly satisfied he gulped down a beer he had brought along, saying, "I like the smell of the jungle, too." His wife spontaneously started humming a tune from the movie, much to the delight of everybody present.
“While the Dutch contingent clearly knew the movie, Swiss student Lukas Bruder, 21, and his companion, Barbara Fabritius, 23, said that they had never heard of the film when I asked about it. Nevertheless, both of them happily frolicked in the waterfall as if they were acting out a scene from the film. A sense of deja vu, indeed! On the return trip, the speedboat arrived at a nearby village, Paya. "Come on in, its cheap!" the owner of a souvenir shop, Rose Chia, 60, called out loudly as she beckoned us energetically. She was reminiscent of Bloody Mary in the film, a character who was always full of energy and vigor. "You all should stay here at Paya, it's very nice, very natural, it is just like paradise here," she said, again coming off like the character Bloody Mary as she encouraged a well-dressed South African couple to buy items from her store and to stay in the village.
“Will tourism and commercialism lead this island paradise to lose its charm or will it lead to an improvement in the quality of life of the islanders? This is not an easy question to answer. The next day, on the plane back, I met a Japanese couple, Yutaka Kanamori, 60, and his wife, Junko, 57, from Gifu Prefecture. They had gone to Tioman to celebrate their wedding anniversary. "As we saw South Pacific a long time ago, we both were excited to see scenery from the film at Tioman," Yutaka said. As we left Tioman, the island became smaller and smaller, but the melody of "Bali Hai" and its lyrics "Here am I, your special island," continued to go around in my head.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons,
Text Sources: Malaysia Tourism websites, Malaysia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020