A Paradise Time Forgot
As Malaysia completely immerses itself in globalisation and rapid progress in pursuit of a developed nation status, it becomes rarer and rarer to find a place to escape to when the urban jungle becomes too much to handle. Places of interest that were once haven to the weary urbanite are now ridden with cheap hostels and Instagram-ing tourists. All hope is not lost for a soul seeking solace, however, for not all natural gems of Malaysia have been completely unearthed. One of the still-hidden treasures of the tropical nation is none other than Pulau Tenggol.
Pulau Tenggol (which literally means ‘Perching Island’ in the local dialect) is part of an exquisite chain of islands that consists of other more commonly visited islands such as Pulau Perhentian and Pulau Redang, off the coast of Terengganu – the east coast state of Malaysia. The island gained its peculiar name from the shape of its mountains that look as if someone is perching on the land. The small island is less than three kilometres long and two kilometres wide; and is so far removed from the mainland that it still appears untouched by time. The island was uninhabited until the Vietnam War, when a boatload of Vietnamese refugees was washed ashore onto the island.
Since then Pulau Tenggol has become the sacred sanctuary for those seeking an offbeat island off the Malaysian east coast. Alas, arriving in a paradise is not without its own trials and tribulations. To reach Pulau Tenggol, your trip begins in Kuala Dungun, the once-booming recreational hub for the British employees of the mining company in town. Now however, Kuala Dungun is an ideal place to get a taste of the local Terengganu culture. Located 79km south of Kuala Terengganu, the town features the biggest night market in the state that makes the whole town come to life every week on Thursdays. The night market includes a variety of unusual goods including second-hand clothing from as far as Japan, but the main focus are two of the must-try local delicacies – the ‘laksam’ and the ‘nasi dagang’.
Reaching Pulau Tenggol is nothing but an hour speed boat ride from the quiet coastal jetty of Kuala Dungun. Be prepared to be thrown around as the boat slices through the rough South China Sea waves to reach the faraway destination. Once you step onto the white sandy beach though, all will be forgotten – including the hustle and bustle of the city. Pulau Tenggol is essentially a nature lover’s paradise – whether you’re a diving enthusiast, a tropical escapist or a seaside sunbather – it caters to all of your desires. The island’s resorts are built with the same essence in mind, the chalets prioritising the nature and your invaluable experience there.
Pulau Tenggol offers a surfeit of dive sites to satisfy divers of all levels of proficiency. Nevertheless, it is ideal to be advanced certified in diving for many dive sites around the island are well-known for their depth and current. Tokong Laut, located to the north of Pulau Tenggol, is the valued spot by advanced divers – to feel the rush from its swift unforgiving currents. Gua Rajawali, another retreat for advanced divers, is located in the northeast of the island and features no end of suspended sediments for extra challenge. If you’re in the mood for some treasure seeking however, the House Wreck is where you need to be. Dive deep into the unpredictable sea to discover a sunken trawler and the shipwreck of a Vietnamese boat that was once used by refuges fleeing the Vietnam War.
Open water certified divers fret not for enjoying the magnificent coral reef and breathtaking marine life that Pulau Tenggol proffers is still possible thanks to other beginner-friendly spots around the island, such as the House Reef and Coral Garden. Snorkelling however can be done almost anywhere in the shallow waters encircling the island. Just rent your gears from the resort of your choice and you’re all set. Besides all the sea-activities, leaving Pulau Tenggol without exploring its exotic rainforest is also unforgivable. Utilise the hiking trails provided to cut through the forest and even reach the peak of one of the three hills of the island. Meanwhile, the best place to simply sunbath is none other than the Teluk Air Tawar, a secluded sandy bay on the west coast of the island.
It is in your best interest to be completely prepared for what awaits you in Pulau Tenggol to ensure a memorable and extraordinary holiday experience. The island is best visited between March and November, when the current around the island is not as volatile and temperamental while divers are recommended to be prepared physically and mentally for some arduous diving experiences. The ground water of the island can only be used for bathing and washing, and must never be consumed directly. Most importantly, do not forget to prearrange a return trip when you want to get to the island. These are just a small price to pay for you to fully enjoy a sunny tropical paradise that is Pulau Tenggol.