Thursday, December 6, 2012

Snorkeling at Pulau Tenggol

It took me almost 2 years of living in Dungun before I got to set foot on the island that I can see every day from the shore of Dungun while on my way to work. Ask any locals and I bet 95% of them haven't been to Tenggol, which is only 45 minutes away from Kuala Dungun jetty. The reason most likely being "But it is SO close! I can go there anytime", which they probably wouldn't. I guess it happens to most of us, I mean, when was the last time you visited somewhere really popular in your hometown? Don't worry, you're not alone. :)

This being my first trip to an island after such a long time, the last one was Langkawi in 2004, I was very excited. I went there with my friends who are here as English Teaching Assistants to a school in Dungun and of course, Mie, who wanted to try diving for as long as I could remember. Kate (one of the ETAs) hooked us up with Zul, a guy who works for Tenggol Island Discovery Divers. Click *here* to go to their Facebook page.
Our first impression of Tenggol; Paradise!

Before going there and rates:
Call Encik Zul at +6019 327 4093 to book and pay the deposit for your return boat transfer and snorkeling/diving package. The rates for the service provided by Tenggol Island Discovery Divers are as follows:
Snorkeling: RM50 - if you would like to rent their snorkeling gear + life jacket
Scuba Diving: RM150 - Discovery package, all diving equipment provided + coolest instructor ever + certificate of completion
Return boat transfer: RM100/pax
Lunch at resort: RM30/pax - recommended (good spread of local homemade style dishes)

The Discovery Divers office. Collect your snorkeling and diving gears here.
Getting there:
By Bus
There are regular and daily bus services from most of the major cities and towns within Peninsular Malaysia. The nearest destination is Dungun town. Journey normally takes 5-6 hours from Kuala Lumpur. There are boat operators and travel agents at Kuala Dungun jetty that provides boat and tour packages to Pulau Tenggol.

By Air
There are daily and regular flights to the nearest destination of Kuala Terengganu. Malaysian Airlines, Air Asia and Firefly ply direct routes either from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. There are taxi and car rental services at the Kuala Terengganu Airport. Journey takes an hour to Kuala Dungun Jetty.

By car
The drive from Kuala Lumpur to Dungun takes about 5-6 hours. Take the Karak Highway to get to Kuantan. From there, follow the sign board to Dungun town. Dungun town is 79 km before Kuala Terengganu. Departing early in the morning should be convenient as one reaches Dungun around noon. The boat services starts as early as 8.00 am and last boat usually by 5.00 pm 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 or two in Dungun or should one prefer to arrange a day trip to the island.


Mie and his instructor getting ready to dive in deeper waters.
Where to stay:
The Terengganu Tourism website listed two resorts which are Tenggol Island Resort and Tenggol Island Beach Resort & Spa. A simple Google search would show you the rates. We didn't stay there as the next day we were working. Actually everyone we met on the boat had made it a day trip, preferring to stay in Dungun where there are a good selection of reasonably priced hotels and places to eat. Everyone (me, the boat skipper and Google) agreed that the accommodations are very basic, not the kind of rooms where you would want to hangout all day with your loved ones. There is a third resort but Tanjung Jara Resort uses it exclusively to drop off their passengers for the day and shuttle them back again.

Other things you should know: 
There are very limited amenities on the island as it is pretty much a scuba-diving and snorkeling enthusiasts heaven. There is nothing much to do there as the attractions are not so much on land but UNDERwater. The beach itself is a thin strip of sand with the other parts of the island being enveloped by rocks, a natural fortress against the harsh waves of the South China Sea. All the resorts share the same strip of beach. The island has the clearest water I've ever seen and the whitest, powdery soft sand! I've to admit though that I've been to a grand total of two, TWO, islands in my entire life. Har-har.

My experience as non-swimmer snorkeler. 
Phew. I'm a bit tired with all the typing I just did so can I just plagiarise my own article on my snorkeling experience I wrote for our department's bulletin? 
Recently I was pushed out of my comfort zone and surprisingly, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. You see, I’m not a swimmer and the deepest I would go in the water is where I can still stand on my two feet comfortably with my chest up being safely above water. My ‘swimming’ memories mostly involved having a gigantic inflatable tyre tube around me as I bobbed around the shallow parts of the sea at Santubong beach many, many years ago.
In early October, my husband and I decided to go to Tenggol Island before the 6-month monsoon hits Dungun. We went with a couple of friends who were both excited to see the beautiful island and snorkel. I quickly agreed to take up the snorkeling package too, only to question my decision upon reaching the white sandy beach. It’s a gorgeous place no doubt,  water’s so clear you can see somber-coloured sea cucumbers dotting the coral landscape.

I decided I would just stick around the shallow parts, walking unstably in the water while taking photos of schools of pale coloured fishes that almost blended in with the sand, as I thought it really couldn't get any better than this. However, my friend, K, kept on telling me how beautiful the fishes and corals were at the deeper end. She told me to get my life jacket on and she would ‘pull’ me in the water. Dragging my feet towards the beach to get the lifejacket, I was trying to decide whether the plan was totally ingenious or ridiculously stupid. I went with it anyway.

K decided to give me her lifejacket too to support myself so I could lean forward while I also had my own on. I would not forget the moment I felt my feet left the reassuring sand as we moved into deeper waters. I inhaled sharply through my mouth via the snorkeling gear and held tightly to my two lifejackets while my legs flailed rather  awkwardly and uselessly. K told me to kick higher and I obeyed. I could hear and feel the water splashing behind me and rather surprisingly, I propelled forward!
The distant beach while we were floating amidst colourful fishes.

Within just a few meters beyond the barren shallow seabed, I could start seeing corals of different red and purple hues, which grew in numbers till they covered the whole ocean floor as we went deeper. Vibrant coloured fishes darted below the corals as we glided above them. It certainly felt like I was watching National Geographic on HD TV except that, it was live. My initial ardent fear of drowning melted as soon as I realized that it was actually quite impossible while I still had my life jacket on. We spent quite a while just watching the fascinating underwater life. Every now and then I would look up and watch the distant beach, feeling a shiver of delicious adrenaline running down my spine before I immersed myself in the underwater world again. I returned to the beach a changed person.

Hmm, that was easy and oh, carpe diem!
All photos taken with Olympus Tough TG-1. 

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